Ask locals the difference between South Beach proper and the quieter, staid northerly section of Miami Beach, and the answer may be, "The south is costume jewelry; the north is the actual." It certainly seems so along the 4-mile boardwalk, where one beachside palace -- Faena, Fontainebleau, Como Metropolitan, Miami Beach Edition -- follows another.
So it was a pleasure to pass through the tall, glass colonial doors at the Palms Hotel & Spa, and be greeted by bright smiles from the doormen. Everyone's in uniform, but happily, the attitude is far more casual.
The building was built in 1939, which means smaller rooms than the Palms' more modern neighbors. Cityview rooms average 250 square feet, with about 100 more for Oceanfront rooms. Nor is there as much variety of room categories, with just 13 larger Superior Oceanfront rooms and two junior suites out of the property's total 251 units.
The expansive ocean view in Room 906, however, did make the space seem bigger, and the oncoming whitecapped waves as viewed through the large picture window inevitably pulled me toward them.
Before dipping my toes in the surf, I had to pass through the Palms' impressive back garden, where two squawking parrots, Sunshine and Chance, provide a colorful welcome. Thick with bamboo, lilies, jasmine, bougainvillea and palms of all shapes and sizes, the one-and a-half-acre area revolves around the 67-by-37-foot pool, where guests can shift into maximum relaxation on daybeds, hammocks and private cabanas.
The private beach area can be reached by heading out the back gate and across the boardwalk. Lounge chairs, umbrellas and towels await on the sand and are included in the room rate.
Before washing up for dinner, I looked at the 750-square-foot organic vegetable and herb garden, full of peppery arugula, vine tomatoes, basil and lemongrass that are plucked by the on-site Essensia restaurant for South Florida-style dishes like citrus-brined chicken, chili-dusted snapper and Angus ribeye on chive and potato puree.
The earthy philosophy also fuels tasty cocktails such as Garden Essentials (vodka, Aperol, lemon, basil, Campari tomatoes) and Grass Clippings (tequila, chipotle liqueur, lime-muddled cucumber, cilantro).
The only place on the property where this pleasure is exceeded is in the 5,000-square-foot Aveda spa, a key element in the Palms' mission of "total well-being." The nail and hair care, waxing and makeup services are up front, and the treatment and relaxation rooms run through the back area. Choose any treatment that includes time in the HydroCapsule, which works its magic with aroma steam, Vichy shower and hydrocolor lighting therapy.
The Palms might not carry the same zest as its blingy neighbors, but it provides it where it counts: service. As for the attitude, what keeps guests coming back is the warmth, but this time, it's not only from the sun.