A July 2004 trip
to Miami by Adventures With Adam
Quote: This journal represents several weekend trips I made to Miami in recent years.
Hotel | "Tudor Hotel"
I found the Tudor's service level lacking. I tried to check in at 11am. My room wasn't ready, so the sullen desk clerk processed my paperwork and told me I could I leave my bags at the desk and return at 3pm. She then radioed the bell captain to take my luggage. After I waited 15 minutes for the no-show bellhop, she finally took the bags herself, something she could have easily done 15 minutes earlier. I went out to the beach, then to Lincoln Road and returned to the hotel at the prescribed time. Not surprisingly, the room wasn't ready. After a few more radio calls and another 20 minutes, I could finally settle in.
My room was more than adequate. It featured a comfortable queen bed; a tiled floor (feels nice and cool after walking on hot sand); a kitchenette on one wall with sink, microwave and mini-fridge (useful for storing cold beer); a decent tv; and a modern bathroom. The room overlooked a bland courtyard, so don't come here for the view. I later discovered that the rooms are individually owned, condo style, and that not all of them have the same level of quality or upkeep; I felt lucky that I got what I got.
The night clerk later redeemed the service quotient by arranging an early morning taxi to the airport, leaving me with a better feeling than when I checked in. I paid $65 for the night plus the Priceline fee plus taxes plus another two bucks for having a safe in the room. (The hotel collects this money whether you use the safe or not.) All told, it came to around $80, not quite a steal, but not bad either--I think the usual rate was around $140 in high season. While nothing special, the Tudor is an adequate tourist class hotel, and if you're not careful, you could do much worst staying in the same area.
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on March 4, 2005
Tudor Hotel & Suites
1111 Collins Avenue
Miami, Florida 33139
Attraction | "Kayaking Biscayne National Park"
Our first stop was the visitors center, where we rented kayaks from the park's licensed concessionaire for $16/hour. (They also had canoes available for about half the price, but I prefer the stability of a sea kayak.) We then spoke with a park ranger, who gave us a map and showed us a route to explore. She also pointed out the haunts of a manatee and crocodile that lived in the area. With the information in hand, we grabbed our paddles and life jackets and hit the water.
We were warned that it sometimes gets choppy, but Biscayne Bay was smooth that day. A string of barrier islands a few miles out keeps it from being open water, so you won't encounter any big waves out here. The barrier islands are a long paddle away, so we just headed for a couple of nearby islands that the ranger had suggested. The bay was never too deep; at most points, I could see the bottom (and schools of small fish swimming around).
After circling the islands a couple of times, we headed toward the mangroves that line the coast and paddled north. The feeling that we were removed from civilization disappeared with the vision of the Miami skyline in the distance, so we decided to turn around. On the way back, we turned into one of the narrow drainage canals that feed into the bay. Now we felt that we were visiting a different world: the Everglades. A mangrove canopy covered us, and we imagined that at any turn that crocodile might pop up or a snake might drop from above. We turned around when the canal narrowed uncomfortably and headed back to the bay and visitors center.
Two hours was about right to leisurely explore the islands, canals and mangroves. We never saw the manatee or crocodile, but a pelican watched over us while we circled the small islands.
If you go, wear a bathing suit and footwear that you don't mind getting wet. Also bring sunscreen and a hat; you'll be getting plenty of reflected rays off the water. Insect repellent is recommended for the buggy summer months. The visitor center sells disposable waterproof cameras, which come in very handy if you're tossing the camera back and forth between kayaks. (It floats!) The concessionaire also offers snorkeling trips out to the park's coral reef.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on March 4, 2005
Biscayne National Park
9700 SW 328th Street
Homestead, Florida 33030
Attraction | "Daytrip to Fort Lauderdale"
The beach itself is pleasant: clean, palm-lined, attractive. It's much narrower than Miami's (especially apparent at high tide) and closer to the road, so there's more traffic noise. The aesthetically pleasing walkway along the beach is nicely paved with brick, and a curving whitewashed wall separates it from the sand. However, a constant offshore stream of bulky cargo ships pulling into nearby Port Everglades mars the ocean view--the cruise ships sailing in and out of Miami's harbor seem much more romantic. The beach is guarded and offers showers but no public restrooms. You'll have to insinuate your way into one of the bars, malls, or hotels across the street to use their facilities.
Bike lanes along Highway A1A (which fronts the beach) make Fort Lauderdale a decent place for cycling. You can cycle almost the entire length of the beach, then turn up Las Olas Boulevard where the lanes continue. Lauderdale is often referred to as America's Venice because of the Intercoastal Waterway and a large network of drainage canals that crisscross the city. This becomes apparent while biking along Las Olas, which leads downtown. You may even have to stop at one of the canals while its drawbridge rises, allowing tall boats to pass through. At the boulevard's end is the Riverwalk, a large arts, dining, entertainment and shopping complex perched on the banks of the New River. It's a suitable place to stop for lunch or just enjoy the park along the river.
I enjoyed dinner in Fort Lauderdale at Thai on the Beach, located at 901 N. Ft. Lauderdale Blvd. (A1A), a block south of Sunrise Blvd. This second-story restaurant offers a very tasty red curry chicken dish (my litmus test for Thai cuisine) and wonderful views of the Atlantic. Ask for a window table.
Personally, I prefer Miami's international flavor to the bland mall-sprawl of Lauderdale. Miami's architecture is older and more interesting; it's people are more cosmopolitan. Yet I have many friends who swear by Fort Lauderdale. They feel more comfortable in its North American atmosphere than the Pan American ambiance of Miami. Take your pick: both have terrific beaches, and that's what you came to South Florida for.
Fort Lauderdale Daytrip
Attraction | "The Miami Beach Holocaust Memorial"
While the statue is the memorial's centerpiece, the site certainly holds more to investigate. Around the back side of the large hand stands a semicircular black granite wall covered with a wooden arbor. Using maps and photos etched into the stone, the black granite panels tell the whole, heartbreaking story of the World War II Holocaust, when six million Jews were killed throughout Europe. Kristallnacht, the public humiliations, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the Nazi death camps and crematoriums are all represented. It's a story so sad that even the liberation seems a somber event.
Halfway along the wall, you are directed away from the arbor into a tunnel that gets smaller as you walk through, creating a claustrophobic sensation of collapsing space. Then the passage opens up into the sunlight, where you can get a close-up view of the statue. Upon closer inspection, you can now see the letters and numbers inscribed on the giant forearm, representing the tattoos worn by concentration camp inmates. Each of the horrific figures ascending the arm seems to have a story to tell--some rising, some falling, some helping others, some trampled by others.
After returning through the tunnel, you can continue along the black granite wall, which beyond that point is etched with the names of thousands of Holocaust victims. It's a spot for quiet contemplation and meditation, which seems out of place in a party town like South Beach. You probably wouldn't want to visit here after kicking back a few mojitos at afternoon happy hour; but if you come upon it during the morning, as we did, it could be a powerful experience. The memorial is open daily from 9am to 9pm, and admission is free.
Holocaust Memorial Miami Beach
1933-1945 Meridian Avenue
Miami Beach, Florida 33139
+1 305 538 1663
Attraction | "The Wolfsonian"
The Wolfsonian usually offers three floors of exhibits: two levels of temporary exhibitions and one for its permanent collection, which features design items from the late 1880s to about 1950. After paying your $5 admission, walk toward the back of the lobby to admire the fountain framed by the ornate gilded piece, which was once the window grill to a movie theater in Pennsylvania. Around the corner you'll find the elevator. It's most efficient to start your tour on the top floor and then work your way down.
During my visit, The Wolfsonian was exhibiting a series of prints that illustrated the rise of Japan as a modern world power in the 1920s and 1930s. It also had a fascinating show of WWII propaganda posters from all sides -- American, German, British, Japanese, Italian, French, and Russian. In fact, I liked this exhibit so much, I walked through twice. Exhibitions change every few months, so consult the website (www.wolfsonian.fiu.edu) for information on the latest shows.
The second floor houses items from the Wolfsonian's permanent design collection, which focuses on Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles. All manner of beautifully designed items are displayed here: furniture, board games, radios, and clocks. It's amazing how cool something as mundane as an iron can look when someone puts some thought into it. The permanent collection also features world's fair memorabilia from the 1930s and posters from the early days of commercial aviation.
The Wolfsonian, located at 1001 Washington Ave., is easy walking distance to any of the South Beach hotels. Hours are limited and vary seasonally. Check the website for current information. Allow about 90 minutes for your visit -- maybe the rain will have stopped by the time you walk out.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 4, 2005
1001 Washington Ave
Miami Beach, Florida 33139
+1 305 531 1001
Attraction | "Lincoln Road Pedestrian Mall"
The area was rundown back in the 1980s, but art galleries and cafés led a renaissance in the ‘90s. Now that the real estate has skyrocketed in value, some of the smaller, more interesting storefronts have disappeared, but Lincoln Road retains much of its charm.
Here are some highlights:
On the Alton Road end of the strip stands an 18-screen movie multiplex that shows a nice mix of Hollywood blockbusters and art-house films. It'll give you something to do on a rainy afternoon or an evening when you seek air-conditioning.
The fine arts are also represented on Lincoln Road. Miami's acclaimed New World Symphony (under the direction of Michael Tilson Thomas), as well as visiting classical artists, play at the Lincoln Theater. Miami City Ballet used to have a rehearsal space nearby, where you could watch them plie and jette through the large front window, but they moved to more affordable digs at Liberty Avenue and 22 Street. (You can still watch them rehearse at the new address.)
A personal favorite attraction on the strip is the Art Center South Florida, which is both a gallery and a working artist's space. You can watch local artists crafting their works and converse with them about their paintings and sculptures. Look for its curving edifice and blue neon sign at 800 Lincoln Rd.
One of the more interesting cocktail lounges you'll find anywhere is Laundry Bar. It's both a bar and a working Laundromat, so bring your dirty clothes and your dirty habits. Laundry Bar (actually on Lincoln Lane, parallel to Lincoln Road on the north side) attracts a decided mixed crowd: Anglo/Latino, men/women, and straight/gay. Down the block is Idol's Gym, where you can get in a workout for $10. The workout space is nice, though the locker room is a bit shoddy.
Like any popular public area, Lincoln Road is full of street acts (the human statue, the disco skater) and local crazies. (Beware the middle-aged Colombian woman who begins conversations with, "Are you going to hit me?") Spend a little time observing the tops of the palms that line the strip; you'll notice a slew of green and red parrots nesting up there. (You can't miss hearing them.) I'm told that these are the progeny of birds that escaped from the mainland tourist attraction Parrot Jungle after Hurricane Andrew hit in the ‘90s.
Lincoln Road (between 16 and 17 Streets) is within walking distance of most South Beach hotels. If driving there, you might be lucky enough to find metered street parking on Jefferson, Pennsylvania, or Meridian Avenues, but it's more convenient to pull into the nearby Convention Center lot for about $5.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on March 4, 2005
Lincoln Road Mall
Lincoln Road at 16th Street
Miami, Florida 33139
The ocean stays warm almost year-round, although an offshore storm could bring in some cooler water. The water remains shallow fairly far out, giving it a gorgeous aqua hue on a sunny day. However, if you venture too far, a lifeguard will certainly whistle you back in towards the shore. The colorful lifeguard stands also post warnings about potential hazards, like man-o-wars, rough water from tropical storms, and shark sightings. Also, South Beach is frequented by Europeans who are less inhibited about being topless than their American counterparts, so beware if you come with the family.
Farther from the ocean, the sand is hard packed, which makes a nice surface for jogging or even bike riding. Showers are available at every block, but restrooms are spaced a bit farther apart. Lummus Park provides a narrow green barrier between the beach and Ocean Drive. A short coral and concrete wall separates the grass and palms from the sand, and a serpentine path winds through the length of the park. Bikers, bladers, joggers, and pedestrians all peacefully coexist on the path during the busy weekends. Along the way are sand volleyball courts and a primitive outdoor gym (no weights, just some bars for doing pull-ups and such).
Ocean Drive parallels the beach up to about Lincoln Road. Here you'll find plenty of bars and restaurants to refresh yourself after a few hours in the hot Florida sun. I find the News Cafe (at 8th Street) fairly reliable for breakfast. The Palace (at 12th Street) is also nice for breakfast or lunch and features weekend happy-hour drag shows. Be careful if walking by: the drag queens there have been known to pull innocent passers-by into their act.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on March 6, 2005
El Rancho Grande offers a few outdoor tables, but I prefer the large, colorful dining room. The orange walls and brightly painted chairs create a fiesta atmosphere, which is augmented by the generously sized margaritas. On my first visit, I ordered the Plato Mexicano, a large sampling plate of various menu items ($13). Everything was good, but the chicken mole poblano was exceptional--"We make the mole with 16 spices and it takes a day to cook," our waiter told us. So on my next visit, I didn't even look at the menu; I went straight for the chicken mole ($11). The entrance is actually just off Lincoln Road on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Next Cafe is arguably the most popular eating spot on Lincoln Road. It has a large outdoor seating area as well as some indoor tables. The massive menu lists a dizzying variety of sandwiches, salads, pastas, entrees, appetizers and desserts. The portions are huge (just look at all those large bowls and dishes being passed around at neighboring tables), so come here hungry. My favorite item is the Navajo Chicken Sandwich (around $10), which features sliced grilled chicken, avocado and various vegetables stuffed inside Indian fry bread. It comes with french fries, but they will substitute a green salad if you ask. Service here can be hit or miss as the servers tend to disappear into the kitchen for a long time, far from your outdoor table. Make sure you have everything you need when your food is served, or you might never see that bottle of ketchup, extra dressing, or glass of water you desire.
Blue-and-white-colored Spris (pronounced Spree) is notable for its tasty brick-oven pizzas which come with a variety of gourmet toppings. I enjoyed the chicken pizza. Often, chicken tends to dry out in a pizza oven, but Spris kept it nice and moist. It's sister restaurant is the nearby Tiramisu, so this is a good place to order the eponymous dessert. Pizzas range from around $8-13, and if you want something else, Spris also offers pasta and other entrees. The outdoor tables are nicely situated for people watching.
Lincoln Road Cafe offers both indoor and outdoor seating. The clean, fresh, simple Cuban cuisine is undisturbed by heavy sauces or spicing, allowing the flavors of the basic ingredients to come through. I liked my grilled chicken, which came with a hearty side portion of rice and black beans. We also enjoyed the repartee with our Colombian waitress, matching her broken English with our equally limited Spanish. Prices here are very reasonable, with many entrees under $10.
Adventures With Adam
New York, New York