The thought of Miami may conjure up images of all night parties and crowded beaches, but if you really educate yourself about Miami you will find a city that is world class from its hotels to its cuisine to its art and architecture.
In the late 1800s people began traveling to Miami because of beautiful resorts like the Royal Palm Hotel which opened its doors in 1897 and was five stories tall with a sixth-floor salon. The Royal Palm Hotel featured the city’s first electric lights, elevators, and swimming pool. The original Royal Palm may no longer be standing, but it is superseded today by lavish properties like the Mandarin Oriental Miami located on Brickell Key. Secluded on its own little island away from ‘party central’, the Mandarin Oriental gives you the ultimate in relaxation.
From the moment you step inside the doors you are treated like a special guest they have been eagerly expecting. Our room was spacious and luxurious including a balcony with expanding views of Biscayne Bay and downtown Miami. The Mandarin Oriental also boasts a gorgeous pool with poolside service and beachside service at its own private beach. The beach is small but perfect for those looking to avoid crowds and truly get away from it all. Soak up the sun, sip on a fresh smoothie, and enjoy watching the beautiful boats leaving and returning to Biscayne Bay. Go for a walk or run around the island on its waterfront jogging path and discover the beautiful condos and cafes that also call Brickell Key home. You will also get a glimpse of Mark Cuban’s enormous yacht, Fountainhead, parked across the water at the Epic. For further health and relaxation make an appointment at the hotel’s spa. Spread over three floors and enjoying an idyllic waterfront setting, the Spa at Mandarin Oriental, Miami offers an indulgent environment in which to enjoy holistic therapies and treatments and is consistently ranked among the best spas in the world. If you want to achieve a sense of seclusion amongst the bustling city of Miami, the Mandarin Oriental Miami is your retreat.
But relaxation and luxury are not the only reasons to choose the Mandarin, there’s also the food. If I had two words to describe the Peruvian inspired restaurant La Mar by Gaston Acurio, they would be ‘world class’. I thought I had already experienced the best meal of my life, that is until I ate at La Mar by Gaston Acurio and experienced a meal prepared by Executive Chef Diego Oka. From the first course of the cebiche sampler which was made to order combining leche de tigre with fresh catches like yellow snapper, octopus, shrimp, and tuna – your taste buds are in heaven. It was at that moment my friend looked at me and said, “This is the best thing I’ve ever put in my mouth.” And that was merely the beginning of the meal. The next course of Causas, which are whipped Peruvian potatoes combined with various flavors like octopus and olives or crab, beets, and kale, were one of the most unique foods I’ve eaten. These tiny bites are served in a Peruvian style boat, they are smooth in texture but their flavors burst in your mouth. Next on our plates the Plancha Anticuchera, grilled octopus and calamari in a chimichurri and panca pepper sauce, similar to a barbecue flavor. It was at this point our stomachs were beyond delighted and we thought we had experienced the best, when out came the most beautiful culinary display I could imagine, the Whole Fish Nikei.
In a perfectly fried U-shape, the catch of the day is displayed with the flash fried pieces toppled around the middle of the fish – mesmerizing and delicious. At this point we were in a state of euphoria, convinced it was simply time to retire to the room, but I am so glad we didn’t. Our waiter insisted we try sample portions of the El Chocolate Y La Lucuma and the Los Alfajores, these last small bites were the perfect ending to an unforgettable meal. This restaurant shouldn’t just be a stop on your Miami itinerary, it should be a reason to travel to Miami.
If you are a South Beach loyalist, you may come up with excuses of why the Mandarin Oriental doesn’t work for you and yes, although Miami is spread out there is Uber. In Miami Uber works and it works exceptionally well. Every driver we had was fantastic, friendly, and Uber was simply a great way for them to make a second income. If you haven’t tried Uber yet, it is pretty amazing. You set it all up on your phone, when you schedule a pick up you can see a map and the car coming to pick you up, and the driver calls you within moments. The fee is pre-set and typically half the price of a cab and since payment is set up on your phone you never even have to pull out your wallet. It was perfect for us because we needed to be in South Beach but wanted to visit other parts of Miami as well.
Miami is a great place to enjoy hobbies, if you love boats there’s the Miami International Boat Show, if you love food there’s the South Beach Wine and Food Festival, if you love art there’s Art Basel the world renowned modern art festival, or if you love antiques and estate jewelry there’s the Original Miami Beach Antique Show. Imagine row after row of beautiful furniture with wood inlays, antique oushak and heriz rugs, jaw dropping jewelry, and even a booth full of the most unique Hermes Birkin bags in pristine condition. (There’s also some oddities like a vampire killing set.) I loved every second of it – discovering these unique finds and the negotiating.
If you have a love for jewelry or antiques, this show is a must see. If your interests lie elsewhere, I guarantee Miami has a ‘show’ for that too and a great reason to start planning your South Florida trip.
Art lover or not, another stop on your Miami itinerary, Wynwood Walls in the Wynwood Arts District. Beautiful, colorful, funky murals cover entire walls. It is something for your eyes to behold and it costs nothing to see, just wear comfortable shoes to explore in and bring your camera because you will want to take pictures. Stop by Frangipani Design Store – it echoes the artistic, sustainable culture of the area and has really cool finds.
You may also want to eat at Wynwood Kitchen And Bar while you are in the area, the restaurant features Latin-inspired cuisine and a floor-to-ceiling wallpapered mural by famed street artist Shepard Fairey in the bar area.
Miami’s Art Deco District in South Beach is an iconic part of the city and an architect’s paradise. A drive or walk around these cool buildings in South Beach is a must do.
Other restaurants to experience during your Miami trip:
Cantina la Veinte – A waterfront restaurant starring Mexico City executive chef Santiago Gomez with outdoor seating, an open kitchen, and a deli serving sandwiches, wines, cheeses, and more. We stopped by for brunch and had a Zero fat Omelette – a beautiful mound of puffy egg whites with spinach shallots and tomatoe served in a ramekin.
Cecconi’s Miami Beach – One of the best Italian meals you will find in the U.S. and the tree-lit ambiance created by the al fresco setting under the stars will make you feel like you are in Capri. Housed in Soho Beach House, another one of my favorite hotels in Miami.
Joe’s Stone Crab – This icon needs no introduction. Stone Crab season runs from October-May and for the best stone crab claws, this is the place. No reservations needed but be prepared to wait in line.
The Forge Restaurant And Wine Bar – A place with a legacy of excellent service, delicious food, and a sophisticated atmosphere. Enjoy wonderful seafood and listen to talented musicians.
Bars to experience:
Rose Bar at Delano – The Rose Bar plays host to Miami’s hippest crowd. It is dramatically beautiful from the towering white linen drapes swaying in the ocean breeze to the sultry marble and mirrored bar.
Skybar at Shore Club – It’s lantern-lit lush patio is lively and romantic and the Red Room is full of energy and the place for dancing.
LIV at Fontainebleau – The legendary Fontainebleau Miami Beach is “the” resort where James Bond and Goldfinger played a game of gin rummy, where Frank and The Rat Pack played and where Elvis was really “in the building”. For the more energetic late night crowd this nightspot fuses the appeal of an exclusive lounge and a high-energy nightclub. Within over 18,000 square feet of striking architectural design and lavish decor, DJs spin everything from rock to hip hop. Also at the Fontainebleau The Bleau Bar and The Glow Bar.
Now that you are a Miami insider what are you waiting for? Miami is a short plane flight from all points South and a destination that will entice you to return regularly.
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