How are you feeling today grandpa?
Ida, thank you for the candy!
Harry, can we play a game of cards?
Gloria, can you show me how to do the watusi dance?
And so that’s how the conversations went when I visited my grandpa and his merry band of grandmas and grandpas every year South Beach Miami. From the front terrace of their modest apartment homes that used to be glamorous Art Deco hotels, a day in South Beach in the mid 1960’s for my grandpa and his dear friends consisted mostly about some card playing, a visit from the grandkids, and multiple applications of zinc oxide to prevent these wise elders from getting a sunburned nose. South Beach was the perfect place for those of advanced years as the warm balmy weather took the damp chill of their previous lives in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut right out of their fragile bones. Their days in the sun were leisurely and the highlight was the early bird dinners at any one of the famous delicatessens that lined the neighborhood.
Today, remnants of that mid last century time are practically all gone. In its place, South Beach morphed into a district that literally never sleeps. For good or bad, South Beach isn’t a world class destination for nothing. Think of everything people like to do on a warm weather vacation-dine, shop, sun, chill in a museum, dance, take to the waters and a plane ticket to Miami with a visit to South Beach is a must.
South Beach, not to be confused with the entirety of Miami Beach, basically runs east to west from 1st street and South Point Drive to Lincoln Road at 17th street and north to south with 13 various roads and avenues. This concentrated area is where it all happens! You can literally spend an entire day just in this compact tangle of streets and so here is a morning to evening South Beach itinerary with every interest in mind.
And if you do happen upon any of the elderly residents in your travels, they are an attraction in and of themselves. Oh, the glorious stories they can tell you!
Start your day at the southern end of South Beach at the beautiful South Pointe Park. Head for this peaceful and picturesque spot first thing in the morning to take in a stunning panoramic view of the sparkling Miami skyline, the calming shoreline, and the ritzy Fisher Island. Plop yourself down on any part of the lush green lawn to sip a to-go cup of coffee while you contemplate the rest of your day. Take in a stroll along the wide promenade with a cool ocean breeze to mist your sun-drenched skin. If that doesn’t cool you off, there is a mini water playground that should bring down any hot temperature. You can even watch the many fisherman from the pier as they wait patiently for a Florida fish to bite. It’s a great way introduction to sea, sand, and mesmerizing swaying palm trees all before the action heats up as you proceed further north into the heart of South Beach.
If you can pull yourself off the luxurious lawn, let’s get those muscles activated by grabbing a rental bike to start making your way up Ocean Drive. Burn some calories in anticipation of a nice lunch and pedal your way from South Pointe Park to the heart of South Beach, around 11th street and Ocean Drive. Ditch the bike and head into the Miami Beach Visitors Office, the home of the Miami Design Preservation League, to learn a thing or two about what South Beach is most famous for- its Art Deco history and architecture. Visit the compact, but very informative museum to understand how Art Deco transformed South Beach from a sleepy enclave into one of the most visited destinations in the world. After a few spins around the exhibits, exit into the world of Art Deco hotels and admire Art Deco design elements used for the many stores and restaurants.
By this time, you will be ready for a little nosh to eat and you have many choices. I’d say skip the overpriced and not too interesting cuisine spots that line Ocean Drive and head for something a little off the beaten path.
You may have heard about Espanola Way, a pedestrian street located at 15th street and Washington Avenue. This beautiful walkway bursting at the seams with Mediterranean architecture, is a perfect place to enjoy a calm lunch away from the beach side of South Beach.
Head for one of the last restaurants in the row of dining outlets as you stroll through this foliage packed walkway.
When one heads to Miami, usually you will get recommendations from well meaning friends urging you to sample the Cuban food. And why not? The Latin culture in Miami is in full force and it’s what Miami is known for.
But there are plenty of opportunities to chow down on a Cuban sandwich or a plate of ropa viejo in other parts of the city. Why not enjoy a European style mid
-day meal here at this French-centric dining establishment. Since Miami is also one of the most diverse multi-cultural communities in the United States, the city is not just limited to Latin American residents. We have a lovely little Gallic community as well and this sweet, tucked away lunch spot will fill your belly with delicious crepes and other French fare. It’s always serene here and so you and your dining buddies can actually converse without blaring music so many other places seem to think is necessary, but can take away from the ambiance.
After a tres bon repast, now it’s time to go back up beachside and get your towel unfurled for some sunning and dipping. It’s better to enjoy the sand and sea without the fear of turning red like a lobster! So come to the beach after 2:00pm and the sun, while still mighty, won’t be overwhelming. Spend time soaking it all in; whether you want to spend your time in a prone position or go for an active swim, no trip to South Beach is complete if you don’t spend actual time on the beach!
For those who have some energy to spare, dust off the sand particles for some apres beach time, and head for the Wolfsonian FIU Museum located between 10th and 11th street and Washington Avenue. This small, but extremely impressive museum highlights the eclectic collection of Mickey Wolfson; furniture, art, jewelry, art, posters from the 1920’s and 30’s. It’s all displayed so beautifully and you will absolutely be transported to one of the most glamorous eras of Miami Beach. It’s well worth saving a bit of stamina for this visit after your sunning session .
As night falls and all the Art Deco buildings turn to shades of neon pink, blue, red and purple, dinner awaits!
During the 1940’s and 50’s, the Italian community was quite prominent in Miami Beach. Today, good Italian restaurants still dot the entire area and a lovely place to enjoy a good-sized wine glass filled with a juicy red is a darling restaurant called Spiga, located at 12th street and Collins Avenue.
Upon approach you will know you made the right decision as the romantic lighting beckons passerby’s to its threshold. Dine on the front terrace or around the side in the luscious garden while you dig right into perfectly sauced pasta strands, fresh from the sea broiled seafood, well prepared garden vegetables and plenty of who-cares-about-calories desserts to have you linger long.
There is no rush here, so just sit back and sip your rich espresso and maybe some sweet Italian liqueur slowly and review your a day well spent in the heart of Miami Beach.
But wait......want to hear from stories about South Beach’s intriguing history? Join our Miami Culinary Tour’s South Beach Food and Art Deco Tour as our master storytellers engage you in all the tales. You’ll be treated to cuisine representative of our Miami culture while hearing about the past, present and future of South Beach. Be privy to the insider information we reserve for our special guests- that’s you!
By Robyn Webb