Enumerable movies and television shows have used Miami, Florida, as a back drop for their action filled dramas and edgy mysteries. Needless to say from the gritty to the glamorous, Miami still has it all. Yes, there is traffic and crazy drivers ~ locals and tourists alike ~ but with a non binding schedule it’s rather easy to manage a casual visit.
Driving down south from the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood airport in the rental car was effortless as I took the I-95 freeway south until it ended in a residential boulevard affair. It was then simple to ease on down the road, turn left and find the Sonesta Bayfront Coconut Grove hotel, my home base for this visit. The Sonesta is an upscale and comfy hotel, complete with mandatory valet parking, a friendly and helpful reception desk, a high security elevator, an upper story pool with accompanying bar and food service, and of course a room with a view of ocean, sun, palm trees and boats.
Since a car is a must for Florida touring, my fears, at staying away from the action in Coconut Grove would find me too isolated, were not realized. There is a fine little shopping area, 2 blocks from the hotel – with art galleries, sundry shops and eateries.
One night I brought Pizza back to the room and enjoyed a quiet sunset from my lux room, as I got caught up on a favorite TV show.
In the following days I took in the iconic, Vizcaya estate and gardens, just down the road from the Sonesta Bayfront Coconut Grove hotel. Vizcaya was the winter residence of American industrialist James Deering from Christmas 1916 until his death in 1925. Vizcaya was one of the many memories I recall from my 1980 Miami visit. The house has changed with some improvements, since that time, and is about to undergo a few more. But the proximity to the ocean, surrounded by a green hammock growth, offers a romantic and old world garden stroll. As is often the case at Vizcaya, a bride was having a photographic session in the garden during my visit.
After a quick snack at the gourmet sandwich shop in the basement of the house, it was over to Miami proper, and the Bayside Marketplace. Wanting to at least see from a distance the famed backyard estates of the rich and famous, I boarded the Island Queen tour boat for a seaside view. It took us by several estates including, Rosie O’Donnell, Ricky Martin, Elton John, and the former home of Elizabeth Taylor complete with a bronze sculpture given her by Michael Jackson. The tour boat gave a good feeling for the logistics and geography of Miami.
The Bayside Marketplace is filled with eateries, some upscale some casual. On my wanderings I came across a just opened establishment called “Off the Hookah”, below the Hard Rock, which offered mid-eastern styled food. It has a reputation of being a very wild adult evening crowd, but the afternoon was calm and sophisticated. My watermelon martini out on the deck was accompanied by a filet mignon, which was my most satisfying meal on this Miami visit. The view of ships and harbor activity added to the enjoyment. Interesting how an unexpected dining treat can enhance this most touristy of travel adventures.
But it was off to Miami Beach proper, as I wanted to revisit the famed Fontainebleau hotel. I had forgotten how far up on Collins Avenue it was, but with patience while passing other high rise hotels, I found the drive-in valet parking with ease, and since I was pretending I was playing with the rich and famous, I enjoyed imagining my own movie script and didn’t mind the $20 parking fee. What I did mind was the black suited security guards poolside. I felt like an intruder and not a welcomed Florida guest. But I was able to skirt them to do a brief stroll along the ocean board walk to be disappointed with the interior and landscaping at neighboring Eden Roc hotel. Ah well, a screen writer did not create my visit there. I did splurge for a Cosmopolitan in the famous Fontainebleau Bleau Lobby Bar and was not disappointed. The cocktail looked so good at a table of other lobby guests that I asked them how it was, and we struck up a conversation – or a bit of one. They were travelers from South America, with only one speaking fluid English. Come to find out she was from my home state of Oklahoma. Imagine ~ small world.
Back in the car I cruised down crowded Ocean Drive and into the Art Deco Hotel district. The bars and streets were crushed with a plethora of people, and I don’t know how any of them got there, unless they walked from parking miles way. The slow traffic did allow me to glance up at the iconic architecture, some lit with neon, as the sun was setting and the evening night life began to blossom.
Parking in lower Miami Beach is a problem, not only finding a lot, but once there deciphering in near darkness the code to pay for the time you expected to stay. This ticketing procedure could be improved as I was not the only one standing around
trying to punch the correct buttons to secure the parking ticket to place in your car.
The farewell evening meal at the Panorama Restaurant at the Sonesta Bayfront Coconut Grove Hotel was over the top. Executive Chef Christopher Cramer explained that he was blending the Peruvian-inspired cuisine with traditional American tastes. The flavors of Peru came through, and the bounty of American portions was overwhelming, as I also ate in the spectacular view of Biscayne Bay. Even in this brief visit to Miami, I felt the glamour, experienced the visual stimulation, and sampled the lux lifestyle, which has made it a perpetual playground.
For more information in planning your visit:
http://www.sonesta.com/CoconutGrove, http://www.vizcayamuseum.org , http://www.OffTheHookah.com, http://www.islandqueencruises.com/