The last time I went to South Beach, I was there for a conference. After long days in a fluorescent downtown-Miami hotel room, my friend and I would drive across the bay to enjoy the beach and the nightlife, making sure we returned to our hotel with enough time for our beauty sleep. I thought South Beach was all about half-naked cavorting into the early hours and sleeping on the beach all day.

Not so this time. This time, I went Miami with play, not work, on my mind: ten days on the beach a few weeks before peak spring-break season. I thought I was just there to party and relax. It turns out that Miami has more to it than I expected.

South Beach is of course known for its party scene, and for good reason. Home to the hottest clubs, the warmest weather, and the fakest bodies, South Beach is everything it’s famous for and more.

However, there is another, more cultural, family-friendly side to South Beach as well. Leave the trendy area near the boutique hotels and restaurants behind and head north. The higher streets, towards North Beach, are home to fewer tanned supermodels and more little old men and young families. This part of the beach is home to apartments, not hotels, and the somewhat grittier side of South Beach is just a few blocks off the beach. This translates to a less crowded, more local feel on the ocean. The northern end is also home to some of the prettiest water and most interesting shells. The walk is definitely worth it if the children are with you or if your plastic surgery appointment isn’t until next month.

The culture strip

Further up on the north side is another destination frequently ignored by tourists: the Miami City Ballet. South Beach, in fact, is home to a few museums and cultural destinations often ignored by the beach-seeking crowd. The Lincoln Theatre is a gorgeous Art Deco building that features a symphony and plenty of exciting musical and artistic events. The Wolfsonian Museum is home to remarkable exhibits, including a current exhibit of all of the artwork featured on the Chateau Mouton Rothschild wine labels. South Beach, like Miami itself, is home to a variety of artwork – not only architecture, but also visual and performing arts that are worth a second look.

South Beach is also home to a fantastic international scene. The Miami International Travelers Hostel is home to an international crowd that does everything from tours of the South Beach architecture to VIP trips to the hottest clubs. They also serve free breakfast, lunch, and dinner and are the perfect place to stay if you’re alone, with friends, or looking for a young, international group to get to know South Beach.

If you’re French, speak French, love France, or just like French food, A La Folie on Espanola Way is the perfect place to enjoy a crepe, quiche, or cafe au lait. This gorgeous little cafe is home to good-looking French employees and a customer base of practically every Parisian in Miami (or so it seems). The atmosphere is that of a cafe on the Seine and if you’re homesick or want to practice your language skills, this is the place to go.

Miami is known for being the playground of the stars. Rich, sexy, exciting and expensive, it certainly fits this description. However, given a little research and an accidental step into the right corner, and South Beach turns out to be family-friendly, culturally wealthy, and a great international destination. Give South Beach a try, you may be surprised at what you find!

Your thoughts on "The many faces of Miami"

  • The public beaches in the North Beach section (around 73rd St) are far less crowded and more relaxed than those in South Beach (they are also not topless, if that is an issue for you or your family). I live in the North Beach section of Miami Beach, and you get the same "Beach" feeling without the crowds. You'll also find tons of little eateries representing a veritable United Nations of food.

    on March 30, 2009 at 8:40 pm Reply
  • South Beach, well, I don't know that they legally allow it, but they allow it. They cater to far big a tourist population, many from places where topless beachgoing is normal, to crack down on it. My very first time at South Beach, shortly after I moved from Puerto Rico, I was just sitting on the sand, writing in my journal, when not twenty feet from me plopped down these two young women, and off their tops went. I'm glad I was wearing sunglasses, mostly because I was able to hide my shock. You get used to it. We also have a nudist beach (sharing space with a non-nudist part) further north along A1A/Collins Ave called Haulover Beach, but I've never been there, nor do I want to. ;-)

    on March 30, 2009 at 8:57 pm Reply
  • This sounds ignorant, but I (Craig) didn't realise any beach in America allowed topless bathing. I guess I base that on the reactions of American friends in Europe. You learn something new every day...

    on March 30, 2009 at 8:51 pm Reply
  • I remember a youth group heading up to a New Year's camping trip to a beach called Uretiti (You're a titty) once. Hilarious...he didn't realise it was a nudist campsite until we got there. Such a great summer... Uretiti's a real place. It's just north of Waipu. New Zealand placenames are pure brilliant.

    on March 30, 2009 at 10:23 pm Reply

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