Texas might be a whole other country, but Miami is practically a whole other continent.
The delicious Latin American influence sets this destination apart and it’s tangible: You can literally see, taste, hear, and feel it.
At the end of a few days in Miami, you will really feel that you got away from it all, whether you’re staying firmly on the beaten path or venturing way off the brochure.
MORE THAN JUST SOUTH BEACH
Undoubtedly, you’ve heard that South Beach is the beach to go to. With bars and restaurants on one side of Ocean Drive and the warm water beckoning on the other, there’s no need to explain why it’s so popular for sunbathing and people-watching. But if you’d prefer something that’s less of a scene and more down to earth, it really does exist, even in Miami.
Key Biscayne is further south, and it’s popular with students from the nearby University of Miami and local families spending the day picnicking by the water. With Caribbean-like water, a backdrop of palm trees, and fewer people, you’re more likely to feel you’re on vacation. Access is by car, over the toll bridge ($1) where US1 and 95 South meet. The drive over the bridge is several minutes long, but seemingly endless as you can see nothing but turquoise water on either side; eventually the downtown skyline will appear on your left and you’ll drift into the oasis of Key Biscayne, away from it all.
DINING – FROM FINE TO CASUAL
South Beach dining can be pricey, and you don’t always get what you pay for. In the case of Wish restaurant, however, the cuisine and the ambiance are worth every penny. Located at The Hotel, on a balmy evening the intimate outdoor courtyard setting amidst lush palm trees and candlelight is exotic and undoubtedly romantic. Presented artistically, the gourmet food is like an abstract work of art: eclectic, vibrant, and with a dash of the unexpected. Few meals will be as memorable. 801 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach; 305-674-9474, www.wishrestaurant.com.
Don’t make the tourist’s mistake of assuming all of Miami’s fine experiences are in South Beach. In the nearby wealthy suburb of Coral Gables is 1200, one of the several restaurants at The Biltmore hotel. The setting of 1200 is much like an old-world villa, and as such it does not lack for elegance or a romantic atmosphere. Tables surround the fountain at the center of the outdoor courtyard filled with palm trees and twinkling with fairy lights. Live Spanish guitar adds to the Mediterranean feel, and the menu is a high-class, contemporary take on classic Italian dishes. 1200 Anastasia Avenue, Coral Gables; 305-445-1926, www.biltmorehotel.com.
Part restaurant and part jazz club, the Van Dyke Café makes for a sunny lunch spot when you need a break from emptying your pockets on Lincoln Road shopping, but it’s even better as an evening destination for cocktails and live music. Performances are every night from 9 p.m., and while they vary from night to night, the Van Dyke usually mixes it up between Latin and American jazz. Arrive early to get a seat. 846 Lincoln Road, Miami Beach; 305-532-1233, www.thevandykecafe.com.
LATE NIGHTS, LATIN-STYLE
In Miami, you could go to the hottest club to hobnob among celebrities just to say you did, or you could go to Macondo. Less of a “club scene” and more of a happy Latin party, Macondo is the young and beautiful place for dancing to Latin music all night along—and that’s what you came here for, right?
With its Colombian slant you’re likely to hear a lot of Carlos Vives, a Colombian pop star whose rhythms are hard not to dance to when you hear them. This is easily one of the best places to have incredibly giddy, old-fashioned fun. 665 Washington Avenue, South Beach; 786-276-1516, www.macondorestaurant.com.
Okay, okay, if you want something sultry and sexy for indulging your hedonism, try Nikki Beach, where St. Tropez meets Miami. Consisting of a restaurant, nightclub and beach club, Nikki is still one of the trendiest spots in town for both dancing and relaxing. Sunday night is the night to go, and the unspoken rule is to wear white. Lounge around on the beds on the beach, but don’t get too frisky—Sex on the Beach is a cocktail, not a pastime. 1 Ocean Drive, Miami Beach; 305-538-1111, www.nikkibeach.com/miami.
ART, DESIGN, SHOPPING AND BEYOND
One of Miami’s local artists is a poster child for artistic success. A native of Brazil, Romero Britto got his start selling his works on the streets of Miami until he was discovered by Absolut Vodka, who signed him on to create an ad. The rest is, well, modern history. Britto is a pop art star whose work is known for its bright colors, Cubist influence, and happy, feel-good subject matter, and such a style couldn’t be more Miami. At Britto’s gallery on Lincoln Road in South Beach you can admire the paintings and possibly a VW Beetle he painted. If the price tags are a bit too hefty, there is also a store with moderately priced gift items. 818 Lincoln Road, South Beach; 305-531-8821, www.britto.com.
Miami design got its start at the beginning of the 20th century, and one of the best examples of European-inspired, jazz age style is the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens. Built in 1916 by James Deering, the house boasts old-world glamour and countless antiques. Wandering through the waterfront property transports you to Miami in its early days, and the elaborate gardens are a welcome retreat from the hectic city. In the gardens you’ll probably see many young women having their portraits taken for their quinceañera, the celebration of the 15th birthday in Hispanic cultures. 3251 South Miami Avenue; 305-250-9133, www.vizcayamuseum.org.
For a bit of a break from South Beach, even if you’re in South Beach, duck onto Española Way, which offers shady streets amid relaxed bohemian boutiques and outdoor cafes. You can find it about 2 1/2 blocks south of Lincoln Rd. Vintage clothing abounds, so if you need an actual 70s gold disco pantsuit, this is the place. Of course, it’s probably worth a look even if you don’t need one.
Need more vintage threads? A 10,000 square foot space on Biscayne Boulevard is home to C. Madeleine’s, one of the world’s largest vintage clothing showrooms. Dubbed by Vogue as “Miami’s best kept secret,” celebrities and stylists flock to the site for unique and rare name-brand styles, including a July 2008 Kate Moss cover shoot for W magazine. Spend an afternoon moseying around the space, which is organized by decade. It’s pricey, yes, but even an historical sightseeing trip is worth it. Plus, they occasionally have a small sale section! 13702 Biscayne Blvd., 305-945-7770, https://shop.cmadeleines.com/
Tucked into a small space on Lincoln Road is Fly Boutique, a trove of goodies for lovers of all things vintage. Catering to both male and female clientele, Fly Boutique carries vintage and new pieces by designers, as well as more obscure finds, like a handbag made from recycled Levi’s, or a lavender lace shrug. Almost all the garments in this shop are in fabulous condition and the prices are reasonable, too, so take your time poking through. You’re bound to find at least one truly unique piece that will make your statement. 650 Lincoln Road; 305-604-8508, www.flyboutiquevintage.com.
THERE’S A LITERARY SCENE IN MIAMI?
An antidote to the party-harder attitude of Miami is Books and Books, a down-to-earth bookstore in the heart of Coral Gables. But this is no ordinary bookstore: Wooden floors and floor-to-ceiling wooden shelves define the inside, while palm trees and fairy lights mark the courtyard.
The design and Latin American sections are particularly good. The cafe is extensive enough to be a small bistro, and the wine bar is an especially nice touch. Author events are frequent, so check the Web site to see who will be visiting when you are in town. For anyone who loves bookstores, Books and Books has personality that the big brick-and-mortar stores just don’t have. 265 Aragon Avenue, Coral Gables; 305-442-4408, www.booksandbooks.com. There is a second, smaller branch at 933 Lincoln Road in Miami Beach.
And if you’re interested local culture and history, the Historical Museum of Southern Florida offers a wide variety of tours. How wide?
They’ve got walking tours, private couch tours, boat tours, and even eco-coach tours through the Everglades, with the subject matter ranging from natural history to South Beach Art Deco. One new upcoming event even tours Miami’s cemeteries on the Day of the Dead (Nov. 1), when some of the city’s Latin American and much of its Caribbean (read: Haitian) community decorates and venerates deceased ancestors with everything from candy to sculptures to music. For more information, visit hmsf.org.
By Sumayya Essack for PeterGreenberg.com.
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