Date of Trip: October 2008
Because Florida is being featured this week, I would like to submit what I think are some useful hints I’ve gathered from living here since 1971 and also mention a few new things that have cropped up. I currently live in Miami Beach, where I’ve been since 1983.
By the way, absolutely no one – EXCEPT for travel writers, who don’t know any better, but should – refer to South Beach as “SoBe.” I have NEVER heard anyone say that term here!
PARKING. The most important thing to remember when driving in this area is that “Towaway Zone” means exactly what it says. Towing is a real and very politically protected racket here, and the towing companies use commissioned spotters, so that even if you leave your car for 5 minutes in an otherwise empty lot in the middle of the night, it could be gone when you get back, and you’ll be out over $100 – cash only accepted! And if the meter has, say, a two hour limit and you come back after the two hours are up, you may also find your car is gone. And don’t even think of parking in an alley!
I strongly suggest that if you are staying anywhere on the beaches, take a taxi or shuttle or even a $2 public bus there. And if you want a rental car to go to attractions outside of the city/beach area, there are plenty of rental outlets in Miami Beach, and you’ll pay less per day than if you rented at the airport.
Miami Beach does have city parking garages. They are reasonable and you won’t have to worry about being towed; you’ll just have to pay for the time you’re there when you leave. A lot of the metered parking no longer uses meters but rather those machines that you buy dashboard tickets from. They take credit and debit cards and usually (but not always) work.
Remember, if you’re driving a rental car, get a parking ticket and don’t pay it, the rental company will end up putting it on your credit card – with a large late fee added!
HOTELS AND RESTAURANTS. We have a house, so we don’t stay in hotels here, but there are some outrageously Manhattan-priced hotels here. I’d say, use a guidebook, the internet and your common sense. Travel writers just LOVE to recommend the most outrageously priced hotels and restaurants. As far as restaurants go, we don’t eat out a lot, but when we do, it’s always here on Miami Beach. You can get good, reasonably priced Cuban food at Puerto Sagua and Davids II, and there are reasonable Italian, American, Chinese and even Turkish restaurants all over. Some are on Lincoln Road, a great place to walk. Most restaurants have menus posted outside.
I 95 (Interstate 95) Listen up, this is important! As per the usual role that the main purpose of local government is to torment the people, the authorities here are changing the leftmost two lane of I-95 between I-195 and the State Road 826/Beaches cloverleaf into restricted pay lanes. So far, only the northbound side of I-95 has been affected, but that will change soon enough. At present, there are no tolls and no restrictions. BUT, and this is a big BUT, if you are driving north on I-95 and are south of the I-195 turnoff and stay in those two left lanes, you will NOT be able to exit for SEVEN MILES once the express lane begins. They’re talking about tolls beginning in November. When they do, they will be posted, cash will NOT be accepted, and the amounts will be posted and will vary as the traffic flow varies.
BEACHES. Never ever leave your stuff unwatched on the beach. it’s a good idea to go with someone else so that, while one of you is in the water, the other one is with the stuff. The loungers on the beaches are NOT free – sit on one and you won’t believe how quickly someone will appear, wanting money.
The rules on beach attire are pretty lax. Miami Beach tolerates thongs, topless, nudity while lying on your tummy and momentary nudity while changing. There is an official nude beach in Haulover park ($5 to park all day), up around 158th and Collins/Rt.A1A. Both of those beaches have food, drink, lounger and umbrella concessions. Or bring your own. Both beaches have posted rules against bringing in alcohol and glass containers. You can get in trouble for that in Miami Beach. At Haulover, they don’t care about the alcohol as long as you’re discrete about it.
VISITOR ATTRACTIONS AND EVENTS. Use a guide book and check the New Times (free in red street side boxes every Wed.) and the weekend section of Friday’s Miami Herald (35 cents in yellow streetside boxes and in drugstores) Miami Beach has the Bass art museum, the Wolfsonian design and history museum, the Jewish museum and, yes, the Erotic Art museum (you must be 18) There’s a good zoo (MetroZoo) in the southern part of the county, and a good botanical garden, also way down south (Fairchild Tropical Gardens). Not far from Miami is the Seaquarium, a Sea World/MarineLand type place. Check prices first. Good advice re. both visitor attractions and airports: Eat first, bring your own snacks and drinks, or be prepared to pay about three times the usual price for mediocre food.
TRANSPORTATION. You don’t need a car while in Miami Beach. There are numerous bus routes (adult fare is $2, dollar bills accepted, transfers 50 cents) and the south beach shuttle (only a quarter). Buses also go up Collins/A1A to Surfside, Bal Harbour, Haulover park, and Sunny Isles Beach, as well as into Miami. Call 305-770-3131 for info. Taxis are on the pricey side, but there are fixed rates to and from airports – insist on them.
CRIME. Use common sense as you would anywhere. don’t leave anything visible in your car. don’t leave your luggage in your trunk. Never ever take your eyes off a purse or briefcase, even if you’re holding it (we have expert thieves who raid purses and you won’t even know it until you reach for your wallet) don’t wander around deserted streets or alleys late at night, and don’t use the beaches late at night unless you’re with a group.
SPECIAL ALERT. The CVS drugstore on Lincoln Road will insist on having you jailed if you so much as pop a penny candy injto your mouth without paying for it first. Anyplace else will let you eat or drink something in the store if you do it openly and use the wrapper to pay for it when you leave. This store will bust you for that. My suggestion is to stay out of that particular store.