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Culture / Travel

The Perfect Miami Beach Vacation Formula — Where to Stay, Shop and Eat

Your Guide to the Luxe Beach Life

BY // 08.22.19

I was sent an over-the-top invite to a dear friend’s birthday. The title read: Ceron’s Nickel Nickel. It looked to be a grand and gloriously gold themed affair with too many bells and whistles (and likely bottles of rosé to count). What I found particularly intriguing though was that it was being held in Miami and with the majority of events at the Faena Hotel (where guests were encouraged to stay to be in the middle of the action).

I had ventured only once before to the hotel to attend a party during a past Art Basel Miami trip. I had never seen any of the rooms and decided to call up one of my best friends, New York art consultant Meredith Harper, to see about getting a suite together for the weekend.

I’ve actually lived in Miami Beach twice in my life. First, in the mid-1990s after attending graduate school in New York City. And again the early 2000s after moving back from Los Angles. That first-time go-around, the community felt edgier and more experimental.

Only a few hotels had undergone renovation (see Delano Hotel), but there was definitely a chic atmosphere, perhaps given that superstars, including Gianni Versace and Madonna, had purchased homes in the city and were spending a substantial amount of time there. Artists, models, drag queens and a few of the remaining Jewish retirees who lived in art deco hotels were the primary residents.

The pedestrian shopping thoroughfare Lincoln Road Mall was filled with homegrown stores and had yet to be filled with generic stores like the Gap and Forever XXI.

Since leaving the Beach for good as a full-time resident in 2002, I have come back almost every year (missing only two) for Art Basel Miami. It’s always great to get in a few days of sun, art overload, and fashion parties, but inevitable after 72 hours I am ready to hightail it home. The Beach has changed a lot in the past two decades, some might say for the worse, but I prefer to stay optimistic and say for the better.

A lot of the colorful aforementioned former residents: artists, models, drag queens and Jewish retirees have been gentrified out and left in their place are now vapid, seasonal, new money and new cosmetic surgery types. However, much of the glorious art deco architecture has been preserved and not been demolished to make way for whatever style seems to be currently en vogue.

Faena Hotel Tales

The Faena Hotel was the brainchild of Alan Faena and Len Blavatnik. Opened in December 2015, it was meant as the first phase of a neighborhood to be called the Faena District Miami Beach. Fueled by the local artistic community it was meant to bridge the North and South sections of Miami Beach. Faena Hotel was the rebirth of the former Saxony Hotel, originally built in 1947 by George Sax and known as the “Queen of Collins Avenue.”

Its heyday was the 1950s and 1960s when jet-setters would stay to bask in the South Florida sun and perhaps catch a performance by Dean Martin or Marilyn Monroe.

One of the grandest art statements can be found in the Hotel’s gardens where one encounters Damien Hirst’s Gone But Not Forgotten sculpture housed in a massive glass case. This is the gilded skeleton of a three-meter tall woolly mammoth and probably has been Instagrammed as much as Versace’s former old Ocean Drive residence (and the scene of his assassination) at this point.

Faena Hotel Miami Beach – Gone but not Forgotten
Damien Hirst’s Gone But Not Forgotten sculpture is a Miami Instagram staple.

If you’re looking to get in one more quick beach vacation before it’s time to start shuttling the kids to and fro school or the onslaught of the charity season, then head to Miami. It’s an easy formula for success. You’re welcome to use mine.

Where to Stay in Miami

Faena Hotel of course. Book a few days at the Faena Hotel and stay put by the pool during the day. Perhaps also get in a spa treatment or three and maybe a morning yoga session. Definitely try at least one meal at both Los Fuegos by Frances Mallmann, a contemporary Argentinian asado experience and Pao by Paul Qui which combines Filipino, Spanish, Japanese and French influences to sublime perfection.

For post-dinner, drinks in the Living Room are a must and catch a performance in the Faena Theater.

What to Wear in Miami

For day, it’s all about showing off your body. If you are more old school, like me I would suggest a Thom Browne or Vilbrequin bathing suit. Then some simple Prada sandals. If you are a little flashier and have a little label whore in you, then maybe a Gucci swimsuit with Louis Vuitton mules. Either style can be pulled together with some chic Tom Ford sunglasses.

For evening, once again if your tastes run more the preppier course, then go with my main man — Thom Browne. Try one of his classic white button-up shirts, but perhaps experiment with a whimsical twist, like one with a duck embroidered above the chest pocket. Sleeves rolled-up, of course, since we are in balmy South Beach.

Below opt for some classic Rag & Bone chinos, but might I suggest having them taken up an inch or two. I’ve found that showing a little more leg is more modern (or actually more classic since it has a 1950s’ vibe), but it really depends on your comfort level. Personally, I go with anywhere from a five to six-inch inseam, depending on the style and cut of the shorts. To tie this all together — Prada’s color-block leather boat shoes.

For the little more on the edge boys out there who want to hit the Collins Avenue strip, I’d suggest Louis Vuitton’s hooded graphic pajama shirt. Made of exquisite silk resembling one of the house’s classic scarves, this will definitely make your entrance known at any swellegant watering hole. Pair it with some cut-off jeans (to show you really don’t care too much) and then with a pair of Dior hightop sneakers.

Where to Eat in Miami

Plenty to choose from at Faena, but if you venture out then go to Casa Tua or The Bazaar by José Andrés. Unfortunately, the famed Joe’s Stone Crab is only seasonal and does not open until mid-October. If you just want some great cocktails head over to the Broken Shaker.

Where to Shop in Miami

Definitely take a stroll through the Bal Harbour Shops. With roots dating back to the mid-1960s, this has long been a mecca of high-end luxury retail. Perhaps due to owner/developer Stanley Whitman’s ability to persuade Neiman Marcus to open its first department store, outside of Texas here.

Bar Harbour currently houses a who’s who of drool-worthy labels including Balmain, DSquared2, Prada, and Gucci. All found in an uber-chic architectural environment filled with koi ponds.

Lots of people watching. You’ll see a bunch of wives (generally a second or third who look like former Victoria Secret’s Angels and got a good prenup) pushing strollers with a nanny also on hand.

Another option for some open-air shopping is the Miami Design District. There you will find Dior Men, Hermès, Cos, Rick Owens, and Lanvin. Finally, we all love our Texas-based favorite — Forty Five Ten, which also has a store in Miami.

What to Listen to in Miami

It’s Miami so go with some classics. Sinatra’s “Summer Wind,” The Notorious B.I.G. “Hypnotize,” Mariah Carey’s “Honey,” Jennifer Lopez’s “Love Don’t Cost A Thing,” The O’Kaysons’ “I’m A Girl Watcher,” and Madonna’s “Hung Up.”

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