South Beach is in fact a beach, albeit manmade, and it’s within 90-minute drive of not one but TWO national parks. So in honor of Earth Day and National Park Week, both of which happen in April, the South Beach guide is featuring a whole month’s worth of planet-friendly activities in and around South Beach, along with a few other things that I’ve thrown in just because I like them, and I think you might, too!
Dade Heritage Days
Kick off your eco-vacation by taking note of the fact that April falls right in the middle of Dade Heritage Days, an annual celebration of Miami-Dade’s architectural, environmental and cultural heritage. This year’s theme, “Building Bridges: Past to Future,” spotlights the diversity of generations and cultures in Miami. Below is a sampling of some of the more earth-aware events.
Tuesday, April 11th
Miami Circle Tour
Friday, April 14th
Architectural Sail on “Heritage II of Miami”
Saturday, April 22nd
Art Deco on the Bay Boat Tour
Earth Day2000 at Miami Metro Zoo
Come see one of the nation’s top ranked Zoological Parks! Learn about local wildlife from Everglades National Parks rangers and taste locally grown organic fruits. All activities are free with paid admission to Miami Metro Zoo: $8 for adults, $4 for children under 12; children 3 and under are free. Call (305) 372-6798 for more info.
Sunday, April 30th
Stiltsville/Key Biscayne Boat Tour
Learn the rich history of the bay, Virginia Key, and Key Biscayne as you enjoy a relaxing boat ride with your guide, Dr. Paul George. View historic Cape Florida Lighthouse and other landmarks. Advance reservations and non-refundable payment are required. Reservations for Dr. Paul George Tours may be made Monday through Friday at 305-375-1621. $35
The National Parks
South Florida has two National Parks. No matter when you visit South Beach, you don’t want to miss them!
Biscayne National Park
Ninety-six percent of this 180,000-acre park is underwater, so don’t forget your snorkel gear! (Or you can rent some at the park.) For those who would rather not get so wet, glass-bottomed boat tours depart frequently. Expect to see spectacular coral reefs, sponges, countless tropical fish, and maybe even a manatee or sea turtle. Above sea level, more than 170 species of birds have been spotted at the park. The park lies along the southern portion of Biscayne Bay, south of Miami and north of the Keys. For more info, call (305) 230-1100.
Everglades National Park
To really experience the Everglades, you should rent a canoe and paddle out to a backcountry campsite. But for those of you who took the glass-bottomed boat at Biscayne, other options are available here, too. Boat tours leave from Everglades City and Flamingo, and several boardwalks are placed strategically along the road through the park. You will see a variety of birds, fish, and of course, alligators – just don’t feed the alligators! The park is eleven miles southwest of Homestead, or 45 miles southwest of Miami International Airport. For info on the Everglades call (305) 242-7700.
Below are a few additional Heritage Days events that involve the national parks:
Friday, April 7th
The Feather Wars
Stylish Hats, Swamp Rats, and the Audubon Society in South Florida.
Join historian Cesar Becerra as he gives behind-the-scenes commentary of the making of this rare film, shot wholly on locations in the wilds of the Everglades in 1958. At the Woman’s Club of Coconut Grove, 2985 South Bayshore Drive. $10, popcorn & pizza. Reservations a must; call (305) 444-1932
Saturday, April 8th
Part I, the North Everglades: Boat, Bus, Airboat, and Walking Tour of the Everglades from Downtown Miami to the Ten Thousand Islands.
After lunch you will visit the nationally recognized Smallwood Store, southwest Florida’s oldest trading post. A two hour boat tour will then transport you through the mysterious maze of The Ten Thousand Islands. The day will end with a feast at The Pit Bar-B-Q. Departing from Bayside, Biscayne Blvd. $125 includes breakfast, lunch, dinner, transportation and activities. Reservations a must! Call (305) 444-1932 by April 4th. (Also on Sunday, April 9; call by April 5.)
History of Biscayne National Park
A Legacy of Environmental Pioneers
Sunday, April 16th
Grant Livingston in Concert
Tired of soaking up the environment? Can’t imagine why, but in any case, South Beach and the surrounding area has plenty of other stuff going on, too. For example, here’s a sampling of the local art scene:
Miami Art Museum
Here’s what’s at MAM during April:
Also, if you really want to get into the Warhol exhibit, consider stopping by for the “JAM at MAM.” It’s Thursday, April 20, 2000, from 5:00 to 8:30 p.m., at the Miami Art Museum. JAM at MAM is a Warhol PaJAMa Party featuring celebrity DJs IO, Needle and Bugaloo, accompanied by special guest Latin Jazz Crew bassist Eddie “Gua Gua” Rivera; Warhol’s silent film Sleep; gallery tours; gourmet snacks and donation bar. No cover charge.
The Miami Art Museum is at 101 West Flagler Street in Miami. For more info call (305) 375-3000.
If you’d rather stay closer to South Beach, try the more casual atmosphere of Festivart: Stroll among artists displaying their wares and listen to live music at this weekly outdoor event. 8:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. Saturday nights; free. EspaÃƒÂ±ola Way and Washington Avenue in Miami Beach. For info call (305) 791-2366.
Art Deco District Tour
Take a tour of South Beach’s historic Art Deco District. Hour-and-a-half tours are conducted by the Miami Design Preservation League through various areas of the Miami Art Deco District. Tours begin at the Welcome Center, located at 1001 Ocean Drive, Miami Beach. Tours are at: 10:30 a.m. Saturdays; Sunset Tour 6:30 p.m. Thursdays; audio tours any time.
Or if you’d rather sit down to experience art, there are always a couple of productions in South Beach.
Something Cloudy, Something Clear
The Tennessee Williams drama about a fledgling playwright and the painful romance in which he becomes involved; presented by Horizons Repertory Theatre. Opens 8 p.m. March 31, at Acorns Civic Theatre, 2100 Washington Ave., Miami Beach. Tickets $12-$20. For info call (305) 271-0201.
If you like a little dinner with your theater, this could be the place for you. See this hilarious spoof of the 1940s film noir and get a four-course meal with wine or champagne in the bargain. Ongoing, Thursdays at 7:00 p.m., at Broadways Restaurant, 448 Espanola Way, Miami Beach. $50; jackets suggested, reservations required. Call (305) 538-8982.
If all this touring has you hungry (or if dinner at Cafe Noir wasn’t enough!) here are a couple of my favorite South Beach restaurants.
First, in keeping with the Earth Day theme, try this all-natural, all-organic, all-vegan restaurant, located just behind the parking lot at the corner of 9th and Washington, in South Beach.
The food is great, and reasonably priced – an average entree is $8 to $9. What’s more, you’ll never know you’re eating vegan! Try their no-tuna pate, the Tex-Mex burrito, the Eiffel Tower sandwich, or anything else – they’re all good – and top it off with one of their scrumptious butterscotch desserts – no processed sugars! Other notable offers include organic wines, hemp beer, and a Sunday brunch. The casual, funky atmosphere is relaxing, and if the weather’s nice, you can even eat outside! (305) 531-2171.
Eat here. Trust me. I’ve never had a meal anything less than outstanding at this restaurant specializing in Asian-tropical-fusion foods. It’s a little north of most of South Beach, but worth the walk. If it’s available, I recommend the tuna tartare. Also great are the paella, guava/hot mustard pork chops, seared duck, and lime-ginger chicken, or, like Naked Earth, anything else on the menu. Try the key lime pie for dessert – you’re in Florida, after all! 210 23rd Street, Miami Beach. (305) 604-1468.
Finally. You’ve toured, eaten, and now it’s time to party. And South Beach is the place for that:
For people who want something a little subdued, try the loft above the restaurant of the same name. It offers live jazz nightly and features artists such as the Don Wilner Quartet, Eddie Higgins, Tony Fernandez and more. Located at 846 Lincoln Road, in the Lincoln Road Mall, Miami Beach. For general info or who’s playing, call (305) 534-1198.
There’s nothing subdued about this place. Club scene a lÃƒÂ New York, with two music rooms and a VIP room for those with connections. Come late and dress well. 1439 Washington Avenue, Miami Beach. (305) 532-9154.
Living Room at the Strand
Elegant but with the same techno-pop, the Living Room still draws a list of top-notch celebs. Shoot some pool, relax on the comfortable couches, and of course dance, dance, dance! 671 Washington Avenue, Miami Beach. (305) 532-2340.
A few words on South Beach…
First, the name: The official name of this lovely city that sits on a barrier island, separating Biscayne Bay from the Atlantic Ocean is Miami Beach. This is not to be confused with Miami proper, that sits on the mainland.
Miami Beach is divided into North Miami Beach (above 25th Street), and the hippest, hottest part, known as South Miami Beach, or just South Beach (25th and below).
In the tradition of SoHo, SoCal and others, South Beach is frequently shortened to SoBe.
South Beach is about ten miles east of the Miami International Airport. In your rental car, exit the airport, following the blue “#2” signs toward the beaches.
After a 50-cent toll, the road will become Interstate 195 and eventually the Julia Tuttle Causeway. Stay to your right and exit Alton Road south.
Or, tell your taxi driver you want to go to South Beach and for a flat rate of $24 he or she will do the driving while you sit back and enjoy the view.
After all, that’s why we’re here. Okay, that’s why I’m here.
The weather, in general, is beautiful. That said, there are a few things to keep in mind. While winter is glorious and temperatures are just about perfect most days, the summer can be a bit warm, not to mention humid, so keep that in mind when packing.
Temperatures generally range from 63 to 88°F (17 to 28°C). Finally, be aware that hurricane season runs from May to November. While the chances of having your trip disrupted by one of these swirling tropical phenomena are small, you will likely notice lower rates on everything from airfare to hotel rooms. So that’s a plus for you bargain hunters.
To rent a car, or not to rent. Basically, it depends on what you want to do while you’re here.
If you want to spend most of your time in the cafes, nightclubs, and sitting on the world-famous beaches, renting a car is probably not worth the expense and hassle. Parking in the Art Deco district can be very difficult, and it will cost you.
If you do want to go to the mainland, out to the keys, or somewhere else that would make a cab unfeasible, consider renting a car for a day or two. There are several rental agencies right in South Beach.
You can spend as much money as you want on a vacation in South Beach. That’s probably not what most folks are interested in doing, though.
For those of you looking for something other than the $2,200 a night penthouse at the Delano, there are some less expensive options.
If hosteling is your thing, there are a couple:
Prices are similar at both, with dorm beds ranging from $12 to $16 per person per night, depending on season, and rooms starting at around $40 to $50. From there, the prices go up. And up, and up. Check the monthly articles in this site periodically for reviews on some of the better bargains.
As far as food is concerned, a similar concept applies. You can expect to be able to find lunch for about $5 in any number of places, ranging from pastry shops to delis to the News Cafe on Ocean Drive. (The last is one of those must-see fixtures of South Beach.) Expect to pay a bit more for dinner, or investigate some of the many family-run bodegas in the area and make your own!
About the Author
Judy Davis is currently living in South Beach, fulfilling her lifelong dream of achieving that perfect shade of bronze that native Floridians always seem to have.
In her spare time she writes novels and short fiction and plans the latest in an ongoing series of vacations.