It’s January and snowing. Good news if you’re skiing, not so much if you’re dreaming of warmer climes. Right now, I could definitely be soaking up the heat shimmering off Miami’s South Beach (current temperature 71 degrees). Ok, so that might be a little chilly for sunbathing, but luckily there’s more to do in South Beach than hang out with beautiful people by the water.
Just one block from the beach is Ocean Drive, one of the most happening streets you’ll find anywhere. Lined with chic bars, small eateries, beachwear vendors and souvenir hawkers, it’s a hangout for both casual tourists and the “be seen” crowd — not to mention bikini-sporting sirens, sexy surfers, laid-back Harley dudes, business people, roller bladers, joggers and bicyclists. The eclectic crowd reminds one of Amsterdam or Vegas, but with a small town vibe that makes everyone feel at home.
If you’re into people watching, find a patio perch at one of the bars or cafes that line Ocean Drive. If you’re lucky, you might be visited by the roaming cigar girl who will tempt you with a selection of fine cigars (another reason to love this town!). For dinner, seek a small Cuban diner for authentic local cuisine (your hotel concierge should be able to recommend one).
Speaking of hotels, although Ocean Drive boasts many fine accommodations, if you’re on budget, stay one block over on Collins Avenue (aka, the A1A). Last spring we stayed at the Carlton Hotel, which at $150 plus tax and resort fee, seemed to be a good deal given the location. The rooms were a decent size, the beds were super comfy, and the pool area provided a secluded alternative to the beach. Although the property showed its age, the modern décor made it fun.
To be fair, most of the hotels in South Beach are housed in older buildings, many done in Art Deco style. It’s part of the area’s charm, especially at night when Ocean Drive lights up like a tropical Christmas tree.
In addition to being a destination in itself, South Beach is a short cab ride to the Port of Miami for travelers departing or returning from a cruise. Try to book more than one night’s stay, though, or you may find yourself pining for a longer retreat on a snowy day back home!