If you’re looking for a subdued family vacation, you won’t find it here. In South Beach, excess is celebrated. Luxury cars, scanty attire and nonstop nightlife are the status quo.
South Beach is the southernmost 20 blocks of Miami Beach, the barrier island that runs vertically alongside downtown Miami’s coast. Just a century ago, it was mostly swamp and mangrove forests. Now, it’s a world-class destination for art and architecture lovers, foodies, and of course, sun-worshippers.
This hip and trendy neighborhood has a well-deserved reputation as a retreat for rich and beautiful people, but it’s approachable for us mortals, too. It’s the place where you can break out that scandalous outfit that you would never wear at home and people won’t even bat an eye. There are plenty of cultural activities to do during the day. (Or, just tan topless at the beach amongst a bevy of immodest Europeans.) And, of course, you can dance the night away in the hottest nighclubs. Here’s how to do South Beach…like a local.
Traffic can get crazy here, so locals don’t drive unless they have to. It’s better to get around on foot, bike or public transportation, which is cheap and easy to use.
South Beach has an hourly bike-sharing program called Citi Bike. The brightly-colored solar-charged stations are open 24/7, 365 days a year. For a fun cruise, take the Venetian Causeway all the way downtown. You’ll be treated to a beautiful ride past all the cruise ships and yachts in the marinas, and a postcard-worthy view of the city lights at night.
There are no Metrorail stations on the island, but you can ride the SBL (South Beach Local) bus line for just 25 cents. It connects South Beach to all other major bus lines in the city.
If you insist on driving, do it in style—splurge and rent a luxury vehicle. Numerous exotic car rental places around town offer Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Bentleys, Range Rovers and every other extravagant vehicle imaginable.
Shops & Cafes
For great shopping, head toward Lincoln Road. Not only is this miles-long promenade famous for its first-rate people watching, it’s completely pedestrian-friendly, meaning you won’t have to dodge traffic to get from shop to shop. You’ll find big name stores like H&M, Apple, J. Crew and Lacoste interspersed with smaller boutiques such as Scotch & Soda and Alchemist.
If you’re in town on a Sunday, make time for the Lincoln Road farmer’s market (between Washington and Meridian Avenue), where you can stock up on locally-grown fruits and vegetables, artisan breads and homemade fare for your stay. It happens every weekend, year-round, from 9 a.m–6:30 p.m. Also on Sundays, between Michigan and Lenox Avenues, is the Antique & Collectible Market, where more than a hundred dealers set up shop to peddle jewelry, home furnishings, housewares, retro fashions and more.
Española Way is a historic shopping village where you can find the latest in club wear, designer jeans and one-of-a-kind items alongside upscale art galleries and plenty of Spanish, French and Italian cafes.
Books & Books independent bookstore has a sunny patio café. It’s a perfect place to grab a quick and affordable gourmet lunch, or that new coffee table book you’ve been meaning to buy. Check their calendar’s author event series to see who’s in town.
If you’re trying to keep it healthy, don’t miss Pura Vida. This cheery cafe and juice bar offers a dizzying variety of smoothies, wraps and salads for health-conscious locals. It’s great for breakfast, too. Our favorite: the ginger, cayenne pepper and wheatgrass shots.
For small plates such as housemade beef jerky, shawarma and spicy cauliflower, try The Broken Shaker, a hip café inside the Freehand Hostel. Their handcrafted cocktails are some of the best in the city, utilizing infusions, elixirs, exotic spices and fresh-pressed produce and berries.
Restaurants & Bars
There will likely be a wait here during peak hours, but if you’ve never been to Joe’s Stone Crab, you should make time for this South Beach institution. The food and service here is friendly but impeccable, which is why the 100-year-old restaurant has been in business so long. Though stone crab has made them famous, their sides are not to be overlooked—go for the hash browns and Brussels sprouts with grilled onions, bacon and brown sugar. Take a key lime pie to go for later.
Havana 1957 doesn’t just serve Cuban food, they deliver a Cuban experience. Inside, retro-inspired booths, Afro-Cuban music and tabletops covered with old newspapers transport you to Havana’s heyday. Grab a sidewalk table, order a Cuba libre, light up a hand-rolled cigar and enjoy the good life.
Juvia, atop the famed 1111 Building, is the spot for fine dining in South Beach. With not one, but three executive chefs, this rooftop oasis mixes it up with French, Japanese and Peruvian fusion. The cold smoked scallops and ceviche are menu standouts.
Radio Bar is a welcome addition to the South Beach bar scene. Here, you can play Jenga, sing karaoke or dance salsa between cocktails. Visit on Tiki Tuesdays, when you can get daiquiris, mai tais, Singapore Slings and other tropical drinks for just $8, or two for one signature cocktails during their nightly happy hour.
If you like ethnic food, make time for Tap Tap, a Haitian restaurant with vibrantly-colored murals painted by Haitian artists. The fare is authentic and the service is quick and hassle-free.
Parks & Architecture
South Beach is perhaps most famous for its Art Deco style of architecture, which can be seen throughout the city. Indulge your creative side on an Art Deco District Walking Tour led by the Miami Design Preservation League. Even though it is a little touristy, it’s good to know the history of the area so you can really appreciate what you are seeing.
Even the lifeguard towers in South Beach are art deco. After Hurricane Andrew ravaged the island in 1992, local architect William Lane designed new, candy-colored lifeguard stands for the town. You can easily Google their locations and craft your own beach-themed art deco tour.
The 1111 Building, which looks more like a futuristic spaceship than a parking deck, is also home to an impressive array of shops and restaurants.
Most tourists will never find it, but South Pointe Park is where locals go for serenity. Native grasses, sand dunes and winding trails offer a peaceful escape, and dog lovers can let their four-legged friends romp off-leash in the square.
No matter the time of year, there is always some sort of celebration happening in South Beach. Our favorites include the Food Network Wine and Food Festival (February); Comedy Festival (April); Mercedes Benz Fashion Week (July); and the Seafood Festival (October).
Perhaps the most famous White Party, a fundraiser for HIV/AIDS research, is held annually in South Beach. A week of festive events culminates in this over-the-top affair where everyone dresses in all white symbolizing purity, hope and solidarity.
On select days through the year, catch a free show on the 7,000 square foot projection screen at New World Center. Bring a blanket and a picnic dinner to fully enjoy this unique multimedia production featuring the New World Symphony—composed of highly-gifted, advanced music students—absolutely free.
No trip to South Bach would be complete without hitting the clubs. Staples like Mansion, Twist and Mynt (which uses an aromatherapy system to infuse the club air with scents like, you guessed it, mint) are always a winner.
The swankiest club in South Beach is Liv, located inside the prestigious Fountainbleau hotel. This is not the place for slumming. Make sure you are dressed to impress and your credit card is ready for a workout. You may be rubbing elbows with celebrities like Jay-Z, Beyonce and Kate Hudson.
Should you tire of glitz and glam, cap off the night at Purdy Lounge. Away from the crowds on Ocean Drive, this off-the-beaten-path establishment has a laid-back, hipster vibe, with drink prices to match. Think lava lamps, mismatched chairs, and board games like Connect Four and checkers. We like reggae night on Mondays.