When I was a kid growing up in Miami, Florida had been reduced to a series of only-good-for-a-weekend clichés. Orlando was defined by Walt Disney World. Palm Beach was starchy and snooty. Miami was the cranky sixth borough of New York City. Now a young generation of Floridians is transforming the state, creating forwardthinking hotels, restaurants, shops, and neighborhoods, and forging new regional identities while holding on to the best of their respective local traditions. On a recent trip, I uncovered a New Florida—a little smarter, a lot hipper, and resolutely primed for the future.
Historically, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Palm Beach never played well together, but in the past 10 years South Florida has emerged as a nascent metropolis of art, architecture, hype, and rising real estate values, fueled by Art Basel and Design Miami.
Last December, the big Miami story was the opening of Herzog & de Meuron’s Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM), which included restaurateur Stephen Starr’s art-world hangout, Verde. This year, the debut of Museum Park—designed by Cooper, Robertson & Partners, of New York’s Battery Park City—has completed the evolution of downtown. Looking out from the waterfront terrace of PAMM, it’s like I’m seeing Miami for the first time, the shimmering skyline resembling a neon Xanadu. Nearby, the Modernist Bacardi Tower is now home to the National YoungArts Foundation, which supports emerging artists. On the seventh floor, Frank Gehry has created a high-tech restaurant called Ted’s ($$), with LED projection screens on every wall and nightly cultural events. After catching a performance by violinist Joshua Bell, I ask Bell about the new restaurant concept, and he says, “Food and live music are two of my favorite things—why not combine them?”
Straight up Biscayne Boulevard is the just-renovated 1953 Vagabond Hotel ($$$), which has a swinging Miami hepcat vibe. A restored sculpture with cavorting nymphs and dolphins outside the hotel is just the kind of casually beautiful creation that makes me grateful to be a Miamian.
Although Miami Beach is well past its early Art Basel buzz, two anticipated hotel projects are continuing to raise the bar. The iconic Shelborne Wyndham Grand South Beach ($$$) has just completed a $90 million renovation, anchored by a Morimoto restaurant. Farther north, at the Thompson Miami Beach ($$$), designer Martin Brudnizki, who made a splash with the city’s Soho Beach House, mixes contemporary art by Tom Slaughter and Duncan Hannah with vintage design accents. The suites have rows of martini glasses lined up like mini obelisks on a Midcentury- style room divider; at chef Michelle Bernstein’s Seagrape restaurant downstairs, the retro bar is made of dark-green onyx marble.
I first wrote about Palm Beach society in the 1980’s, and the town can be daunting; back then, locals regarded anything to do with Miami as hopelessly beyond the pale. Things have certainly loosened up. The designer Jonathan Adler, a seasonal resident who has built an empire on whimsy here, tells me that a trip to Palm Beach should be like “lemon sorbet for your mind and body.” He’s leaving his lemony mark all over the guest rooms at the new Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa ($$), a festive mélange of Sputnikesque light fixtures and pillows with images of smooching doves. On Bradley Place, the Meat Market Palm Beach ($$$)—an offshoot of South Beach’s big scene restaurant—is perennially crowded and turns out dishes such as white-truffle Kobe-beef tartare and tequila-based cocktails with names like “I Love Gold.”
I make my way south to Delray Beach on the A1A, with the glistening ocean along for the ride. After Palm Beach’s incessant roar, Delray Beach feels a lot like Mayberry. It’s quieter and more low-key, with funky sidewalk cafés and pint-size boutiques lining the main artery, Atlantic Avenue. I check in to the Seagate Hotel & Spa ($$) and immediately hop in one of the hotel’s complimentary cars, making a beeline for a nightcap at Dada ($$$), which is full of surrealist-inspired works of art.
Worth the Detour: Fort Lauderdale
This coastal city is in the middle of a development boom spearheaded by the expansion of the Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood International Airport, set to be completed in 2018. Highlights: Just north of downtown, the renovated Victoria Park Hotel ($) is housed in a Midcentury Modern building and has local art and surfboard-shaped wooden coffee tables. Down the street, the Thousand Pound Egg sells south Florida–sourced products such as Mr. Q. Cumber sodas. The recently opened Stonewall Gallery draws from the Stonewall Archives to showcase works that range from Village People albums to Oscar Wilde’s letters.