There's a new energy happening in South Beach. Arriving from points north, you feel a sense that something Instagram-viral might occur around the corner at any moment. This stems in part from the fusion of many updated amenities combined with the unique pulse of the multicultural population. The result is a sunny escape that feels like an international adventure, with an only-in-Miami twist.
My group and I were guests of the Hyatt Centric South Beach Miami, a modern, glass renovation on the corner of 16th Street and Collins Avenue across from the Loews Miami Beach. Rather than a large resort that becomes the centerpiece of a vacation, the Hyatt Centric intends South Beach itself to be the centerpiece, with the hotel as base camp.
This minimalist concept with local focus has been a developing trend by hotel chains to appeal to millennial travelers and capture the boutique and Airbnb markets. The aesthetic is streamlined and updated. At the Hyatt Centric, the 105 rooms have floor-to-ceiling glass, and corner rooms enjoy 180-degree views to the sea on both sides. The clean decor is complemented with friendly touches like jersey cloth robes and Drybar hair dryers.
The open-concept third floor of the hotel combines reception, lounge and the Deck Sixteen restaurant with a rooftop patio that extends the dining area outside to adjoin the pool overlooking Collins Avenue. Guests and locals alike gather here for Moroccan lamb tacos, pan-roasted fish and mojitos in mason jars.
In keeping with the base camp concept, South Beach is literally at your feet. The ground level of the hotel hosts a Drybar for hair blowouts and a Joe and the Juice, the hip Danish coffee and fresh-pressed juice chain. Access to about four miles of white, sandy beach and a pedestrian path is across the street, adjoining the iconic art deco buildings of Ocean Drive. Just around the corner in either direction are the pedestrian-only blocks of Lincoln Road Mall for shopping and the eclectic former artist enclave of Espanola Way.
Espanola Way turns out to be the perfect spot for lunch at Mercato Della Pescheria, with outdoor seating and an Italian seafood menu featuring octopus carpaccio, whole grilled snapper and cured meats and cheese boards. The multicultural pedestrian block is also home to the White Cotton Club, a French-owned shop with classic whites for all occasions; a Spanish restaurant, Tapas y Tintos, which hosts flamenco dancers on Friday nights; and Boteco Copacabana, a Brazilian bodega with samba dancers on Saturday nights.
Smith & Wollensky’s South Pointe location features prime rib and prime views of Fisher Island.
In the evening, we headed to Smith & Wollensky's South Pointe location for happy hour overlooking the Government Cut channel. The venerable establishment is popular with a range of sets and ages. Diners at white-linen-covered tables are spread over two levels of dining rooms, some with outdoor decks and all with views of the passing yachts and cruise ships. Steak doesn't really get any better than Smith & Wollensky's prime rib seared tableside with a glass of the Private Reserve house wine.
After a run on the beach the next day, I met our group for a morning meditation session at the Loews Exhale Spa. Then we got ginger shots; shakes with banana, chocolate almond milk and plant protein; and avocado and tuna sandwiches for a healthy breakfast at Joe and the Juice. The open and inviting cafe features colorful art and a variety of indoor and outdoor nooks for gathering with friends or setting up a laptop office.
Later that morning, we took Ubers into Miami proper and the Wynwood Art District for a golf cart tour of the graffiti murals covering the sides of just about every building in a 16-block radius. Our guide was Hec One Love, the Cuban-American artist behind the neighborhood's popular Loveism murals. We ended at Wynwood Walls, an indoor-outdoor museum where the Instagram-famous can be found en masse, posing with the works of many of the greatest artists of the medium.
We began the next day with omelettes and pancakes under the sea grape trees at the renowned hangout News Cafe, situated on Ocean Drive across from the beach since 1988. From there, we took a bike tour with a local guide from Bike and Roll to check out the art deco buildings on Ocean Drive and views from South Pointe Park of the high-end residences on Fisher Island. With residents including Oprah and Boris Becker, the barrier island recently boasted the highest per capita income in the U.S.
A Deluxe Ocean View King room at the hotel on 16th Street and Collins Avenue.
Beach to spa
Our afternoon was spent sunbathing at Centric's full-service beach, getting facials and massages at Exhale Spa and a Cosmopolitan blowout at Drybar. Feeling fully pampered, we set out for dinner at Planta, an upscale, see-and-be-seen vegetarian restaurant in South Pointe.
We were amazed by Planta's creative coconut ceviche, carrot tartare, zucchini carpaccio and truffle burger. We also had our biggest celeb sighting of the trip: Hulk Hogan at the next table, unmistakable with his signature mustache.
We rounded out the trip at Sweet Liberty, a festive bar in the culturally rich Collins Park neighborhood, with dance music and craft cocktails. When some of the group planned to go on to E11even Miami, a 24-hour nightclub (yes, really), I considered buying Sweet Liberty's signature jacket as a memento, but I realized Miami's South Beach is memorable enough that you don't need to "get the T-shirt."
Room rates at the Hyatt Centric start at $199, with 10% off for World of Hyatt members.