How to Spend One Day in the Miami South Beach Art Deco Historic District

Miami South Beach Art Deco Historic District Skyline
Miami South Beach Art Deco architecture is world famous. I had the chance to spend one day in Miami South Beach on a family visit to the Gulf Coast of Florida in February. I always say that a short trip is better than no trip at all so I definitely made the most of my time in the Miami South Beach Art Deco Historic District before my flight out of Miami Airport. It's easy to fill 24 hours in Miami South Beach with fun things to do and places to eat. Read on for my recommendations for a one day visit to South Florida.

Arrive in Miami South Beach at Night and Stay in an Art Deco Hotel

Statue wearing a sparkly blue jumpsuit at Hotel La Flora in the Miami South Beach Art Deco Historic District
When I say that I "did" the Miami South Beach Art Deco Historic District in a day, I really mean 24 hours. To truly experience Miami South Beach, you'll want to arrive at night. Check out the cool neon signage all around town. Stay in a classic Art Deco Hotel. I stayed at Hotel La Flora which was situated centrally on Collins Avenue in the heart of South Beach. The lobby featured a sparkly statue in a blue jumpsuit and Art Deco accents in the lobby including chrome chandeliers and a geometric mirror. The hotel really set the stage for my 24 hours in the Miami South Beach Art Deco Historic District.
Chandeliers and mirror at Hotel La Flora in the Miami South Beach Art Deco Historic District

Admire Art Deco Architecture on the Way to Breakfast at Shepherd Artisan Coffee

Art Deco Building in Miami South Beach with classic cars out front
Start the day with a light breakfast at Shepherd Artisan Coffee. An iced coffee and a bagel will hit the spot. Admire that awesome Miami South Beach Art Deco architecture on your walk to the cafe. You may even spot a classic car or two to add to the ambiance.

Take the Miami South Beach Art Deco Historic District Walking Tour

Essex House in the Miami South Beach Art Deco Historic District

Miami South Beach Art Deco Walking Tour Price and Logistics

The Miami Design Preservation League (MDPL) leads a daily Art Deco walking tour departing from Miami South Beach's Art Deco Welcome Center. Tickets cost $25 USD at the time of writing for a 90 minute guided tour.
The Art Deco Welcome Center in Miami South Beach

Meet Joel, our Knowledgeable Guide

Our tour guide, Joel, was incredibly knowledgeable. In fact, his collection of Art Deco televisions are on display at the Art Deco Museum in Miami South Beach. Joel retired to Miami from Brooklyn, New York and was a fount of information about South Beach, its history, and its evolving architectural style.
Congress Hotel in the Miami South Beach Art Deco Historic District
We quickly learned how some of the original Art Deco buildings were meant to be cheap and cheerful accommodation for visiting servicemen on holiday. Joel told us that the most characteristic element of the Art Deco style in Miami South Beach was "eyebrows" above the windows to offer shade. In the era when many of these buildings were erected, there was no air-conditioning to combat that South Florida heat.

What is the Art Deco style, really?

La Baguette an example of the Miami Modern (MiMo) architectural style in the Miami South Beach Art Deco Historic District
Art Deco actually describes a variety of architectural styles and the term Art Deco was not in use when the buildings were originally created. The styles include: Mediterranean Revival (1920-1935), Tropical Art Deco (1934-1950), Streamline Art Deco (1936-1950), Nautical Art Deco (1936-1950), and MiMo (Miami Modern, 1950-1965). The building above (now housing La Baguette) is an example of the MiMo style.

Barbara Baer Capitman

Neon sign and yellow umbrellas at the Carlyle in the Miami South Beach Art Deco Historic District
Cardozo sign in the Miami South Beach Art Deco Historic District
For a time, Miami South Beach fell into decline. Barbara Baer Capitman is credited with saving Miami South Beach's Art Deco heritage architecture and turning things around. She bought some prominent buildings along the waterfront and turned them into mixed use bars and hotels. She showed that the enterprises could be profitable and enticed others to invest.
Bust of Barbara Baer Capitman in the Miami South Beach Art Deco Historic District

A Stylish Turnaround Thanks to Versace and Miami Vice

After years of decline, Miami South Beach eventually achieved a cool resurgence. Miami Vice hit TV screens across the U.S. in the 1980s, airing from 1984 - 1990. Joel told us that Miami Vice had one of the highest costs to produce of any TV show in history but the sleek image that the show served up, thanks in part to designers like Versace, influenced what the region has become today. Did you know that Miami Vice had a color scheme and that color scheme is now prevalent all around South Beach? Bleached whites, pinks, peaches, and yellows feel right at home in the Miami South Beach Art Deco Historic District.
Miami South Beach Art Deco Historic District skyline

Modern Miami South Beach Architecture: Compatible But Not A Copy

Renovated Art Deco Building, The Fairwind, in the Miami South Beach Art Deco Historic District
Today, there are rules that govern what can and can't be built in Miami South Beach. The guiding principle is "compatible but not a copy". Any new buildings in the Miami South Beach Art Deco Historic District must blend in with the period originals but should not replicate the historic buildings. In this way, the architecture blends and evolves toward the future. I found this principle fascinating.

Cuban Lunch in South Beach at Puerto Sagua

Chicken and plantains meal with sangria at Puerto Sagua in Miami South Beach
I recommend trying Cuban food for lunch. There are plenty of great Cuban places to eat in Miami South Beach often run by Cuban immigrations or their descendents. I opted to try Puerto Sagua, an unassuming family-owned placed tucked away at the far end of Collins Ave. I love plantains and so ordered up roast chicken with maduras (sweet plantains) and rice. I also couldn't resist ordering a side of tostones (savory plantains that taste a bit like potatoes) washed down with a glass of sangria. Definitely go hungry.

Check out the Funky Lifeguard Stations along the Miami South Beach Promenade

Yellow and white tiled lifeguard station on Miami South Beach
After lunch, walk off your meal on the Miami South Beach Promenade. I particularly loved the funky lifeguard stations along the water. They were definitely on-theme for the Miami South Beach Art Deco Historic District!
Geometric red and orange lifeguard station on Miami South Beach

Cuban Dinner at Havana 1957 on Española Way

Plantain chips and sangria from Havana 1957 on Española Way in Miami South Beach
Finish your one day in Miami South Beach with dinner on Española Way. Española Way runs for a full block and is pedestrian-only. Browse restaurants serving cuisine from all over the world. I absolutely love Cuban food so decided to do a reprise over dinner. I had a small meal of appetizers, fried plantains, and sangria at the bar at Havana 1957. Española Way is really popular. Expect to wait for a table at the more popular restaurants. Havana 1957 had a long wait but I was able to short circuit most of it by agreeing to sit at the bar.

Map of Points of Interest in the Miami South Beach Art Deco Historic District

I hope you've enjoyed this 24 hour tour of Miami South Beach. Whether you are an architecture buff, a foodie, or a beach person, there is something for everyone on a short trip to Miami.

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Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog: How to Spend One Day in the Miami South Beach Art Deco Historic District
How to Spend One Day in the Miami South Beach Art Deco Historic District
Read recommendations for how to spend one day in the Miami South Beach Art Deco Historic District in South Florida. Get inspiration for things to do and places to eat if you have 24 hours in Miami South Beach.
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