So welcome to the good life! But buckle up. You're about to be taken for a ride.
Locals know this. They avoid South Beach. They say it's not the real Miami. But, like you, they used to (and still) stride confidently in the direction of their mistakes there. The siren song is too strong. Plus, who said you're going to Miami to do anything "real"?
Nah, you want the poolside drinks, the bathwater-warm Atlantic, the dynamic food scene, and the decadent parties. There is a way to get all of that without getting sucked into tourists traps. Here's a quick guide of DO's and DON'Ts in South Beach, so you can max out your trip and leave hating yourself no more than absolutely necessary.
Getting there and getting around
DO: Fly into Miami International Airport. Without traffic it's less than 20 minutes from South Beach, and it has nonstop flights almost everywhere in the country.
DON'T: Try and save a few bucks by flying through Ft. Lauderdale. The time and money involved in getting to that airport (about 25 miles away) will negate any savings on your airfare.
DO: Take an Uber or Lyft from the airport to South Beach. Unless it's between 7-10am (rush hour) it shouldn't cost you much more than $20. Or take a taxi for a flat rate of $35 anywhere south of 71st St. North of that is $40 -- you shouldn't be charged more.
DON'T: Save a buck with the Airport Flyer bus. It'll take at least an hour to get to wherever you're trying to go, and if you've got more than a couple of people a ride-share won't cost you much more.
DO: Take the time to walk around. Even if it's punishingly humid (aka, any time between May and October) the South Beach Local bus circles the island and costs a quarter. Or take one of the Swoop party golf carts and ride for only the price of your driver's tip.
DON'T: Take taxis in the Beach. Not only are they more expensive, but drivers aren't above sitting in unmoving traffic just to drive up a fare. If they ask, "Where are you from?" say "Hialeah" and see how much faster they move.
DO: Remember this if nothing else: The tip is almost always included in the price of your drink. Not the menu price, mind you, but the price the bartender says when she hands you an ice-cold Miller Lite and says "$11." Always, always ask if tip is included, and look at your credit card receipt to see if the tip line says "additional gratuity." Or ask for an itemized bill and see if "18% service charge" is on there.
DON'T: Be afraid you'll look cheap or tacky or, heaven forbid, not impress that hot bartender by asking if the tip's included. She's not into you. In a town where everyone worries about how they appear, they count on you not to step up and ask.
DO: Stop into the Clevelander for a drink on Ocean Drive and send snaps telling everyone, "I'm in Miami, bitch!" It's the best atmosphere, has the least tourist-gouging drinks, and has the ESPN Radio studios there to boot. And a pool.
DON'T: Drink anywhere with margaritas the size of your torso, even if they are "two-for-one." First of all, one costs $50. Second, not even the child of Andre the Giant and Amanda Bynes could finish one of those by himself. And in case you skipped freshman-year health class, sugar fuels hangovers, and those things are like a C&H refinery in a glass with a splash of tequila.
Also, you can safely avoid Mango's. It's like a Latin-flavored Hooters, if the waitresses wore leopard-print pants and busted into ear-splittingly loud salsa dance numbers every 15 minutes.
DO: Hit some of the locals bars, if you want to see how Beach denizens live. Look for the red light in the alley behind Domino's Pizza on Alton Rd. That's the Foxhole, a hangout for service-industry types who live in the high-rises along West Ave. Nearby, the outhouse door at Bodega Taqueria leads to a not-at-all-secret speakeasy in the back, also popular among off-duty servers and Beach locals. Next to that is Ricky's, if you're looking to play beer pong or sing live-band karaoke.
DON'T: Start asking people at any of these joints where you can buy drugs. It's a dead giveaway you're a tourist, and you'll be charged at least triple.
DO: Eat on Ocean Drive. Hardened locals who think they're too good to dine under neon will tell you, "NEVER eat on Ocean Drive," but these are typically the same locals who need directions to get anywhere more than six blocks from their house. Ocean Drive has a handful of actually great restaurants you will both afford and enjoy.
The best among them is A Fish Called Avalon, a seafood staple that's in most people's price range. LT Steak & Seafood at the oddly colonial Betsy Hotel is in the conversation for the best steakhouse in the city. News Cafe is your go-to for breakfast, or any meal between the hours of 3-11am. And Sugar Factory is your best bet for an actually good, over-the-top Ocean Drive dining experience.
DON'T: Just wander into any ol' joint on Ocean Drive. Not even Fridays.
DO: Get some Cuban food. South Beach rents have priced out most of the grittier local-favorite Cuban joints, but if you don't want to head over to mainland Miami, Havana 1957 and Larios are both delicious.
DON'T: Eat anywhere because someone told you it was "authentic." That's a nice way of saying it's a health code violation in waiting.
DO: Get sushi at Toni's Sushi on Washington Ave. It's as good as anywhere in Miami (including Nobu), minus the scene.
DON'T: Pay the beautiful-people upcharge for sushi at anywhere playing "chill" music, or that's lit up like a Virgin America flight. Models eat there because it's free, not because it's good. Also, they don't eat.
DO: Go to Sunset Harbour for the best concentration of restaurants in the Beach. It has the best Mexican spot in Tequiztlan, two phenomenal healthy places in Icebox and Paradigm Kitchen, and the best Southeast Asian food in greater Miami at NaiYaRa. The pizza at Lucali isn't bad either, even if it is $22 a pie.
DON'T: Walk up and down Lincoln Rd looking for a place to eat. Or get suckered in by any hostess offering cheap drinks -- a reliable sign of a tourist trap. If you want to people-watch on Lincoln Rd, grab a coffee at Paul or a beer at Finnegan's and enjoy the show.
DO: Stay south of 5th St, or north of Lincoln Rd. At time of publication, everything in between has become a sad wasteland of empty storefronts and thigh tattoos. But check back again; that might change by September. Right now, the best new hotels (and the bars, clubs, and indoor ice-skating rinks that come with them) are between 20th and 41st, so staying there is never a bad bet.
DON’T: Stay much north of the Fontainebleau. Saving a few bucks to stay up there is a losing proposition. The extra money you save is more than lost on cab fare getting anywhere near where you'd want to go.
DO: Stay in a hotel or hostel. They're not all five-star, $400-a-night places, just make sure you do your research.
DON'T: Get an Airbnb. Our esteemed mayor has cracked down on Airbnbs HARD, so reserving one is a serious roll of the dice. You might well reserve one, and have it taken off the market before you get there.
Sunning and partying
DO: Hit the beach south of 5th St, full of seasonal residents from around the world, plus some savvy locals. Parking down there is harder than Final Jeopardy, so walk if you can. You'll find 12th St is the gay beach, if you like gay beaches. Beaches north of there tend to be less crowded and more family-friendly. If you want human scenery, stay south of 17th. If you want peace and quiet, go north.
DON'T: Ever go anywhere near the beach at 8th St. It's lot of loud music, first tattoos, and cigarette smoke. If you're a woman, it's like walking into the world's largest construction site, complete with iPhones ready to put your new bikini all over the internet whether you like it or not. Also, up around 100th St is Haulover Beach, which is fully nude. And it's not pretty.
DO: Go to pool parties on the weekend. The SLS Hotel has the best party on Saturday. On Sundays head to the Mondrian to party with a view of the skyline, or the Nautilus to party by the beach. It's not on the level of Vegas, though, so don't think you'll be knee-deep in anything other than chlorinated water.
DON'T: Plan on buying drinks there. Or meeting women. The drinks are $20. The women are considerably more. (Yes, many of them are professionals.)
DO: Hit the off-the-beaten path attractions that are both relaxing and not that crowded. The Miami Beach Botanical Garden might be the city’s most underrated attraction. The Holocaust Memorial is impressive, if sobering. The Jewish Museum, the Wolfsonian, and the World Erotic Art Museum might have you, God forbid, learning something on your vacation.
DON'T: Ask your concierge for a recommendation. Those poor sacks make $8 an hour and earn almost their entire living off the commissions that tours, charters, attractions, and restaurants pay them for your booking. So concierges won't be sending you to the best places -- they'll be sending you to whoever is paying them.
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1. Foxhole Bar1426A 14th Court, Miami Beach
2. Bodega Taqueria y Tequila1220 16th St, Miami Beach
3. A Fish Called Avalon700 Ocean Dr, Miami Beach
4. LT Steak & Seafood1440 Ocean Drive, Miami Beach
5. News Cafe800 Ocean Dr, Miami Beach
6. Havana 1957 Cuban Cuisine819 Lincoln Rd, Miami Beach
7. Sugar Factory1144 Ocean Drive, Miami
8. Lario's on The Beach820 Ocean Dr, Miami Beach
9. Puerto Sagua Restaurant700 Collins Ave., Miami Beach
10. Toni's Sushi Bar1208 Washington Ave, Miami Beach
11. Nobu4525 Collins Ave, Miami Beach
12. Tequiztlan Mexican Restaurant and Tequila Bar1884 Bay Rd, Miami Beach
13. Icebox Cafe1855 Purdy Ave, Miami Beach
14. Paradigm Kitchen1834 Bay Rd, Miami Beach
15. NaiYaRa1854 Bay Rd, Miami Beach
16. Lucali1930 Bay Rd, Miami Beach
17. Mondrian South Beach Hotel1100 West Ave, Miami Beach
18. The Raleigh1775 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach
19. The Restaurants At SLS1701 Collin Ave, Miami Beach
You won’t be able to find Foxhole Bar without instruction, so listen closely. Down an awesomely shady, unmarked alleyway between West Ave. and Alton (trust me, keep walking), you’ll see a faint light over an oversized door. Breathe, you’ve made it. Foxhole, from a team of local nightlife vets, is a bi-level space with dive bar qualities (darts, pool, jukebox, open ‘till dawn, industry regulars) in a speakeasy-esque hideaway, full of flatscreen TVs dedicated to sports, and arcade games and happy hours to boot. In conclusion, Foxhole can best be described as an upscale sports-dive-speakeasy bar on the bay side of South Beach, and probably the only reason to be out until sunrise for... blocks!
Strings of hanging lights, graffiti art, and neon spray-painted barstools create a vibrant Havana-meets-Brooklyn vibe at Bodega, a taco shop that's cooler than most thanks to its not-so-secret speakeasy out back. An outhouse door near the dining area leads to a sultry, two-level bar that mixes industrial decor with plush velvet sofas and Persian carpets. Tequila is the alcohol of choice here, and though house cocktails are available, your best bet is to order the bartender's choice.
Follow the neon lighting on Ocean Drive to the art deco storefront of the Avalon Hotel and into one of South Beach’s most iconic seafood houses: A Fish Called Avalon. Its sleek, minimalist decor will come as a pleasant breath of fresh air to your neon-acclimated eyes. A Fish Called Avalon is romantic; white tablecloths and candlelight set the tone for your high-end evening (that also means high price point, but it’s worth it). Musings from Asian and French cuisines make their way into the seafood centric menu -- like curry-marinated shrimp, baked escargot with garlic butter and Pernod, and sake- and tarragon-glazed lobster tails. If it were me, I’d throw an ounce of the Royal Osetra Caviar on a dozen oysters to start, it’s only $125, and when in Rome… right?
Helmed by award-winning chef Laurent Tourondel, this sleek, contemporary eatery excels at classic French plates and traditionally prepared sushi and sashimi. While the menu may be wide-reaching, it doesn't sacrifice quality -- that succulent filet mignon you ordered is going to be just as heavenly as, say, the spider dragon roll you devoured as an appetizer -- which is part of the reason why South Beach residents and Betsy Hotel guests alike consistently return to LT Steak & Seafood for special occasions (or simply to treat themselves, should their wallets allow it).
The next time you find yourself stumbling down Ocean Drive at 3am and hunger strikes, but nothing will sate your cravings quite like French Toast, look up. There, on that ever-bustling corner where Ocean meets 8th St., sits the resolution to your late-night appetite. News Cafe serves breakfast all day, and all night. The 24 hour restaurant and bar looks like a quaint sidewalk cafe, but during the day it’s overflowing with breakfast-loving South Beach locals and tourists alike. You’ll have to wait for a prime people-watching outdoor table, but to dine where Versace once did, it’s worth it. To make your wait fly by faster, peruse the in-house newsstand or imbibe at the cafe’s adjacent bar.
This is the spot to hit for authentic Cuban dishes like Ropa Vieja, Vaca Frita, and the ever-popular Cuban sandwich laden with pickles, roast pork, ham, and swiss. The coffee's not bad either!
Set inside the Hotel Victor on Ocean Drive, Sugar Factory American Brasserie is like an adult version of Candyland. A hip dining room and two patios serve up sweet and savory comfort food -- French Toast and crepes, burgers and steak frites -- while the adjoining retail space is dedicated to all things sugar. Make your way through novelty and bulk candy items, milkshake in hand, weaving through celebrities to get your hands on a famous Couture Pops. Cocktails are sweet treats in and of themselves, like the signature, 60oz alcohol-infused Lollipop Passion goblet, replete with a lollipop garnish. And desserts (yes, there’s more), are nothing short of outrageous, like premium large format fondues -- the Chocolate Gold, for one, glitters with 24 karat gold and is served with vintage Dom Perignon, a 50-year Cognac, a 2lb chocolate bar, and more, all for a cool $1000. Or just stop in for a frozen hot chocolate (and a Kardashian sighting, if you’re lucky) on your way to the beach, your call.
When Gloria and Emilio Estefan open a Cuban restaurant on Miami Beach -- nay, when Gloria and Emilio Estefan open any restaurant anywhere -- you go. Lario’s on the Beach is the royal family’s lauded restaurant on Ocean Drive with authentic Cuban cuisine and craft cocktails in a glitzy, chic (what else would you expect?) setting replete with white tablecloths, seashells, and marine fossils to mimic an oceanic atmosphere. You’ll fight long lines for a table and pay more than you would at any of the other countess Cuban eateries in the area, but on the off-chance you’ll run into one of the Estefans, it’s an experience worth every penny.
Down-home cooking is alive and well at Puerto Sagua, where you can score heaping helpings of Pollo Asado, sweet plantains, and just about any other Cuban dish you can think of.
Toni’s serves high-quality, no-flash sushi. Any South Beach sushi aficionado will list of a bunch of fancy, hotel-based spots as the best for nigiri and maki in SoBe, then back up and say “... but you know what's just as good? Toni’s.” Plus, you can eat here for about half the price. Or in your living room, because the Washington Ave restaurant also delivers.
From master Chef Nobu Matsuhisa and Robert De Niro, the Miami branch of world renowned restaurant Nobu brings A-List dining to Miami Beach. From its post in the Eden Roc Hotel, the restaurant serves Matushisa’s signature Japanese fusion dishes like black cod miso, rock shrimp tempura, and yellowtail sashimi with jalapeño. It’s the place to see and be seen on the beach, and even with a 350-seat dining room, a table is hard to come by -- plan accordingly.
The reincarnation of the former El Rancho Grande, Tequiztlan keeps all the culinary goodness of its predecessor and serves it in a ramped up, sleek space (the chrome vents of the exposed ceiling above go rather nicely with the industrial vibe and traditional brass chandeliers, making for a trendy ambience). It’s still owned and operated by the Ortiz family, who have been providing South Beach with quality Mexican fare for the past 25 years, so there’s no need to worry: all the tacos you so loved at the old digs are here and just as good -- if not better, when considered alongside a more extensive tequila and mezcal list.
Let’s say you’re hanging out on South Beach and a craving for cake strikes (which, let’s be honest, probably doesn’t happen all that often on South Beach, but it should), and you’re not far from this place called Icebox Cafe that’s home to, according to the fabulous Oprah Winfrey herself, one of the “best cakes in America.” Your next move is to not only run to Icebox, but to bring your friends and a hefty appetite because there’s more than just cake to be had at the industrial cafe and tearoom on Purdy Avenue. Health-centric, Mediterranean-inspired dishes make up the breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus, so you don’t have to feel guilty about digging into the creamy cheesecake brownie- and chocolate mousse-filled Chocolate Delight cake you’re going to indulge in immediately after, no matter time of day.
From the founder of Jugo Fresh, Paradigm Kitchen is a health-focused, organic restaurant in Sunset Harbour. The restaurant serves nutrient-rich breakfast and lunch dishes, many of which are tailored to Paleo, vegan, and gluten-free diets -- but you wouldn’t know it if we didn’t tell you. The poutine here is arguably the healthiest you’ll find, made with sweet potato fries, cashew gravy, and avocado (if that's still considered poutine is up to you). Take the gluten-free route at dessert with the Stoner’s Delight: a square of vegan banana bread drizzled with almond butter, chocolate sauce, caramelized banana, and granola. As you’d expect, there’s no alcohol here, so enjoy cold-pressed juices and mock cocktails (try the Turmeric Fizz) instead. Do your body good at Paradigm Kitchen, because it’s always beach season in Miami.
Piyarat Potha Arreeratn, aka Chef Bee, is doling out street food-inspired eats from his native Thailand at this cool and airy Sunset Beach restaurant. Expect an extensive menu filled with spicy curries, noodle dishes (pad thai, drunken noodles, you know the drill), and untraditional sushi rolls. As for drinks, NaiYaRa's bar serves up Thai beer and cocktails that come with a definite Asian touch.
Coming to South Beach straight from Brooklyn, Lucali is a local hotspot for those craving brick-oven pizza and calzones. Mark Iacono's pizza palace makes massive 22in pies with fresh-made mozzarella and an entire basil plant on every pizza. It can cost a little more than one might expect, but for a restaurant meal in Miami, it's still one hell of a deal.
Mondrian offers top of the line amenities like fine fusion grub and a Brazil-intensive bar with nearly 50 cachacas, a fruit stand-like selection of infused caipirinhas like lychee-elderflower, ginger-pear, and peach-lemongrass cocktails, plus gorgeous ocean views and a bomb brunch.
One of the original hotels built during the crazy '40s "Boom over Miami" period (3k hotel rooms in two years, son!), The Raleigh combines pre-war decor with a buttload of tropical foliage right on the beach.
The SLS Hotel is far more attractive since it turned from a giant wall that said "Coming Soon" into a Philippe Starck-designed masterpiece. You, on the other hand, will be far less attractive after taking down a plethora of real-deal eats and cocktails in its two baller restaurants.