South Beach, for Grown-ups
Hotel: The Raleigh, 1775 Collins Ave., South Beach; 305/534-6300; doubles from $495
Overview: A 1940 Art Deco masterpiece with an André Balazs update and a renowned pool, where silver-screen legend Esther Williams once cavorted.
Pros: Delivers the grace and pure fantasy of old-line Miami.
Cons: In a few instances, Balazs the perfectionist has fine-tuned the aesthetics to the point of austere chilliness.
Hotel: The Tides South Beach, 1220 Ocean Dr., South Beach; 305/604-5070; doubles from $695
Overview: The famed L. Murray Dixon landmark is even more luxurious after a recent makeover by designer Kelly Wearstler and Kor Hotel Group.
Pros: Seashell-shaped lamps make a comeback: rooms and suites have Wearstler’s Palm Beach–revisited treatment.
Cons: Though the rooms are impeccable, the lobby has lost its airy, open feel and now has too many loud, colliding themes.
Between City and Beach
Hotel: Mandarin Oriental, Miami, 500 Brickell Key Dr., Miami; 305/913-8288; doubles from $655
Overview: This elegant hotel, the centerpiece of the residential Brickell Key, is all about stunning views of the Miami skyline and Biscayne Bay.
Pros: A waterfront location within walking distance of downtown; plus resort extras, like the new Shanghai Tang outpost.
Cons: Brickell Key can be isolating, and its cookie-cutter condos leave much to be desired.
Hotel: Great Value—The Standard, Miami, 40 Island Ave., Miami Beach; 305/673-1717; doubles from $260
Overview: A pared-down Scandinavian-inspired spa hotel amid the stylistic exuberance of South Beach—one of André Balazs’s most unusual efforts.
Pros: Peace and quiet: the hotel hugs the calm waters of Biscayne Bay’s Venetian Causeway and has a phenomenal spa.
Cons: A bit off the beaten track for those craving the excitement of South Beach after dark.
Hotel: Ritz-Carlton, Key Biscayne, 455 Grand Bay Dr., Key Biscayne; 305/365-4500; doubles from $399
Overview: Hands down, Miami’s best full-service resort: tropical gardens, a tennis center, a 20,000-square-foot spa, kids’ programs, and a pristine beach.
Pros: Great extras for adults, such as the Cantina Beach restaurant, a sleek affair with a fire pit and more than 80 tequila varieties.
Cons: The world-unto-itself atmosphere makes it tough to get off the island and explore the rest of the city.
Blow the Budget
Hotel: The Setai, 2001 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305/520-6000; doubles from $950
Overview: Adrian Zecha brings his opulent Asian minimalism (Chinese black stone floors; Christian de Laubadere paintings) to the land of Art Deco.
Pros: While service on South Beach can sometimes be lacking, the Setai runs a commendably tight ship.
Cons: A disconcerting lack of sense of place: the central courtyard with a reflecting pool could be anywhere in the world.