My Kind of Place The sounds, tastes and rhythms of Latin America converge on this most diverse of cities.
Miami, the cultural melting pot that never misses a beat
Two decades after it was "discovered" by movie stars (Sylvester Stallone), music icons (Madonna) and fashion kings (Gianni Versace), South Beach has been rediscovered. The city lures the tastes, sounds and rhythms of Central and South America into a single, seafront destination. A recent influx of deep-pocketed Latin travellers and second-home buyers are pushing Miami increasingly upscale and both design-driven hotels and chef-focused restaurants are arriving, adding their own flavour to this unique cultural melting pot. And these changes are complimenting important recent urban upgrades. With summer almost in full force, Miami is slowing down slightly - trading sun-starved East Coasters for sun-worshipping Europeans who pack South Beach each July and August.
Make South Beach your base for a low-key getaway but don't forget about the rest of town. Miami's nascent Design District now rivals SoHo for top-tier luxury shopping - from Marni to Margiela - while the art galleries in nearby Wynwood range from the blue-chip (Paris' Galerie Perrotin) to experimental (World Class Boxing). Still to come is a dazzling new Miami Art Museum now rising along Biscayne Bay and, in December, the annual Art Basil Miami Beach (artbaselmiamibeach.com) festival; three days of parties, openings, dinners and, yes, art.
A comfortable bed
There are dozens of hotels lining the beach, but none blend location, style, culture and cuisine quite like The W South Beach (whotels.com; +1-305-938-3000; from US$449 [Dh1,649] before tax). Set along the beach's northern flank, the 20-floor tower's angular, geometric architecture ensures each of its 334 rooms includes water views from its airy veranda. Down in the lobby, the hotel's owners display a museum's worth of blue-chip contemporary artworks - from Warhol and Basquiat to multiple Hirsts.
Nearby, the newly opened Dutch restaurant brings New York chef's Andrew Carmellini celebrated new-American menu to South Beach, while Mr Chow continues to dish up the mod-Chinese cuisine that keeps the crowds happy. Just down Collins Avenue, meanwhile, hip Los Angeles-based hotelier Sam Nazarian opens the first East Coast branch of his SLS Hotels group this summer in an Art Deco gem. Along with 132 guest rooms and 10 ultra-luxe poolside cabanas, the SLS Miami (slshotels.com; +1-305-674-1701; from $465 [Dh1,708] before tax) includes a swanky penthouse/bungalow suite designed by rock legend Lenny Kravitz.
Find your feet
South Beach has many mid-points but the most manageable has to be Lincoln Road. Spanning from Ocean Drive to West Avenue, this former mangrove swamp was transformed by architect Morris Lapidus in the early 1960s into a pedestrian-only boulevard of gardens, fountains, structures and theatres in the whitewashed Miami Modernist (MiMo) style. Today, Lincoln Road heaves with shoppers, strollers and diners who pack its al fresco restaurants and cafes, browse its numerous boutiques and hunt for bargains at its weekly antiques market. True, Lincoln Road is touristy but with its something-for-everybody feel and stylish, social vibe, there's no rival on South Beach.
Meet the locals
Set in the heart of buzzy Lincoln Road, Books & Books (933 Lincoln Road, South Beach; www.booksandbooks.com) remains Miami's leading independent bookseller with an extensive range of design, architecture and local history tomes. The cafe offers the best news-stand, dining and people-watching on all of South Beach.
Book a table
The past five years have seen Miami's haute cuisine scene migrate from South Beach to the city's art and design-filled Downtown. But a recent clutch of new restaurants back on the Beach is helping to restore the area's culinary prominence. The glossiest is clearly Juvia (juviamiami.com), a rooftop boîte perched atop the glamorous Herzog & de Meuron-designed 1111 Lincoln Road garage complex. Opened this winter, Juvia is Franco-Peruvian-inspired and executive chefs Laurent Cantineaux (a protégé of Daniel Boulud) and Nobu-alum Sunny Oh deliver ambitious, tropical luxe dishes ranging from spicy rock shrimp toridito ($16 [Dh58] to butter-poached king crab niri ($36 [Dh132]) with sweet rice and caviar. Less fancy - though no less tasty - is Yard Bird (1600 Lenox Avenue; runchickenrun.com), a traditional "Southern kitchen" a short stroll away. Set in a cosy-yet-industrial-like space, Yard Bird's menu of "Low Country" classics includes an addictive fried chicken and biscuits appetiser paired with pepper jelly ($12 [Dh44]) followed by an entree of fresh local lobster served on a bed of Gulf Coast shrimp-studded rice ($33 [Dh121]). Save room for dessert: The Devil's Food layer cake with dark chocolate sauce ($8 [Dh29]) is like a meal.
The Webster (1220 Collins Ave; thewebstermiami.com) inhabits an elegantly restored 1930s Art Deco hotel of the same name. Sprawling over three levels, the luxury emporium stocks a range of cutting-edge global brands. Over in the Design District, En Avance (161 NE 40th Street; enavance.net) owner Karen Quinones commutes between Miami, Manhattan and Europe to source cult brands such as Robert Rodriguez, Jasmine di Milo and Majestic Cashmere to display in her gallery-like space.
What to avoid
Steer clear of the overpriced and under-flavoured restaurants lining Ocean Drive, which is best reserved for a postprandial stroll. Their mediocre menus, scant service and confusing price structure will leave even the most forgiving of diners thoroughly underwhelmed.
Stocking some 10,000 varieties of the guayabera, a classic Latin American shirt, La Casa de las Guayaberas (5840 SW 8th Street) offers every imaginable colour, fabric and pattern. For women, there are smock-like guayabera dresses, cut tight around the waist.
Etihad Airways (www.etihadairways.com) flies from Abu Dhabi to Miami, via Dusseldorf on the way out and JFK on the return leg, from Dh6,800 return including taxes.