The New York TimesâÂ Frugal Traveler Lucas Peterson recentlyÂ paid our fair, seaside city of South Beach a visitÂ and like so many travel writers and first time visitors before him, he fell into the typical tourist traps of Ocean Drive and its surrounding streets, rattling off (for the most part) a list of bars that no self respecting local would be caught dead in. He even called Mangoâs the âquintessentialâ South Beach club experienceâuh, not quite, bro. See: LIV, Story.
To be fair, South Beach isnât the easiest place to penetrate with pockets of coolness hiding in plain sight amidst, well, a lot of weirdness. Having lived in South Beach for the last six years, Iâve created a no nonsense guide distilling down the best locals spots in the âhood. And, yes, they happen to be places that I personally enjoy frequenting.
So what makes a spot local?Â
First, itâs gotta have a good vibe. We like a place thatâs both approachable and stylish with serious quality backing it up.
Second, the price needs to be right. Itâs far too easy to drop $80 to $100 a head at restaurants of wildly varying quality on the beach (most places being just okay). We want to pay half that. Also, spare us the $18-$24 cocktails, please! We live here. We need a place we can go any night of the week and not feel totally ripped off and despondent when the bill comes.
Finally, we love anything locally owned and operated. Thatâs how weâre slowly, but surely building a community on this crazy, neon-festooned, tacky, tourist loving, melting pot of an island thatâs slowly sinking into the Atlantic. We like a place where we might run into our neighbors that still feels somewhat undiscovered by the masses who live elsewhere.
Letâs get this one out of the way right off the bat. If you want to know where South Beach locals like to hang, the answer is simple:Â Sunset Harbour. This picturesque micro-neighborhood (itâs all of about three blocks) overlooking Biscayne Bay is where we grocery shop and work out. Itâs also where some of our favorite bars, restaurants and boutiques are found. With a central parking garage, itâs easy to access and everything is walkable.
(The only caveat is that this infant neighborhood is ground zero for Mayor Levineâs resiliency plan to combat sea level rise. From tearing up the streets to raising the sidewalks, itâs been in a perpetual state of construction for, well, as long as the neighborhoodâs been on the map with no signs of letting up anytime soon.) What can we do?
These are the best local spots in Sunset Harbour:
Where to Eat:
With its wide-ranging menu (from short rib pappardelle to tofu gado gado) featuring plenty of healthy options,Â IceboxÂ is my go-to, post-yoga dinner spot. With a solid wine list, cocktail menu and crave-worthy selection of homemade cakes by the slice, you can make a meal here as indulgent as you wish.
Fast, casual and healthy is the name of the game in South Beach and I love the latest fromÂ JugofreshâsÂ Matthew Sherman.Â Paradigm KitchenÂ opened in October, dishing up fresh poke bowls, haloumi salads, lamb kebab wraps and (free!) crystal enhanced water at breakfast and lunchtime. Yes, your chakras will be aligned and your body will be nourished after a meal here.
Locals love anything Pubbelly andÂ Pubbelly Sushi, with its delicious, creative, deconstructed sushi and tapas, reigns supreme.
It might be imported from Brooklyn, but South Beach locals have claimedÂ LucaliÂ for their own. Inside an industrial space that still manages to feel homey, Lucaliâs brick oven pizzas are the best on the beach. Other standout dishes include their meatballs and kale Caesar salad.
Where to Drink:
And speaking of Lucali, their adjacent cocktail barÂ Bay ClubÂ is my favorite drinking den on the beach. With a well-edited cocktail list, talented bartenders and personal sized pizzas served in a charming indoor-outdoor setting, itâs perfection post-work or late night.
And if youâre at Bay Club late, you might as well swing byÂ Purdy LoungeÂ to dance off the pizza and cocktailsâand order some high ABV Chimays to keep the party going. This slightly divey bar (lovingly called the âdirty Purdyâ) was here before the neighborhood developed into what it is today and longtime Miami locals love itâor at the very least, have fond memories of their younger days here.
Where else in South Beach can you order a locally roasted cup of coffee, set up your laptop and (pretend? to) get to work? Thatâs whatÂ Panther CoffeeÂ is here for. Also, for mini Vegan cupcakes.
Where to Exercise:
Two of Miamiâs most gifted yoga teachers, Amy Dannheim and Paul Toliuszis, teamed up to openÂ Tropical VinyasaÂ in September. The bright, airy yoga studio has serious good vibes and a talented, diverse roster of teachers.
South Beach KayakÂ is the neighborhoodâs original kayak and standup paddleboard outfitter. Owned by longtime Miami Beach locals, the Sherman family, this is the place to go for a whirl on Biscayne Bay.
Where to Shop:
Selling soft, sumptuous lingerie, loungewear, bikinis and cover-ups,Â Eberjey, founded in 1996 by Mariela Rovito and Ali Mejia, is one of Miamiâs fashion success stories.
Frankie.Â is where to shop when youâre in the mood to splurge on a trendy outfit for a night out or chic casual wear.
MarketÂ is where to shop when you want to save on trendy basics.
Sunset Clothing Co.Â is where to shop if youâre a dude. (Thereâs also casual womenâs clothing).
We like to keep things fresh in South Beach, so when a new cocktail bar pops up tucked away off Collins Park, weâre all about it. Conceived by legendary Miami mixologist John Lermayer,Â Sweet LibertyÂ serves up a sweet cocktail and food menu (cauliflower nachos, anyone?). It was also namedÂ Best New American BarÂ at Tales of the Cocktailâs Spirited Awards in July.
A certain breed of Miami hipster dudes take great pride in their love ofÂ Macâs Club Deuce, South Beachâs ultimate dive barâand for good reason. Itâs dark and dingy with a pool table, the drinks are cheap, the jukebox is good and the characters who hang out there are stranger than fiction. Weâre talking eye patches and face tattoos. Drink up!
For crepes in a cozy cafĂ© that transports you to a sidewalk in France, look no further thanÂ A La Folie, hidden on the non-touristy end of EspaĂ±ola Way.
We like healthy, organic food in South Beach, so we frequent the newly opened fast-casualÂ DirtÂ for its super fresh and delicious menu of salads, bowls and sandwiches.
As far as Iâm concerned,Â The CafĂ© at Books & BooksÂ is the only palatable restaurant on Lincoln Road (aside fromÂ Shake Shack, of course). They serve a wide-ranging menu of salads, sandwiches and entrees. Bonus: You can browse the shelves atÂ Books & BooksÂ afterwards.
Some Italian options:Â MacchialinaÂ (helmed byÂ James Beard Award Best Chef semifinalistÂ Michael Pirolo, pasta dishes are only $10 on Thursdays),Â Via Emilia 9Â (with outrageous charcuterie boards and sumptuous pasta) andÂ Sylvanoâs(authentic, rustic Italian in a romantic, indoor-outdoor setting off Collins Park).
Locally Loved Hotels
Iâm anointingÂ The StandardÂ (pictured at top)Â as the best hotel for locals. Whether youâre a member or not, the place is a picturesque haven on Biscayne Bay, perfect for a spa day, sunset happy hour, yoga class or meditation workshop. Itâs one of those places that reminds us how lucky we are to live amidst beautiful weather and beautiful people.
While its tourist-central location at 15thÂ and Collins stacks the decks against it, Iâm rooting forÂ The HallÂ to become a popular locals spot. With chilled out, surfer dude, celeb chef Spike Mendelsohn behind the menu at pool barÂ SunnyâsÂ and beer gardenÂ Campton Yard, the grub is tasty and priced right. It might be the only place on the beach with a solid cocktail menu at $10, plus theyâre wooing locals with a 15 percent discount.
When You Really Want to Get Crunk
Itâs not a total accident that weâve chosen to live on a barrier island swimming with debauch nightclubs that go hard until sunrise. When we really want to throw down, we head toÂ LIVÂ orÂ Story.Â Â
For a party in a smaller venue that can be just as wild, head toÂ BasementÂ atÂ The Miami Beach EDITIONÂ (also see:Â Rec RoomÂ atÂ GaleÂ hotel) where thereâs not only a Discobox dance club, but also an ice skating rink and four-lane bowling alley. Iâm a big fan of the hotelâs casual dining restaurantÂ MarketÂ by Jean-Georges Vongerichten andÂ Matador BarÂ for top-notch cocktails in a sexy setting. Neither, however, are priced for locals.
While the crowd here often skews to bizarre beyond explanation,Â FaenaÂ is still just too damn pretty to completely ignore. See if you can charm your way into their speakeasyÂ Saxony BarÂ accessed down a spiral staircase to the right of the gilded lobby cathedral for your best shot at a good vibe.
A version of this story originally appeared on Miami.com.