South Beach: Spring Break for Boomers

South Beach? Visions of micro bikinis rollerblading down Ocean Drive filled my head. What’s the appeal for someone who no longer parties like it’s 1983? I happily discovered that Miami’s playground is an exciting 3-day destination with plenty to do even if your raving days are through.

When you’re north of 50, the appeal of all-nighters in a packed dance club has lost its luster. My friend says, and I agree, that it’s better to be safely snuggled in loungewear at home before the street lights come on.

Sometimes I get the feeling that I’m too old to visit trendy places and events. Like Ibiza. And Bonnaroo. When I was presented with the opportunity to head to South Beach, I hesitated, thinking it’s a destination best left to the kids.

I was wrong.

You can have an entertaining time in South Beach without dancing on the bar at Mango’s. Do it if you want, but, if you break a hip, don’t blame me.

Best Things to Do in Miami’s South Beach

1. Stay at the Blue Moon

The main action in SoBe happens on Ocean Drive. Dragsters compete with drag queens, hawkers outside the bars tempt you with drink specials, and the bass pumps and thumps all night long. There are many hotels on Ocean, including ones that scream “South Beach” like The Tides.

But unless you plan to stay up all night, I suggest stepping back one block to Collins Avenue. I chose the Blue Moon, one of Marriott’s independent boutique properties. Once owned by entertainer Merv Griffin (if you’re under 45, Google him) and named after the Rodgers and Hart song, the Blue Moon is a quirky oasis in the heart of the Art Deco District.

The rooms are small but pristine, and the staff is earnest and charming. Victor at the front desk always seemed to know when I needed a complimentary glass of champagne.

south beach miami blue moon hotel lobby
The lobby of the Blue Moon in South Beach. Photo: The Blue Moon Hotel

From Breakfast to Dinner in South Beach Beach

2. Sample Haitian Food and Music

SoBe has a distinct Latin vibe that’s reflected in the food. Besides sampling Cuban and Mexican treats, you’ll find affordable and delicious Haitian food at Tap Tap which also has live music most nights. Try the malanga fritters with watercress sauce.

tap tap restaurant south beach
Looking for live music and inexpensive, delicious food? Try Tap Tap in Miami. Photo: Cathy Bennett Kopf/The Open Suitcase

3. You Must Try Stone Crabs

At the other end of the spectrum, a visit to the legendary Joe’s Stone Crabs is a must. Go early or be prepared to wait 2+ hours. Tuxedoed waiters line up and whisk you to your table. Try not to audibly gasp when you see the prices on the menu. The night I went, they were offering a special that included a large order of crab claws, creamed spinach, cole slaw, and a hash brown. My sister and I split it, a wedge salad, and the Key lime pie. We were satisfied and still had a couple of dollars left. Barely.

4. After a Late Night, Grab Breakfast

The breakfast scene in SoBe rocks, because, if you’re drinking all night, a satisfying breakfast is an important way to start the day. I tried 3 eateries within walking distance of the Blue Moon. Puerto Sagua is a no-frills Cuban with delicious, fresh-squeezed tropical fruit juices like papaya and mango. The News Cafe feels very European with bistro tables set up on the Ocean Drive sidewalk. Their Benedicts feature a cream cheese-based sauce instead of traditional Hollandaise. And you might catch a celebrity sighting at the 11st Street Diner. I heard it was one of Madonna’s favorites and it was featured on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives.

11th street diner south beach
The Art Deco exterior of the 11th Street Diner in South Beach presents one of many Instagram moments. Photo: Cathy Bennett Kopf/The Open Suitcase

5. It’s Called South Beach for a Reason

Your days will be driven by how much time you spend hanging on the beach. The Blue Moon contracts with a vendor to provide guests with loungers at no charge. Umbrellas and refreshments are available for an additional fee that can be charged to your room.

The beach is long, wide and dotted with colorful lifeguard houses. Bring a book, plenty of sunscreen and relax.

lifeguard station south beach miami
The lifeguard stations on South Beach are colorful and funky, just like the city. Photo: Cathy Bennett Kopf/The Open Suitcase

6. Take an Art Deco Tour

South Beach’s unique feel is primarily due to its distinct architecture. Thanks to the efforts of local resident Barbara Capitman, many of the Art Deco buildings have been saved from the wrecking ball. There are over 800 in South Beach. You can learn all about them by taking a walking tour.

I recommend the ones given by the non-profit Miami Design Preservation League; your $25 tour fee helps to support their ongoing mission. You’ll learn about the charming features of the architecture like frozen fountains, window eyebrows, and the sleek typography used for signage.

breakwater hotel art deco south beach
You’ll feel like you traveled back in time when visiting South Beach because of the elegant Art Deco architecture. Photo: Cathy Bennett Kopf/The Open Suitcase

7. South Beach After Dark

South Beach is a town built for strolling. But I’m not a fan of sweating it out during the heat of the day. So, take advantage of cooler temps after the sun sets and enjoy a traditional evening stroll; the Spanish term is “paseo.” Walk south from the Blue Moon to the southern tip of the town and wander along the paths and between the dunes in South Pointe Park. Continue by heading north along Ocean Drive.

The strip’s Deco buildings are bathed in neon, music pours out of the clubs and the people-watching is incredibly entertaining. You’ll see stunning couples who look like they’ve stepped out of a fashion magazine, soused singles wandering around in bathing suits and geriatrics sporting pilled fleece warm ups. Some of them will be toting parrots. When you’ve had your fill, grab a seat on the terrace at Naked Taco and order up a frosty margarita to cap off the evening.

For additional adventures during your trip to Miami, summon a budget-friendly Uber (one-way rides cost about $13) and try one or more of the following activities:

  • Take a boat tour of Biscayne Bay and see mansions belonging to Will Smith and Julio Iglesias;
  • Visit Vizcaya, a magnificent Italianate mansion with formal gardens;
  • Photograph the Wynwood Walls murals. By the way, if you’re a fan of street art, the murals in Raleigh NC are worth visiting.

South Beach is the perfect destination for a girlfriends’ getaway or mini spring break for couples. The perk for mid-lifers? You’ll leave with fond memories instead of regrets and a hangover.

classic car in south beach miami
Take a seat on Ocean Drive and watch classic cars cruise, day and night. Photo: Cathy Bennett Kopf/The Open Suitcase