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TOP 5 THINGS TO DO IN SOUTH BEACH


View of Loews Miami Beach hotel from the beach

Given that my husband and I already spend so much time in southwest Florida, we normally don’t choose other areas of Florida for vacation destinations. If we’re not going to Cape Coral (albeit, with some days at Disney World), we’re not going to Florida at all. If you know me, you know my philosophy of “no repeats.” With limited time and funds, I want to explore new corners of the earth each time I travel. However, with more time and someone else footing the bill, well that’s another story.

 





WHY WE WENT

 

My husband, Jay, works for a great company. He has been an employee at this one corporation for 24 years! He works hard. All. The. Time. He responds to customer phone calls, emails, and texts 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It is no wonder, then, that he shines in his company, and every so often, grabs a hold of that illustrious brass ring that is known as “Presidents Club.”

 

This award sends him and a guest (me!) on an all-expenses paid trip to some 5-star tropical resort for some serious pampering and exciting adventures. In 2019, this prestigious award sent us to Maui! Other winners have gone to Mexico and the Bahamas. So, imagine our surprise when the 2024 trip was headed for…. drumroll, please….

 

Miami. (South Beach, to be exact.)

 

We thought, “Of all the places we could go, we’re going to Florida?”

 

It’s a multinational company, so we’re fairly certain that the people in the Canada division were thrilled to go to Florida in April. The same might be said for the winners from Minnesota or Massachusetts, or for those who have never been to the Sunshine State. But since we go to Florida as often as we do, we were less than thrilled. Yes, we love Florida, hence those frequent trips. And yes, we knew from previous experience how over-the-top amazing the trip would be. But, still, Florida?

 

To be fair though, we were going to South Beach.

 


WHERE AND WHAT IS SOUTH BEACH? 


You probably know that Florida is a peninsula in the southeastern United States, celebrated for its abundant sunshine and extensive coastline. But contrary to popular belief, most of Florida can get downright chilly in the winter months. It’s a good destination to escape snow in February, or if you are tired of the sun setting before you leave the office in November, but it isn’t always a “beach” destination. For example, the water temperature at Clearwater Beach on the Gulf Coast can drop to 60°!

 

If you are looking for a warm ocean in January, Miami is calling your name. The city, located near the southern tip of Florida, averages 69° in its coldest month with the ocean temperature rarely dipping below 72°. In addition to the lure of the warm beaches, Miami boasts several iconic neighborhoods, world-class restaurants, and extensive outdoor activities. It is also home to the largest passenger port in the world, boarding over 7 million cruise passengers per year!

 

But Miami and Miami Beach are not one in the same. The latter, a barrier island with a 35-mile stretch of beachfront, is its own city. It is home to 80,000 residents and three distinct neighborhoods:

 

  • North Beach is a laid-back residential area.

  • Mid-Beach is relaxed by day and electric at night.

  • South Beach is one of the most visited beach destinations in the world, with white sand beaches, clear blue water, historic art deco buildings, and nonstop nightlife.

 

And that is where we were headed on our Presidents’ Club trip.

 

I had been to Miami twice before, and to South Beach once, but never like this. Yes, it was undoubtedly an expensive long weekend, and it’s true, the only thing we had to pay for out of pocket was a bottle of water from the mini bar, but even so, the trip is repeatable for travelers on smaller budgets. You could go for one fewer night or maybe at a different time of year, to do it for less. But any way you go about it, I recommend visiting South Beach and including these 5 things on your itinerary!

 

 


 

No visit to South Beach would be complete (or possible) without a place to rest your head. Why not choose a well-appointed room at an oceanfront resort?


Loews Miami Beach hotel

The Loews Miami Beach Hotel is situated in the Art Deco District, towards the north end of South Beach. With 790 expansive guestrooms, plus 69 suites, it has a large footprint on Collins Avenue. That means there is room for a ginormous heated pool and a massive pool deck dotted with hundreds of loungers, day beds, and umbrellas. They have several bars, restaurants, and cafes on site, as well as retail stores, a full salon, a spa offering a comprehensive menu of treatments, and a fully equipped fitness center.

 

The hotel is both family-friendly, with its extensive programming, and adult friendly, with its private cabanas and age-restricted areas. The Loews is pet-friendly, too!

 

While these are all wonderful reasons to book this hotel, you can read about those amenities on their website. What I want to share with you is the experience of staying at the Loews.

 

OUR STAY

 

Far be it from me to let a free flight go to waste, so same as I added Oahu to the Maui trip, we began our tropical getaway with a 4-night cruise. Our ship returned to the Port of Miami on Friday morning, and we made our way to our Presidents Club hotel, where we would be staying for another 4-nights.

 

foyer of loews miami beach hotel

When we arrived that Friday morning and picked up our name tags from the President’s Club organizers, all we wanted to do was chillax at the resort. Initially we thought we’d go to the pool or beach and had even put our swimsuits in our backpacks so we could get changed quickly. But after our mad dash out of our stateroom that morning, and 4 days without our data plans, we got real with ourselves. What we needed was time with our devices. So, we inquired with the front desk how soon we could check in, and willingly sacrificed a room with a balcony and view that would be ready later for a room with a bed and a full-size shower that was ready now.


The Loews is a 4-star hotel, but they are doing 4-star like it’s the new 5-star. Our room literally had a doorbell. A doorbell!!! There were no door hangers warning “do not disturb”. Instead, you tapped a button, and a little red light would turn on outside your door telling the staff to stay away. Choose the green light and someone would appear like magic to service your room.

 


room in Loews Miami Beach hotel

When we reached the 5th floor, we were impressed by the artwork and the classy décor. Our room was 99% ready for us, so we stepped inside. As the young bellhop (who told us he worked at this hotel for more than a decade) brought in our bags, the housekeeper stretched her arm into the room to wipe away a smudge on the mirror before telling us to enjoy our stay. Everyone was so friendly and attentive!

 

Both our room and bathroom were massive. The bed was comfortable and there was an extra-large chair to relax in. However, we noticed there was no refrigerator in our room. We called the front desk to ask for the key to the mini bar (which we had refused at check-in), assuming that was where the fridge was. It was not, but they offered to bring up a refrigerator for us. That’s right, a man came to our room carrying a refrigerator. If that’s not 5-star service, I’m not sure what is!

 

paella at Loews Miami event

We attended a company dinner that night on the lawn. Let me tell you, this is the place to host events! In addition to the largest paella I have ever laid eyes one, the food was both beautiful and delicious, and the bartenders did not hold back on their pours. The following night we enjoyed another event in one of their extra-large reception rooms. Again, great food and drinks, and don’t even get me started on the desserts. I’d bet the weddings held here are fabulous!


After a wild Saturday night (see Mango’s), we indulged in lobster-benedict-in-bed on Sunday morning. Later that afternoon, we finally made it to the beach! You exit the gate at the back of the pool deck, cross the running path, walk over the sand dunes, and voila! South Beach in all its natural glory.

 

Although the beach is a public one, the Loews offers loungers, umbrellas, and towels, and serves drinks, too. We relaxed a bit there and then headed back up to the pool. The deck was crowded, and we weren’t certain we’d find an empty lounge chair. When we did, a staff member appeared out of thin air with fresh towels, which he proceeded to lay out for us.


pool and palm trees at the Loews Miami hotel

I highly recommend that you submerge yourself in this pool. For one, it’s warm, yet still refreshing. And secondly, it’s colossal. Even with kids everywhere, there is plenty of room to swim around and not get kicked in the face. With the lush, tropical landscaping, you might think that you were somewhere other than Florida.

 




Key Takeaway: If you want to experience 4-star at its best, stay at the Loews!

 






 

My husband’s company had offered us an assortment of activities from which to choose during our stay. The Little Havana culture and food tour was a no-brainer for us.


yellow Azucar sign in Little Havana

WHERE AND WHAT IS LITTLE HAVANA?

 

Little Havana is in the city of Miami, just over the bridge from South Beach. It is a lively neighborhood that is known for its Cuban American population. When Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba, ushering in a socialist and then communist government, hundreds of thousands of Cubans fled their homeland for the United States. Most of the refugees settled in Miami. They believed their stay would be temporary, that Castro would be overthrown, and they would subsequently return home. When this did not happen, the Cuban people committed to building a thriving community. Their success story is now known as Little Havana.

 

OUR TOUR


Jose Marti Memorial in Little Havana Miami

We started at the Jose Marti Memorial, learning about the history of the area from a local expert. Our next stop was through the back door of the area’s oldest market, Los Pinarenos Fruiteria, where we tasted an assortment of tropical fruits. We visited Domino Park on Calle Ocho and toured the iconic Ball & Chain restaurant and nightclub. We stopped for Cuban coffee, empanadas, and yucca fries at Comida Cubana, followed by croquettes and other refreshments at Dos Croquetas. In between, our guide introduced us to the proprietors of a local cigar shop and a Guayabera store (Cuban shirts).


We landed at Cubaocho Museum & Performing Arts Center, but our experience was not yet complete. Our group indulged in Cuban sandwiches for lunch while listening to a live, local band. We learned how to make a proper mojito at the bar and watched a woman rolling cigars (we each got to take one home).

 


And then began the show! Out came the salsa dancers! With exquisite costumes and nonstop energy, they taught us how to salsa. What an awesome afternoon!

 


Key Takeaway: If you want to experience the influence that the Cuban people have had on the culture of Miami, take a tour of Little Havana!


 

 

Rochelle and Jay Avignon at Mango's Tropical Cafe in South Beach

This nightclub is legendary! It is known for its eclectic Caribbean entertainment and cabaret. You can go for brunch as well or take the salsa class in the evening and stay all night at the club. I’m not exaggerating, the club is open until 5 am.

 

Jay and I had learned that his company would be treating us all to a Saturday night at the club, where they rented out the entire second floor. (After all, we were a group of several hundred people.) We quickly spread the word and were the first on the bus to the party, which happened to be only seven (embarrassingly easy to walk) blocks from our hotel.

 

Arriving around 9:00 pm, there was already a line down the block to get in. Fortunately, we got to bypass that line and head straight upstairs. A quick note on the layout of the second floor: there is a balcony overlooking the show on the first floor, with a room on either side, connected by a walkway. Both rooms had bars and DJs, and the walkway housed a third bar. All these spaces were exclusive to our group and all three bars were open. By “open” I mean, “free drinks,” courtesy of our host (Jay’s employer). The company wisely provided passed hors d’oeuvres throughout the night as well.


Michael Jackson impersonator performing at Mango's cabaret in South Beach

When we arrived, we were ushered into the room to our left, where we grabbed a drink at the bar. I love to dance, so I was the first person on the dance floor. We took the occasional break to wander out to the balcony and watch the cabaret shows below us, waiting for our friends to arrive. After about an hour of wondering where they were, we discovered the second room on the other side of the balcony. The music was pumping, the drinks were flowing, and our friends were all there.

 

The vibe was everything you might imagine South Beach to be tropical, frenetic, sexy, and cool. But with that open bar, even buttoned-up corporate people can get a little crazy. Some of their guests might even lose control! (Perhaps of their bladder or their sense of human decency?) When Mango’s management has to shut down the ladies’ bathroom at a private party, you get an inkling that the after-midnight crowd may be a level of wild you gave up in your twenties. That was our cue to be on our way!

 


Key Takeaway: If you want to experience the South Beach nightlife scene, head to Mango’s!

 



When my mom learned that we were going to South Beach, she told me to immediately make a reservation at Gianni’s, as much for the scene as for the food.


The words that come to mind when describing the Versace Mansion are:


  • Grandiose

  • Ostentatious

  • Gorgeous

  • Striking

  • Extravagant

  • Vintage

  • Italian

 

That’s quite the mix! You truly have to see it in person and the best way to do that is to indulge in a meal there. They serve both lunch and dinner, and prime dining real estate is a seat by the pool. (Note that diners may not swim in the pool, only gawk at the pool, and take portraits in front of the pool.)


Rochelle and Jay Avignon in front of the Thousand Mosaic Pool at Gianni's Restaurant at the Versace Mansion in South Beach

If you’re rolling in dough, you could also forgo the Loews and stay a few nights in one of the luxurious suites on the property. These will set you back $700 - $1600 per night, but they will give you exclusive access to The Thousand Mosaic Pool and, of course, the chance to see the villa.

 

In case you live under a rock, Giovanni “Gianni” Versace was an infamous Italian fashion designer. Built in 1930 as an apartment complex, the villa was purchased by Versace in 1992 for $2.95 million. He also bought the historic Revere Hotel next door for $3.7 million. Much to the community’s dismay, he then tore down the latter to put in that swimming pool you see today. In fact, he invested an additional $32 million into renovating the property, which took 3 years to complete. Then, only two years later in 1997, he was murdered on the front steps of his lavish house. This house. Casa Casuarina.

 

Today, the building is a hotel and restaurant. It is the place to see and be seen, and the food is quite good, too. The signature item on the menu is the Cacio e Pepe, spaghetti that is prepared tableside in a pecorino cheese wheel. (I missed this display of cheesy perfection while in the bathroom. As it turns out, food is served quickly here!)

 

Jay and I opted to skip the appetizers and desserts and instead order two entrees each, like Italians do. (Unfortunately, they served them both at the same time.) We each ordered a pasta course and a protein course. Jay got the filet mignon. He orders his steaks medium well, which I feel is ludicrous, but they cooked it to perfection (medium). His pasta course was the Cacio e Pepe.

 

I went all in for truffles with Pan Seared Scallops in a black truffle sauce and Truffle Gnocchi in a white truffle sauce with freshly shaved truffle on top. I am usually disappointed by so-called truffle dishes that have very little truffle in them, but our waitress said that the chef was generous. She was not wrong! The gnocchi had more truffles on the plate than I’ve seen since eating Black Truffle Soup at Paul Bocuse’s restaurant in Collonges-au-Mont-d’Or. I was impressed!

 

I was also impressed with our waitress. She was friendly and engaging and happy to take pictures of us in front of the pool. (I was not as happy with the hostesses. Be prepared for some rudeness there.) If you go, make a reservation well in advance. We were there on a Sunday night and the place was packed!

 


Key Takeaway: If you have something to celebrate or simply want to enjoy a delicious meal in an extravagant, iconic establishment, you can’t go wrong at Gianni’s!

 



On our last full day in Miami, we elected to take an airboat ride through the Everglades, something I have been wanting to do since forever!

 

As it turns out, Coopertown is an actual town made up of 8 residents. It was originally a Seminole Indian Village until it was “founded” by John Cooper in 1945. He also started the first airboat company. The town and business have been in the family ever since!

 

Our group hopped on a bus where Carolina of Expedition South educated us on the history and ecosystem of the Florida Everglades. Upon arriving at Coopertown, we lathered up with sunscreen and bug spray (April is borderline noseum season - I wouldn’t recommend this activity in summer!), used the port-o-potties, and headed around back for an introduction to alligators.

 

They have several VERY large alligators on their property (one is called Big Man). They also happen to be VERY old. While you may have heard that alligators can live to be 50 or 60 years old in the wild (and up to 100 in captivity), that is only if they stay alive long enough to grow to 4 feet in length. As we learned on the airboat, gators are cannibalistic and will eat their own young. Plus, baby gators are subject to other predators, as well as the environment. Of the average 38 eggs that a female alligator deposits in her nest, only 5 survive to adulthood. I guess that’s a relief if you’re afraid of alligators!

man petting a baby alligator in the Florida Everglades

 

We had a chance to pet a baby gator before boarding our boat. I sat in the middle, which afforded me a decent view of both sides of the boat, but a large man was obstructing my view forward. Therefore, if you can, I suggest sitting in the front row or at the end of a row.

 

The fan boat is LOUD. You are given over-the-ear, NASCAR-style headphones to wear on the boat, or you can bring your own ear plugs. Our driver, Sam, whipped us around the Everglades like a bat-out-of-hell, and it was so much fun! We stopped occasionally to marvel at a bird that hadn’t flow away on our approach.

 

Then we reached land. Not marsh, but a tiny island known as a “Hardwood Hammock”. There was an old, abandoned cabin there, and picnic tables set up for our lunch! In addition to hearty portions of barbecue ribs and chicken, we had the opportunity to try more exotic – albeit indigenous – foods, like frog legs and gator tails, which were both yummy. (I’ve had both before, but those who were new to these proteins said, “tastes like chicken”.)

 

While we ate, Sam and Carolina told us the history of the cabin, the “Gladesman” that built it, the makeup of the island, and the history of the local Native-American tribes. Then we were on our way again to find some alligators!

 

Jay was the first to spot one resting on the ground. We looked at him, he looked at us, and then as we began to pull away, he slipped into the water and followed, circling our boat several times. He was substantially larger than the ones I have seen on previous eco-tours.

 


As we continued along, we encountered two more gators who were equally as curious about us as we were about them. We persisted down the waterway where we encountered still another gator! This one was much smaller as he was missing a part of his tail. While Sam told us how this will affect a gator’s lifespan, the other two gators approached from behind until we were being circled by 3 alligators at once! Sam then informed us that gators can propel themselves from the water into our boat. Oh my!

 

Key Takeaway: If you are looking for a unique wildlife encounter, hop on a Coopertown Airboat ride!

 


THE ANSWER TO YOUR BIGGEST QUESTION

 

As I said in the beginning, we did not pay for this weekend in South Beach. I acknowledge that our version of it was extravagant, but your version doesn’t have to be.

 

Plan to spend 2 nights:

 

  • Arrive early on day 1.

  • Check in and head straight for the pool or beach.

  • Gorge yourself at Gianni’s for dinner.

  • Take the tour of Little Havana on day 2.

  • Dance your cares away at Mango’s that night.

  • Visit the Everglades the morning of day 3.

  • Take an evening flight home.

 

A couple can expect to pay around $1500 (and up), not including airfare, for this weekend extravaganza.

 

If that sounds like too much of a splurge, divide to conquer. You don’t need to do it all in one trip!

 

Let us know in the comments if you have experienced any of these things yourself and which one you can’t wait to try next.


 

A BLURB ABOUT US

 

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Go Farther Travel customizes itineraries for people who want to travel bougie on a budget. We work with you to create a wish list and then figure out how to make it a reality. Our goal is to take the stress out of travel by researching, planning, coordinating, booking, and presenting every detail of your adventure via our easy-to-use mobile app. We also offer a Budget & Savings Plan service to help you determine what your “all-in” budget should be and how you can pay for that trip, in full, before you take it.


Rochelle and Jay Avignon in front of fireworks show at the Loews Miami Beach hotel


 

 

 

 

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