How to Make the Most of a South Florida Vacation This Winter

From the Palm Beaches and Fort Lauderdale south to Miami and the Florida Keys, we have you covered.

How to Make the Most of a South Florida Vacation This Winter

Please forward all our mail to Miami Beach, thanks.

Photo by Mia2You/Shutterstock

There’s so much to love about South Florida, starting with the fact that vacationing here can be as sophisticated on or off the beach—or as toes-in-the-sand and no-fuss—as you like. (We’ll take both.)

From the Palm Beaches and Fort Lauderdale south to Miami and the Florida Keys, here’s your guide to what’s new, noteworthy, or worth the escape to South Florida this winter.

New hotels of note in Miami, Palm Beach, and beyond

South Florida’s hotel boom has seen little indication of letting up, particularly in Miami.

In 2021, Life House Hotels opened a Little Havana outpost inside a lovely mission revival house in the barrio, complete with a lush rooftop cocktail bar that positively cascades with tropical Caribbean plants.

Ocean Drive got another landmark art deco address when the Balfour Hotel opened its doors over the summer. And other noteworthy 2021 Miami Beach openings include Pharrell Williams’s and David Grutman’s the Goodtime Hotel on Washington Avenue, where DJ parties rule the weekends at the sprawling pool lounge.

We’re particularly taken of late by Esmé Miami Beach along Española Way in South Beach. The former youth hostel has been reimagined ($40 million later) as a boutique hotel built around a curated village-like setting with a tapas bar, Andalusian-inspired gin bar, and other atmospheric nooks.

Beyond Miami, the White Elephant Palm Beach opened in the fall of 2020 in a 1924 building right between Lake Worth Lagoon and the beach with just 32 immaculate rooms, all with private outdoor spaces to bask in the winter sunshine.

In Key West, Margaritaville Beach House opened in late 2021 across the street from Smathers Beach, if you’re looking for a pied-à-terre in paradise that’s comfortably removed from hectic Duval Street and close to a swimmable beach. Meanwhile, Kimpton is practically taking over Old Town Key West with five hotels within a mile of each other—and each with its own distinct vibe. Cheery, tropical Lighthouse Hotel is across the street from the historic Hemingway Home and Museum, while Ella’s Cottages is all front-porch charm and private guesthouses.

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Stress shall not pass: Curl up on the terrace at the Kimpton Lighthouse Hotel in Key West.

Courtesy of Kimpton Key West

The restaurant reservations to make now

Celebrated outposts from the Northeast often make an even bolder splash when they migrate to South Florida, and 2021 saw several big openings along those lines.

Italian American show-stealer Carbone debuted its Miami restaurant in early 2021 along Collins Avenue in Miami Beach, with spicy rigatoni vodka and veal parm as drool-worthy here as in Greenwich Village—complete with a celebrity-spotting scene to match.

New York French bistro Le Bilboquet opened within an interior ivy-clad courtyard along Worth Avenue in Palm Beach in February 2021. It has quickly become the hottest ticket in a town full of them. While regulars swear by the bouillabaisse and lobster curry, we promise the people watching in these parts is equally memorable.

Keeping with the straight-out-of-New-York theme, the Michelin-starred Korean Steakhouse, Cote, opened in Miami’s Design District in 2021, bringing more creative cocktail offerings, a steak omakase menu, and Butcher’s Feast (four cuts of prime dry-aged beef with Korean accompaniments) to scenic points south.

Read before you go

Squeeze Me by Carl Hiaasen

Buy now: bookshop.org, amazon.com

Nobody captures the rollicking, ridiculous world of South Florida like novelist and journalist Carl Hiaasen. His 2020 work of fiction, Squeeze Me, is set in Palm Beach and will have you laughing out loud at its cast of endemic and invasive Florida wildlife (and local characters who ring oh-so-true to life).

Coming in 2022

It’s no surprise major luxury hotels are eyeing South Florida for 2022 openings. Slated for early this year, the Four Seasons Hotel and Residences Fort Lauderdale will spare no luxury on the beachfront it’s calling the South Florida Riviera; it is set to open about a mile north of Las Olas Boulevard’s shops and boutiques.

On Singer Island in the Palm Beaches, the oceanfront immersive wellness resort, Amrit Ocean Resort & Residences, should be open by summer, with 153 hotel rooms and 185 condominiums.

Florida is getting its first Yotel, a tech-forward brand popular with millennials, when Yotel Miami opens in March 2022 in the heart of downtown Miami, with Biscayne Bay views from the rooftop pool.

CitizenM has two new Miami properties on the books for 2022. CitizenM Brickell is bringing 252 affordable-luxury rooms and a rooftop bar and swimming pool to the Brickell area (just across from Brickell Key) in April. And CitizenM Miami World Center opens later in the year, right across from the FTX Arena downtown.

For music removed from the club scene, mark your calendar for an intimate beachside jazz and funk festival with some serious international pull. During its early 2020 event, the GroundUP Music Festival drew fans from more than 54 countries. This year’s festival, capped at 2,000 attendees a day, will bring live music as well as oceanside talks and songwriting workshops to Miami Beach’s historic North Beach Bandshell. (Dates have moved from February to May 6-8, 2022.)

>>Next: Florida’s Best Beaches

Terry Ward is a Florida-based travel writer.
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