The following extract is taken from Flight Centre magazine The Experts, with words by David Whitley and photos as credited.
Find glamour with a tropical spin on a stopover in one of America’s most alluring locations.
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A man, dressed in full Santa outfit, sleeps on the South Beach sands in front of the pastel pink and yellow lifeguard hut. A little further back, a chap in his 40s clearly subsumed by a mid-life crisis races down Ocean Drive on a skateboard.
Policemen clad in shorts and sunglasses lounge in front of a restaurant advertising a daiquiri as its breakfast special and gigantic body-builders attempt to pull off dainty summer dresses as they power-walk past the former Versace mansion. Claim there’s a better place in the world for people-watching than Miami’s South Beach and you’re clearly lying. It’s a place where helpless posers, plastic surgery-riddled old ladies, camp clubbers, bumbag-wearing cruise ship day-trippers and borderline space cadets gather daily to put on an unintentional show.
Art Deco dabbling
But it’s not just the people that make South Beach special – it’s the look. The highest concentration of Art Deco buildings in the world can be found here. That’s partly down to a hurricane which swept through in 1926, meaning everything was rebuilt in the style of the day, and partly due to the efforts of the Miami Design Preservation League, whose walking tours are unequivocally the best investment of a couple of hours you can make in Miami.
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But Miami isn’t just South Beach. Its sprawling tentacles stretch out to the Everglades – a reminder that the city is essentially built on reclaimed swampland. The air boat tours of this area, bombing along with a giant fan at the back of the vessel, are tremendous fun. Gawping of a different kind can be found in Coral Gables, the obscenely wealthy mainland stretch of Miami where mansion-building one-upmanship seems to be contested half with bus tours in mind.
But ostentatious money-splashing is only one part of Miami’s character, and much of the rest has come from waves of immigration.
Miami is the de facto capital of Latin America, with the Cuban influence most prominent. Calle Ocho is generally regarded as the heart of Latino Miami – short on standalone attractions, it’s high on atmosphere. Cigar stores sell the finest hand-rolled smokes. Old ladies sit on porches in rocking chairs. A dose of real life, completely at odds with the booming dance beats of the bars in South Beach. But the way of enjoying it is exactly the same – ambling slowly, with a sense of wonder.
- Taking a 90-minute walking tour of South Beach’s Art Deco history and highlights with the Miami Design Preservation League.
- Learning where the underrated Latino food hotspots are on Miami Culinary Tours’ face-filling amble around unheralded restaurants and food stalls. One top revelation is Cuban joint La Ventana where the marinated shredded beef patacones are addictive.
- Unleashing your risqué side at the World Erotic Art Museum in South Beach. It’s not for the prudish, but it’s not pervy either – with saucy artworks and carvings collected from all over the world by a grandmother in her 70s.
- Getting a dose of culture with your drink at The Stage – a bar hidden beneath an overpass that has a great schedule of live bands and small theatre productions, without the showy attitude.
- Heading out to the Everglades for an air-boating trip amongst the alligators, or hop-on hop-off bus tours around the key areas of Miami.
The Shore Club 4-star
Bringing a fresh modern vibe to South Beach, the Art Deco Shore Club boasts famously beautiful gardens.
Fontainebleau Miami Beach 5-star
A city landmark, the elegant Fountainebleau is a benchmark of style, luxury and indulgence.
Loews Miami Beach 5-star
Fusing Art Deco heritage with contemporary styling, this hotel overlooks the Atlantic Ocean on a palm-tree-lined promenade.
Want to book? Take a look at our cheap flights to Miami or call a Flight Centre expert today!