Sun worshippers and art lovers come from all over the world to Miami, which is home to trendy restaurants and Cuban eateries, high-end shopping and street fairs, first-class hotels and bargain motels. The architecture ranges from South Beach Art Deco to North Beach modern.
Nightlife sizzles—could that be because Miami is home to a larger percentage of foreign-born than any other city on earth? Cubans, Nicaraguans, Colombians, Puerto Ricans, and Venezuelans influence the food, art, and culture. Art Basel Miami Beach, which began in 2002, is an international art show that draws an equally international crowd. This year it’s December 2 through 5.
The tropical climate makes Miami a year-round destination, but be aware of hurricane season, June through November. In July and August, this city on the edge of the Everglades gets very hot—and it rains briefly almost every afternoon. The best time to go, in terms of weather, is November through March, but there will be crowds and higher hotel rates. April and May offer lower rates and mild weather.
See and Be Seen
South Beach is a great place to sunbathe—and to see and be seen. Third Street Beach is known for topless sunbathing and colorful Art Deco lifeguard stations. Or try family-friendly Crandon Park Beach on Key Biscayne, which has a water playground.
For something different, join a Beach Yoga class (Third St. and Ocean Dr., 305-202-0130; yogasouthbeach.org). Every day at 7 am and 5 pm, certified teachers hold mixed-level 75-minute classes for $5.
There’s a lot of up-and-coming as well as established talent in the Wynwood Art District. Among the 70 or so galleries, two collections are worth a visit. The Margulies Collection at the Warehouse (591 NW 27th St.; 305-576-1051; margulieswarehouse.com) features installation art, video, and photography. The Rubell Family Collection (95 NW 29th St.; 305-573-6090; rfc.museum) displays contemporary works by such artists as Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons.
Another artful diversion: Vizcaya Museum & Gardens (3251 S. Miami Ave.; 305-250-9133; vizcayamuseum.com), an ornate 1916 Italian villa on Biscayne Bay with European antiques in 34 rooms and ten acres of formal gardens.
If you want a contemplative outing, drive to the Cloisters of the Ancient Spanish Monastery in North Miami Beach (16711 W. Dixie Hwy.; 305-945-1461; spanishmonastery.com) to see its chapels, stained glass, and marble reliefs. Built in Spain from 1133 to 1144, it fell on hard times till William Randolph Hearst saved it in 1925. Structures were dismantled stone by stone, packed in hay in 11,000 crates, and shipped to the United States around the time hoof-and-mouth disease broke out in Spain. The Department of Agriculture opened the crates and burned the hay, but it didn’t put the stones back in the same numbered boxes, which were stored in a warehouse for 26 years. In 1952, they were bought by two private citizens who spent 19 months and $1.5 million rebuilding the monastery.
Madonna Slept Here
The Betsy (1440 Ocean Dr.; 305-531-6100; thebetsyhotel.com) is a landmark with 61 rooms and suites, a courtyard pool, and a rooftop solarium with views of the Atlantic. It’s elegant yet relaxed, with a Wellness Garden offering herbal teas and yoga, and a BLT Steak restaurant. Rates from $240.
It can be noisy in South Beach, but noise isn’t a problem downtown at the Four Seasons Hotel (1435 Brickell Ave.; 305-358-3535 or 800-332-3442; fourseasons.com/miami). It’s a bit disappointing to pull up to what looks like an office building, but if you enjoy flawless service and museum-quality art—including 12-foot-high Botero bronze sculptures—you’ll love it here. A two-acre terrace on the seventh floor has three pools, including a wading pool with 24 palm tree islands. A 50,000-square-foot spa and Sports Club/LA has state-of-the-art equipment and classes. The outdoor bar Bahía attracts a Friday-night happy-hour crowd that, in the summer, appreciates the DJ’s Brazilian-jazz playlist. Rates start at $325 a night.