There’s a whole lot more to the Sunshine State’s most flamboyant city than its golden beaches, writes Sarah Gilbert.
Miami heat and heart
By turns cool and cultured, bold and brash, Florida’s most flamboyant city is a sultry melting pot of cultures, with a distinctly Latin flavour.
At its heart is Miami Beach, a glamorous island playground for the rich and famous. But there’s more to it than golden beaches and neon nightclubs. South Beach, or SoBe, is a living museum of Art Deco design and many of its pastel-hued buildings now house hip new and reinvented hotels, chic boutiques and edgy galleries.
The city is home to a thriving community of artists, designers and collectors. Art Basel (www.artbasel.com/miami-beach; December 4 to 7) has become a regular annual fixture, but there’s art all year round at the up-and-coming Wynwood Arts District, the industrial spaces-turned-working art studios of Bird Road and the state-of-the-art Pérez Art Museum.
It’s also evolved into a diverse culinary hot spot. It began with the Mango Gang, chefs who were inspired by local ingredients to create Floribbean and Nuevo Latino cuisine. Now there’s hot hotel dining to farm-to-fork eateries and gourmet food trucks; star chefs in SoBe (South Beach Wine and Food Festival is every February; www.sobefest.com) to the kitchens of Cuban grandmothers in Little Havana.
A comfortable bed
Set in a restored 1939 Art Deco jewel, the 393-room James Royal Palm (www.jameshotels.com/miami; 001 305 604 5700) is the epitome of laid-back luxury. Its recent renovation has preserved the building’s sleek lines and given them a contemporary spin, with a cutting-edge art collection, two eateries and a 42-foot, palm-shaded pool just steps from the Atlantic. Doubles from US$349 (Dh1,282).
The minimalist new boutique B&B Blanc Kara (www.blanckara.com; 001 786 216 7205) is close to the beach, the Art Deco District and SoBe’s nightlife, but away from the hubbub. Doubles from $160 (Dh588), including breakfast.
Find your feet
SoBe’s compact Art Deco District is perfect for exploring on foot. There are about 800 photogenic buildings from the 1920s to the 1940s – get your bearings on the 90-minute walking tour from the Art Deco Welcome Centre (www.mdpl.org; 001 305 672 2014; every day at 10.30am; $20 [Dh73]).
If you want to go it alone, pick up a map of walking routes and focus on three parallel streets: Ocean Drive, Collins Avenue and Washington Avenue, from 6th to 23rd streets. Look out for Park Central (640 Ocean Drive) – built in 1937, this former hangout for Hollywood stars was the first hotel to be restored to its former glory; the Delano (1685 Collins Avenue), the tallest building in Miami Beach when it was built in 1947; and Casa Casuarina (1,116 Ocean Drive), once home to the Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace.
To see the city from a different angle, take to the water and cruise around Biscayne Bay, past “Millionaire’s Row” and the downtown skyline (www.grayline.com; $28 [Dh103]).
Meet the locals
The Wynwood Arts District has more than 70 exhibition spaces, from private collections to cutting-edge pop-ups. Every second and fourth Saturday evening of the month, the Wynwood Art Walk brings together home-grown art lovers, hipsters and visitors on a one-hour tour with a local-in-the-know (www.wynwoodartwalk.com; 001 305 814 9290; $18 [Dh66]). Or focus on street art on their graffiti tour ($20 [Dh73]).
Book a table
The opening of the celebrity chef Gaston Acurio’s La Mar (www.mandarinoriental.com/miami; 001 305 913 8358) has put the spotlight on Peruvian cuisine. Overlook the water while feasting on barrio, a ceviche with yellowtail snapper ($18 [Dh66]) or a high-end churrasco a lo pobre, with rib-eye Angus beef ($49 [Dh180]) .
Yardbird (www.runchickenrun.com; 001 305 538 5220) has brought Southern home cooking to the Sunshine State. Try the delicious fine fried chicken, served with cheddar waffles and hot sauce-spiked Tupelo honey ($26 [Dh96]).
The stunning views and modernist decor almost overshadow the food at Juvia (www.juviamiami.com; 001 305 763 8272). This chic eatery is set atop a Herzog & de Meuron-designed garage and the eclectic menu blends Japanese, French and Peruvian fare in dishes such as pan-seared duck magret, shiitake and mandarin reduction ($30 [Dh110]).
SoBe’s Lincoln Road (www.lincolnroadmall.com) is a pedestrian-only promenade between Alton Road and Washington Avenue, where iconic American brands rub shoulders with boutiques like Base Superstore (www.baseworld.com). Three blocks south is picturesque Española Way. A kitsch slice of history, this Spanish-style street is awash with one-off shops, galleries and cafes. For haute design head to the Bal Harbour mall (www.balharbourflorida.com) in North Miami Beach. All the top European designers are here – from Hermès and Chanel to Stella McCartney and Lanvin – but the open-air mall’s architecture is unmistakably 1950s Miami-Modern, or MiMo.
The newly opened Pérez Art Museum Miami (www.pamm.org; 001 305 375 3000; $12 [Dh44]), a $131 million (Dh481.1m) complex with 200,000 square feet of display space showcasing 20th- and 21st-century art from the Americas, western Europe and Africa.
What to avoid
August and September are the hottest, most humid months. But endure the heat for discounts at hotels and expensive eateries offering fixed-price deals for Miami Spice (www.ilovemiamispice.com).
American Airlines (www.aa.com) offers return flights from Abu Dhabi to Miami via London, New York, Chicago or Washington, from Dh4,544 including taxes. Qatar Airways (www.qatarairways.com; 00 971 2613 5000) launches direct flights to Miami from Doha in June, with returns from Abu Dhabi from Dh4,625, including taxes.