Wednesday, April 13, 2011

South Florida Spring Break - Part 1

Miami & South Beach

“Beautiful people”, skimpy thongs, sculpted [and in most cases surgically enhanced] tanned bodies, topless sunbathing, fast cars and “bling” define the scene in South Beach, or SoBe as most locals call it.  It is where young people hang out and Europeans come to find a taste of the American beach scene.  Unfortunately – unlike most beaches in the civilized world – you won’t find any beach-side bars, with the exception of a few hotels that are located on the coveted strip of land on the “right” side of Ocean Drive.  That, however, doesn’t mean that one can’t get an ice-cold beverage of choice lounging in one of the patios that line up along the famed “A1A”.

Mango Mojito - the half-gallon version!

 Ocean Drive

"Beautiful bodies"...on wheels 

Aaaahhh... Paradise! 

Collins Ave. and the Ritz-Carlton

There’s a buzzing scene day and night under the backdrop of well-maintained Art Deco hotels and restaurants that give SoBe some of its innegable character.  But it’s definitely an adult playground, with a fairly strong gay and lesbian presence; any child strolling by on a parents’ metaphorical “leash” is most likely to be staying in one of the more family-friendly nearby resorts, like Ft. Lauderdale or Hollywood.  Nonetheless, no trip to Miami can be complete without a few hours (at least) spent on this island.

As for the “night scene” – which I have not “sampled” on this trip due to a variety of reasons [age, social and family status, etc.] you’ll hear that SoBe is the most “happening” place on this side of the Atlantic.  Celebs and the super-rich rub shoulders (and any other choice body parts for that matter) in some of the most exclusive night clubs on earth.  Here are a few suggestions if you want to check out the night scene: Cameo, Set Miami, Mansion, LIV or Nikki Beach (this one is right on the sand!).  There’s also a good selection of dining spots – most offering Latin American “fusion” and of course, seafood options.  Every renowned chef is present here, which means options abound, but if you have a discernable palate stay off the “tourist” path (pretty much most places on Ocean Drive or Collins Avenue).  Here’s a few places that constantly get ‘rave’ J reviews: OLA (for fish tacos), Scarpetta (Italian), Wish, Puerto Sagua (Cuban), Bambu (Asian / co-owned by Cameron Diaz).  You’ll also hear everyone talk about Joe’s Stone Crab (a SoBe “institution” going back to the early 1900’s) but you’ll have to dress up and wait for hours; instead, try Joe’s Take Away, the restaurant’s “pick-up window”.

Bottom line, whatever your vacationing plans, SoBe will deliver and will provide a unique experience.  Keep a tight lid on that wallet though; it could get expensive fast!

Driving across the MacArthur Causeway (or Venetian, or Julia Tuttle…take your pick, but MacArthur offers better views) you’ll find yourself downtown Miami: more glitz, skyscrapers, waterfront parks and the ubiquitous yachts.   A very photogenic scene indeed!

Further down – across Rickenbacker and towards Key Biscayne – is the Miami Seaquarium.  A must do if you travel with kids; not as many fish on display, but several shows (orca, dolphins, sea lions, shark feeding, etc.) make it an exciting experience.

A little shower from the dolphins (or standing too close to the rail)

We went further down to visit Key Biscayne (there’s a nice state park at the end of that island, and several “celeb” houses on display as well) but hit a little bit of traffic as people were dropping in the Sony Ericsson Open for the women’s’ final [ Azarenka beat Sharapova in straight sets].  Driving back across the Causeway, stop at the makeshift beach-cum-picnic spot for another Kodak moment, with the Miami skyline in the background across the bay.

So as you can see, always something to do, always something to see in the Miami area.  We were there for two days (only because we’ve been before) but one needs at least 4-5 days to really take it all in.

(taken from that 'beach-cum-picnic area' spot mentioned above)

PS - before I get chastised, credit for most of the pictures goes to Laura!

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