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.