The Best Way To See Art Deco Architecture in South Beach

The Starlite Hotel, Collins Ave., SB, Miami @PennySadler 2013

South Beach. Miami, Florida:
Quick, tell me – what do you think of? If you know nothing about the area at all, you probably think of the obvious: beaches, the ocean, palm trees, sunshine, and fruity drinks decorated with tiny paper umbrellas.

What you may not know is South Beach has the largest collection of art deco architecture in the world! And it’s the perfect place for it – it’s as if South Beach exists so that all of those wonderful art deco structures can have a home. South Beach is art deco, and art deco is South Beach.

What is art deco? The term art deco came from the Exposition des Arts Decoratifs, held in Paris in 1925. It is a style that blends many design elements from Europe, Asia, and Africa. Geometry, vertical lines, curved lines, round porthole windows, and strong colors define the more modern art deco designs of South Beach.

@PennySadler 2013 art deco architecture miami

Ocean Drive, Miami

This neighborhood was built in the 1930’s and after World War II, was in decline. By the 1970’s many of the art deco hotels and buildings were seriously rundown and where scheduled for the wrecking ball. Luckily in 1976, Barbara Capitman founded the Design Preservation League to establish this area as an historic district. Today there are still buildings that are being renovated.

The design elements that define art deco are a perfect fit in this easy, breezy beach environment. Come to think of it, even the colors of the buildings remind you of those umbrella drinks.

art deco hotel with Mermaid sculpture South Beach Florida @PennySadler 2013

Mermaid sculpture

Each building is a work of art on its own, and the best way to see the Art Deco district is on foot. Begin at the south end of Ocean Drive at 5th Street and walk north. The beach will be on your right.

Walk up to Lincoln Rd., then head west over to Collins. From there, you can continue south to about 10th St. You’ll want to head back to Lincoln Rd. for one of the best outdoor shopping malls anywhere – and lots of options to gawk at all the beautiful people that seem to be everywhere.

Miami, South Beach, Florida

The Miami Design Preservation League has a guided tour which you can do solo or in a group. If you want to do the tour on your own, you can rent an iPod at the Art Deco Headquarters on Ocean Drive. The MDPL also offers guided tours that include other areas of Miami. All tours depart from the Art Deco Headquarters, 1001 Ocean Drive at 10th Street.

Waldorf Towers,South Beach Miami Florida @PennySadler 2013

Waldorf Towers

I did not take the tour, however, based on the research I did for this story, it seems that not every building is on the tour. Be sure to allow yourself time to really explore this neighborhood. After, or maybe even during your walk, you’ll want to take a break and sample some of the local cuisine, have a refreshing beverage, do some retail damage in the boutiques, and enjoy the luscious architecture.

If you love traveling to see great architecture and public spaces, you will love South Beach.

Park Central Hotel, Ocean Drive, South Beach, Miami @PennySadler 2013

Park Central Hotel

The Breakwater Hotel @PennySadler 2013

The Breakwater Hotel, Ocean Drive

Art Deco shopping strip 9th st. and Collins Ave. @PennySadler 2013

9th and Collins Ave.

For a map of the area stop by
Art Deco Headquarters at 1001 Ocean Drive. There’s also a fun gift store there.


Ft. Lauderdale’s Unique Transportation

Intracoastal Ft. Lauderdale, Florida ©pennysadler 2013

It was my first time in Ft. Lauderdale and I quickly realized there was only one way to truly get to know the city touted as “The Venice of America,” and that was by boat. If you’re not lucky enough to have one (or know someone who does) don’t despair. One way you can experience it on a boat is by taking a Water Taxi.

The Water Taxi is really quite a deal – for only $20.00 you can ride all day. It’s the perfect way to see Ft. Lauderdale’s intracoastal waterways, and get you can get off and on as often as you like. At each stop you’ll find bars, restaurants, shopping and cultural attractions in the area. And you don’t have to worry about a designated driver.

If you are staying at one of the hotels on the regular route, you can call ahead and arrange for the water taxi to pick you up. There are several to chose from and my pick would be the historic Riverside Hotel. I did not stay there but I liked the location and the old world ambiance. It’s right on Las Olas Blvd. so you can easily walk to restaurants and shops. If you want to be closer to the water there’s the Hilton Marina Hotel where you can also connect with the Water Taxi bound for the Hollywood Beaches.

Riverside Hotel Las Olas Blvd. Ft. Lauderdale, ©pennysadler 2013

Riverside Hotel

Water Taxi on the intracoastal ©pennysadler2013

The Water Taxi

If you have only 24 hours in Ft. Lauderdale, here’s a suggested itinerary and I’ve included beach time. (even though I’m not really a beach girl)

Head over to Las Olas, a charming neighborhood of galleries, shops, and restaurants. I liked the small and somewhat European feel of Las Olas, and could have easily spent the better part of a day there strolling the boulevard, stopping for a coffee or cold drink, and browsing the art galleries.

Have a continental style breakfast at Gran Forno Pronto, or get your coffee and pastry to go. You can catch the Water Taxi at the Riverside Hotel next door.

The Water Taxi takes you on about a two to three hour tour. You can drool over the million dollar yachts and multi-million dollar homes. It really is mind boggling how many celebrities and gazillionaires keep a home (and the prerequisite yacht) in Ft.Lauderdale. The tour guide on the water taxi will give you the inside scoop.

Ft. Lauderdale intracoastal ©pennysadler 2013


Ft. Lauderdale Intracoastal, ©pennysadler 2013

More Yachts!

©intracoastal waterway ft. lauderdale, Fl. ©pennysadler 2013

“Miami Vice” house

If you’re a beach person you can get off at either stop 7 or 8 for the Ft. Lauderdale beaches. There you can also pick up a bottle of water or something to rehydrate while you’re soaking up the Florida sunshine. You can spend the day at the beach then return to Las Olas in plenty of time for an alfresco dinner and drinks.

Las Olas Blvd. ©pennysadler 2013

Las Olas Blvd.

Gondola Ft. Lauderdale ©pennysadler 2013

If you’re a romantic type, you can end the evening with a gondola tour of the canals. Or hop back on the Water Taxi for the night ride. A great way to end a beautiful day in sunny southeast Florida.

Water Taxi

Gondola Tour

Las Olas Blvd.

Riverside Hotel

All materials copyright Penny Sadler 2013.