South Beach, Miami
You just never know what you’ll see when you visit Miami’s South Beach.
I’ve visited at times when the beach seemed family-friendly and welcoming to all…you’d even be surprised at how hotels like the Ritz-Carlton in South Beach cater to kids with their Ritz Kids program.
I’ve visited during spring break season, where most beachgoers were high school- or college-age, and about six cop cars were parked near our umbrella and towels, trying to control the underage drinking.
I’ve visited when President Obama was town, with his motorcade (including a tank) stopping all pedestrian and car traffic on Collins Avenue.
And I’ve visited during Urban Beach Week, an annual Memorial Day-weekend bacchanalia where numerous cars and clothes worthy of rap videos and MTV’s “Cribs” can be seen. The popular event made news this year with a shooting on Collins Avenue that killed one and injured seven others.
I’ve taken early-morning walks on the boardwalk adjacent to the beach area, where I spotted homeless people and those who had a bit too much to drink the night before sleeping on the ground or on benches in nearby park areas–and then I watched them magically wake up and get moving at 7 a.m., the time (I’m told) they would be asked to leave.
Ready for yet another South Beach adventure for Florida Culture, I recently packed my beach chair and passport for the four-hour drive to Miami. The passport and my fluent Spanish came in handy, as I heard Spanish and Portugese just as much (if not more) than English during my long day there.
On the Beach
I set up my spot on South Pointe Park, where I somehow always manage to find parking nearby, (this time, I parked $15 for all day at a nearby parking lot). It was a warm and breezy day–a bit too breezy for my umbrella, so I slathered on more SPF 200. I watched some athletic-looking types sea kayaking, swimming, skimboarding, and jet skiing. Contrary to my visits to other beaches, most people I saw were somewhat attractive and non-obese.
The men in their late teens and 20s seemed to be going for a look like that of singer Pitbull (who is from Miami and Cuba) or the cast of “Jersey Shore“–sort of a life imitating art imitating life phenomenon. Many of the women, even those with children, seemed to showing off recent body-altering surgeries. Although I did not see any topless sunbathers this time, I have seen them there before. As the day grew longer and the sun grew stronger, the tattoo quotient as well as the “Jersey Shore”-wannabe quotient on the beach seemed to increase.
I heard someone play Journey’s “Who’s Crying Now,” a strange song to hear on sophisticated and multicultural South Beach, but not long thereafter, I heard the requisite house music with some Latin hits thrown in, such as Don Omar’s popular “Danza Kuduro,” which got some mamacitas and papis on the beach to dance a little. I also spotted some fit (and possibly underage) dudes *use of the word “dude” intentional here) drinking Bud Lite with Lime and blasting house music through their iPod speakers. One of the guys had on white-framed sunglasses that I’m guessing he wears when he goes to nightclubs, no matter how dark it is in the club.
Exploring Lincoln Avenue
Having gotten enough sun, I later took a taxi (about $7 from South Pointe Park) to Lincoln Avenue, the famed street for shopping and people watching. Lincoln Avenue is closed off to cars for the most part, allowing you to concentrate on spending your money on Lady Gaga-worthy shoes, clothes at stores like Banana Republic and BCBG, or skincare products at Kiehl’s or L’Occitane–the latter of which lured me in with a complimentary minifacial, which wasn’t so complimentary after I bought their soap and a high-quality facial serum.
If you’re not looking to blow a lot of dough, check out the jewelry sold by street vendors, where I’ve found some of my favorite earrings for $10 or $15. I had one street vendor practically adopt me after I told her I had visited her native South American country and knew the culture well. Despite my fair-haired gringa looks, the street vendors all spoke to me in Spanish when they tried to get me to stop and look at what they were selling.
If shopping isn’t your thing, then Lincoln Avenue is worth a visit for the people watching, which becomes more and more and interesting as the day turns into night (although I was amused by the number of tight-fitting high-heeled shoes I saw women wearing at 3 p.m. on a Saturday).
I stopped for an early dinner at the Italian restaurant Cantinetta, one of the many outdoor eateries on Lincoln Avenue. The Italian greeter trying to lure people to eat there attracted passerby by calling them “bella” (meaning beautiful–hey, it worked for me) or “Buona sera, how are you?”. I enjoyed ravioli with crabmeat and shrimp and vodka sauce, tasty although a little pricey ($43 for the meal, juice, and tip). Still, I don’t get this kind of people watching in my family-oriented suburb.
I would have loved to stay longer in South Beach but had a long drive ahead of me. I watched a spectacular view of the Miami skyline as I drove out of town around 7 p.m. and got to spot alligators on the drive through Alligator Alley on the way home on Interstate 75 (see one of Florida Culture’s earlier entries for photos of the alligator spottings).
Tips for Visiting South Beach
If you’re visiting South Beach and want a little more than the shopping and Jersey Shore people-watching experience, there are plenty of historic sites to visit. Joe’s Stone Crab is one of Florida’s oldest and best-known resturants. The Miami Beach Convention Center has a unique history; Muhammad Ali won his first championship there against Sonny Liston for his first Heavyweight Championship of the World in 1964. In 1972, for the only time in history, both the Republican and Democratic political conventions were held there, attracting 45,000 delegates. Next to the center is the Jackie Gleason Theater, where the famous entertainer recorded his earlier shows and numerous others have performed.
You can go to Palm Island and see the house where Al Capone lived and died; according to Miami native and former South Beach cop A.J. Daoud, the house looks like a fortress.