South Beach, Miami

Whenever somebody compiles a new list of the world’s best beaches, it seems that South Beach, Miami, is somewhere near the top. It’s no surprise, as this seven square-mile stretch of sand in southern Florida has chic stores, cosmopolitan hotels, model-filled nightclubs, and an ever-changing cast of vacationing glitterati. But it wasn’t too long ago that South Beach was, in fact, an off-the-path kind of place. On my first visit, in 1992, there weren’t many tourists, and the area had a distinct edge. I stayed at the Colony Hotel on Ocean Drive, a lovely art deco boutique building, which rests right in front of the beach. A room went for just under $100 per night—an amazing value.

I sometimes miss those days, but over a series of recent visits, I fell for South Beach all over again. My favorite places to stay now include The Hotel, a small upscale property with a fabulous rooftop pool and a superb restaurant (from $335/night). I also like The Tides, which has large, comfy rooms and awesome beach views (from $595/night). The Standard, located on the bay side, has a nice pool and offers excellent value (from $250/night).

South Beach’s restaurant scene now includes many fine notables, but it’s still easy to overpay for mediocre food. Some favorites are Casa Tua, a chic Italian spot set in a converted mansion with a lovely outdoor terrace (305/673-1010), China Grill, which is noisy but has sumptuous pan-Asian dishes (305/534-2211), and Joe’s Stone Crab, which serves top-notch seafood (800/780-CRAB).

Years ago, cultural offerings in Miami were limited, but now a visitor would be remiss to skip a night at the Performing Arts Center or a day gallery-hopping in the Miami Design District. Shopping in Miami has also come a long way—standout stores include Jonathan Adler (1024 Lincoln Rd.) and NiBa Home (39 NE 39th St.) for interesting housewares, and Barneys CO-OP (832 Collins Ave.) for chic clothing.

There’s a common misconception that Florida is always warm, but I’ve spent more than a few New Year’s Eves in South Beach searching for a sweater and a rain jacket. The best time to visit, in my opinion, is February through April, when temperatures remain consistently warm. For those seeking value, try a shoulder-season visit after May 1.

From the Spring 2008 issue of Sherman's Travel magazine.

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