Miami Beach is notorious for its wild Spring Break parties but this was not the allure for me. It was, in fact, the Art Deco architecture hemming the Miami coastline that was behind my visit. Consequently, whilst my fellow dorm-mates were sleeping off the night before I was busy planning a walking tour around the Art Deco Historic District – a segment of Miami that is home to the world’s largest collection of Art Deco buildings. And whilst those younglings, sipped stylish cocktails at Mangos Tropical Cafe I was safely back in my hostel bunk resting and digesting that day’s architectural finds. Below I have outlined the district’s most unmissable architectural highlights and have offered up some travel-savvy tips on making the most of your visit.
Must-See Hotels of South Beach
There are approximately 960 historic buildings in this area, although not all of them are influenced by Art Deco design – that’s a lot of information pamphlets to wade through. I can advise those wishing to tour independently of a tour guide, that the South Beach Hotel should definitely be a top priority. It is deliciously symmetrical with a chevron patterned frontage and an illuminated sign in simple lettering. Built in 1939, over the years it has been carefully restored by hotel managers to retain its original features. At night its frontage is illuminated giving it an added air of 1930s glitz.
Another hotel that is definitely worth a look is The Colony Hotel. Unlike South Beach Hotel, which is designed in whites and creams, The Colony Hotel boasts a colourful pastel-hued frontage with a stand-out aquamarine trim. Built in the same year as South Beach Hotel and located right there on Ocean Drive, its bold Art Deco design has made it one of the most photographed hotels in the world and it has, consequently, captured the heart of many a tourist.
Although South Beach Hotel and The Colony Hotel are respectively classic beauties unto themselves, my favourite hotel of the Miami Beach area is The Leslie Hotel. In terms of Art Deco detailing this hotel really has it all. Firstly the building itself is set in shapely tiers at the top that draws the eye effortlessly into the centre of the design where further raised tiering is used to emphasize the building’s unique colouring. In terms of shade, the building is a fantastic bright yellow that instantly brings cheer to look upon it. The lettering on the front is more blatantly slim line than that of the other buildings giving it a sleeker edge and the canopies above the windows add a further dimension that makes the design feel glamorous and bold. In addition to all this, The Leslie Hotel is one of the most favourably reviewed hotels in the district in terms of service and surroundings.
Although the hotels mentioned above should certainly be on your hit list for a short visit, if you want a comprehensive tour of “SoBe”, then your best bet is to get in touch with the Miami Design Preservation League (MDPL) who offer daily walking tours. The advantages of their tours are many. Firstly, they don’t require prior booking. Any time you have a free morning, you can simply walk down to the Art Deco book shop at the appointed time (10:30am daily except Thursdays when the tour leaves at 6:30pm for a twilight tour) and join the tour. Secondly the tour not only educates about the exteriors of the many Art Deco buildings but also allows you to explore the interiors. Thirdly, at $20 a ticket it’s a very affordable activity. The tour lasts 90 minutes.
In addition to the daily tours, every January an annual Art Deco Festival is held. In 2012 it takes place on the 13th, 14th and 15th of January and this year is particularly special as it is celebrating its 35th anniversary as an event. Guests can expect a series of lectures, street entertainment, classic car shows, parades, film screenings and, of course, more walking tours of the district. All this makes this one of the most vibrant districts in Miami certainly worth a look, or even a second look, for any seasoned traveller.
About The Author: Susan is an amateur interior designer, writer and travel addict, having roamed extensively in Europe and Asia. She currently writes on behalf of Sofas and Sectionals, an online furniture retailer.