Miami Hums In A Lower Key

Our original goal in coming to Miami in December was to enjoy the warm weather. Roving retirement lets you chase 80F weather around the globe but with Covid, lots of places are off-limits, so we chose South Florida. Unfortunately, it turns out that Miami does have winter weather and it had just started so it was a little chilly most of the time we were there. We had a nice time just the same.

Miami Beach

Our hotel, the Kimpton Surfcomber, is one of many hotels that straddle the beach and the main drag, Collins Ave. There is a lovely and long walk/bike path that goes along the beach where you can peer into the adjacent properties. The Surfcomber has been nicely remodeled. It evokes a sense of a bygone era while living up to today’s lodging standard. We got a free bottle of wine on check-in by uttering the Kimpton Social Password, currently “Lift Your Spirits”. Nice.

Art Deco architecture is everywhere. On South Beach, otherwise known as Ocean Drive, we were surprised to find the road currently closed to allow expanded outdoor dining. I liked it better that way and I hope it sticks.  In the same area, The Art Deco Museum shares some history of the Art Deco movement in South Florida.

The Bass Museum, a little north of our hotel, contains evocative contemporary art with an emphasis on local artists. We took a free docent-led tour which helped place the art in context, adding to the experience. There was also extensive art outside that we would have missed if not for the tour.

Interesting Neighborhoods

Little Havana

This enclave grew in the 1960s in the wake of Castro’s takeover of Cuba. Today, there are many restaurants and bars along Calle Ocho (8th Street) in the middle of downtown Miami as well as a lot of street art. We visited during the day and were entertained with live music at lunch. I imagine the scene is much livelier at night and will be even more so post-Covid. It may be a little dicey late at night, though.

Key Biscayne

On the opposite end of the wealth spectrum is Key Biscayne, which feels like an exclusive gated community. We cruised by waterfront mansions on a real estate run, dodging upscale soccer moms on street-legal golf carts. Juxtaposed with the ostentatious opulence is the more feral Bill Baggs State Park at the end of the key. You can take a pleasant stroll along the sea wall over to the restored lighthouse. I advise against feeding the raccoons though.

Local Food

There are lots of nice restaurants to choose from, all with outdoor dining. Many still offer happy hour and live music. Diana enjoyed her first American Breakfast in a long time. Good empanadas are easy to come by and we had them several times. At the Old’s Havana restaurant in Little Havana, my lacon con papas (pork shank)  was great and plentiful and only $13. Most of that meal went back to the hotel and was enjoyed during a couple of other lunches. It cost only slightly more than Diana’s mojito, but she did say it was the best one she ever had.

Big Fees

State and local municipalities have loaded taxes as high as 25% on lodging and car rentals. Tourists do present a big load on infrastructure, but you need to check the total cost before booking to avoid that nasty surprise at the end.

Many hotels also add “resort fees” of up to $50/day so you can enjoy such amenities as a pool or WiFi. Even worse, using hotel points doesn’t cover these fees. Shopping around with the total cost in mind is wise.

Car rentals get a double whammy. For example, I had a 16-day rental to cover my entire time driving all over southern Florida. My base price was good at $290 for 16 days. Toll roads no longer take cash, so I forked over an additional $130 for 16 days of toll coverage. Taxes then added another $200. All this even though I declined the insurance (I have other coverage). Then, I get to pay $2/gal for gas, which is admittedly cheap, especially compared to the $7/gal it is in France.

Parking is a bitch in Miami Beach too. Street parking is typically $4/hr in popular spots during the day and can’t be done overnight. A parking lot three blocks from our hotel with no in/out privileges was $25/nt and didn’t pass muster, so hotel valet at $46/nt was the choice.

Overall, I’d suggest ditching the car if you are just planning to stay in Miami for a long weekend. Walking and Uber work in town or rent a car for the day in case you need to go further.

Covid Compliance

Finally, given the state of the pandemic today, I was a little bummed but not very surprised to see 40% of the folks walking around outside without masks. Compliance is pretty high indoors although lower in the corridors of our hotel. Distancing is pretty hit and miss too. We could usually find someplace acceptable to be, or we would leave. After so much lockdown this year, we are as careful as we can be given our roving lifestyle. 

What parts of Miami sound interesting to you?

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  1. Easier to tax people from out of town than your own residents. Looks like nice weather other than exact temp.

  2. If you get a warm day, consider going for a swim in the Venetian Pool in Coral Gables. It is an unusual pool and I’m not referring to the kitschy Venice theme. The pool is filled with fresh water naturally percolating through the sides and bottom. It is drained every other day so it is always full of fresh clean water, really exhilarating.

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