Miami Beach was made for a party. Literally. Originally an outpost for those shipwrecked off Florida's coast, and later cultivated for crop growth, the island hot spot we call Miami Beach was developed from the ocean up around 1915 to cater to the growing leisure class and soon South Beach became an irreplaceable, incomparable retreat for rich and poor alike. Celebrities, politicians, pedestrians and criminals sang, danced, drank and found love among the ever-expanding horizon of sun-drenched art deco. Miami Beach was and remains an endless party.
Magic City, as it is affectionately called, has always had a vibrant gay and lesbian culture, but that culture hit a real boom with a fresh round of gentrification in the 1980s and 1990s. Today, South Beach is often referred to as the Gay Riviera, and it has drawn us to its shores more than a few times. Below are some of our favorite restaurants, bars and other places to pop into when down in town.
Lord's South Beach is one of our favorite places to stay when in town, and not just because it's the gay boutique hotel of our generation, welcoming all LGBT people with open arms. Bold colors, a playful spirit — a nine-foot polar bear sculpture resides in the lobby — and a welcoming, never pretentious attitude help this hotel stand apart from the pack. So too do the flat screen televisions, luxe linens and the price: there are poolside Cabana rooms for under $150, though those willing to spend more can of course reserve a penthouse with a private terrace. We recommend, however, that you stay in one of Lords' Rooms that Matter: 10% of the proceeds go to LGBT charities. And don't miss the in-house restaurant, the Cha Cha Rooster Bar.
The Tides South Beach, part of the King & Grove family of elegant hotels, has been a favorite of Out Traveler's since it reopened in 2007. The renovation, overseen by Top Design judge Kelly Wearstler blends the sand-blown glamor of beachside living without being standoffish. It aims for nostalgic design, not off-putting aesthetic deviation, and features plenty of rich leathers and natural woods in the airy, sun-filled rooms.
You'll also probably want to at least pop into perennial gay favorite The Standard Miami for one of its many decadent spa treatments - the restorative Soul Temple treatment can't be beat — or perhaps a bite and bevvie at the hotel's Lido Restaurant & Bayside Grill.
Another luxurious hotel stay can be found at Ian Schrager and Phillippe Starck's long-running collaboration, Delano. It's trendy, super modern and a bit otherworldly, but it's also welcoming and warm, and its Rose Bar and eponymous Beach Club nightspots mean you won't have to travel too far for an attractive crowd, strong drink and, one hopes, some adventure.
Elsewhere in South Beach, the 45-rooms Edgewater South Beach, housed in a 1939 art deco facade and conveniently located next to the gayest section of oceanside property, offer a more modern design than The Tides but no less of the exquisite service. And Greenview Hotel on Washington Avenue serves budget-friendly Parisian flavor.
Down the road from Greenview there's Hotel St. Augustine, which recently renovated its 24 loft-style rooms to give guests a more spa-like experience. Tangerine Bar in the basement doesn't have a liquor license, though, so bring your own beer, or whatever it is you want to sip on.
Also along the spa spectrum, though on the far, more luxurious end, is the Loews Miami Beach, a resort decorated like a beach house with a 20-foot shark-filled aquarium, homemade organic ice cream shop, frozen grape kabobs and even room service for your dog. This place is perfect for singles and families alike.
For those on a tighter though not entirely stringent budget, may we suggest the mid-range Avalon? Also located in South Beach but with less of the glitz and glamour, this art deco lovers' dream has uncomplicated yet comfortable rooms and a killer seafood restaurant, A Fish Called Avalon.
An even more affordable option may be the Deauville Miami Beach, a long-running North Beach institution known best for hosting a Beatles concert in 1964. It hasn't lost its charm or focus on the guest over the years. And the tightest budget may require a stay at Miami's only bed and breakfast, the Miami River Inn on the mainland. But this being Miami, this gem has plenty of memorable flair and history -- it was built between 1906 and 1910 - and all the money you save means you'll have more to spend on the city's incredible restaurants.
A crossroads for international cuisines from the islands, Europe and the States, Miami and Miami Beach serve up an eclectic selection of restaurants for foodies and cuisine novices alike. For an authentic, homemade and extremely affordable Cuban lunch of rice and beans, head to Las Olas Cafe in South Beach, and don't forget to finish off your meal with this beloved gem's exceptionally potent cafe con leche/
The team behind Miami's popular restaurants Lime, and Yardbird Southern Table and Bar, where the Fried Tomato BLT conceived by Top Chef Jeff McInnis can't be beat, branched in Thai territory with Khong River House, where diners can feast on whole grilled fish, crispy duck, cauliflower stir-fry and a wide range of noodles.
Spanish food is one the small-plate menu at Barceloneta, which has an incredible gazpacho Bloody Mary, while raw sea food are always served fresh at Monty's Stone Crab Seafood House & Raw Bar in nearby Coconut Grove and Sugarcane Raw Bar and Grill is another reliable go-to for a fresh taste of the Atlantic, though over on the mainland.
The Dutch, a transplant from New York, uses only local ingredients for its inventive menu, which included coconut lobster cocktail, drum stick confit, a 28-day dry-aged steak for two and speciality cocktails to last you through the night. And Michy's up on Miami's Upper East Side has an incredible serrano ham and blue cheese croquette.
Not into fish or meat? The health conscious or vegetarians among us can definitely find something delicious and original at Juice and Java, an organic restaurant a few blocks from the beach and popular with both locals and tourists.
Villa Azur brings Mediterranean food to the table, offering diners an unbelievable grilled branzino on roasted pepper coulis and Mediterranean bouillabaisse casserole, both of which are perfect for sharing with a date. Another great date place, though one that's far more expensive, is the jazzy Bancroft SupperClub. The Tellicherry peppercorn seared ahi tuna there is not to be missed — if you can afford it.
For the morning after, head over to Oliver's Bistro for brunch. The food isn't spectacular, but its expansive, inexpensive menu is perfect for a post-drinking bite before heading back to the beach.
The number and quality of gay bars in Miami Beach will make your head spin. There are of course luxe hot spots like Cabana Beach Club at Eden Roc, where locals and tourists alike dance the nights away to live music on the weekends. The snow white Mova definitely falls under the "posh" category, as do the prices for their speciality drinks, and Arkadia attracts those looking for an experience akin to that in LA - that is, lots of pretentious and possible celebrities. FDR Lounge at the Delano hotel is also on the upper side of the scale, as is the quiet, intimate Raleigh Hotel Bar, whose 40s-era mahogany bar sets the tone for a romantic night on the tone.
For a decidedly not romantic scene, check out the dance floor at Score Bar, a long-running night club known for its Tuesday night Latin party, and then there's always a late-night romp at Twist, a complex of five bars, each with their own mood, beat and men. There are strippers in the back, dancing up top, hip-hop downstairs and fresh air on the patio. This place has it all, as well as a wide selection of available men.
Those of you who want less flash and more realness, check out the Palace Bar on Ocean Drive, right across from the gayest part of the beach. It's not about posing here; it's about drinking, dancing and making new friends, just like at Lost Weekend, a reliable go-to for locals and downtown-leaning tourists who want a good drink and maybe a game of skee ball.
The Garage at Cooper Avenue adds some kitsch to the mix at this DJ-heavy warehouse space, and 721 Bar, a new addition to the scene, is a rocking good time during their Hype Fridays. The diviest dive in Miami, meanwhile, is an old standby, Mac's Club Deuce, where you're bound to run into some surprising faces, some famous and some not-so-famous.
But if you really want to get off the beaten path, why not buy a bottle of wine and head to South Pointe Park, sit by the beach and just enjoy the ocean view. It's simple, it's cheap and, honestly, when was the last time you had the chance to just sit and watch the ships roll in?
Left: 1111 Lincoln.
Miami is more than one big party. There's of course plenty of shopping. We've had great — and expensive — success with the designer duds at Alchemist, an upscale shop designed by Herzog & de Meuron, the team behind the Bird's Nest stadium erected for the Beijing Olympics. The Webster on Collins Avenue is the place to go for hard-to-find brands like Robinson les Bains denim and celebrity chef Michelle Bernstein's famous Crumb on Parchment eatery just opened an outpost here so shoppers can refuel before they drop.
For some new tunes, we recommend Sweat Records, and vintage threads can be found during an afternoon roaming around Flamingo Plaza or Plato's Closet. And Base design shop has enough clothes, books, and home and interior goods that you won't have to go anywhere else.
In addition to all the sartorial splendors, Miami is also brimming with art and performance. The town becomes a who's who of the art world the first week of December, when hordes of buyers, collectors and makers descend on the beach for Art Basel Miami.
The rest of the year, there's the impressive Bass Museum in Mid-Beach; Don Rubell, Studio 54 owner Steve's brother, and wife Mira opened the RFC Museum to give visitors a taste of their expansive collection, one that's nearly rivaled by Rosa and Carlos' de la Cruz's collection, which they've also opened to the public in an impressive new space.
The Wolfsonian Museum's permanent collection of art deco, colonial and political propaganda are must-sees. The new Miami Art Museum will no doubt be essential viewing once it's opened this coming fall, but in the meantime check out MoCA Miami on the mainland. Interested in alternative art? Check out the Bas Fisher International, a gallery founded by artists Hernan Bas, a former Miami resident, and Naomi Fisher that features new and upcoming artists.
Herzog & de Meuron pop up once again at 1111 Lincoln Road, a concrete and steel open-air wonder commissioned by developer Robert Wennett. This space, often called "the parking building," is an innovative melange of architectural, retail and residential splendor that Herzog called "all muscle without the towel" and that offers unparalleled views from top to bottom.
New World Symphony's Frank Gehry-designed building and Cesar Pelli's work for the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts provide architectural splendor to match the ballet, symphonies, operas and other performances constantly happening around town.
And if you want more architectural adventure off the art deco path, we recommend the Ancient Spanish Monastery, The Monastery of St. Bernard de Clairvaux, which was first constructed in Segovia, Spain, 900 years ago and then disassembled to be rebuilt in Miami in the 1950s. It was a labor of love, and one that definitely benefits the Magic City.