Sun, sand, palm trees, and Art Deco buildings—Miami Beach was founded in 1915 and developed by entrepreneur Carl Fisher, who dredged up swamps and mangroves in an effort to transform a peninsula just off the coast of Miami into America’s island playground. And the area is in the throes of a major renaissance. The nonprofit Miami Design Preservation League was founded in 1976 with a mission to preserve, protect, and promote the architecture of Miami and Miami Beach; Art Basel began bringing artists and collectors to Miami Beach in 2002; the Wynwood Walls launched a street art gallery in 2009; the 18-block Design District was built between 2014 and 2017; and there’s no sign of slowing down.
“I don’t think you’ll find a city in the U.S. that’s about a hundred years old that went from a swamp to what we are in just a hundred years, so it’s really a great American city, and preservation is just one part of it,” Daniel Ciraldo, the executive director of the Miami Design Preservation League, told AD. “I think it’s a great example of American entrepreneurship, courage, and risk taking. It’s a great place to visit, a great place to live, and it’s not a typical American city. There are a lot of unique elements that make it what it is.”
Most people who visit want to stay on Miami Beach, where the best hotels are housed in historic buildings with beach access. A member of Leading Hotels of the World, the Setai, Miami Beach is housed in a preserved 1936 Art Deco building that fuses a modern Asian sensibility with the historic architecture. With its acclaimed pan-Asian restaurant Jaya, and a spa with new treatments by Valmont, it’s a favorite of A-list celebrities like Jay-Z, Beyoncé, and Madonna. The Ritz-Carlton South Beach, built in 1953 by iconic architect Morris Lapidus—known for pioneering the “Miami Modern” style—just unveiled a $90 million renovation that includes the addition of the Lapidus Bar, which evokes a more glamorous era.
Other top hotels include Ian Schrager’s sleek Miami Beach Edition, the eco-chic 1 Hotel South Beach, the exuberant Faena Hotel Miami Beach designed by Baz Luhrmann and Catherine Martin, and the Four Seasons at the Surf Club, which once played host to Elizabeth Taylor and the Rat Pack, and received a swanky new addition by Richard Meier with interiors by Joseph Dirand. The Raleigh Hotel is currently under renovation, but in the meantime you can visit the Raleigh Gardens, where developer Michael Shvo teamed up with AD100 architect Peter Marino and landscape architect Peter Jungles to install an exhibit of sculptures by Claude and Xavier Lalanne.
Of course, there are chic new places to stay on the mainland too. Mr. C Miami – Coconut Grove is one of the latest additions to Miami’s hotel scene. A member of Leading Hotels of the World run by the fourth generation of the Cipriani family, it was designed by AD100 designer Martin Brudnizki and inspired by sleek yachts and the glamorous nautical lifestyle that Miami and Italy have in common. Designed by Rockwell Group, the Hyde Midtown Hotelbrings fun, colorful style to Midtown Miami, and is ideally located near the Wynwood Walls and the Design District.
In the past, the main reason to visit may have been sun and sand, but now Miami’s restaurant scene is hotter than ever. On Miami Beach, you can dine at hotspots stretching from South Point up to Surfside. For creative vegan cuisine in a chic space, Planta is a must. Juvia serves up bottomless brunch on the weekends on a rooftop with views that stretch to the Atlantic. The Argentine restaurant Leynia at the Delano Hotel serves Miami Beach’s best brunch buffet, complete with asado-style meat prepared on a grill by the pool. When you want to impress, there’s no place like Le Sirenuse—the first-ever offshoot of the famed hotel on Italy’s glittering Amalfi Coast—at the Four Seasons at the Surf Club. For a riveting dinner-and-a-show experience, get tickets to The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, an immersive performance with a sumptuous three-course dinner at the Faena Theater, which is running until April.
Wynwood has become one of Miami’s hottest ’hoods with a restaurant and bar scene to match. For an alfresco lunch of tacos and other Mexican specialties, book a table at Bakan. The neighborhood is also home to 1-800 Lucky, Miami’s first Asian food hall. In the Design District, Mandolin Aegean Bistro is a hotspot for Art Basel attendees with a breezy look that will transport you to the Greek islands. A bit farther north, Chica—designed by the Rockwell Group—boasts Latin American flair with a sultry design and dishes like tropical corvina ceviche and grilled Peruvian octopus. In Coconut Grove, Glass & Vine is a casual option for alfresco burgers and beer, while Bellini at Mr. C will fulfill any pasta cravings in a space brimming with Italian style.