Maybe it’s just me but it feels like Miami’s South Beach has changed. Perhaps we’ve both gotten older and wiser, but we seem to appreciate each other a little more these days. I no longer feel confused and unwelcome, like I’ve stumbled into a private party that I wasn’t invited to, and South Beach hotels and restaurants, while still seriously hip, are now happy to invite everyone into the party. Especially their fellow Floridians.
During August and September hundreds of Miami restaurants and hotels participate in a promotion called Miami Spice, enticing customers to stay and to eat during the quieter summer months. The official website www.ilovemiamispice.com has links to all the participating restaurants and hotels, each offering a different promotion or discount. Many hotels, including the most popular ones, are offering special Florida resident discounts for the summer that are significant savings over their regular rate, especially the high season rate. So it’s a great time to take a Florida staycation and explore some of those hip Miami places.
I like staying in South Beach, on the barrier island of Miami Beach, because I can park at my hotel and not have to drive again until I’m heading home. All the restaurants, entertainment, and the beach are right at my door.
The art-deco hotels along Collins were built mainly in the l940s. Historical preservation laws have maintained the original facades, but on the inside, these hotels work hard to distinguish themselves with unique designs. These are a few of my favorites and what makes each distinct. The historic nature of these hotels means the guestrooms tend to be small but well designed, and most of the hotels have extensive public spaces, pool areas and cabanas that are meant to be used by guests instead of hanging out in your room.
The Delano started the South Beach urban resort revolution back in 1994. Former owner Ian Schrager not only opened a high-end hotel in a strip of run-down buildings in a shaky area of town, he hired French designer Philippe Stark to create a ground-breaking design that shocked the hotel industry and established a new South Beach style. The Delano is a fantasy world that starts with the hidden location behind a tall row of hedges, and billowing curtains that beckon you deeper and deeper into minimalist spaces with whimsical touches. The lighting, the background music, the scent of lemongrass green tea is all controlled to make this the quintessential South Beach experience.
The Sagamore Hotel is one of the smallest hotels on the block and is privately owned by a family of art collectors who have filled their hotel with their amazing collection of modern art. The hotel sits as a stark white backdrop for sculpture, photography, paintings and video installations. Even the hotel itself is part of the exhibit. The rooms are comfortable and bright, especially the two-story bungalows that face the pool. It’s an oasis from the madness of South Beach.
The Raleigh has retained the most of its glamorous art-deco interior. You can have a snack at the counter in the front lobby diner or a drink in the wood-paneled Martini Bar hidden at the back. But the real treasure here is the beautiful original pool, a dramatic arabesque-curved wonder, with a lighthouse-shaped pool bar made famous by swimmer-actress Esther Williams. The art-deco authenticity extends to the guestrooms, with rattan furniture and grass-cloth walls. This is the South Beach of the 1940s.
The Shore Club is a sister hotel to the Delano but with a younger clientele. The Moroccan design of the outside spaces is based on the famous Majorelle Garden in Marrakech that was the home of French designer Yves St. Laurent. It is a riot of color and comfort with lounging areas scattered throughout the trees. The Sunday Pool Party is open to the public and very popular among young Miami locals.
The SLS Hotel, opened in 2012, is the latest Philippe Stark-designed hotel in South Beach and may change the direction of hotel design just like his Delano Hotel did twenty years ago.
It’s a more colorful cozy Stark, incorporating homey elements that redefine the hotel experience. At the back of the hotel is Hyde Beach, a pool-based day and night club where a hip Hawaiian surf club serves drinks and music late into the night. Paying your food or beverage minimum buys you the right to hang by the pool with the trendy beautiful crowd that seems to be everywhere in South Beach.