South Beach, or SoBe if you’re cool enough, is the growing art deco neighbourhood of Miami. Situated on the somewhat “island” of Miami Beach SoBe is connected back to the mainland area of Little Havana by a handful of bridges. The area is filled with colourful buildings, extravagant gardens and lively Latino beach front cafes. Whilst exploring SoBe you’ll constantly flit between three main avenues; Ocean Drive, Collins Avenue and Washington Avenue.
On Ocean Drive you’ll find beachside cafes, cocktails to go, water sports sign-ups and a strip of great (highly cringe-worthy) Latino bars that make up the main nightlife. Mango Tropical Cafe is your typical Havana style ‘salsa the night away’ bar with a live salsa band playing most nights. If you’re not up to such wild frivolities then head to the Clevelander Hotel on the corner of 10th, this joint is a little classier and it comes with an outdoor pool to hang your salsa’d out feet in (this whole pretending you didn’t go to Mango thing just won’t work).
On Collins Avenue, you’ll find designer shops like the Kardashians Dash store. But forget Kim Kardashian, there’s a Victoria’s Secret here and you need to stock up on that vanilla and coconut body spray they’ve got on offer (FYI this is my particular scent so could you kindly stop being such a jerk and go pick a different pairing of aromas). In stark contrast Washington Avenue is simply where you go for tattoos, piercings and pizza – I mean it, this is literally the home of Miami Ink. That’s all you need to know, work with it.
The beach itself spans from 1st Street up to 23rd street with the party theme growing the higher up you get. People turn up in huge groups with speakers and red cups, creating a real spring break vibe which is great considering it’s probably not even April.
Hitting the beach early is ideal to secure a spot close to the water, which is necessary because it’s ridiculously hot and you won’t make the run to the sea. Pitch your towel close to one of the lifeguard huts if you ever want to find it again, this beach is vast and everything blurs into one. Lay back on the sands, tan like a goddess and argue over what DJ that fly-by plane was actually advertising.
2. Posh South Beach Hostel
Posh South Beach Hostel is situated at 820 Collins Avenue. When you first arrive you can’t find it, it doesn’t exist, the building at 820 Collins Avenue is an electronic cigarette store, you’ve been royally scammed and you’re about to head-butt a Cuban. Once you’ve calmed down you should decide to enter the 820 electrical cigarette store and ask somebody what the hell is this bulls*** but, before you open your mouth, the electrical cigarette employee will take one glance at your sweaty exterior, battered suitcase, and calmly tell you there’s a lift down the side of the building that’ll take you up to the hostel. You shyly smile and run away, suitcase catching in the door. (Though now you’ve read this you don’t have to suffer such radical extremities and can jump to paragraph 2, you’re welcome).
Once inside the lift you exit out onto a rooftop pool which is both bizarre and great. Then you enter the hostel into a vast marble kitchen with sofas and a huge TV and you’ve almost forgotten that Cuban you were definitely going to head-butt merely moments ago. The sleeping arrangement is weird at first, two huge rooms with about 20 bunk beds in each, but everyone becomes your best mate and it quickly just turns into a slumber party. You can book a smaller private room but that makes you really boring and stop being such a princess.
The actual hostel is situated 2 avenues back from the beach which is the perfect location. The hostel also has a sister hotel next door called the Whitelaw (I don’t really understand but go with it) that has a great bar and for you, my friend, it’s free. You heard- any guest at the hotel or hostel gets free drinks in happy hour from 7-8pm. You’ll still be in the pool at 6.55pm before you realise the time and mad dash downstairs with every other sucker to the bar. The staff have a tip jar and you really should tip considering how nice they’ve been to ply you with all this free alcohol, so tip. After getting your money worth 8 pm is rather early to be sloshed in Miami, these guys start late and go late, so you should probably just get back in the pool with your shop bought Mangorita. (Margaritas are sold at any corner store here and they’re beautiful and you should definitely get some and you can’t get them in the UK so if you could bring me some back that’d be smashing thanks). The hotel and hostel both offer great deals too for organised nights outs and if memory serves me correctly its about $20 for free drinks all night and then a limo ride to the bars.
In 2014 the hostel price was $28 per night, i.e ridiculously cheap. However current prices have risen slightly to $32 per night (£20) and no doubt will continue to do so. For its location, cleanliness, amenities and all round vibe, this still remains ridiculously cheap.
book in advance here and you might bag cheaper rates, particularly out of season
3. 11th Street Diner
After all your salsa dancing, Mangorita chugging and frozen daiquiri bombs you’re going to need a die-hard American breakfast. I’m talking eggs with bacon, maple syrup and homemade grits, pancakes and waffles with cream, the lot. (I’m still not open to the majority of these American breakfast combinations, but when in Rome). The 11th street art deco dinner is your Hail Mary.
Not surprisingly situated on the corner of 11th Street and Washington Avenue the diner looks like its been ripped out of NYC and placed in all its tin caravan glory onto the burning streets of Miami. In actual fact, it was ripped out of Pennsylvania in 1990 and brought to Miami, but that’s close enough.
The diner hosts an outdoor eating area if you can handle the heat, otherwise, park it in one of the typical red leather booths. It doesn’t feel like a tourist spot inside and you quickly blend in with the locals, you’ll find yourself asking for ‘the usual please’ and getting a deadpan look back, forcing you to quickly remember you’re new here and aren’t overly confident you’d order the same thing if you weren’t (VARIETY PEOPLE, VARIETY). Anyway, the eggs are good and you can order them in more ways than you ever knew existed. The French toast is great too but if you’ve just come to Miami after working at a Summer Camp the last thing you want to see again is God damn french toast.
Breakfast is served here all day and it’s open 24 hours, mayhem
4. Sunset Island SUP
Sunset Island (situated on the west side of Miami Beach) holds calm tranquil waters, sheltered by the mainland, making it the ideal location for Standup Paddleboarding (SUP). From 9th Street, Sunset Island is roughly a 40-minute walk, a 15-minute bike ride or a 10-minute bus ride away. I’d suggest the bike ride.
Miami has a citibike service where you hire out a bike for as little as $6 an hour, or if you’re in it for the long haul, sign up for a month for only $35. The bikes are situated all over the city and you’re free to dock and pick up any bike at any station. There’s a bike station on the beachfront on the corner of 9th Street and Ocean Drive. Head north to 17th street, swing a left and keep pedalling till you hit the sea. Here you’ll find the South Beach Kayak company (they’ve conveniently got a bike station outside the shop- get in). This is a lovely little company that, from the outside, could easily be mistaken for a water sports equipment garage sale.
As the name suggests they’re primarily a kayak rental company but let us not be boring, you’re here for a paddleboard. It’s best to ring up and pre-book (get the receptionist at your hostel to hook you up) so as not to dishearteningly arrive to find you’re spending the afternoon in a 2 man kayak (we’ve all been there, the shame). $30 gets you the board for an hour, which is plenty of time to do the specific route planned for you. (A pre-planned route that takes into consideration the tide times and the wind direction and all that stuff you wouldn’t have even bothered to consider).
Once you’ve dumped all non-waterproof belongings in a pigeon hole you’ll realise you forgot to put on sun cream and be more than overly delighted to see the array of leftover bottles on the counter, free for your use. Seriously lather up because this is 3 pm in Miami and it’s about 40°C and you’re about to head out onto the water into the world’s largest suntrap and therefore you will be lobstering within approximately 2 minutes 30 seconds. Also, take a water bottle because you’ll be dehydrated in even less time. The board has some neat net wiring on the front to hold down anything you might fear rolling into the ocean, i.e that water bottle I was literally just talking about.
Once out in the bay, you’re going to get people on speed boats showing off, hosting boat parties and blasting Flo Rida. They’re going to do doughnuts and cause swell but just give them the gnarly sign and shout ‘muricaaaa’ and you’ll be alright. Once you’ve escaped the shark tank of Miami’s speedboat owners you’ll quickly enter the fishbowl of Miami’s billionaire yacht owners, a much more civilised group (they wouldn’t know the gnarly sign if it hit them). Welcome to Sunset Island.
Sunset Island is a private gated community hosting some of the states wealthiest homeowners. Being a gated community means that nobody can enter the area unless you’re one of the billionaires that own property here. Therefore you on your paddle board are completely and utterly out of place. A schmuck like you would never get this close to these mansions on land, ney, you’d be thrown back onto the highway by a security guard. But somehow, and for some reason, you’re allowed to SUP down here. You could literally float your board up to any of the waterfront mansions and simply step into their back garden. It makes the whole security guard at the gate seem wholly irrelevant. Anyway, take in your lap of luxury.
The waterways are secluded and peaceful. You’ll see men in full scuba kits cleaning the underneath of yachts, you’ll see families sat out in the back garden and wonder how they’ve made their billions, you’ll wave and shout pleasantries at them and coo over their adorable blue french bulldog that’s balancing precariously on the end of their pier violently barking at your presence. You feel a faint possibility that one of these many billionaires will take a liking to your upbeat hollering and invite you in for a house tour and afternoon tea.
This invitation will more than likely not happen but you don’t particularly mind, you’re in heaven anyway. This peaceful experience will be abruptly interrupted by the realisation that you have zero idea what time it currently is, and worse, you have zero idea what time it was when you left the store and, far worse, there’s not a sundial in sight. After failing to judge the sun’s placement you accept that you’ve probably already gone over your hour and reluctantly head back in. The sweet woman at this store seemed pretty chill about people being late back in, though I feel she could really make a fortune out of charging late returners. I didn’t bother suggesting it.
I take no responsibility if you turn up late on that sweet woman’s day off and you get an angry beef eating man pretty riled up that you were so nonchalantly 15 minutes late
5. Wet Willies
Wet Willies is perfectly situated on the corner of Ocean Drive and 8th Street, right on the beach front, and is packed out during the summer months with queues piling out into the street.
To clear up your possible confusion Wet Willies is a frozen daiquiri bar. Pitted against the back wall of the bar is a colourful array of slushy machines, plagued with rum and sugar. Some of the flavour creations are crazy, they serve a range of cocktails from the basic Pina Colada/ Sex on the Beach right up to their own wild concoctions like ‘Monster Melon’ and ‘Call A Cab’ (which is eye-squintingly strong). Or, if you’d like to be sick for other reasons, order the ‘Bahama Mama’ which has both bananas and coconut in it, Jesus.
If you’re taking a break from the alcohol (I’m not sure why you’ve read this far down the review) then the 7/11 does a great slushy of solely sugar for about $1, amazing.
This place is a must do when you’re heading back in from the beach, sit upstairs on the balcony and take in the view. They serve food and appetisers but I’d recommend just heading here for the frozen daiquiris alone and heading elsewhere down Ocean Drive for dinner such as News Cafe situated on the opposite corner. Or if you’re willing to splash more cash, and are a devoted seafood freak, then A Fish Called Avalon has been highly recommended (700 Ocean Dr).
6. Florida Keys
If you’re in Miami long enough and you have a spare day of nothingness then I highly suggest making it down to the Keys. The Florida Keys are a coral cay archipelago (thanks, Wikipedia) which translates into a string of islands connected only by bridge. They’re situated at the very bottom of Florida with the furthest Island away being Key West.
Regular coach rides head down here from multiple locations on South Beach with the pickup points being outside most hotels. For booking the coach ride head to the ‘Half Price Tour Tickets’ store situated on 9th Street in the middle of Collins Avenue and Washington Avenue. The trip costs around $66, you’ll be picked up at roughly 7 am, have a 4-hour drive down, 6 hours to spend in Key West, followed by a 4-hour ride home.
For an extra $54 you can head out on a boat trip/come snorkelling excursion upon your arrival. This is great and you should do it. Alternatively, you could go Parasailing but the boat trip has an open bar and you can’t get free unlimited bevy 1200ft up under a rainbow parachute, can you? Also, the boat trip last 3 hours which is a perfect amount of time to utilise on the island. Weather dependant you’ll either Snorkel the Reef or head North-East into the Gulf of Mexico. The boat will anchor up, provide the snorkelling gear and after a quick safety brief throw you overboard into ‘Shark Alley and Sting Ray City’, a patch of water named after its inhabitants, lovely stuff. You’d be lucky to spot a shark but jellyfish and stingray are around amongst a plethora of other marine life. You’re given about an hour or so out here minding your own, floating around in the beautiful turquoise abyss (it really is a seemingly bottomless chasm). There’s something super relaxing about floating around face down in water that leads you to stay under for ages until you suddenly fear that the boat may have long left without you and violently thrash your head up to affirm your worst nightmare. No, it’s still there. Far away mind, but still there. Anyway, time to head back on the boat and chug down those free bevies I might have mentioned, perfect for your dehydration and over-exposure-to-sun caused exhaustion.
Once back on land you have time to grab a healthy lunch of Key Lime Pie. Key Limes were brought over to Florida by the Spanish in the 1900s and became the local fruit, quickly being turned into Key Lime Pie – Americas favourite regional dessert. (I know we just prefer lemon cheesecake too but let them have it, what else happens in Florida?). Apparently to go to the Keys and not have Key Lime Pie is akin to arriving in Pisa and not trying to push the tower over. Head to Kermit’s on the corner of Greene Street and ask to sample everything twice over before you buy a slice. Keep it real, just get a slice with some strawberries, don’t be the untamed devil you are and order a ‘Frozen Key Lime Pie Double Dunked in Triple Chocolate’ because Lord we will not take that shit, not today.
Once you’ve sufficiently OD’d on pie head down Duval Street. Duval St starts out looking like a branded ally of shops, which surprises you as you really thought you’d come to the end of the earth down here and presumed they only sold pie. Weirdly they even have a Hardrock Cafe, but you’ve just stepped off an open bar boat and you’re eyeballing pie so, walk on.
The further down you get the better it becomes, the brands are dropped and it just turns into peoples houses, some converted into quirky B&Bs and some turned into rustic street front stores selling quaint bottles of key lime marinade. Stop in at the Key West Olive Oil Company (419 Duval Street) where a nice old lady, not dissimilar from your grandma, will take you under her arms and encourage you to offer your life story. Kindly tell her it, be interested in hers, and a good hour later takes your purchased bottle of key lime marinade and head away feeling you’ve covered your good deeds for the rest of the year, quite psyched your marinade has tequila in it. (These things make great gifts if you’re prepared to wait another lifetime for that nice old lady to wrap it into an aeroplane safe package). Finally, you’ll reach the beach at the end of Duval St, hang out here before it’s time to make your way back to the coach pick up, try not be late. Nobody likes a late.
Yes this is where the Netflix original series Bloodline is set and shot
7. Club Space
Club Space is situated out in downtown Miami only a short taxi ride over from South Beach. The club occupies a ginormous multi-story warehouse hosting three huge rooms with House, Hip Hop and Electronic Trance music blasting in each.
Entry here is pretty expensive but again it’s more than worth it. You can buy early bird tickets online for $25 if you’re savvy enough but chances are you’re definitely not and you’ll most likely end up buying on the door for around $40. The pricing depends on what guest DJ is in so be sure to check the line up before you head out. (God forbid David Guetta’s in town and they’re charging $200).
Once a month the club puts on an 18+ night which accommodates you backpackers who are legal in England but annoyingly restricted out here. You’re given a bright band to ensure that if you so much as pick up someone else cup a bodyguard will inevitably jump you. The vibe inside is still amazing if you’ve pre-drank properly it really shouldn’t matter.
The club is part of Downtown’s 24-hour zone and therefore can legally stay open well into the next day and that it does. If you’re here for Labour Day Weekend or the 4th the place stays open 72 hours on the trot (which is great but casts shadows over that one time you stayed out till 6 am and caught the first bus home). Ideally, you’d want to head in late and stay to catch the sunset from the roof terrace, but I understand that won’t happen and that’s ok, maybe next time you daft Brit.
Once you’ve tackled the bouncers, paid your fees and head on up the never ending stairs you’ll enter straight into the first room. I’d head into the back room to find the DJ and from here dance the evening (morning) away. Jab your fingers in the air when the beat drops, get lost in the smoke machines product, briefly panic through the fog, re-group and re-jab your fingers into the air. Once you’re done jabbing go explore and wind your way back into the first more spacious room.
There’s no real dress code in the club, the people are chilled and the whole vibe is really a ‘dance like nobodies watching’ type thing because nobody really is. Which is why you happily form a dance ring with your mad new friends you met earlier at the hostel, you let strangers join in, a college freshman asks you to dance, you’re taken aback by such pleasant formalities and have to pretend you didn’t hear them. Before you know it it’s 4 am and the inner Brit inside realises you should probably start heading home soon.
Outside on the pavement, the 30-degree heat hits you like the drop in Martin Garrix’s Animals (sorry), you realise the club had air-con and you truly appreciate that touch, as you bundle more people than fit into a taxi.
8. Miami Dolphins, Sun Life Stadium
Sun Life Stadium is the home of the Miami Dolphins situated in Miami Gardens just north of the city. Normal tickets to NFL matches are upwards of $40 however if you’re here in pre-season (August time) then the tickets are dirt cheap from as little as $8. You can buy these online on the day of the game and the later you leave it the cheaper they sometimes are.
From SoBe, the Stadium is approximately a 25-minute drive. If you haven’t hired a car, then your best bet is to book a taxi. The taxi ride here costs about $65 one way which seems extortionate but split this between 6 and you’ll only be chipping in about $20 for a return ride. If you haven’t met 5 other great people yet in the hostel that have rapidly become your best buddies then I’m pretty sure if you just shout ‘NFL’ in the lobby some vacationing upbeat American will come running.
The trip will probably cost you maximum $30 which is nothing to tick a NFL game off your bucket list. The stadium is quite grand with a spiral walkway from the floor up to the top tier. The Americans take this totally seriously and people will be totally riled up even at pre-season matches which make for a great atmosphere.
The game feels like it’s just a whole load of stopping and starting but quite frankly you don’t mind because they play music over the loud speaker every time the game stops and Sweet Caroline just came on. Like we established, you’ve come here to tick this off your bucket list so the fact you understand none of the rules is irrelevant, you’re happy. Just cheer and yell often and you’ll be mistaken for a die hard Dolphin.
When you leave the grounds there will be a line of taxis looking for customers so hop in one of these and head back to SoBe. You’re going to get middle-aged men pretending to be taxi drivers but avoid these, the flimsy piece of cardboard they’re holding with ‘taxi’ scrawled on is usually the first giveaway.
The Miami Dolphins fight song is ridiculously catchy and you’ll be singing it the whole way home [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yIcIPd9bDBI]