South Beach - Sunny, Scenic and Sassy: You’ve Just Got to Go

If you are an American – or not – you’ve got to visit Miami’s South Beach at least once in your lifetime. There’s no other place quite like it on earth. Miami Beach is the sun-drenched narrow string of barrier islands that just east of downtown Miami. The 23 southernmost blocks are home to South Beach, renowned for its chic restaurants, trendy shops, cultural events, art galleries, sandy beaches and charming buildings from the Art Deco era.

Miles of sand and azure waters line Miami Beach

Miles of sand and azure waters line Miami Beach

Miami Beach has more resort buildings from the 1920’s and 30’s than any other city in the world. During the 60’s and 70’s, this area was in decline. In fact, when I was a child, the streets were lined with decaying buildings, cracked sidewalks littered with garbage and elderly residents struggling to cross the streets. Rents were cheap, and there were a great deal of vacancies in the apartment buildings and hotels. But that has all changed. The combination of investment capital used for building restorations in the 1980’s and 90’s and massive beach erosion restoration efforts, have made Miami Beach a vibrant city that is one of the leading tourist destinations in the world. And the real estate here is now in high demand.

Although its physical setting is inarguably beautiful, it’s really the interesting people, the visitors, who make this destination worth a visit. The weather here attracts people from all over the world, particularly South America and Europe. It is also a favorite getaway for American actors, artists, supermodels and wealthy Wall Street execs, who are eager to spend their cash in the shops and cafes and get pampered in the posh hotels. Many come for a visit and then buy vacation mansions that line the luxurious islands in Biscayne Bay. This destination is so popular that you must look for south beach vacation rentals or book a hotel reservation well in advance of your arrival, especially from November through April. Even during a cold spell, Miami almost always has the warmest weather in the continental USA during the winter and spring months.

A view of downtown Miami from South Beach

A view of downtown Miami from South Beach

It is very easy to find your way around Miami Beach. The southernmost tip is
1st Street, and the numbers climb as you travel north. Parking can be limited at times, but if you are patient, you’ll find a space eventually. Whenever possible, walk rather than drive.

Where to Eat

Joe’s Stone Crab – This eatery is the icon of Miami Beach’s cuisine. It started in 1913 as a simple lunch counter and is now world famous for its stone claw crabs and other seafood. The portions are huge, and so is the wait.  Joe’s does not take reservations, so if you really want to eat there, get there early or just be patient. It is common to wait hours for a table. The restaurant is located on the southern tip of South Beach at 1st street and Washington Ave.

Joes Stone Crab
11 Washington Ave
Miami Beach, FL 33139

Prime 112 – People rave about the steaks, the 1 lb. Kobe burgers, and the Signature Salad with Green Goddess Dressing. My brother claims that the Chocolate Peanut Butter S’mores with Vanilla Ice Cream is the best dessert he’s ever had. The restaurant is located in a quaint old building with yellow siding on Ocean Drive. And they do take dinner reservations, which I strongly advise.

Prime 112
112 Ocean Drive
Miami Beach, 33139

The Big Pink – This loud, bustling restaurant is a very casual place with crowded tables, serving casual American fare. (It’s owned by the same restaurant group as Prime 112.) You can eat outside and enjoy watching people eating with their dogs at their feet. The menu is long and the prices are pretty good. It’s a good spot to take your family for lunch. The portions are large, but some items can be ordered in smaller sizes.

The Big Pink
157 Collins Avenue
Miami Beach, FL 33039

The News Café – This popular spot is the place to definitely get a table outside and people watch. This is the place to eat breakfast or grab a burger or salad for lunch. There’s a bar and newsstand here, thus the name. And if you’re hungry in the middle of the night, you’re in luck; it’s open 24 hours a day.

The News Café 
800 Ocean Drive
Miami Beach, FL 33139

Café Prima Pasta – For fantastic Italian fare, try this locally loved, Zagat-rated dining establishment. The owners are from Argentina and know how to please their patrons. You’ll find traditional Italian courses on the menu, prepared the delicious way you’d expect them to be.

Café Prima Pasta
414 71st Street
Miami Beach, FL 33141

The beach at the southernmost tip of the island

The beach at the southernmost tip of the island

Where to Stay

Chelsea Hotel – This hotel on South Beach is housed in a 1936 Art Deco building and is within walking distance of all that South Beach has to offer. It packs a lot of charm into its small space and offers guests simple luxury at affordable rates. This is a non-smoking hotel. There is a free shuttle to the Miami Airport and VIP passes to South Beach’s nightclubs.

Chelsea Hotel
944 Washington Avenue
Miami Beach, Florida 33139


Delano – Located directly on the ocean, the Delano is synonymous with ultimate luxury. Guests are greeted by an indoor/outdoor lobby and works by Dali and Gaudi, among others, decorate the walls.  There are well-appointed, expansive rooms with city and ocean views and even an extravagant penthouse, which will cost you $4,000 per night. Other rooms will run around $500 and up per night. If you are fortunate enough to be able to afford to stay here, you’ll love the outdoor pool, the Agua Spa and dining at the Blue Door Fish. Even if you never plan to stay here, walk into the lobby during your visit to marvel at the decor.

The Delano Hotel
1685 Collins Avenue
Miami Beach, FL 33139


Fontainebleau – This massive hotel is located on Miami Beach and requires a short drive to South Beach. In 2007, this grand hotel underwent a $1 billion renovation, and it shows. The facility is essentially a world of its own, complete with shops, 11 restaurants, a 40,000 square-foot spa and fitness center, and a spectacular free form pool. My favorite of the amenities are the private poolside cabanas. The prices start at around $400 per night, but there are special more affordable packages offered at various times of the year.

4441 Collins Avenue
Miami Beach, FL 33140


Loews Miami Beach – The Loews Hotel is a modern high rise located right on the beach and is home to the well-known Emeril’s Miami Beach, among several other restaurants. The hotel’s Elemis Miami Beach spa offers an 18,000 square foot facility, where Emeril’s Spa Cuisine is served. Rooms are simple and modern. I’ve been there a number of times and have noticed that many families with young kids love to stay there. Rooms start at around $400 per night, but there are many special packages offered that are more affordable.

Loews Miami Beach Hotel
1601 Collins Avenue
Miami Beach, FL 33139


W South Beach – Guests of the W can choose accommodations ranging from standard upscale rooms to a 2,400 square foot luxurious penthouse suite on the 20th floor. The hotel is known not only for its swanky rooms, but also for its upscale bars and 4 restaurants offering Asian, Spanish and American fare. The hotel also offers a Water Sports and Activities Center as well as a heated outdoor pool, a fitness center and spa. Special vacation packages are available.

W South Beach Hotel
2201 Collins Avenue
Miami Beach, FL 33139


Where to Shop

All along South Beach’s Collins Avenue, you’ll find name brand shops. Lincoln Road is also a great shopping street with both name brand stores and independent shops. It is blocked off to cars, so pedestrians can enjoy a wide walking area. You can spend an entire afternoon here shopping and enjoying lunch at an outdoor café. The new Shops at Fifth Street and Alton Road house 180,000 square feet of retail outlets and a giant Publix grocery Store. Just west over the McArthur Causeway is downtown Miami and the Bayside Shops and restaurants. A bit further north from Miami Beach is the upscale Bal Harbour Mall, featuring the most exclusive shops in Miami.

South Beach from a 12th story balcony

South Beach from a 12th story balcony


What to Do

Lay in the sand at the beach – South Beach has the most beautiful beaches in Miami-Dade County. The sand is soft and the water is azure blue and warm year round.

Have a picnic at South Pointe Park – South Pointe Park is located at southernmost tip of South Beach and has an expansive grassy area and unsurpassed views of downtown Miami and the ocean. The people are friendly here, and many bring their dogs for a run. This is perfect spot to throw a blanket on the ground and have a picnic beneath the tall palm trees.

Find yourself a fishin’ pole – There are a large number of fishing charters in Miami Beach, where you can enjoy a half or full day fishing adventure with guides. If you catch something, you’re bound to find a restaurant that’ll be happy to cook up your catch for you.

Go fly a kite – Drive north on the beach to Haulover Park at 108th and Collins Avenue. There’s a trailer that sells and demonstrates the most magnificent kites. Quite a show. Look for Skyward Kites

Take a guided tour of Miami’s Art Deco District - Start with a visit to the Miami Design Preservation League, which offers 2 different 90-minute walking tours.

Catch a Show at the Jackie Gleason Theater  - There’s always some sort of live performance going on here.

Sip on a Cuban Coffee – If you’ve never had one, you’re in for a real jolt of flavor and caffeine.

Attend an event – There are so many cultural and art events in the Miami area annually such as the Art Basel Exhibit, Art Deco Weekend, The Miami Book Fair International, Wine and Food Fests, Fashion events and much, much more.

Strike up a conversation – The people on the beach are ultra friendly. Meeting local residents and visitors from all over the world is part of the experience of a great vacation. If you have a dog, you’ll meet even more folks. People here love dogs!

Send a friend a cheesy postcard – We have the best tacky postcards in Florida. Why not send one to a friend back home, who may be freezing? You can rub in how sunny the skies are and how much fun you are having at the beach.


Whatever you choose to do in the South Beach area, you are sure to want to return again and again. Even for those of us who live here year round, we truly appreciate the outdoor lifestyle and cultural atmosphere Miami has to offer. I often say out loud, “Wow. This place is gorgeous, and I get to live here!”



Debbie Glade is the Geography Awareness Editor for Wandering Educators.



Feature photo: My brother, Eric Rosen running with Darwin, my standard poodle, in South Point Park 



All photos courtesy and copyright Debbie Glade