Ocean-lapped beaches kissed by the sun... pastel villas shaded by breeze-rustled palms... hard-pounding night spots throbbing till dawn's early light; there is no single way to describe America's most famous beach resort. If Miami Beach's diversity is its greatest attribute, the city's many facets can make trip planning a challenge. The "10 Things You Need to Know" that follow should help you to make Miami Beach yours.
When to go
Miami Beach is a four-season destination. Gone are the days when things slowed to a standstill during off-peak months. Still, the pace quickens come winter, when temperatures hover in the mid 70s. Prices rise. Reservations become essential. And party animals swing into high gear. The White Party, in late November, kicks off "season" on Miami Beach. Art Basel follows in December and SoBe's Food & Wine Festival and the Miami International Boat Show round things out in February. Winter Party and International Fashion Week signal the coming of spring; for many, the best season to experience Miami Beach. From March through May, weather is sublime with highs in the low 80s. The crowds thin a bit but you'll still find plenty to see and do. The Beach's frenzied pace slows during summer and fall months. Days are hot. Late afternoon showers and sultry nights are common. Hurricanes are a definite possibility -- especially in September and October. The upshot: you'll find that hotel rates are generally at their lowest and restaurants and bars have fewer queues.
With almost 150 hotels in Miami Beach, there's one that's sure to fulfill your needs and desires. At its nexus, W South Beach offers extravagant digs in a genuine hipster setting that draws celebrities like a magnet. Other all-star ocean-front properties include the legendary Fontainebleau and the Ritz-Carlton South Beach. Among MB's plethora of boutique hotels, one remains a standout. With its poolside sun beds and lush white rooms, the Delano Hotel is widely regarded as The Beach's premier resort. Other select choices include the hip, romantic Dream South Beach and the Soho Beach House, a discreet and sophisticated destination that houses the uber-popular Cecconi’s restaurant. Though budget is a word not generally associated with local lodgings, options exist. The Mantell Plaza and the South Beach Hostel are two of the best. Whatever accommodations you ultimately select, be sure to book well in advance, especially for peak travel periods.
Beach bopping. Café hopping. Window shopping. Beach neighborhoods are eminently walkable and traveling on foot is often the best way to immerse yourself in the beach vibe. Of course, crisscrossing even compact South Beach can sometimes slow you down. Fortunately, there are green and easy alternatives that won't use up all your spare cash. The South Beach Local is a mini-shuttle that hits all the must-go points on a looping sweep that will put you within easy reach of Lincoln Road, Ocean Drive and oodles of other cool destinations. If pedal-power is more your speed then grab a DecoBike and go for a ride. The 1000-bike sharing program operates the length of Miami Beach -- and it's free for the first half hour! Need to ditch your car? Forget the fancy schmancy upscale car parks that dot the city and park it for a buck-an-hour at a city-owned facility -- like the convenient, colossal 17th Street Garage.
Where's the beach?
With its seven-mile stretch of coastline, sunny Miami Beach has no shortage of surf and sand. So if South Beach swarms aren't your style, try seeking out your perfect patch a bit further along the shore. There are actually five designated beach areas; each with its own distinct feel. South Beach is a people-watchers' paradise and draws the biggest crowds. Think muscled dudes and bikinied babes packed as tight as sardines. Also popular: the adjacent South Pointe is less frenetic and offers palm-shaded picnic areas with great views of the cruise ships sailing in and out of Miami's port. North of SoBe, you can jog above the dunes as far as 46th Street along the Central Beach boardwalk or toss a volleyball on North Beach which continues as far as 78th. For the ultimate escape... sandy 85th Street Beach is beyond the reach of hotel and condo shadows and far from the madding crowds.
MB's palate is divided between world-class gastronomy and comfort favorites; good news for visiting foodies of all persuasions. Join the A-listers for kicky steaks and cocktails at Lincoln Road's sizzling Meat Market... or choose from Tahini-drizzled salads and fresh Florida smoothies at T.H.R.I.V.E., a tropical vegan café. On Ocean Drive, the Villa by Barton G. hosts afternoon tea on the terrace of the historic Versace Mansion, while steak lovers and celebrity gawkers alike flock to Prime 112. Sunshine State signatures like stone crab, conch fritters, fish dip and key lime pie have made Joe's Stone Crab known far and wide. Other surefire standbys include Sylvano, an Italian sports café; Tamarind, the popular Thai spot in North Beach; and Puerto Sagua, where Cuban sandwiches and thimblefuls of café con leché are the "real deal." Affordable quick-picks include Lime Fresh Mexican Grille, the Sandwicherie, and BK Whopper Bar -- a 24-hour hangout where you can order the Burger King classic along with a bottle-o-brewski.
Shopaholics, beware: Miami Beach is no place to curb your habit! For top designers like Proenza Schouler and Martin Margiela, check out The Webster, Collins Ave's house of hip haute; and Alchemist, Lincoln Road's home of edgy hyper-cool. If cheap chic is more your speed, try mingling with the in-the-know beach divas who regularly comb the cubbies and racks at SoBe Thrifty. Land in town without a swimsuit? Looking for the perfect souvenir tee? Then head for Alvin's Island -- a veritable tropical department store just a block from the beach. If indy record stores are music to your ears, Uncle Sam's Music is an audiophiles' paradise while Books & Books -- with its intimate café -- offers a welcome oasis from online and big-box alternatives. Among the other Beach shopping venues you're unlikely to find in the mall back home are Adidas SLVR, CB2, Madewell, Original Penguin, 7 for All Mankind, Camper, and Taschen.
Miami Beach -- especially SoBe -- can be pricey. But freebies abound if you know where to look. You can play a few links at the Bayshore Municipal Golf Course; spend a few contemplative moments at the Holocaust Memorial; or check your email and surf the web by connecting to City_of_Miami_Beach_WiFi or MBKIDS -- all without spending a dime! It's also a cinch to add a bit of culture to your beach stay without breaking into your piggy bank. You can while away a few hours amid the orchids at the Miami Botanical Garden any day of the week. On Friday evenings, The Wolfsonian throws open the doors and makes its collection of modern-age arts and furnishings free to view. The Jewish Museum of Florida waives admission fees on Saturdays. On selected evenings, you can bring a picnic to SoundScape Park at 17th and Washington and catch a live New World Symphony concert or a feature film on the New World Center's 7,000-square-foot projection wall.
Off the beachin' track
There's more to do in Miami Beach than bake in the sun. Foremost is experiencing the city's famous Art Deco District. Explore it on your own; or connect with the walking tour that departs Ocean Drive's Welcome Center each morning. For a land-n-sea sightseeing expedition, South Beach Duck Tours can take you on an amphibious spin past SoBe landmarks and into Biscayne Bay where your Duck Tour guide will point out the island homes of the rich and famous. To find your muse, have a peek inside the Bass Museum of Art where collections run the gamut from Renaissance to modern. For more mainstream diversion, look to Regal Cinema where 18 screens flicker from noon till night. The Miami Beach Cinematheque, on Espanola Way, screens films aimed at a more esoteric crowd.
Where to take the kids
With its brash, over-the-top reputation, Miami Beach may not come to mind as a place to take the children. Too bad. Because The Beach goes out of its way to make families feel at home. On arrival, the Loews Miami Beach Hotel welcomes youngsters with its "Loews Loves Kids" program of activities, toys, and electronic entertainment. Smack in the middle of SoBe's Art Deco District, Flamingo Park's Water Playground is a unique activity pool with interactive features like water sprays, tunnels and a water slide (Grown-ups can cool off in the adjacent 8-lane lap pool while the kids splash around). For longer outings, a pair of Miami institutions, Jungle Island zoo and the Miami Children's Museum, are both short cab rides away. When the family has reached its sunshine quota for the day, head over to Michigan Avenue and grab a scoop at the Frieze Ice Cream Factory, where home-made confections like S'mores, Champagne, and Toffee Cashew Crunch vie for cone space.
For many, a night on The Beach means partying with the famous and fabulous until five in the morning. If you're up to it, join the crowds at Mansion, LIV (at the famous Fontainebleau), Nikki Beach Club or Mynt Ultra Lounge -- just be sure you bring a well-stuffed wallet. Not into the club scene? You can bowl a few strings and chomp on tasty mini-burgers while DJs spin pop tunes at Lucky Strike Lanes, a lounge/bar/ bowling alley hybrid; or head for Chalk Ping Pong and Billiards Lounge, a slick "adult rec-room" featuring game tables and a turbo-blasting jukebox. The Clevelander and Mango's Tropical Cafe are known worldwide as Ocean Drive's primo after dark destinations. Twist's friendly, casual buzz is infectious, making this maze of rooms and bars MB's favorite gay bar. For live music, Jazid makes the grade with a seven-night mash-up of live Latin, Reggae and rock.
Ready to start packing? For further information about planning your visit, google the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau.
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