Beyond Miami's glossy headlines—CELEBRITIES! CROWDS! TRENDS!—lies a sophisticated city, often referred to as the true capital of Latino America. This metropolis has all the amenities that accompany such status: plush hotels and spas, inventive restaurants matching attentive service with a dazzling atmosphere, and boutiques run by sharply fashionable and friendly owners. Miami has a burgeoning cultural scene in its museums, design showrooms, architecture, and galleries. All these come together every December at Art Basel Miami Beach, which after only three years has vaulted to the top of the world's contemporary art fairs.
Bal Harbour Shops This outdoor mall is Miami's mecca for all things material (9700 Collins Ave.; 305-866-0311; www.balharbourshops.com). As you glide between the big names like Prada (305-864-9111), Gucci (305-868-6504), and Louis Vuitton (305-866-4470), keep an eye out for the lesser-known gems: Oxygene (305-864-0202), a colorful multidesigner-label boutique where you can snag whimsical Zac Posen dresses, and the small, recently opened Calypso (305-866-8202), with pretty clothing and such accessories as metallic Jack Rogers sandals. At the new Books & Books (305-442-4408), an entire section is dedicated to chick lit, though there's also the latest serious nonfiction. Stop for lunch at the ever bustling Carpaccio (lunch, $40; 305-867-7777), famous for its lobster fra diavolo—and the lanky, bronzed, Birkin-toting eye candy.
Upper East Side Shopping Miami's flourishing Upper East Side district (next to Little Haiti) makes you feel as if you're in on a big secret. Admire the hand-knotted rugs from Iran and the saris from India at Minar (6667 Biscayne Blvd.; 305-757-2775), as well as the vintage accessories and usually hard-to-find South American pottery at Divine Trash (7244 Biscayne Blvd.; 305-751-1973). At the spacious Rebel (6669 Biscayne Blvd.; 305-758-2369), you'll find tattered-chic dresses by local Argentinean-born design team Zaccaro-Grimaldi and jeans by such established names as Juicy Couture and True Religion.
Collins Avenue Skip the tourist shopping on South Beach's Ocean Drive and walk a block west to Collins Avenue to the stores between Fifth and Ninth streets. After a perfect French manicure with Laura Bonomo or a Swedish massage with Alexandra Cardenas—or both—at Le Spa Lancôme (150 Eighth St.; 305-674-6744), scout a South Beach-appropriate Miguelina lace goddess top at Intermix (634 Collins Ave.; 305-531-5950). Shops in this area generally stay open until 10 or 11 p.m., so you might have time for a makeover at the busy chains like MAC (650 Collins Ave.; 305-604-9040) and Sephora (721 Collins Ave.; 305-532-0904), where the staff can amp up the makeup wattage for a Miami night.
Lincoln Road What's the latest South Beach obsession? Just ask the chicest shop owners in town: Karen Quinones of En Avance (734 Lincoln Rd.; 305-534-0337) carries men's and women's brands James Perse, DSquared, and P.A.R.O.S.H., while Bonnie Engelstein of Chroma (920 Lincoln Rd.; 305-695-8808) stocks edgy pants by Ya-Ya, colorful heels by Mayle, and great Cosabella lingerie. The zen-inspired lifestyle store Base (939 Lincoln Rd.; 305-531-6470) is unique; all in one spot, customers can get haircuts, buy the latest European lounge CDs, and find loose-fitting, laid-back gauze tops, pants, and dresses. (Lincoln Road is pedestrian-only; take a taxi or leave your car in one of the parking lots on the north side of Meridian Avenue.)
West Avenue This little retail strip in Miami Beach is so new only natives know it exists. Beautify your hands and feet at the very pink Lace Nail Lab (1935 West Ave.; 305-604-0111), where you can book a $250 St.-Tropez pedicure: Two technicians rub your feet with Moroccan sea salts and a fizzing volcanic clay before lathering on pink caviar and spritzing with Champagne—as you sip from a flute of Cristal Rosé. Discover clothing by two cool Indian brands, Rana Gil and Tashia, at Steam on the Beach (1935 West Ave.; 305-531-3233) and 700-gram Egyptian-cotton towels at the linen and bath store Threadcount (1935 West Ave.; 305-532-1222).
PLACES TO STAY
Although two of Miami's top hotels are not right on the ocean, they're coveted for other reasons. Mandarin Oriental Miami ( rates, $595-$5,000; 866-888-6780; www.mandarinoriental.com) features the private Oasis Beach Club, where butlers hand out iPods, Bulgari towels, and Evian misters. There's also the spa, whose specialty is the Balinese synchronized massage (performed by two therapists armed with spiced oil). Follow this with a late sushi lunch at the hotel's Café Sambal. Ask for a seat outside so you can dine against a backdrop of the skyline. Azul, the hotel's fine-dining restaurant, retains its sophistication even after the departure of founding chef Michelle Bernstein. Order the miso-marinated hamachi and a rare bottle from the impressive wine list.
In the business district, the choice is the Four Seasons Hotel Miami ( rates, $350-$4,000; 800-819-5053; www.fourseasons.com). Inside is one of the city's best gyms, the airy and sparkling Sports Club/L.A., where the salsa- and merengue-inspired workout classes (along with a gorgeous mélange of members) have a party vibe. If you prefer a more bona fide bash, take in the outdoor Bahía bar on a Friday night; the live lounge, groove, and Brazilian jazz attract a suit-and-tie crowd.
At the Fisher Island Hotel & Resort ( rates, $575-$2,000; 800-537-3708; www.fisherisland.com), you can have both South Beach buzz and sanctuarylike calm. The seven-minute car-ferry ride may be inconvenient, but this 216-acre island's amenities—the Spa Internazionale (be sure to book a massage with Eduardo DeCamillis), golf, beach, dining (don't miss the crab cakes at the Garwood Lounge)—make the journey worthwhile. Plus, from a stool at Sunset, the tiki bar, you will witness the best sunsets in Miami.
On South Beach proper, the Ritz-Carlton, South Beach ( rates, $410-$5,500; 800-241-3333; www.ritzcarlton.com) offers a touch of local color. The hotel is housed in an original 1953 landmark designed by the flamboyant Morris Lapidus; co-owner Diana Lowenstein's important Latin American art collection is hung on the walls. Try a sumptuous Carita pedicure with reflexology specialist Marlena Carreras at the spa, let the gorgeous "tanning butlers" slather you with sunscreen by the pool, and after dark, enjoy a caipiroska (a Brazilian cocktail made of sugar, mint, lime, and vodka) and the DJ's picks at the dimly lit Lapidus Lounge.
The Versace mansion on Ocean Drive is now the members-only club Casa Casuarina. Next door, interior designer Jacques Garcia has given the 91-room Hotel Victor (rates, $475-$6,000; 305-428-1234; www.hotelvictorsouthbeach.com) an opulent facelift. With sofas in vibrant fabrics, dramatic floor-to-ceiling curtains, and hanging lamps, the lobby is the antithesis of the stark white interior that was de rigueur in the South Beach of the nineties. Meet friends at the very social second-floor pool area overlooking the ocean or, after a late night of traveling or dining, just hide out in your room and enjoy the private services offered by the on-site Spa V. The 30-minute Jet Lag V treatment, in which rejuvenating, bubbling volcanic mud is massaged onto the neck and spine, is the perfect antidote for fatigued bodies.
If you're seeking the consummate Art Deco boutique hotel, stay at Miami Beach's much-beloved Hotel Astor (rates, $200- $1,500; 305-531-8081; www.hotelastor.com), with its minimalist, albeit still rather posh, decor. The dinner parties at the hotel's own Metro Kitchen + Bar on Tuesdays and Saturdays are wildly popular. Down the block is the newly renovated Clinton South Beach (rates, $400-$930; 305-938-4040; www.clintonsouthbeach.com), where you can relax in peace at the low-key rooftop spa.
The Delano hotel ( rates, $745-$3,500; 1685 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 800-606-6090; www.delanohotelmiamibeach.com) remains quintessential South Beach, as carefully art directed—and seemingly cast—as a movie set: that pool, those bungalows, that billowing fabric! Who cares about teensy-weensy rooms (unless you know the right ones to book). The smart thing to do is power lunch South Beach-style at the hotel's Blue Door (o dinner, $150; 305-674-6400), on the breezy open-air patio, lounging on a cushion-clad bench a few feet away from the ocean. The Delano hotel ( rates, $745-$3,500; 1685 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 800-606-6090; www.delanohotelmiamibeach.com) remains quintessential South Beach, as carefully art directed—and seemingly cast—as a movie set: that pool, those bungalows, that billowing fabric! Who cares about teensy-weensy rooms (unless you know the right ones to book). The smart thing to do is power lunch South Beach-style at the hotel's Blue Door (o dinner, $150; 305-674-6400), on the breezy open-air patio, lounging on a cushion-clad bench a few feet away from the ocean.
With any luck you'll know someone who knows Michele or Leticia Grendene, the lovely owners of the Italian restaurant Casa Tua (dinner, $200; 1700 James Ave., Miami Beach; 305-673-1010; www.casatualifestyle.com). If not, you'll find it a challenge to snag one of the highly coveted 85 seats. If you are willing to go on a weeknight, or perhaps at a very late hour, you'll be rewarded with authentic, inventive food—delicate ravioli filled with bagòss (a rare hard cow's-milk cheese) and a tender octopus salad—and a candlelit setting, the most romantic in town.
Though the South Beach and Atkins diets are quickly falling out of vogue in Miami, protein-heavy Prime One Twelve (dinner, $120; 112 Ocean Dr., Miami Beach; 305-532-8112; www.prime112.com) is as packed as ever. In the brick and wood-adorned 1915 landmark Browns Hotel, this wildly busy steak house, owned by popular South Beach restaurateur Myles Chefetz, earned its reputation with its richly marbleized prime beef (try the 30-ounce bone-in rib eye for two), truffled macaroni and cheese, and noisy scene. While waiting at the bar for your table (everyone has to, at least for a bit), you'll clamor for a drink among Miami society, from the city's top developers and philanthropists to models and celebrities.
The Shore Club hotel (rates, $745-$3,500; 1901 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-695-3100; www.shoreclub.com) attracts the crowds for at least two reasons besides its rooms (which are currently on the market as condo-hotels). By day the indoor-outdoor Tuscan restaurant Ago (dinner, $85; 305-695-3244) offers its illustrious branzino and a fun peek at the sexy poolside spectacle; at night there's a prime view of the hot Skybar. And the Shore Club branch of the legendary Nobu (dinner, $100; 305-695-3232) does not accept reservations; hotel guests are placed on a priority list that ensures them a table.
At dinnertime the wait can run up to three hours at Joe's Stone Crab (dinner, $95; 11 Washington Ave., Miami Beach; 305-673-0365; www.joesstonecrab.com). Not for us, thank you: Go for lunch instead, when the wait is minimal and the crowd just as local. (Joe's does not take reservations and closes from mid-May through mid-October.) Or you could always head next door to Joe's Take Away—pick up crab claws with mustard sauce and cole slaw for a picnic on the beach, a mere two blocks away.
ARTS AND CULTURE
This year's Art Basel Miami Beach doesn't arrive until December, but there is plenty to see and buy now at local museums and galleries. Besides visiting Miami's largest institutions, the Miami Art Museum (101 W. Flagler St.; 305-375-3000; www.miamiartmuseum.org) and the Museum of Contemporary Art (770 N.E. 125th St.; 305-893-6211; www.mocanomi.org), you should be sure to stop by the Bass Museum of Art (2121 Park Ave., Miami Beach; 305-673-7530; www.bassmuseum.org). For top works by Robert Chambers, Naomi Fisher, and Norberto Rodriguez—all internationally acclaimed Miamians—go to the Fredric Snitzer Gallery (2247 N.W. First Pl.; 305-448-8976; www.snitzer.com).
Then there's the unique Miami Design District, 18 square blocks of galleries and furniture and design showrooms just north of downtown. Kevin Bruk Gallery (3900B N.E. First Ave.; 305-576-2000; www.kevinbrukgallery.com) presents new works by mature and emerging artists, and the Moore Space (4040 N.E. Second Ave.; 305-438-1163; www.themoorespace.org) is an experimental collaboration between star collector Rosa de la Cruz and real estate developer Craig Robins. Next, tour two great private modern and contemporary collections in the Wynwood Arts District—the Rubell Family Collection (95 N.W. 29th St.; 305-573-6090) and the Margulies Collection at the Warehouse (591 N.W. 27th St.; 305-576-1051; www.margulieswarehouse.com).
SUZY BUCKLEY IS THE LIFESTYLE EDITOR AT OCEAN DRIVE MAGAZINE.
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