MIAMI was christened the fun and sun capital back in the 1960s and it’s not hard to see why.
First, with year round sunshine and far-as-the-eye-can-see golden sand and turquoise sea it’s a beach lover’s paradise.
Fun is not in short supply either. Miami is famous for its nightlife but there’s plenty of amusement and atmosphere to be found on the streets too.
Actually, ‘fun and sun’ might be selling Miami a little short. With the largest concentration of Art Deco buildings in the world, the place has got some serious style and sightseeing couldn’t be easier.
You could shop until you drop (and you will if you don’t carry water) on the pedestrianised Lincoln Road Mall or take a trip to the outlet malls, but if you have limited time or budget, Miami’s greatest sport — people watching — is free. Walking and biking paths run all along the beach and a dusk cycle out to the pier is well worth it for the view.
Spend an afternoon wandering around Miami Beach and you’ll pass the former mansion home of Gianni Versace (where the designer was shot dead on his steps in 1997).
You can hang out with the MDPD (Miami-Dade Police Department) on a corner ventana and have a Cuban coffee which is strong and sweet (as are some of the cops), or try and spot the locations where scenes from movies The Birdcage, Bad Boys and Scarface were shot.
Miami doesn’t lack in culinary spice either.
Doing a food tour is a great way to discover the best spots in town fast. The South Beach Food Tour came recommended and was one of the highlights of the trip. It’s a fun, very chilled out guided walking tour which mixes a little local history with lots of stops in authentic Miami eateries that you would be unlikely to discover alone.
After the tour your guide will give you an info sheet with discounts for the restaurants you visited so you need never go near any Ocean Drive tourist traps for the rest of your stay.
Miami’s cool vibe is definitely down to the Latino and Hispanic influences found everywhere, even in its fusion food.
Wander down Española Way, ‘Little Spain’, for an incredible selection of tapas or if you needed an example of what the Miamian’s mean by Nuevo Latino cuisine, De Rodriguez Cuba does an incredible tasting menu for 75 bucks which will get you a selection of ceviche, smoked marlin tacos, Kobe meatballs, sugar cane tuna and crispy Cuban pork belly.
Blocks serves the best pizza and Jerry’s Famous Deli, with 711 items on the menu, is a must-see old-school diner where you can have pancakes for dinner. Put it this way, you won’t go hungry.
For many Irish people like me, a trip to the beach usually involves umbrellas (not for the sun), flasks of tea and sand everywhere (most aptly, in your sandwiches) but the beachfront hotels in Miami do it a little differently, with freshly raked sand, baskets of complimentary fruit and water, waiter service and sun loungers with fluffy towels.
With hundreds of hotels to choose from it can be hard to know where to start along Miami Beach but if you are on a health kick, Canyon Ranch is the kind of place that makes being wholesome easy. It’s an ultra-luxurious boutique hotel with a big concentration on wellbeing (even down to offering a choice of organic rum in your mojito).
The wellness centre offers private consultations, workshops and lectures in disease prevention, weight loss, stress reduction and smoking cessation, as well as nutrition consultations.
There are 40 complimentary fitness classes offered daily (everything from rock wall climbing and zumba to power yoga or group beach walks) so there really is no excuse to slack off. And if anything is going to take the pain out of a boring session on a treadmill it’s an amazing ocean front view.
If you feel you’ve earned a reward, just across the street is Sand Bar Lounge, where the motto is ‘love, peace and sandy feet’. It’s a good old-fashioned bar where you can take your shoes off, shoot pool and have a beer.
If you can drag yourself away from the beach and buzz, there are day trips to the small islands of Key Largo (the one the Beach Boys sang about), or Key West, where Ernest Hemingway lived and wrote for over a decade.
Trips to the Everglades are offered on pretty much every street corner, and come cheap enough (though you should try to haggle on the listed price a little). The standard package is a half-day trip including bus pick-up from your hotel, an airboat ride through the everglades and then an alligator show.
The airboat is a fun way to see a small part of the marshy Everglades but the show wasn’t. It might be enjoyable for kids, but seeing birds and alligators kept in tiny cages is as depressing for me as it must be for them.
Two very different hotels located at either end of Miami’s historic Collins Avenue are The James Royal Palm and Sense Beach House.
The former is a great place to crash after a hard day lying on the beach. It’s a luxurious and trendy hotel that attracts seriously beautiful people who can be found hanging out drinking cocktails around the pool on weekends.
The James Royal Palm’s got style and substance though, with that unmatched American service and a superb restaurant — Florida Cookery — that serves fantastic local, fresh, unpretentious food.
If the big seafront strip of Miami hotels is the equivalent of sipping a fancy cocktail in a deckchair, then Sense Beach House is more like chilling in a hammock with a beer.
It’s a bit of a hidden gem, just across the street from the beach and with a small rooftop pool perfect for chilling out. Downstairs there’s a top-class and very affordable restaurant that is worth eating in even if you don’t stay. On the last night I sat outside in the breeze with a glass of wine and thought I’d happily stay in Miami another week — always the sign of a great holiday.
One minor regret, I was too happy on the beach or the biking along the boardwalk to visit any galleries or museums or see a show, but to be honest, in Miami it feels the art is all around you and the street is a theatre.