The legendary South Beach, home of Tony Montana, Crockett and Tubbs, Gianni Versace, and CSI. The iconic art deco buildings of Ocean Drive have been used for many tv series, movies and music videos. The Art Deco buildings of South Beach and of Miami in general are just fantastic. The greatest collection of their kind anywhere in the world. The buildings were nearly destroyed in the 70s, but conservation societies and the fact that South Beach was beyond shady in the 70s and 80s saved them.
Some were spruced up for the Miami Vice series, but if you watch Scarface with Al as Tony Montana you can get a glimpse of the rather seedy worn down South Beach in the beginning of the movie when they have a run in with a chainsaw in a condo on Ocean Drive. At night Ocean Drive is a kaleidoscope of colours from the that hangs on all buildings along the way. Ocean Drive itself transforms into the freak show and show off show during the night, bringing out the gangsters in their Bentleys, the preppy stockbrokers in their Ferraris and the tourists in their rented Mustang cabs. Ocean Drive is a zoo and the people watching is epic. Worth noticing is also the Gianni Versace mansion on the middle of the strip, private home before he was murdered on the steps of the house, now it is a museum and a restaurant.
Miami International Airport is located west of downtown Miami. Airports are airports we think, not many airports stick out like somewhere you remember or revere, other than being places you have to transit on the way to your destination. Miami is no exception to this rule, but it gets points for high ceilings and bright public areas. You must pass through immigration and like most airports in the US this takes time but the automated process speeds things up a bit. Collect your luggage and head past the last check point to the arrivals hall. If you have rented a car or you want to use public transport, you need to take the shuttle MIA Mover train that will take you to the central hub for car rental and public transport.
From the airport we have always just headed for the taxi stand and probably the fastest way to get to the beach. You can take the public Miami Beach Bus, but a taxi is faster and also a cooler way to arrive at your hotel. The flat rate for a taxi from MIA to South Beach is currently 35 USD (per 2020). It is about a 20-minute ride depending on traffic. For the full Grand Theft Auto experience, ask the driver to take the MacArthur Causeway into South Beach. You will know what we mean when you zoom past Star Island on the causeway made famous by the game.
Our favourite hotel by far, and one of the hotels we have stayed the most at is the Kimpton Surfcomber on South Beach. Nestled among many of the enormous South Beach hotels, the Surfcomber is a little gem. A smaller hotel that has kept its charm and has a great vibe to it. Only 4 stories high it boasts an intimate atmosphere, a great pool area and genuinely nice rooms. We love it. And they have free wine tasting every evening! It’s on the beach, so grab your swimwear and walk down to the beds and cabanas they have by the oceanside if you prefer that to the pool. They also have free rentals of bicycles, and biking along the beach promenade is just what it’s all about in South Beach. The inhouse restaurant is great for breakfast and the pool bar serves yummy lunch and delish drinks. On the beach you can order the same food and drinks to be consumed by the sea. The hotel is located only a few blocks from the Lincoln RD Mall.
Shopping and food
The main shopping and restaurant street in South Beach is the Lincoln Rd Mall, running along the Lincoln Rd, this outdoors pedestrian mall is where it’s at for the shopaholics and food addicts. Set along very cool art deco centrepieces in the middle of the street and lots of cool art deco buildings. Check out the old car dealer sign on the Guess shop and see the old theatre that is now an H&M store. You might feel sad, but if those shops had not moved in the buildings might have been lost. Lincoln Rd Mall is a bustling hub of people and it is the greatest place to people watch in the evening.
Just sitting with a cold Margarita on one of the many bars along the street, and watch all the locals with their dogs doing their walks, the tourists and the freaks all mixing it up on warm evenings on the mall. You get all the shops you need, from Apple to Forever 21 to Urban Outfitters and John Varvatos, of course a plethora of restaurants and bars and some of the best outside dining in Miami.
Every Sunday there is a cool Farmers Market where we make sure to go whenever we are at South Beach on a Sunday to sample fresh fruit smoothies, empanadas and some great artisan coffee. Every second Sunday from October to May there is an antique market as well and it is a good opportunity to stack up on the more unusual souvenirs from South Beach.
The Lincoln Eatery Food Hall is a new and good option for food. The very cool new food hall Time Out Market used to be an old parking garage, and now boasts a host of different restaurants and lots of communal tables with bars all around. We have been back evening after evening, just because of the vibe and excellent food.
Along Collins avenue, the main drag on South Beach, there is also a wide selection of restaurants and bars. Starting on 18th street and walking south you will be spoilt for choice, and if you want to se all the cool cars with the beautiful people riding with their tops down, this is the place to sit curb side. The spectacle is just too much to take in sometimes. At 15th street you can do a left and walk down Ocean Drive and all that art deco coolness. The place is a heaving melting pot of loud music, posers in cars, gangs of partygoers and colourful and huge drinks all around. We have found that whole scene a bit much, and over touristy, and the southernmost part of Ocean Drive is a bit shady but there are some great places too. The best place for steaks in South Beach is without a doubt The Betsy Hotel. We had one of our best steak meals ever at The Betsy.
If you continue down Collins Avenue you will have lots of great shopping, bars and restaurants there as well. One of our favourite little taco shops lies hidden here, the Taquiza serves delish tacos, try the freshly made nachos and the grasshopper taco!
If you want to try something uniquely Cuban, we recommend the Puerto Sagua on the corner of 7th and Collins. A genuine Cuban place with great menu and prices, and the feel of the whole place is just so cool
Espanola Way between Drexel Avenue and Washington Avenue is a small pedestrian street filled with restaurants and bars spilling into the street, it has a great Cuban/Mexican/Miami vibe.
What to do in South Beach?
If you belong to the 24hrs party people, you will be spoilt for choice. Some of the best pool parties and nightclubs in the US are in South Beach and the Miami area. Since we belong to the 24hrs relax and lounge by the beach people (more or less) we could not give you any sound advice on where to go and how much it would cost (a lot we know). Check out the Miami And Beaches website if you feel the need to party.
For us lazy days on the beach are what we enjoy, and to flip flop that short distance down to the hotels beach area is just enough effort spent on having a great day. As mentioned before a bike ride along the beach north or south is a great way to see the different areas of South and North Beach, just remember to do this during the morning or afternoon, or else you will be sweatier than a Norwegian viking in full fur regalia in the sun.
We have also enjoyed a few jet ski tours around Miami Beach and it’s a great way to see the area and gawk at the mansions at Star Island (if you have ever played Grand Theft Auto you will know this island) and Fisher Island home of Oprah and Tom Cruise. Just zooming across the waters surrounding South Beach is a blast. If you decide to rent or go on a tour, just check that they originate from the South Beach area and not downtown Miami (we have done that mistake). The Miami Beach Ocean Watersports have great facilities, so check them out.
A walk along the beach is a must on any day, walk all the way down to the southernmost point of South Beach at South Pointe Park Pier and take a look at the pelicans and fishermen who fish at the pier.
Walking along the beach and the esplanade is probably one of the more popular options in the morning or evening, you can walk for miles if you feel like it. The many colorful life guard towers along the beach makes for great photo oportunities. And not to forget swimming in the lukewarm waters of South and North Miami beach, it is glorious to bask in the warm water knowing that in Norway the water is frozen on the lakes. Just watch out for the currents, they can be quite fierce, and always listen to the lifeguard if he/she tells you to not go so far out to sea for your swim.
We love South Beach and we come back year after year, because of the general vibe of South Beach, the food and the fantastisc shopping. It is the best feeling to lounge on a beach and the only thought in your head is wether you should order a mango or a strawberry daiquiri next.