Touring Miami Beach's Art Deco District

Rebuilt in an Art Deco architectural style after a 1920s hurricane, Miami Beach draws travelers with an eye for this classic look.

Walk along the South Beach area and travelers immediately recognize the unique architecture. After the Great Hurricane of 1926, the Miami Beach area was mostly rebuilt in the Art Deco style, and today many of those buildings have been saved thanks to Art Deco activist Barbara Capitman, responsible for the district’s historical credentials.

Thousands of visitors come to Miami Beach every year for the beaches, the tropical climate, the world-class restaurants and the vibrant nightlife, but many also travel to Miami Beach for this Art Deco architecture. The Art Deco historic district boasts the world’s largest collection of Art Deco architecture in the world including the popular oceanfront hotels like the Breakwater, the Tides, the Victor, the Cardozo, the Leslie, the Colony and the Clevelander. Travelers can stroll the historical district, which extends north from 6th Street to 14th and spanning west from Ocean Drive to Alton Road, and view some of the beautifully restored buildings, note there are over 800 such buildings in the district.

The Surfcomber and Delano hotels stand over Miami Beach with their recognizable Art Deco facades.

One way to get a glimpse of Miami's Art Deco architectural style is to check in with Art Deco Walking Tours. The tour operator offers a variety of tours including a two-hour walk through the historic district, a stroll down Lincoln Road (the historic street created by Carl Fisher), a tour of Little Havana and a cocktail tour through the Art Deco District. Guides lead visitors back through history and share fascinating stories about the birth and growth of Miami Beach. The tours take the group to places most visitors never get the opportunity to see, including some spectacular rooftop views. While the tour focuses on the Art Deco architecture and history of Miami Beach, the tour also includes information about “Miami Vice,” film sites, Versace, fashion shoots, prohibition and illegal gambling.

Guides share personal stories while recounting the colorful history of Miami Beach from its beginning when Carl Fisher arrived and turned a mangrove swamp into a playground for the very wealthy. The tour takes visitors in and out of hotels like the beautiful Astor Hotel located on Washington Avenue and the Kent and even on rooftops of hotels like the Dream Hotel on Collins Avenue and the Clevelander on Ocean Drive. The tour becomes a fascinating trip through the decades with stops in the Wolfsonian Museum, a treasure-trove of Art Deco and Industrial Revolution objects, on Ocean Drive’s Lummus Park and in front of the Amsterdam Palace—a 1930 building infamously remembered as the Versace Mansion.

Besides the Art Deco tour, one of the most popular tours it the Cocktail Tour—a three-hour tour through Miami Beach’s Art Deco District with stops at hotels like the Z Hotel, Winter Haven, Tides, Victor Hotel, Clevelander and Essex Hotel—and tastes of signature cocktails at each. Each cocktail tours features four cocktails with a history of the cocktail and the hotel where it is served. For example, the Winter Haven, built in 1939 by Art Deco master Albert Anis, creates a delicious mojito, a delicious 5-ingredient cocktail originated in Cuba. Most tours end at the historic Essex House, an Art Deco gem created in 1938 by Henry Hohauser. The Essex House serves a special crafted cocktail of seven unique ingredients aptly titled “the Speakeasy”; the bar is located in a room that was once a hidden gambling casino.

 

James Cubby
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