A Visit to South Beach Miami
In mid-January, my husband and I took a 2-night trip from the Fort Myers/Naples area of Florida to South Beach. This trip was initiated by our desire to see our Chicago Bulls play the Miami Heat at the American Airlines Arena. As Chicago transplants, we appreciated the chance to see our favorite basketball team without making a trip to the frigid winter weather of our hometown. We were treated to a Chicago win, though I must admit it was a bit anti-climactic considering Miami had at that time lost 12 games in a row!
We had never before been to South Beach, so our itinerary was open. As it worked out, our trip included:
We booked our stay at the Beacon Hotel, located at 720 Ocean Drive in the heart of South Beach. We arrived at Miami Beach via the MacArthur Causeway, which becomes 5th Street and ends at Ocean Drive. The west side of Ocean Drive is lined with architecturally significant hotels and several restaurants. On the east side of the street, Lummus Park runs parallel to Ocean Drive and the Atlantic Ocean. This South Beach strip allows for no hotel parking and offers very limited metered street parking. We gratefully left our car with the hotel’s valet and checked into our room.
The Beacon Hotel is quite old, built in 1937, but renovations have kept it contemporary. Our room on the fourth of five floors faced the ocean, which would have provided a beautiful view of the Atlantic, except that the tops of the palm trees were at about eye level (still prettier than looking at other buildings). The room was small and the bathroom was tiny, but the comfort of the king-sized bed with fabulous linens compensated for the room size and we appreciated Beacon’s efforts to update the furnishings, including a flat-screen LCD TV. A couple minor flaws – the lighting in the bathroom was insufficient and, due to the contemporary vessel style sink, there was very little counter space for toiletries. All in all, we found the hotel to be comfortable and perfectly located, with friendly staff.
After settling in at the hotel, we went for a walk up Ocean Drive to find a place for lunch. When you walk on the sidewalk on the west side of Ocean Drive in South Beach, you are actually walking through the primary seating section of restaurant after restaurant. These restaurants comprise a portion of the lower level of the hotels, though they are not necessarily affiliated with the hotels. We were inundated with hostesses offering to show us the restaurant’s menu and many offered a 50% discount, which I assume was available only at lunchtime. We decided to eat at Prime Time and were perfectly satisfied with our barbecued chicken pizza and cheeseburger.
After lunch we continued sightseeing north on Ocean Drive, which ends at 15th Street. Lummus Park also ends here and a slight jog takes you to Collins Avenue, which becomes the main drag parallel to the beach. At this point, we crossed Ocean Drive and headed back south partially on the sidewalk and partially on the beach. The beach here is great – very wide with soft sand. The day was quite windy, so only the most adventurous were spending the day at the beach.
Our hotel’s front desk clerk advised us that a cab ride from the hotel to American Airlines Arena would run about $15, so we decided to cab over rather than having the valet get our car and then have to look for parking at the stadium. It was quite an easy ride, back over the MacArthur Causeway to the mainland, then slightly south on Biscayne Boulevard. The arena is located next to Bayside Marketplace. It is a somewhat new arena (opened on December 31, 1999). Not only is it home to the Miami Heat, but it also hosts big-name concerts. This facility can accommodate almost 20,000 spectators.
Once inside, the arena is much like any other modern sports stadium. They sell the typical concessions, such as hotdogs, pizza, chicken sandwiches, soda, beer and other alcoholic options. You’ll find a large store selling Miami Heat clothing and souvenirs on the mezzanine level, as well as smaller souvenir counters mixed within the concessions. Of course we couldn’t purchase any Chicago Bulls souvenirs, but they may want to consider adding an “away team” shop, as we saw many spectators wearing Chicago Bulls garb.
The seating inside the stadium includes three levels. We sat in the front row of the second level. The seats weren’t too bad. I’m just glad we weren’t in the third section (talk about nose bleed!). The arena was far from sold out. I guess that goes back to the 12 straight losses dilemma. They have the usual stadium entertainment, such as flinging t-shirts into the crowd and basketball shooting contests.
After the game we walked across the street to Bayside Marketplace, which is a nice open-air shopping mall with dining and entertainment. Unfortunately, by the time the basketball game let out, most of the stores were closed. However, the restaurants were open and, near the marina, there was a stage that features free live entertainment. On the night we were there, a mediocre salsa-type band was playing. (Think aging woman doing Gloria Estefan karaoke.) Bayside Marketplace is a nice place, but has a lot of the same stores and restaurants you will find in any city (stores such as Gap, Bath & Body Works, Victoria’s Secret, and Sharper Image, restaurants such as Chili’s, Bubba Gump Shrimp, Hardrock Café, and of course a Starbucks.) Though there are many other unique shops and restaurants as well, so if you’re looking to shop on your trip, it may be worth a look.
The next day, we left our hotel and walked north on Ocean Drive to the Front Porch Café at the Penguin Hotel. The Front Porch Café serves all-day breakfast, as well as lunch and dinner. It’s a great spot for people-watching or just reading the newspaper. Breakfast was very tasty and the service was good.
Next we headed to Washington Avenue to embark on our Duck Tour of Miami Beach. A side note here: Previously, I was vehemently opposed to going on one of those silly looking duck-mobiles. However, after reading online reviews I decided I would give it a try.
The tour started out near the Duck Tours office at 1665 Washington Avenue. After boarding the “duck-mobile”, we headed south on Washington Avenue and, along the way, the tour guide pointed out Lincoln Road Mall and Espanola Way for shopping. He also identified one or two unremarkable buildings on Washington Avenue. We headed west on 5th Street and traveled over the MacArthur Causeway to Watson Island, where the amphibious “duck-mobile” left dry land for the waters of Biscayne Bay. The “boat” powered among the various small islands and the guide pointed out the homes of several celebrities. It wasn’t long before we were headed back onto Watson Island for a continuation of the road tour. We traveled back over the MacArthur Causeway to Miami Beach, then up Ocean Drive. Even though our hotel was on Ocean Drive, we saw it from a different vantage point and learned a bit about the buildings, such as the fact that the front of the club featured in the movie “The Birdcage” was actually the Carlyle Hotel. After the short trek up Ocean Drive and a quick jog on Collins Avenue, the 90-minute tour was over.
I was somewhat disappointed in the tour. I didn’t find the tour highlights to be very exciting and, at $32 per person, I expected more substance in the tour. I’ve mentally noted, for our next trip to Miami Beach, to try one of the tours that highlights the diverse neighborhoods of Miami, such as Little Havana, Coconut Grove, Coral Gables, etc.
After disembarking the tour vehicle, we walked south down Washington Avenue to Lincoln Road Mall, which is an outdoor pedestrian mall. (In the mall area of several blocks between Washington Avenue and Alton Road, Lincoln Road is not accessible by cars). Here we found a number of restaurants offering an abundance of outdoor dining, many shops, galleries, a Regal Cinemas movie theater and lots of opportunity for people watching. Check the website for a mall directory.
Next, we headed three blocks south on Washington Avenue to Espanola Way. Here, your surroundings will make you think you’ve entered an authentic Spanish village. Espanola Way is smaller and more quaint than Lincoln Road Mall. It is similar, in that you’ll find shops, galleries, restaurants and ambiance, but unique, in that it’s a bit edgier, and doesn’t offer the “chain” stores found at Lincoln Road Mall.
For dinner that evening, we chose Joe’s Stone Crab. We had heard rave reviews and figured we should give it a try. The restaurant is located 11 Washington Avenue, at the south end of Miami Beach. We cabbed over around 7pm and, since they do not take reservations, we had about an hour wait for a table and, luckily, we had arrived just before a bus let out a tourist group.
The main menu items are of course stone crabs, but there are many other choices. There is a variety of fish offerings, as well as lobster, shrimp, scallops and oysters. Non-seafood items range from a prime bone-in filet mignon to a turkey burger (though the turkey burger is hardly characteristic of the rest of the menu). I decided on the chopped salad (which is quite unique and delicious) and the fried shrimp (which was perfectly satisfactory). My husband had the seafood bisque soup, which he commented could have been hotter, but he was very pleased with his salmon, which was seasoned with ginger. Take note that the side items are quite generous; definitely enough to share. Our baked potato could have been split by four! Considering the excellent quality of the food, I’m sorry to report that the wait staff was a bit “stuffy” and indifferent, certainly not the most friendly atmosphere.
See Map of Miami Beach locations
Our short trip to South Beach was deemed a good one and we’re looking forward to our next stay. This is an area of much diversity, certainly one where anyone can fit in. We know that our next visit will include a tour of the Miami neighborhoods, checking out some of the museums in the area, and maybe even swimming with the dolphins at the Miami Seaquarium. Stay tuned…