#sparktravels: Down the Coast to South Beach, Florida

by Daniela Perez

Though I lived only an hour away from South Beach for almost 16 years, I had gone only twice. Maybe it was because navigating Miami traffic seemed like an impossible task, or maybe it was due to my sheer laziness. Regardless, Spring Break 2018 called for pausing my Sex and the City marathon and revisiting the notorious island.  

Arriving in South Beach is a little tricky, thanks to the maze of streets and exits you must take to arrive on the island.  However, once you reach your destination, it is obvious how different it is from the rest of Miami. Separated by beautiful bridges and lined with million dollar homes, South Beach is part of Miami’s Architectural District and boasts preserved art deco buildings all across the island. Driving through South Beach is a mixture of modern beauty and timeless history. This is what makes South Beach so special — you get a taste of Miami’s past and get to enjoy every part of its future.

Daniela Perez visits her home state of Florida and goes to South Beach a tourist hotspot on the coast with beautiful beaches and shopping and restaurants and artistic culture
The Leslie Hotel

Legendary boutiques and bikini-clad spring breakers cluttered Ocean Drive, a road that makes its way up Florida’s east coast. As I made my way up from the southern-most point of the island, the smell of sunscreen and salt water burned my nose. My first stop was Gianni Versace’s mansion, which is now a luxurious hotel.

#sparktravels: Down the Coast to South Beach, Florida
Gianni Versace’s House

The lavish Spanish home stands out amongst the 20th-century buildings. It is no wonder that Gianni Versace fell in love with it the first time he saw it. It was surreal standing on the very steps where one of fashion’s greatest icons was brutally murdered. Yet, Versace would be proud of the beautifully maintained Casa Casuarina and how it still incorporated the Versace logo around the exterior.

Daniela Perez visits her home state of Florida and goes to South Beach a tourist hotspot on the coast with beautiful beaches and shopping and restaurants and artistic culture
The exquisite Gianni Versace home-turned-hotel

North of the mansion, restaurateurs persuaded pedestrians to enter their fragrant eateries. I tried pushing aside my aching stomach for the sake of my bank account but couldn’t help the notice the beautiful platters served at each locale. Tourists sat blissfully under cool umbrellas and enjoyed the South Florida heat as they enjoyed overpriced cuisines and rested their sunburnt backs.

After realizing I couldn’t handle the scent of food any longer, I crossed the street over to the beach. South Beach beaches are legendary for their crystal-clear water and comfortable lounging areas, as well as its beach-front walkway contoured with palm trees and playgrounds. I felt like I was in Lana Del Rey’s “Florida Kilos” music video while watching pedestrians rollerblade down the gravel path adjacent to the beach.

Daniela Perez visits her home state of Florida and goes to South Beach a tourist hotspot on the coast with beautiful beaches and shopping and restaurants and artistic culture
Pedestrians enjoying South Beach

Eventually, I found a small sand path that leads to the beach and struggled walking on the sand. The sun made the water look like a glass and the cloudless sky made it the perfect beach day. College students rallied in the water throwing footballs while lifeguards kept a watchful eye on the public. As I walked down the beach, I took in the hot sun and irreplaceable South Beach vibes. It was like no other beach I had ever been: families, students, and retirees coexisted without batting an eye. Some sunned themselves under the lounging areas while others basked in the suns. South Beach had its own ecosystem of tourists and locales, each enjoying themselves in different ways.  

Daniela Perez visits her home state of Florida and goes to South Beach a tourist hotspot on the coast with beautiful beaches and shopping and restaurants and artistic culture
A walkway leading to one of Florida’s most beautiful beaches

Besides Ocean Drive and its marvelous beaches, South Beach is home to Lincoln Road. Designer shops and local stores are housed in Art Deco masterpieces. One of these was the old Lincoln Theatre, which was a concert hall-turned-H&M. South Beach is dedicated to keeping its old-timey feel yet incorporating modern stores. This is why tourists came from near and far to explore Lincoln Road’s eclectic hotels and hidden boutiques. Any turn you make on this street will lead you onto some of South Beach’s gems.

I never realized this until I took several wrong turns trying to find my way back to my car; at one point, I found myself in front a beautifully crafted flamingo and fountain. Another wrong turn led me to a maze of ponds and trees. It was like stepping away from the beach town I imagined South Beach into a whole new city. That’s what made South Beach so special — they were able to incorporate so much on a tiny island off the coast of Miami.

Daniela Perez visits her home state of Florida and goes to South Beach a tourist hotspot on the coast with beautiful beaches and shopping and restaurants and artistic culture
A hidden gem in a Lincoln Road alley

Even without these wrong turns, Lincoln Road already offers patrons with countless shops and restaurants to enjoy after spending your day at the beach. Nothing feels better than having a shopping spree after spending in your day in the cool Atlantic waters.

As the sun began to set in South Beach, I realized how mistaken I was about South Beach. When I was only an hour away, I should’ve made it my mission to come as often as possible. I felt dumb that I had only lived miles away, yet hadn’t gone as often as I should’ve. It was like falling in love with Florida all over again — South Beach reminded me of the rich culture and history that lies in my favorite place. •

Daniela Perez visits her home state of Florida and goes to South Beach a tourist hotspot on the coast with beautiful beaches and shopping and restaurants and artistic culture
The sun setting behind Miami skyscrapers

Daniela Perez is freshman Journalism major from Boca Raton, Florida. This is Daniela’s first semester writing for Spark Magazine. Daniela hopes to return to her home country, Venezuela, to report on their current crisis. But for now, she enjoys petting mini-dachshunds, eating Cabo Bob’s and complaining about how Austin has no beach.

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