Easy Escapes: Miami, Florida

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  • Suzy Palmer heads to Miami Beach to soak up the sun, hang out in style and take advantage of the strong pound

    Suzy Palmer heads to Miami Beach to soak up the sun, hang out in style and take advantage of the strong pound

    Why go? For the sun, the surf, the bars, the party scene, the art deco architecture, the art galleries, the shopping, the Hispanic rhythms… There’s so much to see and enjoy in this remarkably fun-loving city, and the US is good value at the moment thanks to the strong pound (exchange rates with the dollar are at a five-year high). Remember though, it’s a city of two halves: there’s the mainland business-like metropolis, then the slim barrier island of Miami Beach where the real action happens. 

    When? It would be hard not to have a good time whenever you land in Miami, but two things to bear in mind are humidity and price. Expect intense heat and downpours (not to mention potential hurricanes) in July and August, but you’ll also get good deals on hotels as it’s low season. Miami Spa Month (miamispamonth.com), when 36 spas around the city offer significant discounts, runs for both these months. Avoid all US public holidays as prices sky-rocket because Americans love to holiday in Miami too. Weather-wise, spring (March to May) is the most pleasant time to visit with warm but bearable temperatures. In December Miami is the meeting place for the international art world as Art Basel Miami Beach takes place (4-7 December 2014, artbasel.com).

    Switched on: summer in South Beach means warm nights and neon lights

    You really must: Soak up the sun on South Beach. Art deco hotels and buildings run along the front, but the beach itself is separated from the street by a promenade – a good way to explore is by bike or on rollerblades (fritzsmiamibeach.com). Walk through the sand dunes and you’ll hit a white sandy beach that’s so beautiful it’s hard to imagine you’re actually in a city.

    For party people, a day sleeping it off on a sun lounger is all that’s needed before another night of action in the clubs and bars on Washington Avenue, Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue. Ask your hotel concierge for the good places to go, and see this introduction.

    Culture vultures can find out more about the history of South Beach at the Art Deco Welcome Center (mdpl.org) and life and art in the first half of the 20th century at the Wolfsonian-FIU Museum (wolfsonian.org). Then there’s shopping on Lincoln Road Mall (all the great US brands are on this pedestrian street) and don’t miss the opportunity to discover the Cuban influence on the city with a stroll around Little Havana. Start at Maximo Gomez Park on Calle Ocho where Cuban ex-pats play chess and dominoes, and try to catch the arts festivals held on the last Friday of every month (viernesculturales.org).

    Cool pools: kick back at The James Royal Palm

    Stay at: The James Royal Palm (doubles from £164 in August, jameshotels.com/miami) overlooks South Beach and couldn’t be in a more perfect spot on Collins Avenue (just minutes from the bars and clubs on Ocean and Washington Drives as well the Lincoln Road Mall). The Art Deco masterpiece was recently revamped and comprises two 16 floor towers connected by the main bar/reception/restaurant building, which flows out onto the outdoor dining terraces and two swimming pools . Our 14th floor studio room has ocean and city views and is furnished with funky period sofas, chairs and lamps, with cool white tiles, linens and muslin curtains. The gorgeous shower room comes with Intelligent Nutrients organic products (created by Aveda founder Horst Rechelbacher). Staff and service are excellent – if you can’t find a lounger by the pool, an attendant will sort one for you, bring fresh towels then take your drinks order as you chill out to the mellow club tracks played by the house DJ. You can’t help but feel rather cool staying here, as everyone is super-hip and stylish, whether they’re eating at one of the two restaurants, hanging out at the James Club bar or partying in the SL nightclub.

    Stairway to heaven: hip interiors are a given at
    The James Royal Palm

    Dine at: Florida Cookery (florida-cookery.com) at The James Royal Palm is excellent but pricey, which you can put down to the swish location and fresh, locally farmed ingredients the chefs pride themselves on. Grilled white fish with corn, tomatillo and fried yucca, and grouper in lemon grass and coconut broth with rice, were delicious, but with two glasses of wine sets us back more than $150 (£87). At the other end of the scale, try the 11th Street Diner (eleventhstreetdiner.com), which serves fantastic burgers and fries in a silver Airstream trailer. For somewhere in the middle, Havana 1957 (havana1957.com) dishes up spicy Cuban cuisine. We devour shrimp enchiladas in a tasty tomato and pepper sauce with rice and fried sweet plantains while taking in all the fascinating old Havana memorabilia decorating the restaurant walls. Breakfast is a big deal in Miami, too, with everyone soaking up the first rays of sun and starting the day’s peoplewatching on the sidewalk. Cheap and cheerful is Jerry’s Famous Deli (jerrysfamousdeli.com), a classic American diner complete with grandma waitresses refilling your coffee every five minutes. We also like The Front Porch Cafe at the Ocean Hotel (frontporchoceandrive.com) for huge omelettes and great pancakes.

    Bring home: Bypass the tacky souvenir shops and dubious swimwear outlets (rhinestone thong anyone?) and head straight for the sunglasses boutiques, Havianas store, and Macy’s on Lincoln Road Mall for great beach essentials. Stock up on beauty products at Ricky’s (536 Lincoln Rd, rickysnyc.com). While most American fashion brands are now in the UK, they’ll be slightly cheaper here and you’ll get a different selection too. Steven Madden shoe fans take note: he has two stores in South Beach (stevemadden.com) and those with a sweet tooth will be in heaven in Dylan’s Candy Bar (Ralph Lauren’s daughter’s enterprise – dylanscandybar.com).

    Tangerine dream: a classic car on Ocean Drive

    Book now: British Airways (ba.com) has flights from London Heathrow, from £783 return in August including taxes. A seven-night package with British Airways Holidays travelling between 27 August and 18 September and staying at The James Royal Palm costs from £1,179 per person including flights, based on two sharing. Bookings must be made by 31 July, for reservations visit ba.com/miami or call 0844 493 0758.

    You’ll need a visa-style authorization (https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/). A taxi from the airport costs around £20, or you can book a shuttle (supershuttle.com), or take the inexpensive Route 150 Miami Beach Airport Flyer.

    Info: Time Out Miami (£12.99; Time Out) is a comprehensive guide; for more information see miamiandbeaches.com and visitflorida.com.

    Photos courtesy of Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau


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