Who says you can't do South Beach on a budget?
This haven for well-heeled, deeply-tanned divas is a destination that frugal travelers shouldn't miss. Known for its iconic Art Deco buildings, over-the-top nightclubs, posh oceanfront hotels, and endless parties, South Beach is full of beautiful scenery and things to do. My companion and I attempted to live the "SoBe" high life with limited financial resources. We found that if you plan accordingly, it is possible to experience the glitz and glamour of South Beach without cleaning out your bank account.
We tried to budget wisely right from the start, the moment we booked our flight. Instead of flying from Boston to Miami, we flew out of Manchester, N.H., into Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and saved big on our flight. (Miami Beach is only 26 miles south of Lauderdale, about a half-hour drive, if there's no traffic.)
We booked our hotel well in advance, and paid up front to get a discount stay at the The Standard (40 Island Ave., 305-673-1717, www.stan
dardhotels.com), an upscale hotel and spa in a quiet, residential South Beach neighborhood called Belle Isle. Rooms at The Standard can be pricey, but if you shop around online, you can find nightly rates as low as $188. And you're not just paying for a room here — hotel guests have unfettered access to The Standard's top-notch spa facilities, which many locals pay top dollar for. There are mud baths, a Turkish hammam, steam room, cedar sauna, soaking tubs, arctic plunge pool, and a Roman waterfall hot tub where 103-degree water pours from eight feet above. The Standard's infinity pool overlooks the blue water of Biscayne Bay and glorious skyline of downtown Miami.
Our first sightseeing trip was to Maurice Gibb Memorial Park, a little enclave of green named after one of the Bee Gees. Located on 18th Street and Purdy Avenue, not far from the Bee Gees' recording studio, Maurice reportedly visited this park often.
We then strolled over to the Icebox Café, (1855 Purdy Ave., 305-538-8448, www.iceboxcafe.com) for brunch. My partner and I shared a scrumptious omelet ($13) filled with melted cheese and sweet onions, along with a "power breakfast" ($14) of scrambled egg whites, fresh strawberries, multigrain toast, and deliciously sweet jam.
We quickly discovered DecoBike, the city's bike rental program (www
.decobike.com/miamibeach, $6/hour), a fun and affordable way to explore parts of South Beach. After a quick swipe of our credit card, we were pedaling away. You can drop off and pick up bikes at any DecoBike station, and they seem to be everywhere.
We rode over to the famous Lincoln Road Mall, an open-air pedestrian plaza that stretches several city blocks from Alton Road to Washington Avenue. It's a mall shopper's paradise, with every big-name-brand store imaginable, from Apple to Armani to Victoria's Secret and everything in between. Lincoln Road is great for window shopping and people-watching, and there are plenty of restaurants and cafes with outdoor seating. We stopped at Serendipity 3 (1102 Lincoln Road, 305-403-2210) a restaurant with roots in Manhattan and a spectacular happy hour menu that included ice-cold mango martinis ($5), crispy nachos covered in melted cheddar cheese ($5), and prices that were a refreshing departure from the South Beach norm. From that point on, we decided to do most of our dining during happy hours, and there were plenty of them out there (www.lincolnroad
mall.com/happy-hours). We also learned that many restaurants in South Beach — especially the ones frequented by tourists — include a 15 to 18 percent gratuity automatically, so we were careful to check our bills each time we paid.
We continued our journey along the Miami Beach Boardwalk. The wooden boardwalk starts at Indian Beach Park at 46th Street and continues down the coast to 23rd Street, where it becomes a smoothly paved Beach Walk that's great for jogging,
cycling, and skating. We rolled along, checking out the palm trees, umbrellas, and colorful lifeguard stands that dot the sandy shoreline.
Much of the architecture of South Beach harks back to the 1930s. Glamorous facades with elegant curves, bright neon lights, and round porthole windows abound in the Art Deco District, an area that's been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1979, thanks to the efforts of the Miami Design Preservation League. In 1980, Andy Warhol called the League because he wanted to see these Art Deco buildings for himself, and the league's founder and executive director happily gave him a tour. If you're like Warhol, you'll want to stop by the league's Art Deco Welcome Center (1001 Ocean Drive, 305-763-8026, www.mdpl.org) and check out the brochures and maps there. Tours cost $20.
When we got the urge to swim, we hopped over to the Catalina Hotel & Beach Club (1732 Collins Ave., 305-674-1160, www.catalinahotel.com). It has a rooftop pool and bar that welcomes all, and is great spot to hang out. The restaurant next door, Maxine's Bistro & Bar (1756 Collins Ave., 305-674-3529, www.catalinahotel
.com/maxines) is open 24 hours a day, and offers good food and drinks at decent prices. We tried the chicken broccoli alfredo ($19) and salmon salad ($14) and were happy with the generous portions.
Another must-see is The Delano (1685 Collins Ave., 305-672-2000, www.delano-hotel.com). Built in 1947, and extensively renovated in 1994, its white winged tower stands out from the other buildings on the strip. On Wednesday nights, Lauren "Lolo" Reskin, a longtime DJ and owner of Sweat Records (5505 Northeast 2d Ave., Miami, 786-693-9309, www
.sweatrecordsmiami.com) spins forgotten classics by Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Fred Astaire, and Frank Sinatra. We grabbed a fancy cocktail at the Rose Bar (305-674-5752), and snagged a seat by the billiards table in the hotel's ultra-chic lobby with soaring ceilings. It's a great place for people-watching, and best of all, you can shoot pool for free.
For a cheap lift home, we called Swoop (305-409-6636, www.swoopmi
ami.com). It's a free taxi service; all you need to do is tip your driver. Call the number, schedule your pickup time, and you can get a ride in a decked-out electric golf cart. Swoop operates from 1 p.m. until 2 a.m.; be sure to call early, because there can be a wait.
The best advice for enjoying South Beach on a budget: Do your homework. The Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau (www.miamiand
beaches.com) has a list of free events and things to do. The free museum days are a real bargain. In South Beach, the Bass Museum of Art (2100 Collins Ave., 305-673-7530, www.bass
museum.org) is free on the last Sunday of every month; the Wolfsonian-Florida International University Art Museum (1001 Washington Ave., 305-531-1001, www.wolfsonian.org) is free every Friday 6-9 p.m.; and the Jewish Museum of Florida (301 Washington Ave., 305-672-5044, www.jmof.fiu
.edu) is free on Saturdays. Don't forget to browse Groupon and LivingSocial for discount deals on restaurants and activities.
The City of Miami Beach also has its own app that lists special offers and coupon codes on your smartphone. Android and iPhone users can download it at
Emily Sweeney can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.