The New York Times’ Frugal Traveler Lucas Peterson recently paid our fair, seaside city of South Beach a visit and like so many travel writers and first time visitors before him, he fell into the typical tourist traps of Ocean Drive and its surrounding streets, rattling off (for the most part) a list of bars that no self respecting local would be caught dead in. He even called Mango’s the “quintessential” South Beach club experience—uh, not quite, bro. See: LIV, Story.
To be fair, South Beach isn’t the easiest place to penetrate with pockets of coolness hiding in plain sight amidst, well, a lot of weirdness. Having lived in South Beach for the last six years, I’ve created a no nonsense guide distilling down the best locals spots in the ‘hood. And, yes, they happen to be places that I personally enjoy frequenting.
So what makes a spot local?
First, it’s gotta have a good vibe. We like a place that’s both approachable and stylish with serious quality backing it up.
Second, the price needs to be right. It’s far too easy to drop $80 to $100 a head at restaurants of wildly varying quality on the beach (most places being just okay). We want to pay half that. Also, spare us the $18-$24 cocktails, please! We live here. We need a place we can go any night of the week and not feel totally ripped off and despondent when the bill comes.
Finally, we love anything locally owned and operated. That’s how we’re slowly, but surely building a community on this crazy, neon-festooned, tacky, tourist loving, melting pot of an island that’s slowly sinking into the Atlantic. We like a place where we might run into our neighbors that still feels somewhat undiscovered by the masses who live elsewhere.
Let’s get this one out of the way right off the bat. If you want to know where South Beach locals like to hang, the answer is simple: Sunset Harbour. This picturesque micro-neighborhood (it’s all of about three blocks) overlooking Biscayne Bay is where we grocery shop and work out. It’s also where some of our favorite bars, restaurants and boutiques are found. With a central parking garage, it’s easy to access and everything is walkable.
(The only caveat is that this infant neighborhood is ground zero for Mayor Levine’s resiliency plan to combat sea level rise. From tearing up the streets to raising the sidewalks, it’s been in a perpetual state of construction for, well, as long as the neighborhood’s been on the map with no signs of letting up anytime soon.) What can we do?
These are the best local spots in Sunset Harbour:
Where to Eat:
With its wide-ranging menu (from short rib pappardelle to tofu gado gado) featuring plenty of healthy options, Icebox is my go-to, post-yoga dinner spot. With a solid wine list, cocktail menu and crave-worthy selection of homemade cakes by the slice, you can make a meal here as indulgent as you wish.
Fast, casual and healthy is the name of the game in South Beach and I love the latest from Jugofresh’s Matthew Sherman. Paradigm Kitchen opened in October, dishing up fresh poke bowls, haloumi salads, lamb kebab wraps and (free!) crystal enhanced water at breakfast and lunchtime. Yes, your chakras will be aligned and your body will be nourished after a meal here.
Locals love anything Pubbelly and Pubbelly Sushi, with its delicious, creative, deconstructed sushi and tapas, reigns supreme.
It might be imported from Brooklyn, but South Beach locals have claimed Lucali for their own. Inside an industrial space that still manages to feel homey, Lucali’s brick oven pizzas are the best on the beach. Other standout dishes include their meatballs and kale Caesar salad
Where to Drink:
And speaking of Lucali, their adjacent cocktail bar Bay Club is my favorite drinking den on the beach. With a well-edited cocktail list, talented bartenders and personal sized pizzas served in a charming indoor-outdoor setting, it’s perfection post-work or late night.
And if you’re at Bay Club late, you might as well swing by Purdy Lounge to dance off the pizza and cocktails—and order some high ABV Chimays to keep the party going. This slightly divey bar (lovingly called the “dirty Purdy”) was here before the neighborhood developed into what it is today and longtime Miami locals love it—or at the very least, have fond memories of their younger days here.
Where else in South Beach can you order a locally roasted cup of coffee, set up your laptop and (pretend? to) get to work? That’s what Panther Coffee is here for. Also, for mini Vegan cupcakes.
Where to Exercise:
Two of Miami’s most gifted yoga teachers, Amy Dannheim and Paul Toliuszis, teamed up to open Tropical Vinyasa in September. The bright, airy yoga studio has serious good vibes and a talented, diverse roster of teachers .
South Beach Kayak is the neighborhood’s original kayak and standup paddleboard outfitter. Owned by longtime Miami Beach locals, the Sherman family, this is the place to go for a whirl on Biscayne Bay.
Where to Shop:
Selling soft, sumptuous lingerie, loungewear, bikinis and cover-ups, Eberjey, founded in 1996 by Mariela Rovito and Ali Mejia, is one of Miami’s fashion success stories.
Frankie. is where to shop when you’re in the mood to splurge on a trendy outfit for a night out or chic casual wear.
Market is where to shop when you want to save on trendy basics.
Sunset Clothing Co. is where to shop if you’re a dude. (There’s also casual women’s clothing).
We like to keep things fresh in South Beach, so when a new cocktail bar pops up tucked away off Collins Park, we’re all about it. Conceived by legendary Miami mixologist John Lermayer, Sweet Liberty serves up a sweet cocktail and food menu (cauliflower nachos, anyone?). It was also named Best New American Bar at Tales of the Cocktail’s Spirited Awards in July.
A certain breed of Miami hipster dudes take great pride in their love of Mac’s Club Deuce, South Beach’s ultimate dive bar—and for good reason. It’s dark and dingy with a pool table, the drinks are cheap, the jukebox is good and the characters who hang out there are stranger than fiction. We’re talking eye patches and face tattoos. Drink up!
For crepes in a cozy café that transports you to a sidewalk in France, look no further than A La Folie, hidden on the non-touristy end of Española Way.
We like healthy, organic food in South Beach, so we frequent the newly opened fast-casual Dirt for its super fresh and delicious menu of salads, bowls and sandwiches.
As far as I’m concerned, The Café at Books & Books is the only palatable restaurant on Lincoln Road (aside from Shake Shack, of course). They serve a wide-ranging menu of salads, sandwiches and entrees. Bonus: You can browse the shelves at Books & Books afterwards.
Some Italian options: Macchialina (helmed by James Beard Award Best Chef semifinalist Michael Pirolo, pasta dishes are only $10 on Thursdays), Via Emilia 9 (with outrageous charcuterie boards and sumptuous pasta) and Sylvano’s (authentic, rustic Italian in a romantic, indoor-outdoor setting off Collins Park).
Locally Loved Hotels
I’m anointing The Standard as the best hotel for locals. Whether you’re a member or not, the place is a picturesque haven on Biscayne Bay, perfect for a spa day, sunset happy hour, yoga class or meditation workshop. It’s one of those places that reminds us how lucky we are to live amidst beautiful weather and beautiful people.
While its tourist-central location at 15th and Collins stacks the decks against it, I’m rooting for The Hall to become a popular locals spot. With chilled out, surfer dude, celeb chef Spike Mendelsohn behind the menu at pool bar Sunny’s and beer garden Campton Yard, the grub is tasty and priced right. It might be the only place on the beach with a solid cocktail menu at $10, plus they’re wooing locals with a 15 percent discount.
When You Really Want to Get Crunk
For a party in a smaller venue that can be just as wild, head to Basement at The Miami Beach EDITION (also see: Rec Room at Gale hotel) where there’s not only a Discobox dance club, but also an ice skating rink and four-lane bowling alley. I’m a big fan of the hotel’s casual dining restaurant Market by Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Matador Bar for top-notch cocktails in a sexy setting. Neither, however, are priced for locals.
While the crowd here often skews to bizarre beyond explanation, Faena is still just too damn pretty to completely ignore. See if you can charm your way into their speakeasy Saxony Bar accessed down a spiral staircase to the right of the gilded lobby cathedral for your best shot at a good vibe.