Sometimes chic, sometimes quirky, sometimes Art Deco, sometimes avant-garde – Miami has many different facets, plus almost 3000 hours of sunshine a year and an endless beach where people swim even in winter.
October 2021, Reading time: 23 minutes
The Colony in South Beach – an Art Deco icon made in Miami.
Does anyone still remember Miami Vice? Don Johnson and Philipp Michael Thomas as cool cops in casual clothes and fast cars on the hunt for criminals on Ocean Drive? That was in the 80s and testified to an attitude to life that only seemed to exist in sunny, carefree Florida. Back then, Miami was a place for robbers and bandits, but also for peaceful retirees and young families who appreciated the sun and the low cost of living.
Since then, Miami has reinvented itself several times. No sooner had South Beach, with its Art Deco buildings, gone from being a retiree’s paradise to a hipster hotspot than tourists from all over the world began arriving, turning the somewhat seedy flair of Ocean Drive, which the young Madonna and fashion king Gianni Versace had used as a backdrop for their eccentric appearances, into the mainstream for everyone. Today, the pastel-colored houses are perfectly renovated, unaffordable for pensioners and mostly occupied by chic boutique hotels, restaurants and bars.
Speakeasy style: a cool cocktail bar is hidden in the back room of the taqueria Bodega.
Ocean Drive in Miami Beach – once weird and run-down, now a tourist attraction.
However, the trendsetters have long since moved on. In the late 1990s, visionary entrepreneur Craig Robins began buying the abandoned warehouses of a rundown Midtown neighborhood and developing the chic Design District. Today, shopping temples and flagship stores of luxury brands such as Burberry, Bulgari and Balenciaga stand side by side, interspersed with cool cafés, expensive restaurants, art halls and the fantastic Museum Garage – a parking garage whose eclectic mix of styles involved five architectural firms. A few blocks further south, Wynwood was established, a gigantic art district where Miami’s private collectors such as the Rubells, the Margulies or the Cisneros converted extensive former factory buildings and filled them with their valuable works of art. The main attraction, however, are the numerous magnificent murals and graffiti that adorn building facades, walls and even roofs. Some of them are created by world-famous street artists whose colorful works the established museums of this world would also like to have.
Wynwood is Miami’s Art District, known for its large-scale and colorful murals by famous street artists.
Downtown at sunset. In the foreground: the Pérez Art Museum Miami. Photo: Angel Valentin
Downtown presents itself quite differently. Ten years ago, it was still grey and dangerous, and visitors were advised to leave the district before nightfall. Today, you can walk around at any time of day and admire the impressive new and old architecture. Chic restaurants like Zuma and Cipriani have opened in the high-tech towers, luxury hotels like the Mandarin Oriental and the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM), designed by the Swiss Herzog & de Meuron and boasting some 1,800 works by the best and most famous contemporary artists.
The city’s newest in-district is called MiMo (Miami Modern), a comparatively intact potpourri of architectural styles on the Upper East Side – a little 1920s Spanish Colonial, some 1930s Art Deco and plenty of modernist architecture from the 50s and 60s. Shabby Chic can be understood literally here: Petrol stations, discounters and diners still look just as unattractive as they did 20 years ago, but casually styled restaurants like Phuc Yea and the Vagabond Hotel, renovated in the most beautiful retro look, shine all the brighter for it.
MiMo is considered Miami’s new hot spot. Murals are here, too, of course, even at the gas station.
Evening vibe in Miami Beach. Beach volleyball is played in front of spotlighted Art Deco buildings.
Even if the six-lane Biscayne Boulevard running through MiMo resembles a highway, there are residents who walk or cycle in this neighborhood, people who live here and use the new services with enthusiasm. In this respect, MiMo is the most successful resurgence Miami currently has to offer. It’s certainly not the last but you should explore it before everyone else does.
The collection of around 1,800 works by well-known contemporary artists is sensational. Almost more magnificent, however, is the building in which it is housed. The Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) was designed by Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron and modelled on the local stilt architecture. Don’t miss: the museum restaurant Verde with a beautiful terrace. 1103 Biscayne Blvd, pamm.org
Photo: Daniel Azoulay
In a few streets of empty warehouses, an open-air museum of world-class proportions has sprung up between textile wholesalers and scuffed-up auto repair shops. Since 2009, well-known and lesser-known artists have been painting walls and facades over and over again. In the evening, the works are illuminated and look particularly spectacular. N.W. 2nd Ave and N.W. 25th St, thewynwoodwalls.com
Since the end of 2017, the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) has found a definitive home in the Miami Design District. The shiny metallic, dynamically structured façade that glows in the dark is impossible to miss. Changing exhibitions take place in bright halls, and the sculpture garden features works by Pedro Reyes, Mark Handforth and Sol LeWitt. 61 NE 41st St, icamiami.org
A former industrial site of abandoned warehouses and factories was bought by visionary developer Ofer Mizrahi – who was already involved in the development of Wynwood – and is being transformed into something not just hipsters will love. To see and experience: a good 60 restaurants, cafés, art galleries, designer showrooms and shops. 7610 NE 4th Ct, miamiironside.com
Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science
The success of this museum, which opened in 2017, is probably due to the fact that children have just as much fun here as adults and that architecture freaks get their money’s worth just as much as lovers of hammerhead sharks, giant rays and medusae. You learn about the solar system, the human body and the life of dinosaurs – thanks to interactive exhibitions and exciting shows, there’s never a dull moment. 1101 Biscayne Blvd, frostscience.org
Photo: Rafael Gamo
Around 70 percent of Miami’s residents have Latin American roots, most of them Cuban. Their lifestyle can be experienced on Calle Ocho: You can sample delicious guava cakes at Yisell Bakery (1356 SW 8th St), eat a Cuban sandwich at Sanguich De Miami (2057 SW 8th St) and drink what is arguably Miami’s best mojito to the sounds of salsa at Cafe La Trova (971 SW 8th St).
The historic Art Deco District is located between 6th and 14th streets, and between Ocean Drive and Alton Road. Most of the pastel-colored houses were built between 1935 and 1947, and many are now hotels – the finest include the Tides, the Pelican, the Colony and The Hotel. The Art Deco Welcome Centre organizes interesting 90-minute walking tours. Miami Beach, mdpl.org
Yes, it’s loud. And yes, it’s crowded. But the Nikkei cuisine – a combination of Japanese and Peruvian cuisine that is as skillful as it is daring – is so delicious that you eventually forget all about it. You just talk less and look more: the new 219-seat restaurant has a sunroof, tall palm trees and imposing all-round graffiti. 1664 Lenox Ave, tel. +1 305 690 074, chotto-matte.com/miami
The city’s first pop-up eatery was so popular that it stayed – for a good ten years now. The cuisine is Vietnamese, but not only. The owner-chefs happily mix Cajun elements and local ingredients into the Asian dishes they bring to the tables in their beautiful 100-seat eatery spread across several rooms and levels. The exotic Sunday brunch and unusual cocktails are also popular. 7100 Biscayne Blvd, tel +1 305 602 3719, phucyea.com
Soya e Pomodoro
Tacos, tostadas, tiraditos – all well and good, but sometimes you just want a plate of spaghetti. Soya e Pomodoro has been serving the best pasta downtown for almost 20 years. The place looks a bit offbeat, but the bruschette, melanzane alla parmigiana and mushroom ravioli are impeccable. Plus the nice, all-Italian service. 120 NE 1st St, tel. +1 305 381 9511, soyaepomodoro.com
Even if it looks like an unpretentious pub – Pubbelly is one of the most creative places in Miami Beach. Chef Jose Mendin mixes his Puerto Rican cooking culture with Asian influences, serving grilled octopus with lemongrass, crispy pork belly with ginger, spicy beef dumplings with ginger and basil or delicious tostones (fried plantain cakes) with ceviche. 1424 20th St, tel +1 305 531 9282, pubbellyglobal.com
Thanks to a high Peruvian presence, ceviche is very often found on Miami’s menus. CVI.CHE 105 specializes in the raw fish dishes, their classic anconero version served with classic chili coriander lime sauce couldn’t be fresher or more delicate. They also serve other Peruvian dishes and a delicious pisco sour to go with it. 105 NE 3rd Ave, tel +1 305 577 3454, ceviche105.com
Mexican rap, skillfully random-looking furniture and the best tacos in Miami Beach characterize this trendy “taqueria”. You order your tacos at the window of a trailer: “Pescado” with grilled fish and pineapple slaw, “Angry Lobster” with lobster and mango or “Pollo” with chicken and avocado salsa verde. Accompanied by a delicious frozen margarita. Later: A super cool secret bar hides behind the toilets. 1220 16th St, tel. +1 305 704 2145, bodegataqueria.com
Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill
Three cooking stations supply the hip 140-seat eatery with sushi and crudos, grilled octopus with chili aioli and steaks with chimichurri, as well as treats like goat’s cheese croquettes and bacon-wrapped dates. Beetroot mojito and coconut pisco come from the bar, and there’s live music and brunch at weekends. 3252 NE 1st Ave, Tel +1 786 369 0353, sugarcanerawbargrill.com
No. 3 Social
Spacious, tropical, relaxed open-air lounge on a rooftop terrace with views in Wynwood. The cocktail selection is wide-ranging and scores points for its use of unusual regional ingredients – such as spicy habanero syrup, aguafaba (bean water) or agave nectar. Alternatively, there are locally brewed beers and an eclectic wine selection. Plus: delicious street food from all over the world. 50 NW 24th St, Tel +1 305 748 4540, no3social.com
Hip chic meeting place high above downtown: an open, tropically landscaped rooftop bar on the 40th floor, which often causes long queues on weekends. No wonder, because the view – especially at sunset – is as wonderful as the cocktails and the Asian finger food you can order to go with them. Bestsellers are the raspberry margarita and the Bangkok Spring Rolls. 788 Brickell Plaza, tel. +1 786 805 4655, sugar-miami.com
According to the New York Times, All Day, which opened in the less frequented Park West district, belongs on the “must-visit list of coffee fanatics”. In the loft-like and always busy café, the best beans are processed into a perfect “double shot” by ambitious baristas on a custom-made La Marzocco espresso machine. 1035 N Miami Ave, alldaymia.com
This cool cocktail bar welcomes you to the hip MiMo district in the premises with the oldest liquor license in town. Much has remained as it always was – red sofas, mirrors, piano – only the drinks and food have been upgraded. You can look forward to cool music, relaxed service and a patio with Caribbean flair. 709 NE 79th St, tel. +1 305 757 3368, theandersonmiami.com
Photo: Alejandro Rivera
22 draft beers and over 150 bottled varieties – beer fans spend a lot of time at the Union Beer store. They’re not bothered by the rough industrial look or the wrestling matches on TV and drink fruity Triple Crossing (Berliner Weisse with passion fruit), pink Raspberry Empress or a fresh Slammin Bones brewed in Miami. 1547 SW 8th St, tel +1 786 313 39 19, unionbeerstore.com
Mondrian South Beach Hotel
Although this stylish party hotel isn’t on the beach, it offers the most beautiful view of the sunset over Biscayne Bay and the skyscrapers of downtown. Star designer Marcel Wanders invented a dream world that is as hip as it is playful, with lots of white lacquer, Victorian columns, crystal chandeliers and ornate black and white patterns. Highlife is the order of the day by the pool – you have to like it! 1100 West Ave, Tel. +1 305 514 1500, sbe.com, double room from 145 USD
MO is always in a class of its own. So is the 326-room Miami property that opened 20 years ago and was one of the first luxury hotels to venture downtown – albeit on a small offshore island with a private beach. The elegant guest rooms overlook the bay and skyline. There is a beautiful spa and the La Mar by Gaston Acurio restaurant with delicious Peruvian cuisine and terrace. 500 Brickell Key Dr, mandarinoriental.com, double room 359 USD
Opened in late 2016, this luxury hotel is considered the highlight of Brickell, Downtown’s new business hub. Velvety wooden floors, earthy colors and a purist look characterize the lobby and rooms. You sleep on the 24th to 36th floors, and the cozy bar on the roof terrace floats even higher. 788 Brickell Plaza, Tel. +1 305 712 7000, east-miami.com, double room from 219 USD
In Miami’s trendy MiMo district, the 1950s-built Vagabond Motel has been freshly styled and decorated in cool mid-century retro style. Young hipsters also enjoy the garden with pool and the sushi restaurant. 7301 Biscayne Blvd, Tel. +1 305 400 8420, thevagabondhotelmiami.com, double room from 120 USD
Cadillac Hotel & Beach Club
Opened in 1940 as the largest beach hotel, the Cadillac has undergone a complete renovation. The 357-rooms hotel scores with a maritime Art Deco look, two pools in the garden, sunbeds on the beach and a beach bar now. 3925 Collins Ave, Tel. +1 305 538 3373, cadillachotelmiamibeach.com, double room from 225 USD