No matter what the weather, a sunny sense of heady optimism always seems to pervade this sprawling oceanfront city, famed for its party vibe and pastel-hued art deco architecture. Locals exude a determinedly laid-back levity as dynamic regeneration continues apace — and not just around South Beach. Downtown, in Brickell, new hotels, celebrity-chef restaurants and bars are booming, while a gleaming new mall blossoms with big brands opening stores to rival the affluent Bal Harbour neighbourhood. Edgy dive bars and affordable walking tours are on trend in Wynwood and Little Havana, but elsewhere, as with any great city, there’s a price to pay. Expect cocktails in double figures, buffet breakfasts to inch into the $50 (£36) mark, and mandatory resort fees at beachfront properties to add $40 (£29) to your daily bill — and that’s before you get anywhere near a sunbed or umbrella. Yes, you’ll probably burn a hole in your pocket and wake up with a hangover, but stay in one of the city’s new lifestyle hotels and you can recover with spirulina shots, bootcamp beach yoga or order in some rehydrating vitamin IV therapy. Only in Miami…
For natural highs
Expect a gut-busting workout at this eco oasis that probably boasts the best gym you’ll encounter in a hotel. Linked to the popular worldwide Spartan obstacle endurance race series, the free HIIT-style classes here are so intense you’ll be in danger of losing your expensive breakfast. Don’t eat first; instead recover in the adjacent cafe with a plant-based smoothie and spirulina shot, or head to the luxurious Bamford Spa. Check out one of the many ground-level pools, or the adults-only rooftop pool. Everywhere you look, there are clever eco ideas: a tap in your suite supplies treated drinking water, room keys are made from recycled wood, while the lobby has a mural made from moss.
ROOMS: Doubles from $399 (£286), room only.
For beats and bowling
The Miami Beach Edition
A basement bowling alley and ice rink may sound a little last season, but this Ian Schrager hotel cannily caters for both the catwalk crowd and families (sensibly offering separate pools for each). Acres of polished marble floor and sleek white walls gleam, and rooms are so unremarkably minimalist they almost induce a state of sleep. Many are beachfront but sadly lack a balcony. Drown your sorrows at the cool Matador Room bar or head to the beach where there’s complimentary beachfront yoga, Pilates and boxing. And when the sun sets, there’s no need to venture far for evening entertainment — there’s a nightclub in the basement.
ROOMS: Doubles from $429 (£308), room only.
For fine dining
Not a single dish disappoints at this world-renowned Japanese restaurant. Signature dishes — black cod with miso and rock shrimp tempura — remain, but new additions (tai butter lettuce and tenderloin yuzu truffle) take things to another level. Outside, there’s a new farm-to-table Californian restaurant and pool, but be aware: most facilities are shared with the adjacent 418-room Eden Roc Resort Hotel.
ROOMS: Doubles from $540 (£403), room only.
For alternative views
Housed in Florida’s tallest building, this Four Seasons lies in the shadow of its glamorous sister, Surfside, north of South Beach near Bal Harbour. Spacious rooms have vertiginous views of Biscayne Bay, while on the ground, you’re a stone’s throw from Miami’s most happening galleries — it’s an easy walk to the contemporary Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM). Work up an appetite for the must-eat Sunday brunch serving never-ending cocktails and slow-cooked suckling pig.
ROOMS: Doubles from $359 (£257), room only. No resort fee.
For downtown food & fun
Yes, it’s a short drive from Miami’s famous beaches, but this hotel, perched on a private island overlooking Biscayne Bay, is a stone’s throw from Miami’s version of Wall Street: the happening ’hood that’s Brickell, complete with a new shopping mall, plus countless bars and celebrity-chef restaurants. Check into one of its elegant and spacious rooms, and make sure you book a table at its fun Peruvian restaurant, La Mar by Gaston Acurio, with a casual waterfront setting and seafood focus: expect spicy dishes and potent Peruvian cocktails. If you’re still standing, move on for a sundowner at YAKU, the chic outdoor bar where DJs spin tunes as locals jog past on the city’s new running route, after a late stint in the office.
ROOMS: $259 (£186), room only. No resort fee.
COMO Metropolitan Miami Beach
There’s an intimate, peaceful vibe to this art deco boutique hotel in City Center, where staff go the extra mile to make you feel welcome. With only 74 rooms, the small pool is serene, and the bar is rarely busy, the solicitous mixologists on standby to explain every one of the 30 artisanal gins. Sadly, most rooms lack balconies, the gym has barely enough space to swing a kettlebell, and the hydro pool on the roof needs some TLC, but the spa therapists are excellent and it’s just a few steps from Miami Beach. Perfect for couples who want a little peace and quiet, COMO also offers superb two-centre deals with its Caribbean sister property on nearby Turks and Caicos.
ROOMS: From $356 (£256), room only.
For art deco elegance
The National Hotel
This art deco hotel is all about vintage glamour and understated elegance. It’s crammed with original features from polished chrome light fixtures to terrazzo floors, walnut furniture and shimmering glass chandeliers. Go for the basil-infused Champagne mojitos at the Blues piano bar (Thursdays-Sundays), with live music that spans the genres from Frank Sinatra to Ed Sheeran. One block from Lincoln Road, and close to South Beach’s most popular bars and restaurants, rooms here are snug but elegant. Splash out on a premium cabana suite with a balcony overlooking Miami’s longest pool.
ROOMS: From $239 (£172), room only.
For affordable apartments
El Paseo Hotel
This recent hotel addition is a Bohemian gem but lacks a pool and restaurant. Step outside, though, and there are plenty of places to eat, and it’s just two blocks south of the shops on Lincoln Road. The 68 spacious rooms are spread through several ‘villas’. Some suites have cathedral ceilings and Juliet balconies while the apartments have full kitchens. Two blocks away, the beach offers loungers and towels in a section reserved for guests from El Paseo.
ROOMS: From $139 (£100); two-bed apartment from $259 (£186), room only.
For retro vibes
1950s motels traditionally offered affordable, drive-in lodging and this retro throwback does just that. The distinctive neon motel sign celebrates its status on the National Register of Historic Places, and the pool has the original mosaic mermaid on the bottom. Watch the goings on from one of 46 rooms restored with terrazzo floors and custom-made retro furniture. It’s a commute if you want to go to the beach or Downtown, but both parking and breakfast are free.
ROOMS: From $179 (£129), including breakfast. No resort fee.
For hip hostel rooms
The Broken Shaker bar is the focal point of this hip hostel where you can book a bunk bed in dorm-like rooms for barely more than the average cost of two cocktails. Housed in a 1930s art deco building not far from the beach, its mixologists are rated among some of the best in America. Overall, there’s a good communal atmosphere but if you don’t fancy a bunk bed, you can book private double rooms, too.
ROOMS: From $30 (£22) for a bed in an eight-person dorm, to $150 (£108) for a double room, including breakfast.
Published in the April 2018 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)