Miami Beach has seen plenty of waves, not just in the ocean but among its people: real-estate speculators and Rockefellers, Jews and Cubans, straights and gays, humble retirees and celebrities.
And today the city, especially the southernmost 25 blocks known as South Beach, bears traces of them all. Here, rich and poor and everyone in between exist side by side. It’s a city with low-cost housing and $40-million mansions, and locals are proud of it all.
The result is that in South Beach, you feel like you’re in a city, not an enclave; this effect is helped by the beach, 11 kilometres of public white sand that invites everyone to go out on foot, wander and mix it up. The pedestrian ethos carries through Lincoln Road, the area’s shopping hub and one of the world’s great pedestrian malls, recently made greater by a magnificent parkade – one of several that have become centrepieces in this singular town.
Parking with style
South Beachers have turned the fact that builders can't dig deep here – before 1913, Miami Beach was still a sandbar cut off by water – into architectural gold. This parking garage-slash-retail-and-residential building is by Herzog & de Meuron, the Pritzker Prize-winning Swiss architects behind the Tate Modern and the “Bird's Nest” Olympic stadium in Beijing (as well as a new Miami Art Museum expansion in the works right now). “The strength of our buildings,” Jacques Herzog has said, “is the immediate, visceral impact they have on a visitor.” And the impact of this eight-level concrete accordion, no two levels the same height, with sharp angles everywhere, is considerable: Just because a building is raw doesn't mean it can't also be gorgeous. Climb up the stairs, ignore the fact they've stuck on the big pink number for Level 3 upside down, and you'll get some of the best views of the Beach and the harbour, too. 1111 Lincoln Rd.; www.1111lincolnroad.com
The shoe fits
The owners of Tuccia di Capri, a small boutique just off Lincoln Road, went to Capri to study sandal-making before opening this beachy cobbler's shop. All sandals are made top to bottom in the small space, at a small table in the front of the shop piled with cobbling tools. With wooden soles brought in from Naples, Italy, three full-time cobblers (including Darya, a proud Maritimer) will customize your sandal with any configuration of strap, jewel or other accessory you like. Though the idea has tourist trap written all over it, the shop itself couldn't be more straightforward and authentic, a trade shop for people who prefer something a little more permanent than flip-flops. And nothing in the place costs more than about $300. 1630 Pennsylvania Ave.; 305-534-5865; tucciadicapri.com
New to Lincoln Road, the British clothing store All Saints Spitalfields has already become a destination. Some shoppers probably like the clothes, slightly distressed and best suited to self-conscious hipsters. But it’s the Texas-meets-Industrial Revolution decor that draws people in: There are at least as many people with cameras out as wallets, looking at the hundreds of vintage sewing machines displayed floor to ceiling, or the steer skulls covering the wall behind the cashier. Designed by the brand’s own team based in east London, this is a shop that fits well into this design-intensive city. 910 Lincoln Rd.; 786-517-8180; www.us.allsaints.com
The 11th Street Diner was moved here in 1992 from its original home in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., but there are few enough of these genuine aluminum dining cars left (this one was built by Paramount Dining Car Company of Haledon, N.J.) that they’re a treat wherever you find them. And the fact that this one fits into its neighbourhood, not coming across as a kitschy condescension to working-class dining but as a genuine example of it, seals it as a stop on any fun South Beach stay. 1065 Washington Ave.; 305-534-6373; www.eleventhstreetdiner.com.
Cuban delicacies Open 24 hours, David’s II – a Cuban counter diner with a dining room attached for fancy folks – is nearly perfect. Prices are about $2 higher than they should be (a reflection of the hot location), but the food’s real and good. The roast pork chunks achieve the precise balance of pig, cooking oil and fat that has made the meat the anchor of Cuban cuisine. For the best David’s experience, though, stop by the coffee and empanada window at 6 a.m. and have a cortadito (a small espresso with steamed milk and, unless you ask for it sin azucar, lots and lots of sugar) alongside some Cubans. 1654 Meridian Ave.; 305-672-8707; davidscafe.com.
The art of salesmanship
Romero Britto, the art world’s greatest gift to merchandising since Keith Haring, is the perfect Miami artist and he knows it; in 1993, he opened this permanent gallery of his shameless, colourful appropriations of Disney, Leonardo da Vinci and everyone in between right in the middle of the Lincoln Road mall. Brazilian by birth but South Beach in every other conceivable way, Britto has sculptural installations around the city (including one in Emeril Lagasse’s restaurant at the newly renovated Loews Hotel). In any other city, they’d seem silly, and possibly crass. In South Beach, they’re virtual mascots. 818 Lincoln Rd.; 305-531-8821; www.britto.com
A sober moment
The first time you see the truly powerful Holocaust Memorial Miami Beach, the contrast between the bleached bright sun and the gruesome dankness of Kenneth Treister’s sculpture is shocking. A massive bronze hand rises out of a pink Jerusalem stone with dying figures in poses of Dante-esque horror reaching out from the forearm. Surrounding it are emaciated, dying and dead figures from the camps. There’s no serenity; just anguish, terror and death. This is by far the most affecting monument on the continent. 1933 Meridian Ave.; 305-538-1663; holocaustmmb.org.
Special to The Globe and Mail