Jennifer Kay, The Associated Press, December 16, 2014
MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) — The fashion runway that is Lincoln Road. The skin and eccentricities displayed under neon lights on Ocean Drive. The crowds club-hopping up and down Washington Ave.
The main drags of South Beach are on every tourist's itinerary. And they should be — they're flashy, entertaining and fun.
They also can be expensive, from food to accommodations to souvenirs. To save money while getting a richer experience, try exploring the side streets of South Beach.
From a car, maybe they don't look like much. But on foot or on one of the Citi Bikes for rent throughout South Beach, the side streets running between the bay and the ocean open up a whole new neighborhood with local haunts that offer high-class cultural experiences at a low-key, friendly pace.
Taking a scenic route not only gets you out of South Beach's traffic, it also gives you a closer, longer look at the architectural details that make this place unique.
While glassy, exclusive high-rises line the edges, the neighborhoods running down the island's middle are mostly filled with low-lying, pastel-colored apartment buildings. A map from the Art Deco Welcome Center on Ocean Drive pinpoints and explains the highlights as you wander what is essentially an open-air museum.
As you stroll, look for the hallmarks of Miami's tropical spin on Art Deco: curved corners, round porthole windows, decorative elements in groups of three, or motifs featuring marine animals or ocean liners. After World War II, those designs gave way to the MiMo Style and its asymmetry, kidney-shaped elements, central courtyards and space-age motifs.
Compare those to Mediterranean Revival buildings with archways, awnings and tiled roofs. Not every building is a gem, but for fun, keep track of the buildings' sometimes wistful names such as Metropolis (a stretch for just two stories) or Michigan (a funny reference for the subtropics).
Wind your way to The Frieze, an ice cream parlor playing on its neighborhood's architectural charms. It's a half-block off Lincoln Road, but its ice cream, made on site, tastes a world away from nearby chain establishments.
Near the Bass Museum of Art are the Miami City Ballet studios. Floor-to-ceiling windows running the length of the block offer a glimpse into the dancers' austere world and a serene contrast to the gaudiness on nearby beaches.
All that walking may make you hungry. Go for a massive sandwich at La Sandwicherie. Eat at the outdoor counter and you can people-watch folks heading to the tattoo parlor next door or into the famously gritty dive bar across the street, Mac's Club Deuce.
For a classier cocktail experience, there's Broken Shaker at The Freehand hostel, just north of South Beach but close enough that locals mingle poolside with budget travelers. Walled off from the street and gently lit, it's an intimate and relaxed outdoor bar scene where bartenders specializing in artisanal cocktails know that the humble, golden Haitian rum Barbancourt is smooth enough to drink on its own.
The Freehand's shared bedrooms are an inexpensive option for groups traveling to South Beach, but banish any memories of the grungy, impersonal hostels of college tours in Europe.
It may lack the polish and extravagant amenities of South Beach's more famous boutique hotels, but The Freehand doesn't make budget accommodations feel like a trade-off. A night in a comfortable private room felt like a sleepover at a beach house rented with friends, only better because The Freehand pays attention to the things that draw people together in Miami -- street art alongside the courtyard swimming pool, watermelon-shaped pool toys, live music and directions to the nearest beach yoga.
Many corner stores provide shots of Cuban coffee, which is like espresso with added rocket fuel. For a more leisurely cup of coffee or tea, there's Panther Coffee, an outpost of the Miami specialty coffee chain that's been part of the revival of a bayside neighborhood once notable only for a space age-looking supermarket and seasonal flooding (which has been fixed as part of a citywide project).
The bay waters off South Beach have a side-street ambience, too. Rent a paddleboard or kayak to explore the Venetian Islands, small enclaves of exclusive homes sometimes cut off from the rest of Miami Beach by gatehouses. There are no roadblocks on the water ways that wind between the renovated mansions with yachts or powerboats moored outside.
Another cheap thrill from the bayside: watching the sun set, red and orange, behind the downtown skyline that's been waiting all day to come alive.
If You Go...
ART DECO WELCOME CENTER: 1001 Ocean Drive, daily 9:30 a.m.-7 p.m. Architectural highlights map, $3.21.
THE FRIEZE: 1626 Michigan Ave., http://www.thefrieze.com
LA SANDWICHERIE: 229 14th St., http://www.lasandwicherie.com
PANTHER COFFEE: 1875 Purdy Ave., http://www.panthercoffee.com
MIAMI CITY BALLET: 2200 Liberty Ave. Open Barre performance schedule: http://www.miamicityballet.org
THE FREEHAND: 2727 Indian Creek Drive, beds in shared rooms start at $22 a night; private rooms can start under $100 a night, http://www.thefreehand.com
SOUTH BEACH KAYAK: 1771 Purdy Ave., http://www.southbeachkayak.com. Kayak rentals start at $15 for one hour.
CITI BIKE: More than 100 bike rental locations throughout Miami Beach, with service planned in downtown Miami, http://www.citibikemiami.com , from $4 for 30 minutes to $24 per day.
This article was written by Jennifer Kay from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.