Miami Beach, Florida’s picture-postcard winter playground has blossomed into a sophisticated community that welcomes visitors at any time of year. Miami Beach offers more than fantasy Art Deco buildings; it is blessed with diverse cultural institutions, public beaches and boutiques that put a designer spin on Miami Beach shopping. Miami Beach, Florida’s trendy charms revolve around its cuisine, sizzling nightspots and cultural scene.
Introduction to Miami Beach
Since the 1920s, Miami Beach has been synonymous with glamour, glitz and non-stop sun. The epicenter of the beach is really on the barrier island’s south end, which is why South Beach is really what people mean when they refer to Miami Beach. At 17 blocks long and 12 blocks wide, South Beach is a perfect place for a walk.
With boutiques, restaurants, bars, clubs, museums and, of course, sandy beaches, you'll never be bored. The following is a perfect walking tour for an afternoon, or can be split up over a day or two.
We will begin our tour at Lummus Park, at Ocean Drive and Seventh Street. (This is also a great place to start because there is a parking garage on Seventh, between Washington and Collins). This park stretches from Fifth to Fifteenth Streets and hugs a beautiful, sugar-sand beach. The park features a winding path perfect for strolling.
While in the park, walk east a few steps east, over a dune, and you’re on the beach. Look to your west and you will see the stunning Art Deco architecture Miami Beach is famous for. If you need a cold drink – or a scrumptious seafood dinner – cross Ocean Drive and pick a sidewalk restaurant.
The view of Ocean Drive from Lummus Park is an especially beautiful view at night, when the Art Deco hotels turn on their antique neon signs. Don’t worry about strolling in the park in the early evening hours – the park is heavily patrolled by police. Another nighttime bonus: there’s usually groups of musically inclined folks playing bongos and singing. This park is also home to the SoBe Wine and Food Festival each February.
Art Deco District
Walk along the park on Ocean Drive three blocks north, toward Tenth Street. On your left will be the Art Deco Welcome Center. This is the home of the Miami Design Preservation League, the group that formed in 1976 to preserve and restore the beach’s historical, Art Deco buildings.
In those days, the beach experienced a rough patch. It had been a popular playground for the rich in the 1920s (hence the Art Deco architecture) and was a Mafia hangout in the 50s. By 1979, however, it was a Mecca for the elderly and the poor, and many of the once-swanky hotels had become retirement homes. Old-time beach residents remember when octogenarians in rocking chairs were a common sight on Ocean Drive.
The Beach Preservation League was concerned that many of the historical hotels were being razed by developers. So they brought together architects, businessmen, politicians and residents to help revitalize the area and garnered headlines in 1980 when artist Andy Warhol asked the group for a guided tour of the area. In 1984, the entire world was introduced to Miami Beach when the hit TV show “Miami Vice” used many of the neighborhood’s buildings as a backdrop.
The Art Deco Welcome Center has books, brochures and even tours of South Beach if you want more information on the history of the area. In January, it is the epicenter for the Art Deco Weekend, a festival devoted to the unique architecture. There is also an extensive gift shot at the center, which is located at 1001 Ocean Drive. For more
Espanola Way - Miami Beach
Stroll north along Washington Avenue and people-watch. This is one of South Beach’s most colorful thoroughfares, with sunburned tourists mixing with the diverse locals. If your energy is flagging stop at any of the small Cuban markets and grab a café con leche or cortecito – a tiny shot of powerful espresso and keep walking. When you hit Espanola Way (just after 14th Street), cross Washington and enter into a four-block, pedestrian-only street.
After being surrounded by Art Deco buildings, you will feel as though you have been transported to a small village in Spain; the architecture here is decidedly Mediterranean, down to the barrel-backed tile and pink stucco. Make sure to gaze at the large peach-colored building on the corner of Washington and Espanola. It is called the Clay Hotel, and it is part youth hostel, part hotel, with a Mexican restaurant on the ground floor. It was originally built in 1925 as a haven for artists and bohemians. You may recognize this building from TV; it was the site of the first and last episodes of Miami Vice.
Strolling down Espanola Way, you will come across art galleries, clothing boutiques and other unique stores. At least two yoga studios are tucked in between restaurants. On the weekends, a farmer’s market and outdoor shopping bazaar add to the foreign feel.
The perfect place to end your walking tour is at the very end of the street, at the Spanish restaurant Tapas y Tintos, at 448 Espanola Way. This tiny tapas bar offers real Spanish fare (the owner is from Spain), including