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  WINDY CITY TIMES

TRAVEL Miami Beach has arts, culture and beaches with flair
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times
2017-01-18

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That wicked, pre-Christmas winter punch to the face from Mother Nature made me wish I was back in Miami Beach.

Forget the layers and layers of clothes needed, and the fact you're still ridiculously cold when Chicago hit single-digits in mid-December, and the temperature even dipped below-zero.

Forget the horrendous terms "polar vortex" and "real-feel temperature."

Forget the nasty look that cars carry, courteous of the salt.

Just think beach. Which beach of many do you want to visit? And for about $20 at Walgreen's you can buy an oversized, multicolored umbrella that's perfect to plant in the sand.

I liked everything about Miami Beach, although I wish I owned, or at least was invited onto, one of the multi-million-dollar yachts I saw as I drove past.

"Miami Beach is so exciting because of the amazing beaches and entertainment—ranging from relaxing to high-adrenaline—and fabulous dining and drinking options," said Tanja Morariu, who is the director of brand development for Miami Beach sister properties Circa 39 Hotel and The Palms Hotel & Spa. "But what makes it super special is that it's part of greater Miami—a true melting pot with Latin, Caribbean and European influences."

Miami Beach embraces arts and culture, something seen throughout by visitors. It also is a city "where new neighborhoods and concepts are popping up on a daily basis," she noted.

The city is exciting, full of energy, creativity and color. "It is all destinations in one: a budding metropolis with Caribbean-style beaches," she added.

Miami Beach is a coastal resort city, about a 20-minute drive from Miami International Drive. The city was incorporated in 1915, and features a variety of natural and man-made barrier islands between the Atlantic Ocean and Biscayne Bay.

Miami Beach is an amazing beach destination, period.

And there is a nude beach, too, for those wanting the all-over tan.

Circa 39 ( Circa39.com ), where I stayed during a late 2016 weekend visit, is a quaint, quiet property, with several packages available for guests to truly enjoy and experience Miami's most authentic neighborhoods. For example, the "Would You Wynwood?" package brings guests to the emerging arts district of Wynwood for a walking tour of the famous Wynwood Walls, and a tour and tasting at Wynwood Brewing Company. Another package is the "Miami Flavorhoods" package, which includes a culinary tour in the neighborhood of your choice.

Circa 39 is family-owned and operated, a boutique property that attracts guests and staff from around the world. The hotel's decor is an eclectic, vibrant mix of color, with a vibe that is as if you're simply at friend's private beach home.

I highly recommend the hotel's new web app: BeyondCirca39.com, which is a tool guests can use to navigate Miami's nearby neighborhoods. It's a curated list of top local picks from the hotel staff.

"We wanted to create a resource for guests who want to go off the beaten path to discover how to see Miami like a local, and since everyone does everything through their smartphones these days, we thought what better way than an integrated app where you can easily navigate our top picks for seeing the best of Miami's neighborhoods," Morariu said.

Circa 39 offers a renovated terrace, perfect for people-watching along Collins Avenue or simply enjoying the fresh breakfast.

Cocktails are served too, at Circa 39's WunderBar, and I'll admit that the Oriental Crush is worth a round. The Oriental Crush is their take on the mojito.

Speaking of mojitos, my favorite while visiting was served at Havana 1957 ( 1410 Ocean Dr. ), where the food is exceptional, servings were plentiful, customer service and eye candy was terrific, and, as their slogan boasts, the restaurant gives visitors the chance to relive the glory and glamour of old Cuba during the 1950s.

"We encourage our guests to explore and get to know the 'real' Miami that we know and love," Morariu said. "There is so much culture happening in Miami, with a real local community that's contributing everything from local craft beer to a world-famous art scene. Many only think of Miami as a place to come for the beaches and clubs, and return home with not much more than a T-shirt and a sunburn. Circa 39 hopes to inspire guests to discover the local flavor here in Miami for a trip to remember."

To that, here are five reasons to visit Miami Beach, in no particular order:

—Collins Drive: World-renowned street, known for its distinct art deco buildings;

—Haulover Beach Park: Clothing-optional Haulover is always filled with bodies of every form. Charter fishing also is available, and more;

—Holocaust Memorial: A moving, emotional tribute to the victims and survivors of the Holocaust. Opened in 1990, the venue features statues, a garden of meditation and a memorial wall;

—Jungle Island: A small zoo that has been open since 1936, with daily shows and unique VIP tours; and

—Winter Party: The annual, week-long festival of dance and social events, produced to raise funds for the LGBT community. The 2017 Winter Party is March 1-7 and the roster of confirmed DJs includes Alex Acosta, Rosabel, Micky Friedmann and Kitty Glitter, among others.

I'm ready to go back to Miami Beach, immediately. On the next United or American Airlines flight, nonstop from Chicago O'Hare International Airport to Miami. Or you can fly into Fort Lauderdale, as it's about a 35-minute drive away.

The sun awaits in Miami Beach.

Forget Chicago's snow and ice. Enjoy a frozen margarita in Miami Beach—on the beach, of course.


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