Most of Miami’s action is centered on balmy Miami Beach, a fantasy island filled with gorgeous Art Deco hotels and glamorous contemporary resorts just off the eastern coast of the city.
However Miami’s up-and-coming neighborhoods – Little Cuba, Wynwood, the Design District and Coral Gables– each have a unique character worth discovering.
Where to shop
South Miami Beach: Collins Avenue and Lincoln Road
Pedestrian-friendly Lincoln Roadhas some of South Beach’s best retail. You’ll find key stores, galleries and alfresco restaurants between Washington and Alton Road. Stores stay open late to accommodate après beach shoppers. A couple of blocks south is Española Way, a destination for all things Hispanic.
After the big, bold hotels on beachfront Collins Avenue head south for stores located between 5th and 8th Streets.
Mid-market apparel brands on the street include Anthropologie, Gap Body, American Apparel (which also has a store on Ocean Drive) and Victoria’s Secretto Napapijri, French Connectionand Steve Madden. Commercial interiors stores on Lincoln include Williams-Sonoma and Pottery Barn.
Stop in designer apparel boutique Alchemy and the pretty and feminine Tofffor an eclectic mix of cutting-edge apparel and accessories by hard to find labels such as New Zealand designer Karen Walker.
Lifestyle store Base offers European casual wear, toys, cool lounge music CDs and an in-house hair salon, Snip.
For skincare, hair care, make-up, candles and beauty products from around the world, Brownes & Co Apothecary is a must-see. The space also houses a spa, salon and yoga studio. Other brand beauty stores are Kiehl’s, L’Occitaneand MAC.
Eat:Feeling bookish? The Books & Books cafe is an ideal place to while away the hours immersed in a design tome on “SoBe” style.
Buzzing and full in the evenings, Sushi Samba offers inventive dishes fusing Japanese, Brazilian and Peruvian cuisine – we loved our Edamame, green pepper and vegetable tempura plate. The ceviche – strips of marinated raw fish – is a speciality.
Vintage resort clothing and accessories in great condition can be sourced at Fly Boutique.
Step in to the polka-dot-tastic Morgan Miller Shoes boutique and you might just step out in sandals (designed by yourself) made by the shop’s in-house cobbler.
Nearby: On 16th Street, Training Camp has a fresh array of candy-colored sneakers.
Eat: Have a Cuban feast in an unpretentious diner at David’s Cafe. Opt for a Cuban sandwich, a tasty combination of ham, roast pork, salami, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard on Cuban bread accompanied by black bean soup, yuca and plantains. Finish off with a shot of sweet Cuban coffee – a cafecito or cortadito (with a little milk added).
Across the road is chic Chinese cafe Miss Yip, a delight with its red lacquer interiors and large decorative glass jars. The $8.88 lunch special (12-5pm) will get you classics like honey chicken or Sze Chuan beef with steamed white/brown rice and a vegetable spring roll.
Collins Avenue & Ocean Drive
It will be hard to take yourself away from Miami Beach’s gorgeous wide expanse, but that’s just what the Collins Avenue retailers are geared for.
Fortunately, many of the stores have maintained an Art Deco theme, despite their rigid branding – particularly Gap, Sephora, Armani Exchange, Benetton, Nike, Banana Republic, Nine West, Sisley, Guess? and Club Monaco. At the very southern end of Collins, Zaraand Mangohave large retail spaces with collections weighted towards party and beachwear.
For classic Americana, make sure to take in the bright and breezy resort wear and interiors at both Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren (a Ralph Lauren Polo can be found far north on Collins, in Bal Harbor).
Key stores to check out include Urban Outfitters, Sephoraand Barneys Co-Op, selling hip designer labels and the Intermix boutique, which swings more towards dressing the Chloé woman who has a taste for bikinis by Melissa Odabash and Rosa Chá.
The Webster is a must-see designer fashion destination, stocking everything from Acne to Yves St Laurent. Its high-end restaurant Caviar Kaspia specializes in caviar, smoked salmon and vodka.
Take a diversion on to 8th Street towards Ocean Drive for upmarket resort wear at Caterina Lucchi, South Florida chain Ritchie Swimwear and gifts, lighting and interiors at Helium. Then head back to Collins and over on to Washington, via 8th Street, to find the adidas concept store and Diesel.
The Gansevoort Hotel houses transplant from NYC Big Drop. You’ll also find designer poolside togs at the Scoop boutique located inside The Shore Club Hotel further north on Collins.
Nearby: Architecture fans can head to the Art Deco Historic District
Design District and North Miami
The Design District is an ever-expanding area north of Downtown Miami covering 13 blocks around 39th Street. Here you’ll find an impressive array of good interior design stores and upmarket fashion boutiques as well as a farmers’ market every Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
The area’s development has been skillfully masterminded by Dacra real estate guru, Craig Robins, who started the project by giving away studio space to artists for free. Christian Louboutin open a flagship boutique in the neighborhood. Quite the fashion coup!
Bottega Veneta creative director Tomas Maier‘s lifestyle boutique stocks a mix of own-label swim and resort wear for women and men as well as heavenly smelling, hard-to-find fragrances, art objects and design/fashion books. A gallery space upstairs features temporary exhibitions.
On NE 40th Street at NE 2nd Avenue, shop for high-end interiors at Ligne Roset, Kartell, Vitraand Luminaire, and fashion at Y-3, the lovely Marni boutique and En Avance, a hip multi-brand lifestyle store.
Marimekko Miami concept lifestyle showroom is a large minimal space, a clean canvas to show off the Scandinavian brand’s large selection of cotton/upholstery fabrics, women’s, men’s and children’s fashions, home accessories, towels, linens, furniture and books.
Make sure to head to the minimalist Culture Kings for rare streetwear and artist-commissioned sneakers. The boutique of fashion designer Nektar De Stagni is a few streets away.
Eat: The slick Domo Japones draws the design crowd. Grass has a pretty thatched roof and delicious American/Asian food. Buena Vista Bistro is one of the best places for late night eating in Miami, open until midnight. The menu has comforting, simple classics like chicken curry and spaghetti bolognese.
At Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink the menu focuses on the freshest ingredients, simply prepared. Best of all are pastry chef Hedy Goldsmith’s tempting desserts – chocolate cremoso with sea salt, olive oil, sourdough crostini and espresso parfait or banana caramel toffee panini with warm malted chocolate sauce anyone?
Nearby:Run by local promoter/DJ and all-round music enthusiast Lauren Reskin, Sweat Records is an indie music store, organic coffee house, Wi-Fi lounge and event space. Stop in here and speak to Lauren about what’s hot on the Miami indie music scene.
Between 700 and 900 NE 125th Street you’ll find a very cool clutch of interior storesselling a mix of antiques and new and vintage furniture – a must-stop for Miami-style interiors inspiration.
Art:The Museum of Contemporary Art at 770 NE 125th has good temporary exhibitions. The museum has MOCA by Moonlight Wednesday night art programs and Jazz at MOCA the last Friday of every month (7-10pm).
Vintage clothing hunters might want to venture further north for C Madeleine’s, reputedly the city’s best store for designer and second-hand vintage. Not far is a branch of Red, White & Blue Thrift Storefor secondhand treasures. (Thrift store tip: In West Miami’s Hidalia you’ll find Flamingo Plaza. With five thrift stores, the best of which is the massive Red, White & Blue, its become the city’s must-do second-hand fashion destination.)
Cross the Broad Causeway to the east for The Shops at Bal Harbor, a beautiful designer shopping mall featuring upmarket department stores Neiman Marcus and Saks, key US designers Tory Burchand Marc Jacobs, and European designer brands including Emilio Pucci, Carolina Herrera, Agent Provocateurand Anne Fontaine.
Eat:Restaurants are elegant; you can stop for afternoon tea or later indulge in happy-hour martinisor mojitos.
At the north end of Collins Avenue in Bal Harbor Calypso carries candy-colored resort wear, jewelry, sandals and Diptyque candles.
Luxurious bedding, robes and home fragrances can be sourced at Pratesi, while bright and breezy Oxygene multi-designer boutique carries everything from Jimmy Choo strappy sandals to Moschino tops.
A key boutique in up-and-coming Sunny Isles, just north of Bal Harbour, is Flirt, stocking feminine fashion and denim by labels True Religion, Juicy Couture and Sass & Bide.
Even further north is Aventura Mall, where you’ll find the usual mall stores including Abercrombie & Fitch and Express.
Inspiration nearby:If you love kitsch motels and 40s-60s style buildings, a drive up Biscayne Boulevardto take in the MiMo or Miami Modern architecture is a must-do – begin at NE 50th Street and work your way up to NE 77th Street.
Along the way you’ll pass Miami-based fashion designer Julian Chang store (6667) and key interiors stores including M.A.D.E. (8330), an unassuming treasure trove housing 13 mid-century modern furniture dealers.
Be sure to check out the Vagabond Motel‘s (7301) bookshop and vintage clothing store before eating a hot dog at Dogma, a gourmet taco at Verdaddy’s (7501) or stopping in cool diners Michy’s (6927), Red Light (7700) or Soyka (5582).
Central and South Miami: Little Havana, Coconut Grove and Coral Gables
Heading from central to south, there are few highlights in Little Havana centered on Calle Ocho (8th Street). Have a taxi drop off at Domino Park (SW 8th Street and SW 15th Avenue), where old men play dominos, and wander up and down this street, buy a guava and cheese pastry and a Mate soda.
Make sure to stop in Lily’s Records for Latin instruments and vintage salsa CDs. Comfy Cuban diner sells cheap cigars. Calle Ocho’s annual street festival is a popular event with live music and food stalls.
Cuban diner Versailles is a bit further west, but worth visiting for one of Miami’s most authentic Cuban restaurant experiences. If you don’t want to sit in, prop an elbow on the counter of its outdoor stand serving cortadito coffees and guava cheese pastries (tip: If you miss Versailles, Miami Airport has a small stand so you can enjoy an authentic Cuban taste before you board your plane home).
For an authentic taste of the local music scene head to electro/latin/funk/hip hop/dub group Spam Allstarsweekly residency at Cafe Hoy Como Ayer, and be prepared to swing your hips in the intimate venue.
Nearby: South of Little Havana is the neighborhood of Coconut Grove, home to Vizcaya, Miami Science Museumand Coco Walk, a stroller-friendly outdoor mall with shops.
A 10-minute drive north is Miracle Mile’s Coral Way, where you’ll find a clutch of key local shops including bargain beauty mecca GBS Beauty Store, designer swimwear boutique Curves n Waves and around the corner is bookstore/cafe Books & Books.
Scattered around Coral Gables, a large residential neighborhood, are some interesting boutiques including Colombian designer Silvia Tcherassi‘s store in the Village of Merrick Park Mall; Miami-based designer Rene Ruiz; women’s resort wear Biltmore Boutique and Miami Twice vintage store for home collectibles, furniture, leisure suits and platform shoes.
Inspiration:For a 1920s bathing experience, check out Coral Gables Venetian Pool, a hidden gem.
Where to eat and drink
For the young and active (and the old and rich?) South Beach is a high-energy paradise. The hottest drinking spots are usually the hotel and poolside bars. Check out Marcel Wanders’ interiors at the Mondrian, Thursday night in the Florida Room at the Delano or the Raleigh’s pool bar parties.
The Sky Bar at the Shore Club, Vueat the Victor and the deck at The Townhouse are other reckoned hotspots.
Some might want to experience a different side to the city and get away from the hectic hordes of holidaymakers. For a more local vibe/relaxed experience, head over the causeway to Downtown Miami, or drink mojitos and eat Cuban on Calle Ocho in Little Havana. Nearby Churchill’s pub adjacent to Sweat Records hosts good experimental music nights, and is home to the yearly International Noise Conference.
Downtown you can try Big Fish, a stunning seafood/Italian restaurant with tables right on the Miami River and a lovely bar that wraps around a banyan tree. A few streets walk will take you to Tobacco Road, an open-til-5am dive bar/Miami institution with All U Can Eat BBQ rib specials (Wednesdays for $10.99), live gigs and poetry readings. Not far from here you’ll find a large selection of charming retail and restaurants at Mary Brickell Village, a pedestrian-friendly outdoor mall.
Searching for a special occasion restaurant in South Beach? For a suitably over-the-top, classic Miami dining experience, try a outdoor table at Barton G. Oversized “sin-sation” cocktails come swirling with dry ice, huge martini glasses are filled edible crustacea and dishes are accessorized with flashing toys – whimsical touches can be found everywhere to ensure the oldest patron feels like a kid again.
Fashion designer Todd Oldham’s magical interiors and top-notch food at Wishin The Hotel make it another favorite. Joe’s Stone Crab at the southern tip of South Beach has been serving up tasty food for nearly 100 years. Save room for the signature dessert – a slice of the Key Lime Pie.
On the way to the airport, get the taxi to stop at Palacio del los Jugos for fresh tropical fruit juice and one last Cuban sandwich.
Miami’s tropical climate, sunny skies, sea, wide sandy beaches, pastel sunsets and vibrant population are continually inspirational. From the sorbet-toned facades of the Art Deco-style hotels to ostentatious tropical hues – color is found everywhere.
It is rumored that the late Gianni Versace’s Ocean Drive mansion Casa Casuarina is the second most-photographed building the US, the first being the White House.
The flamboyant interior decoration – gold-leaf mosaics decorate the pool, lion-skin rugs, extra-large beds to easily accommodate four etc – is indeed a spectacle. Those interested can book a tour of the house (a steep $65, inclusive of mimosa cocktail). The mansion is now a hotel and members club, rooms start upwards of $500 a night and membership costs $50,000.
The stunning Vizcaya Museum and Gardens is Miami’s equivalent to Versailles. The grounds feature an opulent mansion, a Venetian-style boat dock and formal European-style gardens dotted with sculpture and follies. Vizcaya was built by businessman James Deering in 1914 as a winter retreat. A tour will take in the well-preserved interiors, paintings, sculpture, furniture and decorations imported from Europe.
To see art of love – or love in art – local character Naomi Wilzig’s World Erotic Art Museum contains an eye-popping collection of paintings, sculpture, installations, memorabilia and bric-a-brac devoted to the subject. Don’t miss the room filled with replica furniture from Catherine the Great’s bedchamber.
Also in South Beach is the Bass Museum of Art.
Contemporary art and exhibitions can be soaked up at MOCA at Goldman Warehouse in the burgeoning Wynwood Arts District. The area’s old zapatos (shoe) warehouses are now full of art galleries.
Other key hot spots in Wynwood include the David Castillo Gallery, The Margulies Collection and The Rubell Collection.
Eat: In the day opt for the light, Italian food at the bustling Joey’s Italian Café. In the evening check out the Vagabond club – Thursday’s hip hop night Shake has cheap drink specials, Nintendo games on the wall, a quart-chugging contest at midnight as well as BBQ and late-night eats.
Where to stay
Staying on the beach will never lose its appeal. Those looking to stay in the heart of the action on hip South Beach might look to book into The Shore Club, The Delanoor Mondrian South Beachand Gansevoort South. The latter’s rooftop pool, eye-boggling Louis Bar & Lounge and Big Drop apparel boutique are definitely worth checking out.
The new W South Beach has opened its bar, lounge and club doors.
Want to surround yourself in retro style at affordable rates? Have a look at Diesel’s tongue-in-cheekPelican Hotel or the Riviera South Beach where each one-bed apartment has a separate kitchen and living room. Other great perks include grocery delivery and complimentary airport pick-up, Wi-Fi and evening cocktails. The Standard, located on its own island off the Venetian Causeway, has its own hammam, steam room and swimming pool to draw in those seeking relaxing breaks.
Business travelers will love the Duxiana beds and Irish linen sheets at the stunning Setai. The stunning Asian-style resort has a quiet sophistication. Chefs are brought over from the Setai’s sister hotels in Asia, and spa sybarites will love indulging in spa treatments from the Far East.
Heading further north, away from hectic South Beach, you’ll find the rejuvenated Fontainebleau, a 1950s landmark brought back to life. The 22-acre ocean side resort is huge, encompassing over 1,500 rooms, a sprawling outdoor lounge/pool area, four boutiques, 11 dining spots and a spa.
Although the Fontainebleau is on a grand scale, it manages to maintain a feeling of intimacy and buzz. The lobby, with its legendary “staircase to nowhere”, sparkling grandiose columns and buzzy Bleau cocktail bar front and centre, embodies this.
Rooms are spacious with iPod docking stations and Mac screens. Dining options range from celebrated London restaurateur Alan Yau’s first US restaurant Hakkasan to Italian eaterie Scarpetta, serving great homemade pasta dishes. If eating alfresco tempts, recline in a cabana poolside and enjoy the freshest fish at Blade Sushi Bar while a DJ spins chilled-out tunes. The resort even has its own pastry shop with chefs crafting stunning avant-garde cakes.
Staying downtown is useful for those who want to explore the city from a more central location. The new five-star Epic Hotel is ideal for business travelers.