By No Vacation Required, on May 23, 2013

A true hot spot

Miami’s South Beach is a one-of-a-kind destination. What started as farmland (partially for coconuts!), was nearly wiped out by a hurricane, and then grew into a crime capital of America, is now a major entertainment and vacation destination. Think glitzy. Think sexy. Think fun.

A visit there was just what we needed after sitting idle on a cruise ship during a two-week transatlantic crossing from Italy. Actually, it may have been more than we needed. This LGBT hot spot knows how to have fun; after all, this is home of Winter Party, a multi-day LGBT beach extravaganza.

It turned out to be a good thing that we got all rested up on the slow crawl through the Mediterranean and across the Atlantic. We needed that huge reserve of physical and mental energy for what was to come in South Beach. It’s a vibrant, people-watching, sun-worshiping mecca.

Walking Collins Avenue

Our days there were all about eating good food, spending quality time on the beach, and marveling at Art Deco architecture. We made a point of walking and running a lot in order to begin to offset the damage done by unimaginable amounts of pasta and gelato consumption while in Italy. If we had known just how out-of-control fit South Beach goers can be, we may have eased up on the carbs (but probably not).

Viewfinder Tip: South Beach is very walkable. Plan to do a lot of it.

We covered a lot of ground in South Beach on foot. When not on a daily run, during which we’d push until the unrelenting humidity got the best of us, we explored by walking. Ocean Drive, the iconic street packed with hotels, was a favorite thoroughfare for wandering. Beyond that, we found several other places for taking in the vibe. For instance, Collins Avenue is home to many of the areas top hotels and trendy nightclubs. Our favorite, Lincoln Road, is a pedestrian mall where you can check out shops restaurants and sights without fear of being hit by a muscle car. Our love of this stretch may have a little something to do with our unwavering adoration for Shake Shack, which has a location on Lincoln Road. But that’s a different story.

Why all the roaming around? One word: architecture. South Beach’s Art Deco scene is second-to-none. It’s believed to have the largest concentration of 1920s/1930s architecture in the world. We learned that most of it is based on Streamline Moderne design, which is a late stage offshoot of Art Deco. The buildings’ interesting shapes, pastel shades, and cool signs are a blast to uncover as you make tracks.

We didn’t miss the opportunity to sample the Cuban food for which Miami is so famous. With Cuban culture so infused in the city, you can’t miss the no-frills Cuban joints that dot the area.

Miami’s delicious Cuban food

We took an immediate liking to Cuban food because we found that most meals are built around a foundation of delicious rice and beans. This duo forms the base for the roasted pork and beef that is a staple of this cuisine. Pressed sandwiches filled with meat and cheese were real treats for quick lunches, too. We also sampled main-course-worthy soups and stews full of vegetables and seafood.

Here’s one final tip. If you need a jolt of motivation after a successful night on the town, a Café Cubano will certainly do the trick. Trust us!

What do you love about Miami and/or South Beach?