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 some 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.
Where to Stay
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). 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 and I adored his crisp powder blue and white uniform.
What to Eat
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.
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.
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.
What to Do
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.
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.
For additional adventures, summon a budget-friendly Uber (one-way rides cost about $13) and head back to the mainland. Take a boat tour of Biscayne Bay, visit Vizcaya, a magnificent Italianate mansion with formal gardens, or photograph the murals that comprise the Wynwood Walls art district.
When the Sun Goes Down
South Beach is a town built for strolling. 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 your paseo 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.