Cruise down Collins Avenue or Ocean Drive and you’ll marvel at Miami’s iconic Art Deco skyline—with over 800 architectural gems built between the 1920s and 1940s. But it was the following decade when Miami became seriously cool. Back then, Frank Sinatra frequented the Fontainebleau Miami Beach—which has been renovated recently—and Marilyn Monroe could be spotted sunbathing on the beach with Joe DiMaggio. Having finally overcome the misfortunes of the 1980s, when Miami developed a reputation as a fast-living, nightclubbing party city with little soul, this South Florida jewel is out to reclaim its glory days. Now is a great time to see what everybody’s talking about.
Hotels with Panache
New stays are popping up everywhere. The Miami Beach Edition has gardens inspired by Cuba’s old Tropicana Cabaret ($$$ editionhotels.com). Nearby, the Delano South Beach serves a Sunday buffet brunch ($75 per person) with bottomless rosé and Champagne specials from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. ($$$ morganshotelgroup.com)
The Raleigh, which was a Rat Pack favorite back in the day, has a stunning pool that’s still the backdrop for chic social events ($$ raleighhotel.com). On Mondays, the Martini Bar offers dessert and drink specials—but only if you use a password that is revealed on the hotel’s Twitter account (@theraleighhotel). The newest glam stay is the Faena, which is pricey but breathtaking ($$$ faena.com).
The Gale South Beach is a posh lodging that harkens back to the 1950s, and it has opened the new Kaskades South Beach hotel across the street ($$$ galehotel.com). Villa Paradiso Hotel is just a block off the beach and offers 17 studio and one-bedroom suites with kitchens ($$ villaparadisohotel.com).
Neighborhoods with Soul
Like so many great cities, Miami is defined by authentic neighborhoods. Wynwood, just north of downtown, is the city’s current darling (wynwoodmiami.com). Every wall in what once was a cluster of deserted warehouses is now covered with graffiti by international artists. Tucked away among the shops and restaurants is a cool speakeasy-style tequila bar, concealed behind a teal door near the restrooms in Coyo Taco (coyo-taco.com). Another secret: On a deserted stretch of Northeast Second Avenue, between Wynwood and the Upper East Side, is the New Orleansinspired wine-and-charcuterie shop Lagniappe (lagniappehouse.com).
In the center of town is Little Havana. Over the years, this area has retained the sazón (flavor) of main drag Calle Ocho. Across the street from Maximo Gomez Park, where men play dominoes from sunrise to sundown, the Ball & Chain lounge, which once hosted such greats as Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday, reopened in 2014 (ballandchainmiami.com).
Next door, Azucar Ice Cream Company’s flavors include Caramel Flan, made using a secret recipe by the owner’s grandmother (azucaricecream.com).
Versailles Restaurant, which has been serving Cuban favorites since 1971, still stays packed (versaillesrestaurant.com). Also, don’t miss El Rey de las Fritas, which serves a dish that savvy locals clamor for: the frita, a Cuban burger (elreydelasfritas.com).
Miami’s Central Business District was all but forgotten until recent openings blossomed, like the Pérez Art Museum Miami on Biscayne Bay (pamm.org). The Langford Hotel, a 1920s downtown bank turned boutique inn, has a rooftop bar, Pawn Broker, with amazing skyline views ($$ langfordhotelmiami.com). Along the water, Elcielo elevates humble Colombian staples (elcielorestaurant.com).
Back to the Beach
The most marked change is happening back on the sands, where restaurateurs have upped their game. Don’t miss Sweet Liberty for superb craft cocktails (mysweetliberty.com); NaiYaRa, where locals order a dish not on the menu—O’Toro Tartare (naiyara.com); and romantic Macchialina, whose $10 pasta special on Thursdays is one of the best deals in Miami (macchialina.com).
Both public and private beaches in the city can get crowded. For a quieter spot, drive about 10 minutes off the mainland to Key Biscayne’s Crandon Park (miamidade.gov/parks/crandon.asp). It has a kiosk where you can rent stand-up paddleboards and kayaks for $20 an hour and get a serious tidal workout.
Note: Expectant mothers with travel-related health concerns should visit cdc.gov/zika/intheus/florida-update.html.