Not Just A Party-Beach Destination: Miami Is Abuzz With Art, Architecture And History
The party-beach destination doubles up as a city that’s abuzz with art, architecture, history and plenty of beer and Mexican food.
If your reason to visit Miami has anything to do with sand and surf (how can it not?), South Beach is where you ought to stay. Pick the 18-room boutique property Sense Beach House, conveniently located close to the sea and the famed Art Deco stretch. If you can resist the temptation to while away all your time chilling in the Instagram-friendly rooftop pool, head downstairs to The Local House for a sumptuous brunch of Eggs Benedict and Bellinis.
Chat up the bartenders and they’ll teach you handy tricks to open beer bottles with your bare hands, or share the (not so) secret ingredients that go into their signature cocktails.
Taking a stroll along the graffitiladen Wynwood Walls is a quintessential Miami experience that doesn’t cost a dime. The Wynwood Art District is home to over 70 galleries, five museums, three collections, seven art complexes, 12 art studios, five art fairs and the walls, of course. Over 50 artists from 16 countries have participated in creating graffiti here – among them are Kenny Scharf, Faile and Shepard Fairey. The Wynwood area also boasts of some superb F&B selections. Beer lovers can stop by the Wynwood Brewing Company for a pint of the award-winning Pop’s Porter — characterized by hints of chocolate and coffee, and a blend of roasted malts. Nearby, Concrete Beach Brewery does an excellent Concrete Common — a medium-bodied, copper-hued lager with hints of caramel and ripe fruit. Our top recommendation, however, is the family-owned Boxelder Craft Beer Market. Pick from their impressive selection at the long bar inside, but do grab one of the wooden picnic tables outside for a better ambience. Pick your meal from the smattering of food trucks parked a stone’s throw away. Coffee fiends can take a short walk to the nearby outpost of Panther Coffee for the excellent Cold Brew.
Miami Beach and South Beach are perennially buzzing with activity, so a stroll along Ocean Drive is always a good idea. A walk around the Art Deco district will throw up gems like the Park Central hotel – built in 1937 and a hangout for Clark Gable and Rita Hayworth. Casa Casuarina is the erstwhile home of designer Gianni Versace, who was shot dead in 1997 on its steps.
The mansion is now a members-only party spot. Also walk into the Sagamore for its impressive contemporary art collection and stroll past Lummus Park for a great view of the stretch with neon signs galore. This is the Miami you typically see in movies.
THE SPICE OF LIFE
The Art Deco district is also where all the parties are. Between South Beach and the neighbouring Miami Beach, there’s a whole host of spots you can hit up, and parties will likely go on till dawn. The biggest draw of the moment is Mango’s Tropical Café, which turned 25 this year. Live shows here range from cabaret, salsa and bachata to Michael Jackson tributes and hip-hop shows. It’s quite likely you’ll have to line up to get in, so keep a list of other hot spots handy — starting with Kill Your Idol and Story Nightclub. Pre-drink on the other side of the island at Monty’s on South Beach, taking in sweeping views of yachts on the marina as you sip on reasonably priced drinks in their illuminated pool. If Mexican food is your thing, you’re in for a treat— ranging from humble, canteen-style food at Las Olas Café to the pricier Jalapeno Mexican Kitchen and endless varieties of tacos at Taquiza. Brunch options are varied too. News Café — where the late Versace had his first meal every day — is a quiet option, while Bagatelle and Nikki Beach live up to their reputation as raucous day-time party spots.
TACO TIP: Order sharing platters with multiple varieties — their small size means you can sample lots without getting too full
There’s plenty to do for nature lovers. The well located Jungle Island is an interactive park with a host of activities that we promise won’t feel too childlike. Throughout the place, it’s quite commonplace for attendants to hand you a macaw, snake or skunk to snap a quick photo. Sign up for the lemur interaction, where lemur babies are left loose in your enclosure and will feel free to crawl over you, try to grab at your things or just snuggle in your lap. More adventurous is the Everglades Safari Park, 30 miles east of the main city, where you can book yourself an hour long airboat ride. You’ll spot alligators, big lizards, raccoons and more while your guide doles out trivia. The airboats have open, breathable seating that can be a bit daunting, but are eventually enjoyable.
A short drive from Downtown Miami takes you to Little Havana — perhaps the world’s best known neighbourhood chock-full of Cuban exiles. You’ll find the older lot at Maximo Gomez park on most days, where they’ll let you watch their fiercely competitive games of dominos. Chattier ones will explain the game or regale you with anecdotes. Across the road is Cubaocho, a museum and performing arts center that houses a formidable collection of Cuban art, books and more. Take your time browsing or contemplating a purchase while you sip on a mojito, for Cubaocho also stakes claim to the world’s largest collection of rum. History lovers can check out the informative Bay of Pigs Museum, dedicated to the invasion of 1961, and pick up a souvenir from the Little Havana gift shop, where items range from straightforward fridge magnets to lighters in risqué shapes. For cigar aficionados, a visit to the El Credito Cigar Factory is a must. The main room is open to tourists, who can watch world-class cigars being rolled and then head to the shop next door to choose their purchase from the El Credito line.
A stiff drink at Ball & Chain (the Calle Ocho Old Fashioned, with tobacco infused bitters and tobacco leaf, is a knockout), a scoop of Café con Leche at Azucar Ice Cream Company next door and a hearty meal at El Pub (with the famed roosters on the curb outside) should all be on your agenda too.
But the best day to visit is arguably Viernes Culturales, on the last Friday of each month, where all of Calle Ocho comes alive with visual artists, musical performances, art exhibits and more.
The Perez Art Museum’s 2013 move from Flagler Street to the more accessible Biscayne Boulevard has given it a multifold increase in visitors. Their wisest move, as a young structure, has been to focus on art of the 20th and 21st centuries and contemporary work from the Atlantic Rim. Award-winning architects Herzog & de Meuron are behind the state-of-the-art facility of over 2,00,000 sq ft of program space. Find yourself gliding through six main galleries as well as expansive outdoor gardens and some additional exhibition spaces to view the work of Robert Rauschenberg, James Rosenquist, Frank Stella, Ana Mendieta and more. If you have the time, make the trek to the Coconut Grove neighborhood for a tour of Vizcaya Museum and Gardens. The estate of the late James Deering is a designated National Historic Landmark — a 50 acre estate consisting of Deering’s Villa, 10 acres of Italian Renaissance formal gardens and the remaining 40 of native forest area. The villa’s museum has 70 rooms that are a treasure trove of antiques, furnishings, 15th to early 19th century European decorative art and architecture.