Miami is a great destination for a winter break in the sun. February has always been a hard month for me, Christmas and birthday season is over and spring is still a few weeks away. It is then that I get to the point where I am in desperate need of some winter sun and vitamin D. Miami has been a fun place for us to visit in the past, combining a city trip, with a laze on one of the beaches along the long stretch of coast.
We have always stayed at the Mondrian Hotel on South Beach, mainly due to its location away from the main drag of Ocean drive and Collins Avenue. The area has a more residential feel and the sunsets from this side of South Beach are incredible, with the sun sinking behind the skyline of downtown Miami. Many of the rooms are spacious apartments, with a spare bed for Jerome, which provides us with privacy and they are also equipped with a small kitchen. The kitchen has always proven useful, even though we have never cooked a full meal or breakfast there. It still had all the comforts of a five star hotel, the pool a comfortable temperature and the restaurant serving delicious sushi and other Asian influenced dishes. It is also a great place for people watching, plenty of the fit and beautiful gather here during the day and enjoy their cocktails in the evening.
We had arrived late afternoon and Jerome wanted to go straight for a swim. We took three sun loungers by the pool, I was already flagging as it was the middle of the night for us already. We ordered some food, as we knew we were not going to last until dinnertime. We spent a few hours on the poolside, watched the first of many sunsets to come and then went to the Whole Food store right behind the hotel (another plus for staying at the Mondrian) to get some basic food, fruit and drinks for picnics or snacks on the balcony over the coming days. Then we went to bed, jet lag had taken over.
We woke up really early, the sun was only just rising. We lazed for a while in our hotel room. Jerome got a set of Lego out and started building one of the 3 options in the booklet. We went to breakfast at the 11th Street Diner which was a bit of a walk from the hotel, but we knew that it would already be open. We had eaten there before, the food being your standard classic American diner fare housed in an old air streamer and decorated in a retro design. We sat down at the counter and Jerome had pancakes with strawberry milkshake, while Chris and I went for an American style breakfast and lots of refill coffee.
After eating too much we went to Miami Beach Bicycle Center, where we had already reserved three bikes for our stay. I was worried they might not have one available for Jerome when we got there unless we booked ahead. We always try to rent bikes while we are on holiday, as it is a fun way to see a place. It is also a fun way for children to explore too and we never got the “I cannot walk anymore” moan from Jerome this way, even when he was little. We can also cover more ground in a day without having to use public transport or taxis. Miami, especially South Beach, does not provide the best of public transport systems anyway and we always felt it was the only viable way to get around town and thankfully there were plenty of side streets and cycle paths.
Jerome was very pleased with his child sized mountain bike, he put his helmet (we took his own with us) on, and off we went, cycling along the pavement to South Point Beach Park. We had packed our swimming stuff and some beach towels, plus snack and drinks into a backpack and planned to spend the day on the beach. It was still a bit too early and chilly to head straight for the beach and South Beach Point had been a great place to go and enjoy some of the local atmosphere. There was a playground where yummy mummies or nannies would take children for a play, fitness addicts in their skimpy outfits with their personal trainers going about their fitness routines. It was fun watching them in their self-obsessed manner doing exercises and showing off.
We sat down at Blissberry and devoured a frozen yoghurt. Jerome went off to run along the paths, play on the playground, even though he had outgrown most of the equipment, and then attempted some of the fitness exercises. There also were water fountains for the kids to run safely run around in and which looked like a lot of fun, even for the littlest ones. South Point Beach Park is right next to a channel that divides South Beach from Fisher Island, an island with up market living accommodation. This narrow channel is the route for all cruise ships and some tankers to float trough on their way into Miami harbour. Jerome loved to watch the gigantic ships, some higher than the buildings in the vicinity, slowly make their way through in either direction.
Lunchtime approached and the sun was getting hotter. Jerome was keen for us to move on to the beach. We took our bikes and cycled to the beach, just around the corner from South Point Park. This end of South Beach was less busy, as it was more residential and quite a way away from the main hotel area. We spotted the lifeguard huts along the beach, each one in a different colourful design. The one closest to us, was painted with a patriotic stars and stripes of the American flag. We could see the lifeguard seated on top, every now and then peeping through his binoculars. There was barely anyone in the sea and I could imagine him being quite bored.
We put down our towels close to the sea, the next sunbathers a way away from us. Jerome headed straight to the sea, it was calm with only the slightest of waves flowing onto the shore. South Beach is a safe beach for children of all ages, the sea only gently dropping. We found it to be fairly calm most of the time as well, considering this is the Atlantic Ocean. The sand is fine and perfect for building sand castles and playing on the beach. There are no palms or other trees around to provide any shade so it might be advisable to bring your own parasol or tent for protection for very young ones. Jerome and Chris threw a bouncy water ball back and forth, while I watched them and the other people on the beach and in the sea.
We had a snack from our pack but were still hungry, so we decided to cycle on to Ocean Drive and go to Newscafe. Along the back of the beach was a wide path, which can be used by pedestrians and bikes. We cycled past roller scaters, people on Segways (I will never understand the fascinations for them), past groups of people playing beach volleyball and playgrounds. Soon enough we had left the residential highrise apartment buildings and reached the start of the hotel drag.
One side of Ocean Drive is lined with the famous iridescent art-deco buildings, all in varying ice-cream shades, some housing hotels, others restaurants and shops. The architecture of these hotels and buildings is what put Miami Beach on the tourist map in the 1930/40’s and tourists have been visiting ever since. Some of the famous art deco buildings are the Colony, Leslie, Carlyle and Cardozo Hotel. TV shows like Miami Vice and the movie Scarface were shot in the area and made South Beach famous worldwide. Everyone should spend some time, walking past these flamboyant buildings to see the details and colours close up, especially in the evening when the neon lights make is even more delightful. Children will love the candy coloured houses, they could be coming straight out of a fairy tale.
Newscafe has become a favourite spot for us for breakfast and lunch, with a variety of food options for children and adults alike. We like to sit outside on the terrace and play card games while watching the show offs driving past in their flashy cars, if you’re lucky you might spot a Cadillac or similar vintage car to go with the art deco architecture.
After lunch Jerome wanted to go back to our hotel to laze by the pool. We cycled back, parked out bikes in the car park of the hotel, where they provide a secured area for the bikes to be locked. We headed straight for the pool and secured three loungers right next to the pool. We ordered some cocktails, one of the pleasures when resting by the pool instead of lying on the beach. There were other children around, unfortunately all younger than Jerome but he still started to play in the water with one of them. They were diving for a ring and swimming back and forth. The water was a very pleasant temperature, almost too warm for my liking but therefore much easier to get in.
In the evening we went for dinner with friends at Oh Mexico, a Mexican on Espanola Way, a pedestrian street lined with many restaurants. The food was nothing special, but then having had the real thing on our trip to Mexico probably did not help. The Margeritas were generous and our friends were soon tipsy enough for a night out, while we went back to sleep at our hotel. For the next day we had planned a bike ride over to Wynwood and Little Haiti, which I will write about in my next post.