With the opening of Frank Gehry’s New World Symphony Building, the Magic City is ready for its next act. T+L takes a tour of Miami’s fast-changing neighborhoods.
Soho Beach House, hotel, pool, Miami, Florida
Credit: Noe Dewitt

Throughout the late 1980’s and early 90’s, I worked as a nightlife columnist for the alternative newspaper Miami New Times and kept a small office on Lincoln Road, the pedestrian mall that bisects the northern stretches of South Beach. In the 60’s, the vibe of Lincoln Road—designed by the late Morris Lapidus of Fontainebleau and Eden Roc fame—was Mad Men South, but the glamour days were long gone by the 80’s: retirees with radioactive tans shuffled past bedraggled drag queens and downtrodden shops. But there were interludes of grace: I’d start the day watching the rehearsals of the Miami City Ballet, in an old windowed storefront (their original studios are now a Victoria’s Secret store). In the evenings, the New World Symphony (NWS), conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas, would broadcast its concerts live on the street over a terminally low-tech sound system.

Thirty years later, Lincoln Road has emerged at the forefront of Miami’s cultural revolution, thanks to Frank Gehry’s just-opened New World Center performing arts venue. An ambitious stab at the civic transcendence of blockbuster architecture, the building is a testament to the city’s ability to reinvent itself after years of shaky real estate developments. The project is relatively modest in comparison to Gehry’s other work—his trademark geological formations are contained within a partly-glass-walled rectangular box. In all respects, the Gehry campus is intended to be used as an everyday social arena, not simply gaped at. Visitors to the adjacent 2 1/2-acre park, designed by the renowned Dutch firm West 8, can watch rehearsals and symphony patrons through a six-story glass curtain wall, as well as concert broadcasts and video-art murals on a 7,000-square-foot projection wall. As Gehry explains, “The building is meant to be a seduction, a way to lure people in by blurring the distinction between the private and public realms.”

In the same manner that the fight to preserve South Beach’s Art Deco district 40 years ago jump-started the first resurrection of Miami, the campus—and, of course, such events as Art Basel Miami Beach—is helping the city establish itself as a major destination on the global cultural map. Just north of Gehry’s complex, the Collins Park arts district is adding to South Beach’s architectural cachet by creating a thoughtfully landscaped domain for sculptural installations. “Miami has little green space, but South Beach is leading the way with intelligently designed public parks,” says Jean-François Lejeune, an urban historian and professor of architecture at the University of Miami. Bordered on the north by the Arquitectonica-designed studios of the Miami City Ballet, the park features an open expanse of lawn studded with sculptures that stretch from the Bass Museum of Art to the beach. From there, it’s a 10-minute bike ride along the newly extended boardwalk to South Pointe Park, a 19-acre former wasteland at the southern tip of Miami Beach that’s been transformed by Hargreaves Associates, the team behind the planned 2012 Olympic Park Lands, in East London. South Pointe incorporates a series of serpentine trails that wind through dune grasses to a waterfront promenade lined with 18 pylons that emit colored LED light.

These projects come on the heels of significant development across the city. In mid-Miami Beach, the top-to-bottom, billion-dollar renovation of the Fontainebleau kicked off the area’s rebirth two years ago; now there’s the Soho Beach House next door. “We wanted to be outside the madness, but close enough to dip in easily,” says Nick Jones, owner of the newest outpost of the London-based boutique hotel and social club. To build the property, local architect and writer Allan Shulman joined the 1941 Roy France–designed Sovereign Hotel with a slim new Modernist tower. “Allan is very clever in the way he manages to infuse Art Deco and contemporary styles,” Jones says. The public spaces are designed by London-based Martin Brudnizki and include heavy ye-olde-English-club leather chairs, along with a 150-plus-piece contemporary art collection curated by Francesca Gavin.

Nowhere is the hotel boom more acute than in downtown Miami. In the 1980’s, the area was dominated by the illuminated I. M. Pei tower immortalized on TV’s Miami Vice: the skyline then had a certain less-is-more elegance. Now it looks like a kid with too many teeth. It’s way too overbuilt, but the cheaper rents and low condo prices are starting to lure the bold and hardy.

Early hotel settlers included Mandarin Oriental and Four Seasons and the boom was amped up by the arrival of the Kelly Wearstler–designed Viceroy in 2009. Downtown’s latest addition is the JW Marriott Marquis Miami, situated within a 41-story tower in the Metropolitan Miami development. The building also holds the boutique Hotel Beaux Arts Miami, the debut of Marriott’s new luxury brand. There’s also the new 67-story Marquis Residences, which houses the hotel Tempo Miami, a RockResort, and Kimpton’s Epic Hotel, overlooking the Brickell Avenue financial district, a landscape that resembles the unholy spawn of a three-way between Hong Kong, Times Square, and Las Vegas.

Of course, as with any hotel boom, noteworthy chefs are never far behind. After years of flirting with South Beach, Daniel Boulud chose downtown as the setting for his first Miami restaurant. “All my restaurants require a leap of faith,“ he says. “Downtown has fewer velvet ropes than South Beach, but has a very cultivated clientele.” His DB Bistro Moderne, designed by Yabu Pushelberg, is located on the first floor of the new Marriott. Other acclaimed restaurants include Rainer Becker’s Japanese-inspired Zuma, which has sister operations in Hong Kong and Dubai, and Eos, the brainchild of Donatella Arpaia and Michael Psilakis.

Accompanying downtown’s hotel explosion is perhaps the city’s most ambitious project. Overlooking Biscayne Bay is the vast fallow ground of Museum Park, a 29-acre architectural all-star complex slated to open in 2013 that will incorporate Herzog & de Meuron’s new building for the Miami Art Museum. Inside, more than 100,000 square feet will be dedicated to contemporary art. This is the project that may transform downtown all over again.

Smaller Miami communities are also being reenergized. For years, Bal Harbour village was primarily known for its luxury shopping. Now, One Bal Harbour Resort & Spa, which includes a new beach club designed by Miami-based Hernan Arriaga, hosts free movie screenings on the beach, yoga classes, and concerts by indie bands such as Surfer Blood. Last year, the national Salon de Louis Vuitton was launched at the Bal Harbour Shops with an exhibition by Miami-born artist Teresita Fernandez. The mall has upped the culture quotient with the Bal Harbour Art Nights, as well as free performances by the Overtown Music Project, Miami City Ballet, and YoungArts, the core program of the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts.

In the sleek Design District, high-end boutiques including Tomas Maier’s eclectic boutique and 4141 Design, the first Florida showroom to feature Tom Dixon (and other designers) as well as innovative restaurants such as Michelle Bernstein’s Andalusian-inspired Sra. Martinez—have been joined by the new 30,000 square-foot de la Cruz space of contemporary art. It’s the latest in a series of museums that have been opened by eminent Miami collectors. Nearby Wynwood now has Wynwood Walls, a graffiti garden with a restaurant and bar created by Tony Goldman, an early South Beach pioneer who jumped from the bankable buzz of Art Deco to street art.

Heading north on Biscayne Boulevard, visitors discover a historic district with row upon row of Miami Modern motels that unfurl like a ribbon of joy—all statues of cavorting sea nymphs and trapezoid forms resembling 1955 Cadillac fins, and bearing names like the South Pacific and Seven Seas. Little Haiti—centered around the whimsical Caribbean Marketplace designed by Haitian architect Charles Harrison Pawley in 1990—is a few blocks west, and has positioned itself as a new frontier for contemporary art: the atmospheric landscape is filled with artists’ studios and fantastic street murals by Serge Toussaint. The new Little Haiti Cultural Center also showcases cutting-edge art exhibitions, dance performances, and free concerts. Across town, in the neon wonderland of Eighth Street, the heart of Little Havana, music and art take center stage: on the last Friday night of every month, the Viernes Culturales street party includes late-night gallery openings, local salsa bands, and sophisticated Afro-Cuban timba. Only here can you witness such a lively celebration of the city’s cultural heritage. It’s a party no traveler should miss. In a city known for reinventions, sometimes the classics of Miami are just as alluring.

Tom Austin is a T+L contributing editor.


Epic, a Kimpton Hotel 270 Biscayne Blvd. Way; 800/546-7866; epichotel.com; doubles from $345.

Hotel Beaux Arts Miami 255 Biscayne Blvd. Way; 888/717-8850; marriott.com; doubles from $550.

Great Value Hotel Chelsea 944 Washington Ave.; 305/534-4069; thehotelchelsea.com; doubles from $230.

JW Marriott Marquis Miami 255 Biscayne Blvd. Way; 888/717-8850; marriott.com; doubles from $449.

One Bal Harbour Resort & Spa 10295 Collins Ave.; 877/455-5410; oneluxuryhotels.com; doubles from $400.

Great Value Riviera Hotel 2000 Liberty Ave.; 305/538-7444; rivierahotelsouthbeach.com; doubles from $219.

Soho Beach House 4385 Collins Ave.; 786/507-7900; sohobeachhouse.com; doubles from $495.

Standard Spa 40 Island Ave.; 305/673-1717; standardhotels.com; doubles from $289.

Tempo Miami, a RockResort 1100 Biscayne Blvd.; 877/857-7625; rockresorts.com; doubles from $329.

W South Beach Hotel & Residences 2201 Collins Ave.; 877/946-8357; whotels.com; doubles from $559.


Amuse Restaurant & Lounge 1100 Biscayne Blvd.; 786/369-0300; dinner for two $75.

Buena Vista Bistro 4582 N.E. Second Ave.; 305/456-5909; dinner for two $40.

Cecconi’s 4385 Collins Ave.; 786/507-7902; dinner for two $110.

DB Bistro Moderne 255 Biscayne Blvd. Way; 305/421-8800; dinner for two $85.

Eden South Beach 210 23rd St.; 305/397-8760; dinner for two $110.

Eos Restaurant 485 Brickell Ave.; 305/503-0373; dinner for two $120.

Mandolin Aegean Bistro 4312 N.E. Second Ave.; 305/576-6066; dinner for two $60.

Sra. Martinez 4000 N.E. Second Ave.; 305/573-5474; dinner for two $100.

Shake Shack 1111 Lincoln Rd.; 305/434-7787; lunch for two $20.

Wynwood Kitchen & Bar 2550 N.W. Second Ave.; 305/722-8959; dinner for two $75.

Zuma 270 Biscayne Blvd. Way; 305/577-0277; dinner for two $65.


Bal Harbour Shops 9700 Collins Ave.; 305/866-0311; balharbourshops.com.

Stripe Vintage Modern 799 N.E. 125th St.; 305/893-8085.

Dynamo Museum Shop 1001 Washington Ave.; 305/535-2680; wolfsonian.org.

See and Do

De la Cruz Collection Contemporary Art Space 23 N.E. 41st St.; 305/576-6112; delacruzcollection.org.

New World Center 500 17th St.; 305/428-6748; newworldcenter.com.

Wynwood Walls N.W. Second Ave. at 25th St.; 305/531-4411; thewynwoodwalls.com.


Knoll: A Modernist Universe by Brian Lutz.

Miami Architecture by Allan T. Shulman, Randall C. Robinson Jr., and James F. Donnelly; photographed by Robin Hill and Thomas Delbeck.

Hotel Chelsea

The hotel also rents out apartments that run from $3,500 to $12,000 per month.

EPIC, Miami – A Kimpton Hotel

Where the Miami River meets Biscayne Bay, EPIC Hotel sits on a waterfront property in the heart of downtown. Inside the self-proclaimed “cosmopolitan boutique resort,” vaulted ceilings and glass walls create an open feel, and each of the 411 rooms and suites offers sweeping views of either the city or the bay. Awash in soothing earth tones, guestrooms are all equipped with sleek furnishings and high-speed Internet access. On the 16th floor guests can indulge in a 13,752-square-foot sun deck with private cabanas, and two outdoor swimming pools.

W South Beach Hotel & Residences

Miami's first W property is a major departure for the brand: all 408 spacious residences have a French bohemian aesthetic, and are done in various shades of white and gray. The W South Beach immediately shows its aspirations to chic in a gleaming lobby equipped with a 120-foot-long marble wall, and with an edgy art collection (pieces by Damien Hirst, Christopher Wool, and the like) counterpointed by campy brass screens that recall the glamour of Miami’s 1950’s heyday. Upstairs, the guest suites have Cippolino marble vanity countertops, Italian cotton velvet sofas, and photos of pop musicians by Danny Clinch.

Sra. Martinez

Neighbors rejoiced when James Beard award-winner Michelle Bernstein and her husband, David Martinez, opened Sra. Martinez in the Design District. Originally a 1920's US Post Office building, the space is now modernized with dark wood shutters, red and white globe light fixtures, and black-and-white floral tiles. A perusal of the menu reveals dishes like giant Madagascar prawns a la plancha, bacon-wrapped Medjool dates filled with Valdeón blue cheese, and harissa-spiced quail pinchos with pomegranate glaze. The all-Spanish wine list perfectly compliments the flavor profiles of the menu.

Riviera Hotel

The 54 rooms at South Beach’s Riviera Hotel are surprisingly spacious (at least 700 square feet), given the prime location a couple of blocks from the ocean and near the Bass Museum of Art. Each suite comes with a separate bedroom, lounge, and kitchen, plus two flat-screen TV’s and an iPod docking station. It’s a quick stroll to the shore and some of the best people-watching around.

Standard Spa

Located inside The Standard hotel in Belle Isle Park, this 12,500 square-foot holistic and hydrotherapy spa provides a broad range of relaxation treatments. The Standard emphasizes communal experiences, but also offers one-on-one services including in-room. Indoors, trained practitioners give massages including detox cleanse, hot stone, and fourhanded. Guests can head outside for mud baths, a roman waterfall hot tub and 50-degree arctic plunge. The spa's menu of hydrotherapy includes the Hamam, aroma steam room, cedar sauna, sound pool, and mud lounge. Yoga and movement classes are also available, including vinyasa, tai chi and sacred dance.


Dine on authentic Turkish and Greek mezes, spanakopita (spinach and feta) wraps, and grilled octopus in the restaurant's white-and-blue patio garden.

JW Marriott Marquis Miami

More than 300 rooms fill this 41-story downtown Miami tower that overlooks Biscayne Bay. Thanks to its ties to two Marriot brands—the JW and Marquis—the property is well-suited to business travelers (with afull-service work center and tried-and-true limousine service) as well as to leisure types (it is Miami, after all). Guests practice their downward-facing dog at the fitness and yoga studio, tee off at the indoor on-site golf school, or take a dip in the heated outdoor pool. The hotel’s own db Bistro Moderne from Daniel Boulud is a buzzworthy spot for French-American fare including coq au vin with pearl onions, bacon, and spaetzle. There are three uniquely decorated dining rooms, but our advice is to snag a seat on the breezy terrace to watch yachts ply the river.

Hotel Beaux Arts Miami

The latest proof that downtown Miami is heating up? The Beaux Arts, a hotel-within-a-hotel on floors 38 to 40 of the JW Marriott Marquis. We’d wager that the city’s latest star, basketball legend LeBron James, would appreciate the of-the-moment tech amenities (an iPad for ordering room service; 55-inch Bang & Olufsen LCD TV’s) and extra-long (and extra-wide) beds. After a decadent foie gras burger at Daniel Boulud’s DB Bistro Moderne, guests can work off the calories at the NBA-approved basketball court.

One Bal Harbour Resort & Spa

Formerly Regent Bal Harbour

While it's got the beautiful beachfront and plenty of headline-grabbing features (the country's first Guerlain Spa, a $4 million art collection), there's no Euro-lounge soundtrack pumping into the lobby. Here, it’s all about the signifiers of luxury: Anichini bedding, plasma television screens embedded in bathroom mirrors, and a dazzling crystal chandelier. At times it might seem over the top, especially when coupled with service that's a tad overbearing (resolutely solicitous waiters actually thanked us for enjoying our dish), but the hotel is a welcome alternative for those in search of Miami's more grown-up side.

Amuse Restaurant & Lounge

Buena Vista Bistro


DB Bistro Moderne, Miami

Eden South Beach

Eos Restaurant

Shake Shack, Miami

Wynwood Kitchen & Bar

Chef Miguel Aguilar puts his stamp on the Latin-inflected menu, but the art-filled interiors are as much of a draw as the food.

Stripe Vintage Modern

Dynamo Museum Shop

De la Cruz Collection