Travel Diary: Miami, Florida
Updated: Feb 2, 2020
I spent four days in Miami earlier this month for a family wedding, spending time in Coral Gables, South Beach, and Wynwood. It was a short and sweet trip, and we got to see parts of Miami that we hadn't on previous visits. My photo diary and recap are below, a glimpse of the last bit of southern sun and summer heat that we got to squeeze in this year.
Wedding festivities were based at the historic Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables. The hotel is grand and gorgeous, with two crescent driveways that lead to an upper and a lower lobby, a golf course, a 23,000 square foot pool, and the fanciest $115 Sunday brunch I've ever encountered (one cousin basically ate a breakfast of only caviar to get his money's worth).
In the upper lobby, there were beautifully painted vaulted ceilings, velvet upholstered furniture in jeweled toned blues and greens, and two giant bird cage structures that housed a rainbow of finches who were fed fresh fruit each day along with their birdseed. One afternoon, Kev came over to tell me that he saw a woman playing a harp. Harp fancy is pretty damn fancy.
We arrived on Friday morning, leaving our bags and grabbing a late breakfast while our rooms were being prepared. Because we'd been up early for a 7am flight from NY, we decided to nap once we got into the room so that we'd be ready for the welcome dinner that night.
I'd packed a hot pink floral silk dress with a cowl front and a low back for this occasion, and lost my nerve about wearing it as we were getting ready - was this number family appropriate? Does the fact that I'm even wondering mean that it isn't? As it was getting down to the wire, I decided that I could shorten the straps connecting the draped front to the low back, thereby making the front cowl a little more conservative. I found a hotel staffer in the hallway and asked for a sewing kit. Soon after, someone knocked on our door to give me a little pouch that I was happy to receive... until it turned out that they'd misunderstood my request and brought me several extra bars of soap. Luckily, my sister-in-law had a sewing kit on her. I made my alterations in time, and we headed off on our way.
Dinner was at Monty's Raw Bar in Coconut Grove. It was a raucous venue with live music blasting from under its thatched roof. I liked it from the moment we stepped out of our cab and heard the band. The space that was reserved for our party was right on the water, so we enjoyed a lovely breeze all evening.
There was an open bar and buffet style dining, and the night was spent hopping between picnic style seats and catching up with Kev's extended family who'd all traveled to Florida for the wedding.
We had a selection of hot food, including grilled fish, chicken, rice and beans, as well as ceviche and roasted plantains. I enjoyed the food that night, but we heard from some folks who went back for lunch the next day that the raw bar and seafood were only okay. Perhaps it's the kind of place you go to primarily for the open air, the dockside seating, and the loud, live music. Sometimes that's the exact right fit.
We got a late start on Saturday due to some after-partying back at the hotel after Monty's. I was hurting a bit but we made it out to Ariete for brunch. I could only muster the appetite for some simple pancakes but Kev's food looked pretty good, and the bloody marys were great.
The meal did me in and I needed to head back to the hotel for another nap. I was only at 85% when we were due in the lobby for family photos at 4pm. By 7, after the ceremony and on the back patio behind the grand ballroom for cocktail hour, I was still loving the seltzer and barely sipping my white wine. I'd slowly rally throughout the night, but had to sit out a few shots which was fine because there were so many.
The reception was in an impressive ballroom with a soaring ceiling and an inexplicably giant fireplace that grown people could stand in. There was candlelight all around and a thirteen piece band on stage. The band was on fire that night, and it would come to feel a bit like a concert later on as dinner and dancing turned into a wild party which the couple extended for an extra hour (along with their open bar). We had a nightcap at the after party in the bride and groom's suite, and went off to bed.
Checkout at the Biltmore was around noon and checkin at our South Beach AirBnB was at 4pm. We spent the intervening hours at the Biltmore's pool getting a bit of sun, a piña colada, and some poolside snacks.
The AirBnB was right on Collins Ave., a stone's throw from Ocean Drive and the beach, and right in the heart of South Beach where all the pastel art deco buildings and neon hotel signs can be found. It's very touristy, but you kind of have to embrace its intense vibe.
Dinner that night was on Española Way, a cute street that is kind of like Little Italy in NYC with its string lights and heckling hosts trying to wrangle you over for a meal, except with pink stucco walls and palm trees.
I wasn't very pleased with our experience arriving at dinner. We'd called ahead to one of the Italian restaurants on the street for a reservation for six. The waiters standing outside our restaurant kept calling out to us by Kev's name as we strolled up to and past the restaurant. I wanted to take pictures of the street before sitting down, and I didn't appreciate getting heckled as I walked by. My husband is not really present on social media, so they didn't look him up before we arrived, which would have been weird on its own. I'm pretty certain that the only things they went on were the Chinese last name and the (maybe? not even!) unusual sight of six asian people walking together in a group. I said loudly to one of them "HI YES, I'm just taking some pictures first."
Our meal once inside the restaurant went on with perfectly courteous service, but I did not like the greeting at all.
We walked back along Ocean Drive after dinner. The night was so humid that Kev's dad kept trying to duck into hotel lobbies to get some air conditioning. I was loving the neon lights in the darkness, the bass-heavy music blasting every couple of doors, and the fact that it wasn't a very long trip back (I was way too full).
This was our main day of sight seeing. We went to Wynwood, the arts district which was about 15 minutes from South Beach by car, and spent nearly the entire day there. It was indeed filled with art in the form of murals; the free-to-enter Wynwood Walls exhibit is a main attraction in the area.
Wynwood felt very much like Bushwick, Brooklyn, though I'd say that it's more spread out and less developed. It reminded me of the Bushwick that I knew and first loved when I lived there in the summer of 2012: a little run down, a lot of energy.
We'd gotten a few recommendations from Kev's co-workers at his company's Ft. Lauderdale office. Here are the ones we hit up:
Panther Coffee - One of several locations, we took the cab from our AirBnB here to begin the outing with some iced coffee. We could smell the coffee beans roasting from across the street. There was a large square counter wrapped around a tree out front, providing shade to the people sitting there. The shop offers a free coffee drink with each bag of beans purchased, so take advantage if you want to bring some coffee home.
Coyo Taco - This taco joint was recommended by multiple people. We really liked the simple interior as the backdrop for some very good tacos. Six sauces ranging from mild to very hot, and unsweetened iced matcha tea rounded out our lunch. For dessert, I ordered a rice pudding popsicle which I was very happy with.
J. Wakefield Brewing - I loved that this brewery was so clearly owned by Star Wars and comic book nerds. There's a huge custom Star Wars mural inside and plenty of comic-inspired artwork all around. Their beers have some cheeky names and awesome label art. I'm a fan. A nice selection of sours, some heavy hitting stouts, and several lagers and pale ales on offer at the taproom.
1-800-Lucky - Unfortunately for us, we came to 1-800-Lucky quite full on tacos and beer. This place is a small-ish food hall filled with stalls selling asian cuisine. I noted that Wayla, a buzzy Thai restaurant that opened in NYC earlier this year, had a stand among others selling dim sum, sushi, and matcha soft serve. We spent almost two hours here, hanging, chatting, digesting, with my sister-in-law's boyfriend ordering bites every so often for the table. I liked the vibe as it wasn't crowded at all (given it was a Monday afternoon, I'm not sure this was indicative of a typical crowd, especially since I'm seeing some serious nightclub vibes in the outdoor area on Instagram) and we didn't feel any pressure from staff to eat or leave.
Wood Tavern - A sprawling dive bar with a large outdoor area, mostly covered, that featured picnic tables, bleacher seating, and corn hole. We hung out here for just one beer apiece, killing a little bit of time before dinner. Wood reminded me of the backyard at Roberta's, our most-loved place in Bushwick, and therefore I felt a natural affinity to the place.
We had dinner reservations at Mandolin Aegean Bistro, where we enjoyed delicious, family style mediterranean food accompanied by a pitcher of white sangria with rose water. We dined al fresco under a wicker pendant light as dusk turned to night. Despite being sun drunk and tired and full of doubt about our appetites, we ate well. It would be our last meal in Miami for this visit.