Winter sun doesn't have to mean Caribbean beach holidays - head for South Beach, Miami and you can add nightlife and retail therapy to the sun, sea and sand combination
If you thought winter sun in Miami was strictly for the over 60s leisure-wear brigade, you’d be right - but not when we’re talking South Beach, Miami. SoBe (for the tourists, not the locals) is a nugget of sun, sea, shopping and superb nightlife, and the perfect location for a week’s winter break, be you gourmet or glutton, culture-seeker or clubber.
In the 1980s, it was a rundown, no-go area for tourists, but the renovation of the Art Deco hotels and museums, and the addition of new apartment blocks (especially those in SoFi – south of 5th), has led to a rejuvenation of the whole district, with the neglected shopping areas once again teeming with trade and the restaurants open round the clock.
Due to the size of the South Beach area, getting around is no problem – so unless you plan on travelling further afield, a car is not necessary (and more of an expensive hindrance). The simple street grid system is easy to navigate and the famous Ocean Drive, Collins Avenue and Lincoln’s Road Mall will be your markers. The South Beach Local Shuttle Bus has an excellent circular route covering all of SoBe and can save your flip-flopped feet from another pounding for just 25c a journey.
Boutiques, beach and bars
You will find all the regular features of American malls (Gap, Banana Republic, Pottery Barn) plus plenty of independents and high-end retailers thrown in to the mix. But the wide expanse of beach that peeps from behind the sand dunes will probably be a bigger draw than the shops. It covers such an expanse that it would be difficult to feel crowded, although certain areas are more popular than others thanks to their proximity to the amenities. Look out for Raven, the running man who for 34 years has jogged eight miles of the beach every day with his faithful tribe of followers.
As with all ‘scenes’, the best bars are often out of favour by the time the tourists get to hear of them but perennial favourites Mansion (1235 Washington Avenue) and the SkyBar at the Shore Club (1901 Collins Avenue) are unlikely to disappoint. Scan Ocean Drive magazine if you want to find out where the celebs are (although be prepared not to have heard of any of them!).
Where to stay
Our hotel of choice was The Angler's – one of the latest to benefit from a makeover. An original 30s hotel, designed by architect Henry Maloney, it has reopened, following years of abandonment, as a boutique hotel with its own destination restaurant. The rooms are well planned and well stocked with all the latest gadgets. They will even provide you with your own landline number on printed business cards, to hand out to all those important contacts you might meet! Generous arrival presents greeted us, with thoughtful extras being delivered daily to the room, including regular weather forecasts, chocolates and newspapers. Uber-friendly receptionists won’t let you pass without taking a bottle of water (“It’s hot out there!”) and provide beach bags to take the short stroll to the hotel's reserved area on the beach. The pool attendants make you feel utterly lazy as they serve iced water and chilled grapes. We were only disappointed that we were leaving before the New Year’s Eve party - $500 a head but with the lure of midgets on ponies!
1220 at the Tides
Perfect for a glam night people-spotting, this stylish restaurant is almost out of place among the all-you-can-eat bars and eateries of Ocean Drive.
The Tides Hotel, 1220 Ocean Drive
11th St Diner
An authentic breakfast experience in an old dining car. Skip the hotel breakfast and get here early.
1055 Washington Avenue
A legend in South Beach, this 24-hour cafe always seems to have something to fit the bill when you’re not quite sure what you fancy. It's just down the road from the Versace mansion, and it is believed Gianni took his final coffee here.
800 Ocean Drive
Jerry’s Famous Deli
Another American classic – huge portions and relaxed anytime eating. Our favourite was the ‘Axel F’ humming waiter – surely it should be Miami Vice?
1450 Collins Avenue; www.jerrysfamousdeli.com
Off the beaten track
Although your hedonistic holiday may not allow for much downtime, a short detour to the Holocaust Memorial is well worth it for a chilling reminder of the savageries of the Nazi holocaust.