“I Left My Heart in ________”
“Autumn in ________”
“Moon Over ________”
The answers: San Francisco, New York and Miami. What they have in common is that the world’s great romantic cities all find themselves in the titles of classic romantic songs, and Miami’s no exception. Take a moonrise over the ocean or a sunset over the bay, add South Florida’s balmy subtropical climate and scenery, fuse it with a passion for fun and the island pulse and Latin rhythms of its world-class nightlife, and you’ll see that this is ground zero for couples. Whatever you choose to do from our list of suggestions, be sure to save some laid-back time to soak up some rays on the beach or around your hotel’s pool.
Where to Stay
If you’re of a mind to splurge big time, the place to stay in South Beach is the Delano South Beach Hotel, one of the neighborhood’s ultra-chic Art Deco treasures. There’s great food at the Blue Door Restaurant and a swimming pool right on the beach, so you can people-watch while sunbathing at the same time the passers-by are ogling you.
For a slightly more affordable stay without missing out on the great South Beach ambience, book the Park Central. This hotel pays tribute to Miami Art Deco with its lobby and is right across the street from the beach.
Day One: SoBe It!
Explore South Beach at your leisure. Stroll around the boutiques and trendy hangouts on Ocean Drive or Collins Avenue till lunchtime, then make your way to the News Cafe early enough to grab a sidewalk table — the best spot in South Beach for noshing and people-watching. Order one of their great salads or omelets, along with a couple of mimosas, and sip and nibble while the whole world passes you by on foot, bike, six-figure sports cars and rollerblades.
If the mood strikes you, and you would like an in-depth tete-a-tete with South Beach’s Art Deco roots, go to the Art Deco Welcome Center and join one of its 90-minute guided walking tours.
Continue your stroll to the Lincoln Road shopping district. Here’s a great place to shop together for everything from designer duds to perfumes and bath products. Make sure to have a cappuccino at an alfresco umbrella-shaded table. Then work your way back about seven blocks to B.E.D., a restaurant both romantic and a little gimmicky. Though its name stands for Beverage, Entertainment and Dining, the initial implication is correct: instead of being seated at a table, couples dine while ensconced in king-sized beds. It’s all a bit quirky but pretty innocent; stick around after dinner for the top-notch nightclub entertainment.
If you don’t hang out at B.E.D., put on your dancing shoes and stroll around South Beach. Unless you’ve got wax in your ears, you won’t have any problems finding the club scene. For those into the trendiest of the trendy and want to go A-list celebrity watching, crobar is for you; for more sedate couples who are looking for a night of jazz or blues, visit Lincoln Road’s best-kept secret, Van Dyke Cafe.
Nearby Coconut Grove is a favorite residential neighborhood for upscale Miamians. It has a great mix of old and new, traditional and trendy, all set in lush tropical landscaping. For another look at the lifestyle of South Florida’s golden era, drive to the northern tip of the Grove on the shores of Biscayne Bay to visit Vizcaya, Florida’s grandest residence. Built in 1916 as a winter home by industrialist James Deering, this 34-room replica of an Italian Renaissance estate is one of South Florida’s most popular attractions, drawing more than 200,000 visitors annually. Walk through the opulent interior, replete with all the original furnishings, and then finish up with a stroll through the lush formal gardens.
Spend your late afternoon and evening at CocoWalk. Though it calls itself a mall, and it does have its share of big stores, souvenir stands and boutiques, the real action is on the second floor where you can expect to find a wide choice for dinner and live music.
Day Three: The Keys to Romance
If you’ve ever visited Key West on a cruise you may think that that’s essentially all the Keys have to offer, but there’s plenty worth seeing and doing, starting with the incredibly scenic drive itself along the Overseas Highway (U.S. 1), which bisects the islands for 110 miles from the Florida mainland to Key West. The Overseas Highway is aptly named; some of the 43 bridges that link the islands are quite long — one stretches seven miles — and at times it seems you are driving out to sea, with little but the highway and aquamarine waters in your field of vision. It will take you between 3.5 and 4 hours to make the drive from Miami, excluding stops along the way. Time your departure so that you’ll be able to explore Key West prior to sunset.
A note on navigating the Keys: Except for Key West, nearly every point of interest in the Keys is located on U.S. 1 and identified by two references. How far down the highway it sits is designated by a “mile marker.” You will enter U.S. 1 at about mile marker 128, and the numbers will decrease as you head to Key West, which is at marker mile 1. (See, Cape Canaveral isn’t the only entity in Florida that counts backwards!) The other designation is which side of the highway a particular address is located. The Keys form the border between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico (Florida Bay). As you head south, the Atlantic is on your left and the Gulf (or Bay) on your right. Addresses are designated either “O” for (Oceanside) or “B” (for Bayside) depending on which side of the highway they are located, so MM 86-O means Mile Marker 86 Oceanside.
If you get an early enough start, you may want to stop just before entering the Keys to visit one of the country’s quirkiest roadside attractions, an over-the-top romantic tribute to unrequited love. Heartbroken by being rebuffed by his fiancee in Latvia, Ed Leedskalnin emigrated to Florida, and over 28 years, single-handedly carved a monument to his lost love out of 1,100 tons of coral rock. His monument is now called Coral Castle. The acres of coral and rock sculpture, the soaring minarets and balustrades, its furniture, the 25-foot telescope that always points to the North Star — all stand as a mute testament to the power of obsession and undying love. It makes a fitting brief roadside stop for romantic couples.
Where you stop for lunch will depend on how early a start you got. If you are halfway down the Keys, in Islamorada, stop at Morada Bay, a bayside restaurant set on an expansive wooden veranda with a gorgeous view of the bay and mangrove islands beyond the broad, palm-fringed, snow-white sand beach. Enjoy fragrant sea breezes and piped-in (but unobtrusive) island music while you dine casually on salads and local seafood.
If you have the time on your way to Key West for some romantic beach time, stop at Bahia Honda State Park (MM 37). You can explore nature trails, book a snorkeling or dive trip out to Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary, kayak, swim or snorkel. The park boasts the finest natural sand beach in the Keys (rated the second-best natural beach in the country in a recent survey).
As you enter Key West, continue past the northern end of Duval Street, the main tourist drag where cruise ships drop their passengers. Drive instead to the more refined, less frenetic southern end, home to one of Key West’s most photographed landmarks, the marker for “The Southernmost Point in the Continental United States.” At this end of Duval you’ll find more romantic boutiques and bistros and fewer T-shirt shops and burger bars, as well as plenty of gracious old Key West wooden houses on the side streets.
After you’ve explored south Duval, drive to the opposite end and park in one of the public lots. If you have a couple of hours before sunset, hop aboard the Conch Tour Train for an entertaining 90-minute tour. It’s not actually a train but instead a motorized multi-car tourist tram. This may not be romantic, but if you’re lucky enough to wind up with one of Key West’s colorful characters as a guide, it sure can be a hoot.
Make it over to the waterfront restaurant at Pier House Resort, order drinks and appetizers, and enjoy the crowd celebrating the daily ritual of toasting Key West’s legendary sunsets. You can stay there for dinner or savor a romantic Italian meal at Antonia’s, housed in a 120-year-old restored building on mid-Duval Street.
But, if you are of a mind to splurge — REALLY splurge — start back toward Miami and stop for dinner at the Dining Room at Little Palm Island Resort. Dinner for two with wine is pricey, but the restaurant gets the highest marks in South Florida for decor, romance, service and, of course, fabulous Floribbean cuisine fused with French and Asian undertones. It can’t be reached by car, but at Mile Marker 28.5 Oceanside there is a dock where you can catch the resort’s 1940’s vintage mahogany launch to take you to the private Little Palm Island. If you are intrigued, plan ahead; during high season you’ll need to make reservations as much as a month in advance.
–written by Steve Faber