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Ahh, Miami. The land of sun and sand, a favorite party spot for the rich and famous, and the home of breathtaking art, unforgettable cuisine and amazing shopping. In a city full of endless possibilities, where do you begin? I’m fortunate enough to visit Miami twice a year, thanks to a certain Cuban boyfriend who grew up there and whose family still resides there. Each time we go, we are sure to visit some of his old haunts, and also discover something different. Here are some of the more memorable places I’ve enjoyed from our adventures, and a few others that are still on my list to visit, along with some travel tips for making an adventure of your own.

Perhaps the top thing people visit Miami for is the beaches, and there are plenty to choose from. When we visited Miami at the start of January, the weather was cooler and it rained quite a bit, so we really only had one day to enjoy the beach. As soon as we saw the sun out we packed up our gear and headed to bustling South Miami Beach. If you’re not staying in a hotel within walkable distance and you’re driving down, like us, you’ll have to find a parking spot along one of the streets; when we went on a Thursday the cost for parking was about $4/hr.

South Beach

Miami is known for being home to a lot of beautiful people, and we even witnessed a fitness commercial being filmed on the beach as we entered. On the beach, you’ll see a range of visitors from fit couples to young families and grandparents with their grandchildren. You’ll also see planes flying overhead with banners advertising parties at the large nightclubs South Beach is famous for (more on that later), and club promoters walking along the beach handing out fliers for the various nightclubs to groups of young girls. The water at that time of year was too cold for me to get in, but there were some people, especially children, unbothered by it. If you visit South Miami Beach, you can also walk along Ocean Drive for some of the best people watching. Restaurants and bars line the street for when you’re hungry or in need of a cold one, but be prepared to shell out some dough; one beer can cost you around $15.

south beach
For a smaller, calmer, and more family-oriented beach, there is Matheson Hammock Park, overlooking Biscayne Bay. We usually visit here at least once while in Miami as it’s a great park to bring kids to. Here, you can enjoy swimming in a small man-made pool with a view of South Beach in the far distance. There are also nature and bike trails, a marina, and the Red Fish Grill restaurant. Some people set up hammocks between the trees to relax in, or jog along the sidewalks that weave through the park. For family reunions, there are pavilions available to rent for large group cookouts.

The StandardIf you’re not traveling with little ones, the ultimate place to relax and unwind is The Standard, a spa hotel in Miami Beach. We only visited the outdoor bar at the hotel for cocktails one night, but we learned there is so much more to discover here. Dubbed an “adult playground,” The Standard offers a unique pampering experience for the pleasure seeker. Guests of the hotel can take advantage of the complimentary hydrotherapy playgrounds with outdoor soaking tubs, salt water infinity pool, mud lounge, Roman waterfall hot tub, arctic plunge pool, aroma steam room, cedar sauna, and more. If you’re not staying at the hotel, you can purchase a day pass which includes use of the indoor and outdoor baths, gardens, and pool; passes are $150 for Friday - Sunday, or $75 for Monday - Thursday. Or, if you’re just looking for a cool spot to enjoy a great mojito, like we did, grab a drink from the bar and head to the semi-secluded fire pit, surrounded by outdoor cabana beds. The Standard also features the outdoor Lido Restaurant and Bayside Grill for Mediterranean-inspired dining, as well as the Juice Café & Terrace; inside near the lobby there is the Lido Bar & Lounge. The hotel offers a variety of yoga and other fitness classes throughout the day, which you can sign up for whether you are a guest at the hotel or not.The Standard

For art enthusiasts, a trip to The Wynwood Walls on NW 2nd Ave is a must. Developed by Tony Goldman in 2009, the area showcases work by some of the best graffiti and urban artists out there. Goldman’s concept for The Walls began when he noticed the many warehouse buildings in the district and saw them as potential for giant canvases to highlight underappreciated street art for the public. You’ll definitely want to bring a camera to capture the amazing works of art at The Walls, and best of all, it’s free to visit. After your walk through, stop by the equally colorful Wynwood Kitchen & Bar nearby for a delicious coffee or cocktail and tapas-style menu.
Wyndwood Walls

Prohibition When we decided to really treat ourselves one night, we made dinner reservations at Prohibition Restaurant & Speakeasy in Midtown Miami. The restaurant won the OpenTable Diners’ Choice in 2015, and it appears well deserved. The decor and ambience are fabulous, from the chandeliers above the tables, to the glamorous flapper art on the walls, to the old school telephones adorning the bar. We were also treated to a live saxophonist playing along with jazzy music tracks. Our dinner began with the Rustic Greek Salad ($12) with fresh heirloom tomatoes, cucumber, red onions, and kalamata olives, topped with a generous portion of feta cheese. Next we tried the Tuna Tartar ($16), which was served as tortilla chips topped with fresh tuna, cucumber, avocado, and fresno chilies with pomegranate ponzu and cilantro avocado jalapeño drizzle. For an entree we shared the Grilled Octopus ($16), and though it’s listed in the small plates section of the menu, the portion size can be easily split between two people. The grilled octopus was served atop sautéed corn, cherry tomatoes, garlic and lemon, baby fondant potatoes, with a caper and olive relish. We really enjoyed every dish we ordered, as well as the affordable pricing and ambience. I would definitely recommend a dinner here! After further research I learned there are Friday night parties in the upstairs lounge, and happy hour is Monday - Friday from 5 - 7pm.

Frita CubanaEl Rey de las Fritas, with three locations in Miami, serves up tasty cuban style hamburgers. Stopping here is a priority each time we visit, and the restaurant unsurprisingly just won the award for Best Frita Cubana in the 2016 Burgie Awards. Fritas are burgers made with ground pork and ground Spanish chorizo with Spanish seasonings, and served with shoestring fried potatoes on a Cuban bread hamburger roll. Something that’s common in casual eateries such as these in Miami, and something I haven’t seen much of elsewhere in the US, is an outside window where customers can walk up and order a coffee and snack and socialize in a small patio area. We stopped by one window at a La Carreta to get a cortadito, or Cuban espresso shot topped with steamed milk, for some energy before shopping. How much did this strong and delightful coffee beverage cost? One dollar. That’s right! One. After returning home from vacation, I couldn’t bring myself to waste $4 on a Starbucks latte for at least a month.

Another affordable lunch or snack option is Arbetter Hot Dogs, located on SW 40th Street. Founded in 1960 by Robert Arbetter, it appears little has changed since then. The small joint has a retro feel and simple menu featuring hot dogs, chili dogs, corn dogs, and chili cheese fries. My personal favorite is a hot dog with sauerkraut and mustard, with a side of chili cheese fries and a coke. Drink refills are free, as long as you’re willing to tell the cashier, “I love Larry Bird”; otherwise, it’ll cost you $0.25. It’s little traditions like these that make Arbetter’s such a joy to visit. Since the eatery’s opening, Robert Arbetter had a sign installed that read, “Free Baked Beans When the Boston Sox Win the World Series.” Unfortunately, Arbetter passed before he could see his favorite team take the title, but his sons Ronnie and Dave were able to deliver his promise to Arbetter’s customers after the Sox won the World Series in October of 2004.
Arbetter Hot Dogs

When you’re deciding on where to go out, Miami’s nightlife is famously diverse. If you’re a salsa music enthusiast, there are great clubs that offer a perfect mix of old school charm and modern fun. Ball and Chain first opened 1935 and was host to many legendary entertainers through the years including Billie Holiday, Count Basie, and Chet Baker. The club had a few rocky decades during which the location switched owners several times and closed down. Thankfully, Ball and Chain was given a second chance when it reopened in 1967 and has been attracting fans of lively entertainment and dancing ever since. Located in the neighborhood now known as Little Havana, the old school club still hosts slamming salsa parties, and I got to enjoy one of them during my stay in Miami; earlier in the day a live band will play out on the patio, then the party continues inside with the DJ playing everything from salsa to freestyle. On Wednesdays the club has ladies night with free well drinks for ladies from 8 - 10pm, Paella Sunday with live music and happy hour starting at 4pm, Thursday night salsa parties with free salsa lessons, and live music and DJs throughout the weekend. Another spot known for it’s authentic atmosphere and live Cuban music, which I have not yet visited, is Hoy Como Ayer, or “today as yesterday”. The club was featured in the film The Chef starring Jon Favreau and was the Miami New Times Readers’ Choice for Best Latin Club in 2013.

Ball and Chain

Of course, in touristy South Beach you have the large nightclubs that play host to the world’s top DJs like Tiesto, Calvin Harris, Kaskade, Skrillex, and more. My first time at Story Nightclub I saw supermodel Adriana Lima washing her hands in the ladies restroom. Some other options for the rich and/or famous to play are Liv in the Fontainebleau Hotel, Mansion, Cameo, Set, and Mynt Lounge. House Nightclub, in the Wynwood District, has an anything goes atmosphere, and their dress code policy encourages everything from“creative to couture”. You must first sign up online to request a key to enter House, and then be prepared to receive some jokingly provocative emails encouraging your attendance. The club offers great electronic music and stage performances like many nightclubs in Miami.

Story Nightclub

For a more toned down social environment, Brickell has several newer bars and restaurants that I’ve been told are worth visiting. American Social opened in 2014 and has a large selection of craft beers, handcrafted cocktails and self-serving beer tap tables. You can enjoy weekly specials like $4 craft beer on Tuesdays, and Ladies Night Thursdays which feature half off everything behind the bar from 4pm - 2am and complimentary cocktails for ladies from 10pm - 12am. Blackbird Ordinary, established in 2011, has high reviews from Yelp and TripAdvisor and is Zagat rated is one of Miami’s Best Bars with Single Scenes. The hipster-esque bar boasts a tempting specialty cocktail menu and events all week that are free of cover, including Ladies Night on Tuesdays, Wednesday night dance parties, and Sunday Funday.
American Social / Issue 194 - July 2018
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