Existing as the southern half of barrier island to Miami city (the northern half being Miami Beach), South Beach was one of the very first parts of the area to be developed by European settlers, initially for coconut farming. Miami and the surrounding area was promoted in a variety of odd ways in the next few decades – from president William Harding’s stay in a local hotel to photos of ‘Rosie the Elephant.’ However, the promotions – or the weather – eventually attracted enough wealthy residents to South Beach that it evolved into the tourism powerhouse it is today. Here are 10 things to do in South Beach.
10. Miami Beach Botanical Garden
Formerly a state park developed on a lot next to the Miami convention center, this botanical garden went through many hardships – including disuse and a hugely damaging hurricane – before arriving in its final form. Today, the park is open to free self-guided tours that offer QV codes able to be scanned with cell phones, or you can schedule a guided tour for a suggested $5 per person donation. With plenty of interesting endemic and foreign plants including orchids, banyan trees, and 60 species of palm trees, this is a lush garden not to be missed.
9. Miami Info Tours
It is no secret that a large part of southern Florida is dedicated to one of the largest National Parks in the contiguous United States, and one of the best natural tourist attractions in South Beach, the Everglades. Thus, one would be mistaken if they believed any trip to southern Florida would be complete without a tour of their unique wilderness. Miami Info Tours offer an excellent Everglades Eco Tour, which explores some massive swampland area on a fan boat with an expert guide at the helm. Patrons might see snakes, exotic birds, and of course, alligators and their friends. Tours are given daily and begin at $50 per person.
8. Bass Museum of Art
Although it is currently under construction until its grand re-opening in fall of 2016, the Bass Museum of Art offers a dynamic collection of ancient and contemporary art that is at the very least stimulating, and at the very most awe-inspiring. Until the main campus reopens with its new facilities, visitors can find the BassX project across the street at the Miami Beach Regional Library, which will be showcasing smaller collections, educational programs for children, and a lecture series given by curators and artists alike.
7. Deep Sea Fishing
One of the great benefits of visiting a coastal city is eating all fresh seafood. However, there isn’t quite any experience like sailing into the ocean to catch some you. Therapy IV Fishing Charters are one of the highest-rated deep sea fishing charters in the area, and will take you either out to sea or into the bay to net the big one. There are some impressive species up for grabs, including Mahi-mahi, barracuda, blue marlin, sailfish, tuna, and even hammerhead sharks. Tours are booked daily, and you will have to call for pricing.
6. Jungle Island
A great way to spend the day with the kids, Jungle Island offers up close encounters with exotic animals in a beautifully designed facility. Jungle Island offers everything that most zoos do – multiple exhibits with animals from around the world – but also offer behind-the-scenes tickets that afford an entirely different experience. Their VIP Safari tours will give hands-on guided tours as the inner workings of zoo are exposed, and the lemur packages allow patrons to feed, hold, and play with lemurs. The park is open 365 days a year.
5. Art Deco Walking Tour
Art Deco was one of the most popular architectural movements between World War I and World War II, featuring complex geometric shapes as ornaments and bold colors. South Beach holds one of the largest continuous blocks of Art Deco buildings, all dating back to between the 1920s and 1940s, and all having been meticulously restored. Marty and Paula’s Art Deco Tours will take you through downtown and explain the history of both the area’s lavish and distinct architecture, and the people who made it the way it is today.
4. New World Symphony
The New World Symphony grants young musicians’ fellowships to stay near and learn at the state-of-the-art facility. While you may not be lucky enough to nab one of these fellowships, you can certainly check out one of their concerts on a weekend. You don’t have to be a fan of classical music to enjoy the show: the auditorium is truly one-of-a-kind, with beautiful white minimal structures peeling around stadium seating, with large, curved screens hanging above the audience showing synchronized ambient footage. Tickets start at $50.
3. Lincoln Road
Lincoln Road offers all wonderful access to shopping restaurants and entertainment that other nearby streets do, however Lincoln Road has banned cars, making it safe and fun to spend a family afternoon or a cool romantic night wandering the various storefronts. There are plenty of sidewalk cafes as well as penthouse bars. Perhaps one of the best options is the use of Citibikes – rentable bikes that patrons can utilize, riding from one station to another while enjoying extremely affordable fare.
2. Vizcaya Museum and Gardens
A national historical landmark and stunningly beautiful castle, Vizcaya was once built as a wintering home for a northern industrialist and is now a museum open to the public. Having needed its own railroad built to bring in the necessary supplies, Vizcaya was an incredibly expensive private endeavor for its time, and it isn’t difficult to understand why. Surrounded by a placid moat and gorgeous southern Florida horticulture, a visit to Vizcaya is a cherished step back in time. Tours begin at $18 for adults and $16 for children.
1. Eat at Joe’s
Having been opened for over 100 years, Joe’s Stone Crab is amongst the oldest and perhaps the most famous restaurant in southern Florida. Purportedly one of the first places in the area to serve stone crabs as a food, Joe’s now purchases so many in the Miami area that the restaurant influences the very price of crabs and even hire their own crabbers. Featured in the James Bond novel Goldeneye, Joe’s is a must-stop for anyone who wants a taste of one of southern Florida’s most renowned food staples.
South Beach has not always been the pristine resort that it is today. The 1980s saw much of the downtown area; even with its historic Art Deco buildings fall into disrepair and the drug trade take over much of the area. In the 1920s, the city was nearly leveled by a hurricane, which destroyed much of what little there was there. However revitalization efforts have restored all of downtown and driven drug-related problems down to a much lower level within South Beach. Today, the area is now known for its simpler things: its magnificent coasts, clear, shallow waters, and fantastic nightlife, leaving always more places to visit in South Beach.