Growing up, trips to Miami were the annual international pilgrimage designed to stock up on clothing (the greatest hits included Marshalls, Ross “dress for less”, and Payless), visit distant relatives in their unfenced (gasp!) mansions and the occasional trip to the amusement parks.
I would return to school in Managua and look forward to the inevitable questions on the provenance of my pencil case or new pair of shoes just so that I could answer: ” I got it in Miami”. It was an immediate proof of status that my peers would recognize, when the foreignness of New York or Europe would not have had the same effect.
Once I left Managua for college, I realized the world was far greater and meeting classmates from Greece, Switzerland, India, Singapore and beyond; I quickly realized my trips to Florida were not much to boast about. I realized that the reversible handbag I got at Payless (animal print one side, all black on other side… a total winner) was not really the apex of fashion and practicality so I quickly relegated Miami from the aspirational destination to the “forget me” pile.
Many years passed before I realized that my reluctance to return to Miami stemmed from the discomfort of that past I was intent on moving away from. Driving through Little Haiti or Little Havana; the languages and the people were so familiar… and even the building materials and the design of homes followed a predictable pattern for me. Tropical poverty has its way of making itself known be it in Hanoi, Managua or Miami.
It was the NY winter that made me see the error of my ways. When searching for destinations to escape the snow for the weekend, Miami seemed like a convenient option – maybe it’ll be different this time?
In my older and wiser 30s, I have now rediscovered Miami and can appreciate all the greatness and the weirdness the city offers. It wasn’t just me that changed though, Miami did too. While always being a “go to” destination to the upper middle classes in South America and Russia; Miami has become successful at attracting young professionals. In fact, Miami’s share of educated millennials rose by almost 25% in the last 10 years, especially revitalizing the downtown area. Miami is also considered a top destination for its startup ecosystem including lower rents and let’s face it, probably the beach.
When you are visiting, you will no doubt walk through Wynwood a vibrant art-centric neighborhood which went through many previous incarnations, the latest consisting of industrial warehouses turned into art galleries. What you see today is only product of the last 5-10yrs and is now a key part of a Miami itinerary. The arts renaissance includes museums like the modern art Perez Art Museum, and the renovation and expansion of the Bass contemporary art museum in South beach.
The experience of Miami now feels more complete, offering different things depending on what you are looking for. The art deco architecture of Miami Beach, the latin music and food is all still there, but now there are businesses and entertainment that cater to more urban, alternative interests so the city is less homogenous and more interesting. I still seek that “old” side of Miami, such as a small Nica restaurant in a strip mall in Sweetwater – Madrono – which you can hit just before heading to the airport. And I still like the chance to wear outfits with hem lengths, color palettes and general tightness that have no place in NY.
For me, however, what really does it is the pristine azure ocean and the soft white sands only a 3-hour flight from my beloved urban jungle. And in case you are wondering, I got this tan in Miami…
Assuming you want to stay in Miami Beach, I have a rule that is to stay north of the Delano (17th street). Quieter, and less kitschy in general.
Como: My most favorite hotel in Miami beach ever. Exclusive and quiet, great service. Cool retro room decor and wait for it… no carpet in the room! I love this place but definitely on pricey side. Great spa area too
The Standard: Everyone knows about this so there’s no real need to recommend it but I will anyways. Located on the bay side (not on beach), this place is really an oasis for adults (they actually do not allow kids outside the restaurant area, we managed to elude this rule for a couple of hours with my adorable 2-year old niece but they got to us in the end). Rooms are on small side but property is beautifully landscaped, the spa offers extensive treatments and a hammam and the outdoor restaurant provides relaxing great views. Check out the small but well stocked gift shop
Hyatt Confidante: For all those corporate warriors with Hyatt rewards points, this is a good option on 40th street (called mid beach). It’s about a 15-20 min car ride to the W, Delano etc
Wynwood Walls: the centerpiece of the Wynwood neighborhood. Insta opportunities at every turn. More seriously, enjoy the murals done by emerging and some more established artists
Yoga: You will find several places for yoga in Miami Beach and also check if your hotel offers free classes. Otherwise, I like Green Monkey which offers drop in sessions and is a pretty serious studio. Reward yourself with an overpriced smoothie at the aesthetically pleasing environment in Dr Smood
Perez Arts Museum: The building of the museum itself is a sight to see
Bike: If you have a Citibikes membership, bring your key to Miami. If you are in the Miami Beach area, you should find this useful
Uber: Taxis are infrequent and renting a car is going to preclude you from cocktails, which is one of the main reasons you’re in Miami in the first place. Uber is more affordable than in New York and very reliable so use this
Boho Hunter: Clothing and accessories from Latin American designers. Check out the jewelry and if you’re anything like me, you will not leave empty handed. Go here if you’re walking around Wynwood
Frangipani: Filled with all the millennial pink, triangles and geometric shapes, and quirky phrases you can imagine. Great for little semi-expensive gifts
The Webster: This is a cool funky multi-brand clothing and shoe store. Not cheap!
Eat & Drink:
There is not enough time or space to make a list of all the great and good places to try in Miami. Many of the best options are inside the hotels – so don’t turn your nose it at until you’ve tried it. Here is a short list of my current favorites and reliable choices:
Dinner: Byblos for inventive pan-middle eastern/mediterranean fare. You will enjoy it if you like things such as lamb, nuts, mint, and saffron. Ground floor for date-y romantic vibes, upstairs for bigger groups in a stunning dining room; Matador Room for fancy dinners inside the Edition hotel, order the mushrooms if they have them. You can also have a less formal but delicious dinner outside by the pool. For a bit of a scene and to appreciate the magic of good lighting, visit Seaspice – food is OK while service is good
Lunch: Leynia at Delano Outdoor, spacious, Argentinian influenced restaurant. Always reliable and good if you’re going with kids as there is space for them to run around; Ocean Grill @Setai for the usual beach side drinks & eats; La Mar inside the Mandarin Oriental on the bayside has a great lunch menu for about $40 – you can walk off those Pisco sours along the promenade afterwards; the Dutch inside the W hotel has great service with calming views of their very green courtyard. I have not yet tried it but my younger (and cooler) sister said I should visit Verde which is located inside the Perez Art Museum
Drinks: While many hotels will have nice bars to wear your tight dresses and high heels to, there are a few that are worth seeking outside that route: Watr @ 1 Hotel for beautiful views of the beach, forgetful service – go at sunset for drinks, do not eat there. For a fun laid back tropical theme try the Broken Shaker and for a completely different vibe try Lagniappe, a Miami rendition of a New Orleans DYI wine bar where you can nibble on some cheese and small bites and listen to live music
Party off the beaten path: While the quintessential Miami nightlife is probably a club inside a hotel, you could also experience a night out in Havana without taking the 1-hour flight at Ball and Chain, a club offering an indoor and outdoor space where talented musicians perform against a pineapple-shaped background. You read that right