With the myriad beach options available along the Gulf, Atlantic, and Caribbean coasts it’s a wonder anyone would choose Miami. The congested 5-mile strip of 60s- and 70s-era hotels along Miami Beach arguably represents the poster child for 20th century tourism run amok. If you’re traveling to the region, other places offer the same, or warmer, climate usually without the brutalist architecture and congestion.
What other locales don’t have, though, is Miami. It isn’t pretty or terribly well planned, and is sketchy in places; however, it is a free-spirited city, charged by Cuban, Latin American, and Caribbean cultures, and further energized by the eclectic congregation of visitors that arrive from all corners of the world. There’s a lot going on in Miami, and it’s fun to spend some time there and on its beaches.
My wife and I have come down to Miami every year for the more than a decade. We’ve spent time on beaches all around the world, and still discover new ones, but there is something about the diverse, tolerant, and fun-loving spirit of the Miami area and its beaches that keeps us coming back. There is South Beach, with its youthful and fashionable crowd. Further up the coast, more exclusive hotels offer a retreat from the crowds. A clothing optional spot north of the city limits provides a haven for hedonists, retirees, and misfits. All along the Miami Beach strip, English is often the second or third language spoken.
South Beach gets a lot of attention and for good reason. The Art Deco Historic District is a great place to walk around, shop, take in the trim bodies strutting along Ocean Drive and the Boardwalk, or grab a bite to eat. We’ve settled on Puerto Sagua as the one restaurant we consistently return to when visiting South Beach. The Cuban diner has little of the swagger of the many of the South Beach restaurants, but it does have what many of them lack – good food.
Over the years we have slowly migrated away from South Beach and now spend our days and nights along the central and northern sections of Miami Beach. Our hotel of choice for the past few years has been Miami Beach Resort and Spa at 47th Street. Its ocean view rooms are probably among the most affordable of the hotels along the strip and its corner rooms are a destination in themselves. The Miami Resort clings to what was once probably a more glorious and exclusive past but its accommodations have seen better days and management doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to refurbish. We suspect this is what keeps their prices down.
Most of the guests at the Miami Resort are from Latin America and Europe, but every year the hotel accommodates a slightly different international flavor. This year it was Scandinavian, last year Chinese, the year before that Russian. The hotel has a “heated” pool and gym with equipment about the same age and condition as its rooms. They serve a breakfast buffet at their Hibiscus Court restaurant and dinner at their Ocean Bar and Bistro, but we’ve had a lot better food and value at their Poquito cafe, which serves plenty of tasty breakfast and lunch eats to go.
The nice thing about the Miami Beach Resort is its location. It sits near the tail end of the Boardwalk – one of Miami Beach’s most choice features – and is at least in the vicinity of the city of Surfside, a far superior spot to grab dinner than South Beach. We’ve become regulars at the Sushi Republic and the Greek Place, both popular with Surfside locals. Miami Resort is also not far from the Causeway connecting Miami Beach to the City of Miami, which we cross to visit spots in and outside of the city. This includes Little Havana where restaurants along its main drag (Calle Ocho) daily serve up some of the finest Cuban cuisine anywhere.
And then there is the beach. What gets lost in the Miami debate is there is a reason all those hotels are there in the first place. Despite the build up, Miami beaches are still idyllic places to spend your days, particular when the wind subsides, the clouds break, and the temperature settles in at a comfortable 80 degrees, not rare events in South Florida. With that, all that is left to do is to lie back and take it all in — whether it be a parade of Brazilian thongs, a 70 year old man with nothing on but a toothy grin, or just the gentle, rhythmic break of the waves. Yes, there is a reason people come to Miami.
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