South of Fifth: Miami Beach’s Best Kept Secret

balcony-a.jpgMiami Beach development continues at a fast pace, but while the heart of South Beach is preserved in all of its Art Deco elegance, other distinct areas of interest are evolving that are quite a world apart from the pastel landscape of Ocean Drive.

“SoFi” – the enclave South of Fifth Street – was once considered a bit of a dead zone for tourists, but these days it’s a vibrant destination in it’s own right. Some locals who have discovered SoFi actually gave up their landlocked houses to purchase condos in the clouds along Government Cut, and there are multi-million dollar high rises all along the southern shore of Miami Beach that are first- and second-homes for wealthy businesspeople and more than a few big-name celebrities.

If you are unfamiliar with the area and want to explore the southernmost part of the city, book a room at the Bentley Beach Resort on the Ocean, the less expensive Collins Avenue boutique hotel St. Augustine or the hipster hideout Mercury Suites.

Right on Ocean Drive, the Century Hotel offers a restored Art Deco low-rise option for budget travelers too. Some folks prefer to splurge on their hotel room, others keep their cash on hand for gourmet dining or a grand shopping spree. The southern tip of South Beach makes both options possible.

Once you have picked a room, head out for a great big breakfast at Big Pink, a high energy, family-style restaurant with portions large enough to share and prices that will not break the bank. Opened early and also quite late, Big Pink is a popular option for locals and visitors who follow the crowds to this busy corner. Just down the street, Starbucks has opened in the ground floor of the Marriott South Beach on Ocean Drive. If you’d rather grab a joe and go – this is the place to start your day.

If you’ve come to South Beach to explore the club scene, why not try brunch at Nikki Beach Club. The only draw back to the sumptuous spread the chef’s prepare is the sight of all the toned and tan bodies making their way to the canopied sun beds out back. How can you ask for another breakfast pastry when the perky girls at the next table weigh next to nothing? Be brave – have seconds!

sp-park.jpgPerhaps a better option is to sample the delicious brunch at Nemo – where everyone has the decency to wear clothes while they dine. Sundays at Nemo feature a delicious variety of market-fresh selections and a dessert bar that will make you weak in the knees. You are going to have to walk the length of the island after an all-you-can-eat feast at this wonderfully romantic spot. A giant banyan tree that’s filled with twinkle lights shades the patio at Nemo. If you’re here with someone special, book a table for dinner on the patio to let the night and the chef work their magic…

After a day at the beach or a stroll through South Pointe Park, you’re certain to need an afternoon pick me up. Best bet for happy hour is the tiki hut bar at the Miami Beach Marina called Monty Trainer’s. Because this popular spot is located on the west side of town, you’re sure to meet locals and boaters who’ve spent the day working up a mighty thirst. If you’re tempted to join them on the water, Club Nautico will rent you a speedboat right in front of the bar. Relax and enjoy drink specials and peel-and-eat shrimp while a band plays under the thatched-roof stage. You might be tempted to stay for dinner, but there are more stops on this SoFi bar crawl so point your flip-flops due east and head for the shore.

joes-170.jpgSmith and Wollensky is a popular steakhouse chain with a great location at the edge of the island behind South Pointe Park. There are a few choice tables out back facing Government Cut and the spectacular cruise ships steaming out to sea. This is where you want to be for a late lunch or an early afternoon cocktail. Juicy burgers and a belly busting club sandwich are the hidden treasures on the lunch menu so don’t be afraid to ask. Steaks are a very popular option in SoFi and the best of them are available near by at Prime 112 or the popular Tuscan Steak. Make this an afternoon stop or visit the friendly guys at Joe’s Takeaway and have them prepare a world-class picnic (complete with vintage wine) to enjoy by the sea. Fresh cracked stone crab claws and a crisp white wine can certainly put the Happy in any Hour.

If you’re an uninhibited traveler with a taste for a bit of exhibitionism after a drink or two, you’re sure to feel right at home at Taverna Opa, a wonderfully casual Greek bistro with a bit of a wild side. Sample a few mezze small plates, sip a refreshing glass of ouzo and “OPA!” – you’re up on a tabletop shaking your moneymaker with one of the enthusiastic (and very attractive) waiters. A great place for large groups, families on holiday or girls going wild, Opa has delicious food and a friendly atmosphere that always feels like a party.

tap190.jpgIf you want to try something a bit more exotic, Tap Tap Restaurant is like a trip to a tropical Caribbean Island right on South Beach. The walls are brightly painted, the cuisine features fresh seafood prepared with a tropical flair and on weekends there’s live music to complete the journey. No other restaurant in town makes you feel like you’re on vacation quite like Tap Tap. After your dinner, explore some of the quiet lounges South of Fifth Street to party with the locals.

Your first stop for a quiet cocktail should always be Ted’s Hideaway, a decidedly “regular guy” bar that seems to attract a who’s-who of South Beach hipsters. A great spot to watch a game by day or shoot a quick game of pool on your way back from the beach, Ted’s is an attitude-free Cheer’s-type bar where everyone might just know your name before you leave… Around the corner behind the kitchen doors of Nemo, a little bar called Room has a loyal and devoted following. Dark, mellow and definitely “chill,” Room is the place you’ll brag about discovering weeks after you get back home.

If you have a secret crush on the guys from the TV show Miami Ink, you’ll be thrilled to learn they’ve opened their own dive bar in the trendy SoFi district. LOVE/HATE lounge is a popular destination Monday nights, but you always have a chance to run into your tattooed heroes Ami and Chris when you’re drinking at their bar. Grab a beer, enjoy the music and try not to stare. You might not be able to afford their celebrity ink, but you’ll definitely feel like you’re in a music video after a few drinks at LOVE/HATE lounge.

If we’ve convinced you to explore the SoFi district, there are a few coming attractions to sweeten the deal. Red the Steakhouse that makes visiting Cleveland so much fun will be opening soon in SoFi. Likewise our first Texas De Brazil Churrascaria Steakhouse premieres next to Monty’s Raw Bar giving west side residents another reason to leave their condos. And finally, the best incentive of all – Joe’s Stone Crabs has started serving once again this month. If you can’t endure the endless wait at the bar to have dinner, Do Lunch like a local and enjoy the chowder, the claws and the key lime pie with all of the trimmings and none of the hassle.

SoFi is So Good!

Bentley Beach Hotel 101 Ocean Drive
St Augustine Hotel 347 Collins Avenue
Mercury All Suites 100 Collins Avenue
Century Hotel 140 Ocean Drive
Big Pink 157 Collins Ave
Starbucks 161 Ocean Drive
Nikki Beach Club 1 Ocean Drive
Nemo 100 Collins Avenue
Prime 112 112 Ocean Drive
Tuscan Steak 433 Washington Avenue
Joe’s Stone Crab 11 Washington Avenue
Taverna Opa 36-40 Ocean Drive
Tap Tap 819 Fifth Street
Monty’s Raw Bar 300 Alton Road
Smith & Wollensky 1 Washington Avenue
Ted’s Hideaway 124 Second Avenue
The Room 100 Collins Avenue
Love/Hate Lounge 423 Washington Avenue