South Beach is figuratively much larger than its size. In fact, it’s geographically small — occupying the southern most point of Miami Beach — but it’s huge in the diversity of its people, architecture, and culture!
Architecturally, it’s a mix of the art deco it’s famous for along with new construction and downtrodden pockets of old Miami. You find high-rise penthouses, celebrity mansions on the water, and government-sponsored affordable housing … and lots of hotels, restaurants, bars, clubs, tattoo shops and tourist joints. One can dine in a 5 star hotel restaurant and pay $$$$ or venture off the strip for something less expensive, probably ethnic and generally culturally atmospheric.
With South Beach being an internationally diverse community and tourist mecca, everywhere you go you hear English, Haitian, Russian, Hebrew, etc. and, of course, the many dialects of Spanish.
A great way to understand South Beach is to take a Culinary Tour.
Our guide, Mirka, led us on a 3-hour walk through the heart of South Beach narrating the history of its three main streets (Ocean Drive, Collins Avenue and Washington Street) which run north-south and the picturesque Española Way running one block east-west.
During the tour, the group made 7 stops for food. Our first bite was at 660 at The Anglers Hotel (660 Washington Avenue) where they served a scallop tiradito that was so good, we were encouraged to lift the plate and drink the citrus juice. I did!
Our next stop was at the Colombian restaurant Bolivar (661 Washington Avenue) where we were treated to a very generous serving of patacones (fried green plantain) topped with stewed shredded chicken, as well as their version of empanada and a typical refreshment made with cream soda and beer.
Our next stop was the iconic David’s Cafe (1058 Collins Avenue) for a thimble of Cuban coffee and yuca relleno.
Many Cuban restaurants throughout South Florida have ‘walk up windows’ where you can grab a quick coffee or bite. They’ve also been known as a meeting place for conversation.
Can you imagine we were already stuffed?
Yes, but we had 3 more stops and lots more to learn about the area.
Interestingly, our group had people visiting from Colombia, Venezuela, Seattle, Atlanta, Chicago, New York, New Jersey — and there were several locals. We all had lots to learn.
Next up on the tour was a newcomer to the area, Block’s Pizza (1447 Washington Avenue) where the emphasis is on the fresh ingredients and house-made pizza dough that is the base for these ‘pocket sandwiches’.
Yes, there’s many opportunities to see skin in South Beach … some not so pretty.
Ciao for now.
More fun photos of the area, people on the tour, and the sights about town.
Also available my post of a Culinary Tour of Little Havana, taken March 2012.
Miami Culinary Tours, 1000 5th Street, Suite 200, Miami Beach, FL 33139