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The Art Deco Era of the 1930’s, Lives On in the Shadows of Miami Beach.

Explore the nation's largest collection of Art Deco buildings in Miami Beach.

By victoria patricoloPublished 3 years ago 6 min read
Walking Tour of Art Deco Historic District, Miami Beach, FL (Art Deco Tours)

The 1930’s may be long gone but the vibes of the Great Gatsby era live on in Miami Beach. Miami Beach was the party town for the rich and famous. Home to glamorous flapper girls, mobsters, like Al Capone, hidden casinos, and Hollywood stars. Today Miami Beach is a preserved gem of beautifully restored Art Deco buildings. South Beach is a neighborhood within Miami Beach, and is home to many boutique hotels and trendy restaurants. This is thanks to the crusade led by Barbara Baer Capitman. She recognized the importance of preserving these works of art and in 1976 founded the Miami Design Preservation League (MDPL). In 1979 the Art Deco Historic District was born and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Thus becoming the nation's first 20th century urban historic district.

Today there are over 800 buildings in the Art Deco Historic District. They’re easy to spot, usually no more than 3 stories high, they still have their original marquis. You can’t miss the large block lettering above the entryways. Many of the current businesses have different names but the original hotel signs remain a permanent part of the structure to maintain their historical standing. Some of these works of art are inspired by transportation. You may look at a building and think “that almost looks like a ship”. It may have porthole windows, cube brick glass, rounded corners accompanied by fine lines and geometric shapes. You’ll notice architectural details like radio spirals and neon lighting. At night these streets transform into a colorful tropical paradise. You’ll catch yourself oohing and ahhing as you gaze down the street of illuminated art and palm trees.

Shadows of the past linger on these streets you feel as though you’re walking through a movie set of an old Hollywood film. Any minute Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers will come dancing down an elaborate staircase. You can imagine sharply dressed men in tuxedos, sporting cigars and fedora hats, pulling up to glamorous hotels in their chauffeur driven limousines. The champagne must have flowed like water here and the parties….they lasted all night.

I had the opportunity to visit Miami Beach on a recent trip to Florida. I was with my sister-in-law, she agreed to join me on a walking tour of the Art Deco Historic District with Art Deco Tours.

Walking tours fit right into my blog narrative, sustainable tourism. They are usually led by guides that have a personal connection to the community. They may have lived in the area for many years and developed a deep respect for its history. Our guide, James, certainly fit that description. He has been living in Miami Beach since the 90’s and has seen its transformation from the days of Miami Vice, to the tragic shooting of the famous designer Versace. James has a deep passion and appreciation for Miami Beach and it's Art Deco history. We couldn't help but be intrigued with every word he said.

How will we look back on the 2020’s in Miami Beach? Since COVID-19 the main drag, Ocean Drive, has been closed off to vehicles and is now only open to pedestrians. January and February are usually peak seasons for tourism in Miami. Although there are tourists, the bars and restaurants are much quieter, as are the beaches. We traveled in January and met our guide in front of the Essex House hotel. James was easy to spot, he was bundled up in a winter coat in Florida’s 65 degree weather. He told us the locals can always tell who the tourists are during the winter months, they're the ones walking around half naked and basking in the cool sun.

The walking tour covered about a 7 block radius of the historic district. We had the opportunity to view a variety of Art Deco styles and James let us in on some tricks the designers used to create a marbling effect. He also led us into some of the lobbies of the restored hotels, we even got to see a rooftop pool and bar. It was only Patty and myself on the tour. The tours require at least 2 paying passengers to depart. We took the tour on a Friday, but weekends are most popular. They also offer a Little Havana Tour and a Miami Art Deco Cocktail Tour in the evening.

I don’t want to give away too many details of our walking tour. I would prefer you experience it for yourself. If you would like to view a short video see my video content page.

Miami Beach highlights:

  • Ocean Drive - This street runs parallel to the ocean and is where you will find most of the boutique hotels and fine dining. Prior to covid-19 this was open to vehicles, but is now only open to pedestrians. South Beach (5th to 14th Street).
  • Miami Beach - Beautiful wide beach, white sand. Lifeguards on duty. The stands are brightly colored and individual works of art, none resemble each other. Beach chair rentals and umbrellas are available through Boucherbrothers.com. Also available are Jet Skis, Jet Ski Tours, Banana Boats, Paddle Boards.
  • Lummus Park - City park, stretches 10 blocks from 5th to 14th street parallel to Ocean Drive. Paved walkways for biking and skating, jogging. The lawn is home to festivals throughout the year. There is an outdoor gym, “Muscle Beach” on 9th street.
  • Miami Design Art Deco Preservation League Welcome Center - 10th Street and Lummus Park. It is also the home to the statue of Barbara Baer Capitman.
  • Art Deco Tours
  • Day tours of South Beach
  • The Wolfsonian Museum - (Florida International University) Located 2 blocks from Ocean Drive in the Art Deco Historic District. Originally this was a storage facility for collector Micky Wolfson now is home to over 200,000 objects. Micky was a long time resident of Miami Beach. He was a collector of all things unique. Inside there is a cafe and souvenir shop featuring Art Deco inspired items. Tickets are required for entry (no entrance fee).
  • Bike Rentals - South Beach is great for biking on Ocean Drive and Lummus Park.

Boutique hotels on Ocean Drive in Miami Beach (South Beach):

  • Dream Hotel South Beach - 4.5 Star, Rooftop Pool. (Like most Art Deco buildings this hotel still displays its original signage on its spiral)
  • Hotel Victor - 4.5 star. Recently added a wing to the original structure with newly designed rooms. The pool is on a terrace overlooking the ocean.
  • National Hotel - 4 Star - 116 newly designed room with the flare of cinematic elegance.
  • Cavalier South Beach - 4 Star - 113 rooms - Restored Art Deco hotel on Ocean Drive.
  • Winter Haven, Autograph Collection - 4 star - Lobby bar serves the best Mojitos
  • The Betsy Hotel - 4.5 Star. located at the end of the strip. Beautifully restored Colonial style hotel. To provide a hint this hotel evokes music and poetry.
  • The Villa Casa Casuarina - 4.5 Star. Formerly the Versace Mansion.

Unique places to Eat & Drink:

  • Palace Bar & Restaurant Drag Queen Brunch - We did this on Sunday. If you would like to view my short video go to my Video Content page. Not to be missed.
  • Naked Taco - Best tacos located in the Dream Hotel. Once a hidden Casino.
  • The Alley - Located in the Betsy Hotel. Entrance in the side street under the poet’s rail. Delicious personalized pizzas.
  • The lobby bar in the Winter Haven - according to our guide, James, they serve the best mojitos in Miami Beach.
  • 11th Street Diner - Best diner in South Beach loved by the locals.
  • Gianni’s - Located in The Villa Casa Casuarina, the former Versace Mansion.

Miami Beach is a living museum, the shadows of its past live on here. As time marches on, the faces may change, the fashion may evolve, the beat of the music may be a little more intense, but the game remains the same. Miami Beach is a place to experience life to its fullest. To drink, to eat, to dance and to celebrate. And these days we can all use a little celebration.

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About the Creator

victoria patricolo

In April, 2020. I launched ConsciousTraveler.CO. A travel blog focused on sustainable luxury tourism, unique experiences, travel tips and trends. I hope to inspire people to travel again...so much depends on it.

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    victoria patricoloWritten by victoria patricolo

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