The lifeguard blew her whistle last Sunday on Miami's South Beach, and for a second I thought she was warning everyone on the beach that there was someone present with a body mass index (BMI) of more than 27, and they should avert their eyes until the danger passed. That would have been me, strolling to the surf to dive into the warm, green waters of the Atlantic Ocean and trying hard to not stare at the overwhelmingly high proportion of butt-floss bikinis and taut bods of every gender (and then some) on display. I was happily reminded that Miami beaches are like an open casting call for "Baywatch – The Next Generation."
I have to thank Hotels.com for getting me to South Beach. I had booked a chain hotel in another part of the city, but then on a whim checked out the discounter a few days before I left for Miami, and scooped up a great find: The Whitelaw Hotel, a block away from the beach in the thick of South Beach action, for just $66/night. I had assumed that every place in the historic Art Deco district would be well over $100, but the Whitelaw was one of several affordable options. In fact, a check on Hotels.com this week revealed 16 properties that were less than a mile from the beach and under $100/night. Expedia.com was even better, with 40 choices listed, and Travelocity.com checked in with 19, although the Whitelaw was curiously not among them.
For my money I got a wildly colorful room of lipstick-dayglo-pink walls with a huge padded headboard, an enormous 42-inch plasma television (for which the housekeeping guy couldn't find a remote, muttering, "We never had them for those TVs," but I could turn it on manually), bright white New Orleans-style furniture and a small but manageable bathroom. Downstairs was a cool lobby with black shag rugs under bright white furniture, with long, pink drapes and a vodka bar. Outside were hundreds of restaurants and clubs, a Cuban lunch counter on the corner, lots of great architecture to admire, including the new Loews Hotel on the beach that is definitely not less than $100/night, and streets like Española Way (near 14th and Washington) that is like a little European alley of atmospheric sidewalk restaurants and shops.
Great place to soak up some south Florida atmosphere and eat a couple of dozen huge Cubano sandwiches (ham, pork, pickle, cheese … delicious). I think I've found my Miami neighborhood, even if I do scare the lifeguards.