We’ve fled Florida and the Miami Beach we describe will be sadly damaged. Residents just got let back in to see their homes today. But we thought we’d do this post anyway to encourage – eventually – tourism dollars back to the area when the time comes.
We had planned eight nights in Miami and chose to stay on Miami Beach, specifically South Beach. Miami Beach is actually an island off downtown Miami and South Beach is the portion of it that the rest of the world imagines when it imagines Miami: the palm trees, Art Deco, fancy vintage cars parked on the streets, sun-bronzed people on rollerblades, neon and nightlife. We chose to stay “where the action is”, conveniently forgetting we are old farts in training who don’t appreciate “action”.
Miami Beach is expensive, and our inability to find somewhere close to South Beach within our budget led to our first negative AirBnB experience. We’ll save the hair-raising stories for home, but advise anyone needing budget accommodation in the area to search well in advance and take precautions. We would also recommend avoiding the Instant Book feature – take time to message the host first and check them out.
Miami Beach is scorching hot. Temperatures climbed above 37C by 10am. I have yearned throughout many muggy, cloudy eastern states for blue skies and white sand, a real summer holiday, but I realised that Miami, far closer to Cuba culturally than it is to the rest of Florida, is also a climate unto itself, with us arriving in the wet season, rather than summer as I understand summer.
Miami is exotic. Extreme humidity and frequent rainstorms allow for thick, lush vegetation, tropical flowers and palms everywhere, the smell of wet greenery thick in the air, lizards scattering at your feet; tiny ones, big ones, curly-tailed ones, bright green ones. There is a World Erotic Art Museum and gorgeous old art deco architecture everywhere, the preservation of low-rise heritage buildings throughout most of South Beach adding to the feeling that you have left the United States far behind. The famous South Beach itself is, to give credit where it’s due, the first Australian-quality beach seen so far in terms of white sand and clear water, though the water is very warm.
Looks are vital. The stores have big-breasted mannequins, and mannequins of little doggies to display the clothing choices for your doggy accessory. People-watching should be done in the afternoons and evenings. Before midday, empty streets are peopled by tourists, recognisable by their protective hats and clothing (residents walk around wearing as little as possible to prevent tan lines forming). We concluded locals have more in common with the lizards everywhere than they did with us – protected by their browned skins, they waited until the sun warmed their blood before hitting the streets each day.
But when they do it’s a sight to behold and they quite agree, taking so many selfies you’re as much at risk of collision on the sidewalk as you are on a street. They work out, half-naked, on full outdoor extreme gym equipment in the sun, doing one-armed pushups on baking rocks and sand. And bars and restaurants are all open virtually 24 hours, maybe to relieve the stress of looking so good. One Cuban we talked to, Jeffrey, said the women in Cuba were “needy”, explaining he meant expensive, needing a lot of investment in their hair and nails.
On Miami Beach we spotted lots of bare slow-cooking boobies, one skin-diver-suited man with a metal detector, one particularly gorgeous siren of a woman taking selfies with a full-on tripod and SLR setup, and of course, plenty of ‘boyfriends of Instagram’ situations, in which hapless men contort themselves trying to take the pictures their women require for social media.
One example was an older man in his 60s being instructed in photography by two girls in bikinis. Whether he knew them was unclear. Stu and I observed closely and are able to report for you the rules for looking hot in a photo (Emma models these in the gallery below):
- Pop butt upwards and forwards
- Somehow keep front knee bent?
- Ah! It’s by keeping feet together.
- Twist so boobs and butt face same direction
- Repeat until satisfied.
I also witnessed a hilarious ‘boyfriends of Instagram’ incident when I went kayaking around the Sunset Islands, four little islands in Sunset Bay off the main island. These are some of Miami Beach’s most exclusive addresses, home to the rich and famous. The immense, mostly Mediterranean-style homes are big enough to serve as hotels. Most are worth $15 million plus and one, the former home of Lenny Kravitz, sold last year for $25 million. It was a peaceful and beautiful time, me dragging my feet in the cool water, contemplating how much nicer it was to kayak past such a mansion on a Monday morning, instead of working to pay for one.
Presently I was joined by a man and woman on stand-up paddleboards. The woman gave the phone to her boyfriend to snap photos of her from behind. Geez, she looked gorgeous, slender and bronzed in a blue bikini, paddling between towering mansions, a Velcro strap around one tanned and toned ankle, blonde blow-waved hair shining as it fell past her waist.
Her boyfriend did his best to capture this moment on the phone as instructed as well as paddle to keep up with her. For my part, I tried to get my kayak as far to the edge of the canal as possible so that I wouldn’t wreck the shot.
My short kayak and I passed easily under the low bridge between two of the islands. The guy was busy checking he’d got the shot; the blonde, preoccupied, did not see the giant metre-wide pylons she was headed for and got knocked clean off the paddleboard, landing in the water with an almighty splash.
I managed not to giggle as I asked her if she was OK. I felt for her, losing that nice blow-wave, but I also knew that Miami Beach features “blow bars” where you can go and have cocktails mixed for you while people blow-dry your hair.
But enough about the eye candy when there is food to be discussed. We ate and cooked as much Cuban food as possible: Cuban sandwiches (Cuban bread, ham, roast pork, cheese, pickles; Juji, it really depends on where you get them); Cuban espresso (Juji we couldn’t tell the difference between this and regular espresso).
We ate empanadas, linden flower tea, yuca fries, stuffed yuca, various meats with black beans and rice, guava pastelito (pastry), enormous avocados, tamales, cheap mangoes, street corner empanadas and plantains in all sorts of guises, sweet and savoury, including tostones.
We can recommend the Cuban and Cuban-inspired food at the Ocean Deli (cheap), Havana 1957 (mid-range), Puerto Sagua (cheap), The Cafe at Books & Books (expensive, but a great take on the Cuban sandwich, and the bookshop itself excellent) and Mas Cuba (mid-range).
But the highlight was Moreno’s, owned by singer Jorge Moreno. It’s hard to find. You have to walk through the driveway of the Dorchester hotel and pass beneath an enormous twisty tropical tree that frames the restaurant awesomely but also shields it from the street. It outshone everything with its pastelito, its Imperial Rice – a must-have! – and its live Cuban band. A word of warning – it recently moved from its old location which has now been occupied by Mas Cuba, which has remarkably similar signage and styling to Moreno’s. We would urge visitors to ensure they seek out Moreno’s.
Another tip for tourists seeking nice bars and hangouts away from the hustle of South Beach – we found this No Nonsense Guide to Doing South Beach like a Local, invaluable.
The charms of Miami Beach take some time and detective work to uncover if you aren’t born to party and are on a strict budget. But once the place is back on its feet, we would encourage you to visit – it’s totally worth it.
StuMobservations: Miami Beach
- The buildings are like an 80’s version of the future.
- Rollerblading down Ocean Drive in shorts is acceptable if you have your own soundtrack.
- $17US + tip for a bourbon and coke – not cool bro.
- It’s like Bali but with black beans.
- Do not put solids in my drink. #Mojito
- Are selfies a hobby/sport/activity now?
- I do not like pina colatas or getting caught in the rain.
- Sex museums should have blank walls for time-outs/regrouping/safe eye-contact.
- Miami Beach = 50% Eat and Drink, 25% Drink, 12.5% Eat, 12.5% Sleep.
- Airbnb hosts ARE obligated to provide clean bedding.
- Cuban food is now called Stuban food. (See Cuban Sandwich).
What we’re reading
Em: The Hostile Hospital, Lemony Snicket; French Women Don’t Get Fat, Mireille Guiliano; The Magic World, E. Nesbit
Stu: Blood of Requiem, Daniel Arenson
What we’re listening to
A southern crash course: Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers, Riders in the Sky, Elvis Presley
What we’re watching
Today we’re going to the movies to see IT! Very excited…