Living in New York means that quick hops to Miami during the cold winter months are easy and worthwhile. I spent five days in ever chic South Beach this New Years. It seemed like half of New York was there with me, as others had the same good idea to escape the North's cold.
What I really love about Miami is its international vibe. It draws travelers from not only across the U.S. but heavily from Central and South America (Brazil, Argentina, Mexico) and Europe (UK, France, Italy, Spain, Russia). It can feel, at times, like a trip abroad but without the jet lag.
I stayed this time at the Raleigh Hotel. I've often said in prior posts that no Miami hotel is perfect; each has a flaw or two. The Raleigh, though, is one of my favorites. It is known for its history, dating to its heyday in the Art Deco 20s and 30s; walking through and relaxing in the lobby and nearby bar is a walk through time (just view the Hollywood celebrity photos that adorn the walls). In addition to the historic lobby, a standout feature is the lovely and grand hotel pool. This is one of the best on the beach strip and it's also just steps away from the beach, where there's hotel service too.The restaurant is very good and though Miami in general isn't noted for top service service here is excellent. Breakfast runs until 11:30am and it doesn't get better than having that pool side. There's also a nostalgic coffee shop/cafe with old style stools off the lobby serving lattes and cappuccinos, along with beach-y rum drinks.
Rooms at the Raleigh, like those at all the hotels in prime beach area, are small. The bathrooms are ridiculously tiny and one wonders how the Hollywood elite managed during the 30s! The rooms are comfortable enough, however; if possible, snag one on a high floor with an ocean view.
Miami's restaurant scene changes as fast as the surf. My favorite new place is The Dutch at the W South Beach. Despite the trendiness of the W lobby and lots of twentysomethings sipping martinis, The Dutch restaurant is really first-rate continental food. Ask for a table outside on the terrace, where it's not too noisy. This pricey Miami restaurant is worth it (unlike many other costly ones that aren't).
I also love Cecconi's at the SoHo Beach House in Miami Beach. This has an indoor/outdoor terrace off the beautiful SoHo Beach House pool. If it's busy for dinner, go for lunch. This Italian spot is worth it. I've raved before about Casa Tua and this remains one of my favorites for sure. For Southern food like fried chicken, Yardbird is a must. Great food!
Finally, I rarely eat on Ocean Drive (so overly touristy) but one good spot that isn't a trendy scene at all is Quinn's in the Park Central hotel. It's good, simple, and usually not a problem to reserve a table.
If you want to get around South Beach in a fun way, consider renting a scooter. Or if there are two of you, then a "GoCar" (a three-wheeled contraption) seems to be new on the scene. The scooter, though, is easier to park as it doesn't require a whole spot. There also is the new Deco bike program where you can rent a bike point to point. This is a super easy way to explore around town.
For general trip-planning information, see our Miami Travel Guide.