As a long-time visitor to Miami, I’ve seen how it has grown to be a vibrant international city with a thriving arts scene, scores of good eateries from street food to innovative fine dining, all manner of hotels, and of course the big, beautiful beach. This diversity is what makes it such a great destination for multigenerational getaways. Here are some insider tips on new and noteworthy hotels and restaurants for your next Miami vacay.
STAYING SANE ON SOUTH BEACH: TWO FAB HOTELS
The trending area of South Beach known as mid-beach is removed from the heart of the action and nightlife further south on Ocean Drive, but just a short Uber ride away for roughly $7.00. Another nighttime hot spot, the outdoor pedestrian mall Lincoln Road, is about two miles south. Two recommended hotels in this relatively quiet but convenient neighborhood are independently-owned sister properties, the 251-room Palms Hotel & Spa and the 97-room Circa 39.
Their vibes are quite different—The Palms is a more expansive beachfront resort directly on the ocean, and Circa 39 is a playfully-designed boutique hotel a block from the beach. Both hotels are immaculate and comfy, with fun lounge/bars that serve craft cocktails and yummy light bites. My favorite was Grass Clippings at the Palm’s Essensia Lounge: Maestro Dobel tequila, chipotle liqueur, fresh lime, muddled cucumber, and culantro from the chef’s garden.
Even when bustling with guests, the Palms feels like a beachfront oasis. It’s a green resort on every level, from the lush tropical foliage that frames the pool and outdoor areas to the farm-to-table food, and from the widely recognized environmental practices overseen by an in-house green team to the Aveda bathroom products in the serene, neutral-hued guest rooms. While some may prefer to hang by the heated pool, stroll the oceanfront boardwalk, or relax on the beach, there’s also opportunities for a health and wellness themed vacay here. Check out special deals such as “Nature & Nurture,” a weekend package for two with such amenities as a spa treatment at the resort’s lovely Aveda spa, buffet breakfast, a tour and tasting at the Chef’s organic garden, and an outdoor yoga class. And I loved the Sanctuary Yoga Retreat, a day-long program which brings in excellent instructors for yoga, guided meditation, and lunch in a thatched-roof pavilion surrounded by greenery. Upcoming Sanctuary Yoga retreats in 2016 are scheduled for Sunday May 15, and Sunday September 18. Both single and double occupancy package rates are available. The hotel package includes the retreat, a 15 percent discount on rooms, and a 25 percent discount on spa treatments. You can also sign up for the one-day retreat alone, which includes pool and beach access.
For those who prefer boutique hotels, Circa 39 is a great find. The recently renovated Art Deco building is spotless and sports a fun, tropical vibe that’s hip and comfy. The restaurant theme is global comfort food and the Wunderbar lounge serves delicious, globally-inspired drinks. All of the public spaces reflect a colorful design flair—even the bathrooms. Like it’s sister hotel The Palms, Circa 39’s guest rooms have all the modern amenities, including free wi-fi, high quality bedding, bathrobes, Aveda products, and high definition flat-screen televisions. A plus for multi-gen groups: there are connected guest rooms for friends or families traveling together.
Insider tip: Food and drink is pricey in Miami. Take advantage of happy hour specials to keep costs down. The Essensia Lounge at The Palms offers 50 percent off all drinks from 6pm to 7pm, and from 4pm to 6pm Wunderbar at Circa 39 serves $5 bites, $6 beers, $7 wines and $8 cocktails. For women only on Thursdays, there are free drinks and complimentary chair massages at Essensia’s open-air terrace until 7:30pm, and 20 percent off on dinner at Essensia restaurant until 9:30pm.
Splurging? Check out the latest luxe hotels in the neighborhood getting buzz: the sleek 294-room Edition, with restaurants overseen by renowned chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, and the Faena, an enclave of Latin glamour.
FARM TO TABLE MIAMI
The farm-to-table and sustainable food movement is gaining momentum in Miami, thanks to the talents of such chefs as renowned South Florida restaurateur Allen Susser, who oversees the foodservice at the Cafe at Books & Books at the Adrienne Arsht Center. Every Monday, chef Susser offers a five course vegetarian dinner sourced from the small farmer’s market in the cafe’s courtyard. The theme varies monthly, with different culinary creations each week. I went to a special craft beer dinner during January’s “North” theme. Not only was the beer paired with the food, but the chef also used it as an ingredient in many of the dishes. Four appetizers were served family style, followed by a plated main course and plated dessert. It was a fun and festive local gathering, with copious portions of tasty food from malt-baked eggplant fries to coffee roasted butternut squash with mushroom barley and toasted corn polenta. Not to mention the beer-braised Bartlett pear with candied pumpkin seeds and spiced chocolate sauce. Yum.
At The Palms Hotel’s Essensia Restaurant, Executive Chef Venoy Rogers, recruited from San Diego, lovingly tends a small organic garden on site and has designed an inventive, globally-inspired menu using locally sourced ingredients and proteins. “New England has a chowder, Manhattan has a chowder—why shouldn’t Miami have a chowder?” he asks. His answer is Essensia’s delicious Miami Conch Chowder, a perfectly balanced tomato-based, dairy-free soup loaded with conch and seasoned with coconut, Cuban oregano from the garden, and purple potato.
For healthy bites and smoothies on South Beach, DIRT Eat Clean serves up tasty, nutritious food in a clean, modern space. You’ll find a seasonal master menu along with sub-menus that list the items prepared for vegetarian, vegan, paleo-friendly, and gluten sensitive diets. Among my faves is the Nourish Bowl: Quinoa, sprouted chickpeas & lentils, roasted curried cauliflower, caramelized onions, roasted red pepper, golden raisins, shaved carrot, mole vinaigrette, and cucumber mint yogurt. Insider tip: Dirt gets very crowded, so plan accordingly and try to visit during non-peak hours.
Looking for an insider destination and delicious Italian food in the tony South of Fifth area of SoBe? Check out the Cibo Wine Bar, a huge, uber-chic space with an innovative design esthetic of industrial meets rustic. Watch a harnessed “wine angel” select from 3,500 bottles, or dine al fresco on a street-side or rooftop patio. Insider tip: Cibo can be noisy. Go late for people-watching; go early for more relaxed dining. I love sitting at the bar for a bowl of aromatic, authentically Italian minestrone soup, loaded with veggies and dark greens.
New options for foodies venturing beyond the beach are opening at a fast clip. I loved the Asian flavors at The Gang in midtown Miami, where all the food, including soup, is fresh and cooked to order. Chef/owner Bogdan Niculae, who lived for many years in Thailand, designed a fun fusion menu with choices that range from Malaysian Lamb Chops to Thai Work Chicken to Indian Gravy Fish. The Gang’s three-course fixed priced menu for $35 is a great deal. Creatively-designed space includes a bar of washing machines overlooking the open kitchen. Insider tip: Ladies can stash their purses in the washing machines.
For an elegant dining experience, check out GK Bistronomie in Wynwood, where the culinary creations of Peruvian Chef Rafael Perez are art on the plate.The seafood here is amazing. Think green plantain-crusted wild salmon with heart of palm, pineapple, bok choy, and citrus vinaigrette. And if you like sashimi, you will love the tiraditos, with selections that include a succulent plate of yellowfin tuna, lime, Thai chiles, garlic, avocado, sesame oil, and soy sauce.
IF YOU GO
Airfare to Miami can vary from day to day: check often. You won’t need a car if you stay on the beach. You can walk everywhere and there’s a 25-cent Miami Beach bus. For longer excursions, Uber is reliable and cheaper than a taxi. There’s so much to see in the bay side of the city, from the fabulous street art at Wynwood Walls to the stunning shops in the thriving Design District to the waterfront Perez Museum, a beautiful feat of modern architecture. Read our earlier article to learn more. And prepare to have a blast, on the beach and beyond!