Miami, Florida (aka Party City!)
For me, Miami is the perfect getaway. It gives me the feel of being somewhere exotic without the hassles of a long flight. The warm weather, palm trees, Latin music, fresh seafood, expansive beach, and happy people put me in a party mood as soon as I put my feet on the ground.
We went in mid-November, and since my husband had business meetings to attend, we stayed in the downtown area. Our hotel, the JW Marriott Marquis on Biscayne was luxuriously comfortable and had fantastic views of the bay. (You can read my review of the JW Marriott Marquis here.) Even better, it was centrally located. After check-in, we took a few moments to admire our room and the view, then headed out the door to explore on foot.
Feeling hungry, we walked past Whole Foods, and found Cafe Bastille a few blocks away on 1st Street, where we enjoyed a delicious Nicoise salad with fresh grilled tuna and a glass of crisp white wine at an outdoor table. We got to do some people-watching here: pretty busy …. women wearing sky-high heels even in the daytime… lots of good-looking people. Auto traffic was heavy, and we were glad to be walking. I never saw a time, day or night, that the streets weren’t completely clogged with cars. On another day, we had a good lunch across the street from Cafe Bastille, at Fratelli Milano. This Italian restaurant was packed with locals on a Tuesday afternoon, so must be pretty popular. Although this area of downtown was full of pedestrians in the daytime, at night it was uncomfortably empty except for a few random people here and there. We were looking for a restaurant for dinner, but didn’t really feel safe walking here at night, and decided to walk closer to the bay, where we ended up at Area 31 in The Epic hotel. This is a very pricey farm-to-market seafood restaurant. The food was excellent, and the view was lovely, but we felt that it was way overpriced.
It’s possible that Bayside Marketplace is a tourist destination set up to serve the cruise ship passengers, but it’s actually full of local people. There are plenty of shops, restaurants, and bars, and there is live music every day. Plus you get a great view of the cruise ships and other boats resting in the bay. We walked here from our hotel and soon heard the siren sound of a live salsa band. We followed the music to a fantastic street party full of dancing locals of all ages. I took a video of a man dancing with a cane, and I’ve since seen him show up on other vacationer’s YouTube videos. I was thrilled to see that older women get loads of respect in Miami. If you can dance, you’re not an old lady — you’re cool. This just might have to be my future retirement home! We watched for awhile, but it was too hard to stand on the sidelines, and soon we were in the middle of the crowd doing our best salsa. After a few numbers, we noticed a bar, Let’s Make a Daiquiri, right behind us. We ordered two mango mojitos, expecting to get watery tourist drinks, but they were excellent — fresh mango, good rum, and the perfect amount of fresh mint. Wow, Miami was getting better by the minute, and we were loving everything! We stayed put for awhile, enjoying our drinks, the music, and the people-watching, then walked back to our hotel for a little rest before dinner. We ended up coming back to Bayside Marketplace a few times during our trip. It was a nice walk, and we enjoyed two lunches at Lombardi’s — an Italian restaurant featuring fresh seafood with both indoor and outdoor tables. Shrimp cocktail and a Caesar’s salad made a perfect lunch on a hot day, while my husband enjoyed heartier fare of grilled mahi mahi with all the sides. The next time, we had a delicious seafood and pasta dish. Again, we expected Lombardi’s to be a not-too-tasty but expensive tourist place, but we were pleasantly surprised. The food and service were good. Also, they have a very nice bathroom inside for patrons.
There was no way we were going to Miami without visiting South Beach. We could see from our hotel window that traffic was hideous, so we decided to leave the car in the garage and take a Lyft to Ocean Drive. Note: don’t bother with a rental car. Parking is difficult and expensive, and Lyft and Uber drivers are plentiful. We arrived around 9:00, and already the party had started. Music was pumping from nearly every restaurant, and the lights on the art deco buildings made a festive scene, indeed. We felt like we were walking through a gauntlet of entertainment, as each restaurant vied for our business, tempting us with their gigantic mojitos, cool music, and fresh seafood dishes. Eventually we found a live flamenco band, and that’s where we stopped. My husband, Jorge, is from Spain, and we love flamenco. As we enjoyed the show, a waiter from Mia Bella Roma enticed us to sit at a nearby table with a great view. Soon we were enjoying the flamenco show even more thanks to our giant mango mojitos — again, surprised by the good quality and tastiness of the drink — an an excellent antipasto platter. There was a parade of beautiful people of all ages walking by. Miami is not just for the young, but I’d say it’s for the fun. If you don’t like a party scene, this may not be for you. We could have stayed there all night, but we had a late dinner reservation at BLT Steak (you can read my review here). It seemed a shame to leave most of my mojito, but I was already tipsy and had barely made a dent in it. We had a fabulous dinner at BLT — it was one of those “expensive but we aren’t even going to complain about it because it was so worth it dinners.” We were thrilled that the flamenco band was still playing when we got back, and this time I was inspired to do a little flamenco dancing myself. Like I said, we were totally caught up in the giant street party that is Miami. After 11:00 p.m., things got interesting as the clubs competed for customers. I was really taken by surprise to see topless dancers on the street at some of the places (I am old, you know), but as I said before, Miami gives you a taste of being in an exotic location even though you’re still in the U.S.
We went back to South Beach a couple of days later, this time in the daytime. We went to the beach, which was still sunny and warm in November. The color of the water was beautiful. We took a nice long walk to look at the hotels and get an idea of where we’d like to stay on our next trip. We’d prefer to stay on the quieter end of Ocean Drive so we could have good sleep quality, yet still walk to all the action. It seems that around 4:00 during weekdays, a lot of the restaurants have happy hour. Many offer half-priced drinks and entrees. We walked the gauntlet, looking at the food and mulling over the various offers. We settled on Cala Cafe, because we liked the cheerful yellow paint, the music, and the huge seafood platter for two that they were offering at half price. After we accepted the half-price offer, the waiter tried to raise it, but we wouldn’t go for it, so he went back to the original offer. I’m sure it was just a game, as we overheard the same conversation at the next table. Again, we ended up with giant mojitos and a wonderful platter of lobster, shrimp, salmon, mashed potatoes, and mixed veggies. It was tasty, and we were having such a good time that we seriously considered missing our flight that was scheduled for later that night.
Mary Brickell Village
I decided to explore Mary Brickell Village on my own one morning while my husband was in meetings. I set off on foot from our hotel, and it actually didn’t take long to get there. I wandered around as far as I could go. This area is very different from Bayside — it’s more of a corporate area that seems to cater to the business crowd, as there are many office buildings there. A lot of the restaurants are large chains that you see all over the U.S. There are shops, but I wasn’t in much of a shopping mood, so I kind of ran out of things to do. I got a $9.00 Juicytarian juice at Amore to refresh myself, and then walked past my hotel and all the way back to Bayside and back. On another night, we took a Lyft to an event at the Four Seasons and then had a light dinner there afterward. Typical of a Four Seasons, the service and food were excellent. It was probably 10:30 or 11:00 when we left, and we decided to walk the mile back to our hotel. Unlike our late walk on the other side of town, we felt perfectly safe.
What to Wear
From what I’ve seen, Miami is really an “anything goes” kind of place. I saw all kinds of levels of dressed and barely dressed, but most people looked nice. For women, there’s nothing easier than packing sun dresses when going to a warm climate, and you’ll always look nice. I packed casual dresses for day and nicer ones for evening, as well as one pair of fluid, breezy pants. Bring comfortable shoes for walking. My husband wore guayabera shirts, which are cool and fit in perfectly with Miami. He brought lightweight travel pants one pair of jeans. The sun is strong, so bring a hat, sunglasses, lots of sunscreen, and some kind of light cover-up to protect you when the sun gets too hot. In South Beach in the evenings, I saw resort wear, super short dresses with sky-high heels, jeans with cut-outs all the way down, and a few shorts and tennis shoes. Like I said, anything goes, but if you’re planning to go to some of the area’s fancier restaurants, dress nicely.
Staying fit on your vacation in Miami is pretty easy. There are lots of opportunities to walk, dance, and swim. If you need more structure, the Exhale spas—both downtown and in South Beach—offer drop-ins to their gyms and fitness classes, including barre and yoga.
We really made the most of the time we had in Miami, and can’t wait to go back and explore more. If you want a fun, quick, exotic getaway, it doesn’t get much better than this.