Night lights, Cuban food, and free drinks in Miami’s art deco district

Miami skyline web

Welcome to Miami

If I had my choice of how to experience Miami, I probably wouldn’t have chosen a one-night stay on the way to Key West. That said, if you are looking for a place to spend one night on the way to Key West, Miami Beach is an excellent choice.

My friend and I arrived in Miami’s Art Deco Historic District around 6:30 p.m. From there, it was off to the races. Having never been to South Beach before, I was hoping to cram into one night way more than was feasible. But I still think we did pretty good, considering.


The bar at Hotel Chelsea

Happy Hour

We started out at Hotel Chelsea, a boutique hotel in the middle of Miami’s Art Deco Historic District, where we’d booked our one-night stay.

Everyone tells you about the legendary nightlife in South Beach, but what they don’t tell you is that the average cocktail costs $20. Thankfully, one of the many travel guides/articles I read tipped me off to this fact.

We decided to go where we knew the drinks were free — for two hours: our hotel. I’m no expert on Miami happy hours, but I can tell you that the art deco hotel we were staying at had a 2 hour long happy hour each night, with free drinks for paying guests. We obviously didn’t enjoy top shelf liquor or run into J. Lo here, but it was great for the price.

PuertoSagua web

Cuban dinner from Puerto Sagua

Cuban Food

It’s not a trip to Miami without some Cuban food.

Our hotel recommended Puerto Sagua, a reasonably-priced Cuban diner within walking distance of our accommodations. This place is known for their Cuban comfort food, and it appears to be popular with the locals. The bilingual menu tells us the Especials del Dia (specials of the day). All of my favorites are here — ropa vieja (shredded beef), black bean soup, Cuban sandwiches, roast pork, and arroz con pollo (chicken and rice).

Per tradition, our meal began with a basket of Cuban bread and butter. I ordered one of the chicken specials, which came with the standard rice and beans. Having grown up in Florida, enjoying our Latin-influenced cuisine, I am comforted by these warm, mildly-spiced, salty dishes.

The Sherbrook Hotel, on the corner of Collins and 9th

Exploring Miami’s Art Deco Historic District

Miami’s Art Deco Historic District is HUGE. We’re talking about 800 historic art deco buildings (mostly hotels) crammed into approximately nine square miles. I wouldn’t recommend walking the entire district all at once, but I can provide a couple of suggestions on how to best explore this part of Miami. Since we were limited on time, we decided to walk a stretch of Ocean Dr. near our hotel.

South Beach’s Ocean Drive, between 8th and 9th street

We were aiming for the area between 11th and 14th streets, a stretch Lonely Planet refers to as “the best of Ocean Drive.” National Geographic suggests starting a little farther south, between 6th and 7th streets.

Starting around 7th, and walking north on Ocean Drive, I was captivated by the bright lights of Colony Hotel, Breakwater Hotel and the Clevelander Hotel.

Colony Hotel

Breakwater Hotel

Clevelander Hotel

The parallel streets, Washington Avenue and Collins Avenue, are full of art deco buildings as well. Here are a just a few that we saw while walking the area around our hotel.

Hotel Chelsea

Hotel Shelley

The Franklin Hotel

A self-guided walking tour is best if you’re in a hurry, but there’s more than one way to explore Miami’s Art Deco District. If you’re interested in a guided tour, multiple tour books recommend the Art Deco Welcome Center’s 90 minute walking tour.

I can’t recommend Miami’s Art Deco District highly enough for photographers. I felt like a kid in a candy store. It was only the summer’s heat and humidity that could finally drive me and my camera back inside.

On my next visit

Remember back in the beginning of this post, when I mentioned trying to do more than was possible in a single night? Well, here are the items on my South Beach list that I didn’t have time for:

  1. Seeing the sunset from Lummus Park Beach and photographing the famously colorful lifeguard stations
  2. Visiting the World Erotic Art Museum

Next time…

Categories: Florida Road Trips, South FloridaTags: , , , ,

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