With the 1996 film The Birdcage as a visual reference for Miami living, a flamboyant, fluorescent South Beach, complete with a parking-lot’s worth of swish sports cars and Art Deco facades, comes to mind.
In reality (and fourteen years on for the cult film’s release) Miami’s landscape is somewhat changed. Things have evolved beyond the bling and bikinis of South Beach (SoBe) – though the favoured mode of transportation and a fondness for fluorescent endures.
Action has moved, mostly, to Mid Beach, thanks to a slew of design hotels (Faena, 1 Hotel and co) attracting an international cool crowd with their plush XL bedrooms and oceanside views. Locals have been baited upstream with danglings of haute cuisine from the likes of Mr. Chow (a culinary resident at The W South Beach) and away from the beach entirely, to the urbanscapes of Brickell and the Design District. Meanwhile, murmurings of Downtown’s rising popularity are loudening. While a list of must-visit beach spots, will never be struck from our Miami list to think that Miami begins and ends with Miami Beach would be a grave mistake.
Luckily, we’ve spent enough time on the ground to know how best to divide and conquer in The Magic City over a 48-hour period. Here’s where to bed down, dine out and drink up in the Sunshine State’s party capital.
The Packing Edit
Husband-and-wife dream team filmmaker Baz Luhrmann and production and costume designer Catherine Martin oversaw the dramatic, tropical interiors at this glitzy and glamour hotel. With this in mind, the dazzling maximalism of the place makes instant sense. Bordering theatrical, the gilding ceilings, elaborate wall murals and leopard-print clad furnishings all vie for the guest’s attention.
A true foodie destination, Los Fuegos (the first North American restaurant by legendary Argentinean asado grill master, chef Francis Mallmann) is arguably the hotel’s greatest offering, but there are also several bars and the Saxony Theatre (which stages cabaret-style musical revues and concerts) to explore and enjoy during your stay. A trip to the dreamy Tierra Santa Healing House spa and a dip in the expansive cruciform-shaped pool flanked by candy-striped umbrellas and Damien Hirst’s 24-karat gold mammoth – “Gone But Not Forgotten”. Suffice to say, Faena has got Miami living down to a fine art.
1 Hotels have quietly been popping up in our favourite US neighbourhoods over the past number years, but its first location in South Beach remains the apple of our eye. An ideal spot for a chilled out and stylish take on Miami Beach life, 1 Hotel’s eco-friendly credentials make it a winning choice among green-minded travellers and design aficionados alike. From the living walls on the hotel’s facade and main lobby to the hotel’s reliance on local vendors and artisans, 1’s sense of community places it apart from the crowd.
The hotel’s dedication to wellness ensures a roster of health-focused events are available on demand – make the most of the on-site SoulCycle, the 14,000-square-foot gym space and a serene British Bamford Haybarn Spa. When you get a little peckish, head to Plnthouse for delicious vegan plates and vegetable-packed juices. Come evening, Jose Mendin’s Habitat serves Latin American and Asian fusion cuisine in stylish, minimalist surrounds (as per).
Soho Beach House
Just north of South Beach, you’ll find the uber chill Soho Beach House. The UK-based private member’s club brings a new sense of exclusivity to this patch of sand, setting up shop in a restored art-deco building on Mid-Beach. Interiors are a blend of Latino and Anglo design – think dark wood antiques and Venetian chandeliers Cuban-style tiled floors. Really though, outdoors is where you’ll want to spend the majority of your stay, soaking up some rays at the rooftop pool, dining at Cecconi’s – the celeb-approved Italian restaurant in the hotel’s courtyard –, and dropping blue-and-white towel at the club’s private beach. While the main pool is surrounded by luxurious daybeds for reading and relaxing, the beach set up is one of the best Miami wide – from red iceboxes neighbouring individual beach loungers, watering cans to rinse those sandy toes and an oh-so-tempting tiki bar abutting the beach, Soho Beach House is up there with our favourite oceanfront digs.
Palihouse Miami Beach
Overlooking the Indian Creek Waterway, Palihouse is a sleek, no-fuss spot to retreat to after a full-on day of exploring. Imbuing an effortless boho-beach vibe, the palm-lined Palihouse Miami Beach boasts 71 spacious residential-style rooms decked out in an on-trend pastel palette, striped headboards and cosy terracotta walls. Letterman-jacket-style Ps monogram the cushions, dressing gowns and hanging fixtures – a style feature which trickles through from the rooms to the lobby and pool bar to boot. Speaking of, life here mainly revolves around the freeform pool area. Just two blocks from the beach, nabbing a spot under a tasseled umbrella is just the ticket after partying up Miami style.
Mr C Coconut Grove
Once Miami’s hot spot neighbourhood, Coconut Grove is once again on the up and up. Notable neighbours include Books & Books, Harry’s Pizzeria and Panther Coffee, and the areas overall vibe is charming as can be. At Mr. C Coconut Grove, the familial energy extends itself. While a bit off grid for your typical South Beach holiday, the experienced traveller will jump at the opportunity to experience another side to the city.
Brought to Miami shores by the Cipriani family, Mr. C Coconut Grove exudes effortless Italian luxury (with a nautical twist). With interiors by Martin Brudnizki in a palette of peachy-pink and cerulean, enter through the high-ceilinged, high-gloss lobby before making ways for the rooftop Bellini restaurant. With a plate of sumptuous cacio e pepe bucatini and views of Biscayne Bay; it’s the perfect pairing.
EAT + DRINK
This Design District restaurant oozes with Instagram cool, thanks to its high-profile owners, Pharrell (yes, that one) and Miami kingpin David Grutman – and, unsurprisingly, it has a celebrity fan club which includes the Kardashians and Hadids. Decorated with soft, candy colours that remind of Miami’s 1920s heyday, the indoor/outdoor restaurant adds a little novelty to your standard culinary outing. The garden-like surrounds of the main restaurant are balanced out by the the plush upstairs lounge, Bar Bevy, – a great spot to head post-prandial to keep the party going.
The crowd at KYU (pronounced “Q”) is as fashionable as its Wynwood neighbourhood, so expect to see plenty of art loving regulars tucking into fried chicken at this buzzy eatery. Located in the heart of Wynwood, the wood-fired, Asian-inspired cuisine has been dazzling foodies since its launch in 2016. The wagyu beef brisket and fried chicken come highly recommended, as does the roasted cauliflower with shishito herb vinaigrette. KYU has a well-curated selection of wine, beer, and sake, but the cocktails are hard to resist. Interiors are paired-back, industrial-chic but really serve as a backdrop to the art on display – exhibit A: street artist 2 Alas’ magnificent “KYU lady” (spotted at the restaurant’s entrance).
Standing out as one of the most luxurious locations of Downtown, this seafood brasserie is a local favourite. Plotted right on the waterfront, diners can take in painterly views, watching yachts navigate Miami’s shoreline while they sample their starters. If you’re a seafarer, it’s worth noting that at Seaspice you can dock and dine. Known for its pasta – our go to order is the pappardelle – the menu at Seaspice is globally inspired, with dishes ranging from burrata with olive tapenade and crab tempura to a delectable truffle Brie tart. Inside, you’ll find Modern Garden, a hot stone and crudo lounge that serves up raw fish and premium meats heated on 850-degree volcanic stone slabs.
Mandolin Aegean Bistro
Husband and wife Ahmet Erkaya and Anastasia Koutsioukis opened this inviting Mediterranean restaurant in the Design District in 2009. Housed in a restored 1940s bungalow Mandolin Aegean Bistro’s greatest draw is its outdoor area (followed closely by its homely bakering a garden patch where seasonal ingredients are harvested on site). Akin to the sunwashed tavernas of Greece and Turkey, this dinky little restaurant serves up grilled octopus with lemon and olive oil, a succulent lamb gyro and a matchless Greek salad. Honorary mention goes to their finer assortment of dips from Turkey (hummus, tomato-walnut dip, beet purée) and Greece (tzatziki, tarama, eggplant purée). Scrumptious.
Wynwood Arts District
Easily one of the most Instagrammed places in Miami, Wynwood Walls is an outdoor exhibit like none other we’ve seen or experienced. The once forgotten industrial zone of Wynwood proved the perfect canvas for graffiti artists, including Shepard Fairey, Os Gemeos, Ron English, Jeff Soto, and Barry McGee, to paint major large-scale murals and so a hipster’s paradise was born. With bustling restaurants and a diverse shopping scene circling its four-block radius, a trip to Wynwood can be as long or short as time allows – tours of the Wynwood walls (when conducted independent of a tour guide can run as short as 20 minutes). A blend of well-known names and up-and-coming artists, those keen to gather a little more background should pencil in a visit in line with Second Saturday Art Walks.
Vizcaya Museum and Gardens
A museum – and a national landmark – dedicated to the early days of Miami’s rise, Vizcaya Museum and Gardens is a mecca of old-school European design. The waterfront home harbours many treasures, including 2,500 antique art objects and furnishings – a collection that pales in comparison to nature’s own. Visitors to the museum can explore 10 acres of immaculately landscaped gardens and 25 acres of endangered forest lands. The sweetest discoveries: 2,000 orchids bedded in the gardens and whimsical seashell grottos made for a nymph.
Founded in 1964 to house the private collection of John and Johanna Bass on its donation to the city, The Bass Museum (housed within an impressive 1930s-built Art-Deco building) has established itself as the leading space for the exploration of contemporary art in Miami Beach. As South Beach’s only public contemporary art museum, The Bass draws a varied crowd. Its programme embraces design, architecture and fashion alongside visual art and has included major exhibitions by the likes of Ugo Rondinone, Mika Rottenberg, and Pascale Marthine Tayou.
The Standard Spa
Join a brood of New Yorkers lapping up a forty-eight-hour window of sun at this wonderfully ’60s-style property designed for adults only. Less ‘hotel’, more ‘spa with guest rooms’, at The Standard Spa the emphasis is on communal relaxation. A sleekly modern ashram, the spa extends to outdoor soaking tubs, a ninety-degree hammam and a cedar sauna. There’s a roster of classes to choose from – early risers will be rewarded with an epic sunrise yoga session (though snoozers will still rise in plenty of time to sign up for the sunset stand-up paddle boarding). You’ll find us sipping fresh-pressed green juice with glittering views of the ocean as a member of staff conducts an astrology reading and a pedicure while in situ. An afternoon escape, book in for a facial (complete with crystal-infused mask) and follow with a late lunch at the Lido Bayside Grill before making ways for home/ the airport/ further afield.