Miami, the cultural melting pot that never misses a beat
Thursday, 07 June 2012 17:05 GMT
Two decades after it was "discovered" by movie stars (Sylvester Stallone), music icons (Madonna) and fashion kings (Gianni Versace), South Beach has been rediscovered. The city lures the tastes, sounds and rhythms of Central and South America into a single, seafront destination. A recent influx of deep-pocketed Latin travellers and second-home buyers are pushing Miami increasingly upscale and both design-driven hotels and chef-focused restaurants are arriving, adding their own flavour to this unique cultural melting pot. And these changes are complimenting important recent urban upgrades. With summer almost in full force, Miami is slowing down slightly - trading sun-starved East Coasters for sun-worshipping Europeans who pack South Beach each July and August.
Make South Beach your base for a low-key getaway but don't forget about the rest of town. Miami's nascent Design District now rivals SoHo for top-tier luxury shopping - from Marni to Margiela - while the art galleries in nearby Wynwood range from the blue-chip (Paris' Galerie Perrotin) to experimental (World Class Boxing). Still to come is a dazzling new Miami Art Museum now rising along Biscayne Bay and, in December, the annual Art Basil Miami Beach (artbaselmiamibeach.com) festival; three days of parties, openings, dinners and, yes, art.
A comfortable bed
There are dozens of hotels lining the beach, but none blend location, style, culture and cuisine quite like The W South Beach (whotels.com; +1-305-938-3000; from US$449 [Dh1,649] before tax). Set along the beach's northern flank, the 20-floor tower's angular, geometric architecture ensures each of its 334 rooms includes water views from its airy veranda. Down in the lobby, the hotel's owners display a museum's worth of blue-chip contemporary artworks - from Warhol and Basquiat to multiple Hirsts.
Nearby, the newly opened Dutch restaurant brings New York chef's Andrew Carmellini celebrated new-American menu to South Beach, while Mr Chow continues to dish up the mod-Chinese cuisine that keeps the crowds happy. Just down Collins Avenue, meanwhile, hip Los Angeles-based hotelier Sam Nazarian opens the first East Coast branch of his SLS Hotels group this summer in an Art Deco gem. Along with 132 guest rooms and 10 ultra-luxe poolside cabanas, the SLS Miami (slshotels.com; +1-305-674-1701; from $465 [Dh1,708] before tax) includes a swanky penthouse/bungalow suite designed by rock legend Lenny Kravitz.
Find your feet
South Beach has many mid-points but the most manageable has to be Lincoln Road. Spanning from Ocean Drive to West Avenue, this former mangrove swamp was transformed by architect Morris Lapidus in the early 1960s into a pedestrian-only boulevard of gardens, fountains, structures and theatres in the whitewashed Miami Modernist (MiMo) style. Today, Lincoln Road heaves with shoppers, strollers and diners who pack its al fresco restaurants and cafes, browse its numerous boutiques and hunt for bargains at its weekly antiques market. True, Lincoln Road is touristy but with its something-for-everybody feel and stylish, social vibe, there's no rival on South Beach.