Hi! My name is Lemuel Fernandez, and I am a Junior at Florida International University studying Biological Sciences. I was born in Cuba but raised in Miami. My goal in life is to become a Physician Assistant and give back to a community that has given me so much. Through Finding Miami, I hope further to understand the history of this extremely diverse city in order to adequately provide quality healthcare to its residents in the future.
South Beach is located in Miami-Dade County in South Florida. It encompasses the southernmost part of the City of Miami Beach, from South Point Pier up to Collins Park (21st street). The east coast of South Beach is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and to the west is Biscayne Bay. A short drive over the McArthur Causeway gets to you the City of Miami where you can find popular attractions such as the Perez Art Museum and Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science. As well as the Adrienne Arsht Center and Bayside Market Place.
Before becoming the tourist destination that it is today, South Beach was an uninhabited barrier island. Full of mangroves, it protected mainland Miami from hurricanes and storm surges. The Tequesta tribe established their city at the mouth of the Miami River and would periodically sail to the barrier island to escape the mosquitoes but never made the barrier island a permanent settlement. In 1870, Henry Lum bought the island from the federal government for 25 cents an acre. The island was covered in mangroves on one side and a beach on the other. The middle was full of water which resembled a swamp.
After a failed attempt to build a business on the island, Henry sold the land to John Collins, a farmer from New Jersey. Collins used the land to plant exotic species such as mangoes and avocados. His main priority was clearing out the mangroves and filling it with soil to build an avocado orchard. He exported his produce via ferry to the mainland and ship them to the North using Henry Flagler`s railroad. As roads began to be built across the country and automobiles became more and more popular, Collins realized that if he wanted to transform the island into a bustling tourist location, he would need a bridge that would connect South Beach to mainland Miami, but he could not do this alone.
On his first trip to Miami in 1910, Carl G. Fisher discovered the island for the first time and saw its potential. He helped finance Collins` bridge that connected the island to the mainland, and he got 200 acres in return. His dream was to turn it into a vacation destination that could be used by him and his friends in the automobile industry. In 1915, with help from the Loomis brothers, Fisher and Collins began to lay out their plans to turn the island into a resort town. After the bridge was complete and the mangroves were cleared out, Carl Fisher began his development of Miami Beach by building a hotel called The Flamingo. Here prospective residents could live while their mansions were being built. Fisher built his own Bayfront mansion shorty after. He also built a casino, tennis and polo fields, and a second hotel, The Nautilus. In the hopes of attracting residents, he advertised the growing city as “paradise for sale.” He placed ads in the newspaper and on billboards in Times Square, New York.
In 1925, Fisher had transformed the barrier island into a thriving city. Land began to dramatically rise in value and building permits were costly. Americans from across the country began buying property and South Beach had become the resort city that Fisher dreamed of. Despite how successful South Beach had become, the time of prosperity was short-lived. In 1926, the “Great Miami” hurricane tore its way through Miami Beach, Downtown Miami, Coral Gables, and went out into the Everglades. The hurricane destroyed the McArthur Causeway and damaged countless homes. In 1929, the stock market crash further devastated the area and Fisher`s businesses. Fisher was forced to sell his Miami Beach mansion and passed away shortly after at the age of 65. A memorial of Carl Fisher was created in a park on Alton Road. Fisher transformed a barrier island into one of the most sought-after vacation destinations in the world.
South Beach is one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the Miami area. With a population around 3,500, the average household income is $257,349 and the median home value is $699,200. Despite the high average household income, South Beach has a poverty rate of 4.96%. 96.6% of the population is white, 1.6% of the population is Hispanic, and 1.8% is mixed. The median age of South Beach residents is 69 years. Due to the high volume of tourism on South Beach, cost of living is significantly higher than in other parts of South Florida. This leads to a segregated community as only the rich and famous are able to afford the high prices. For example, gas on South Beach is about $3.80/gallon while the average gas price in South Florida is about $2.75/gallon.
In order to learn more about South Beach, I had the pleasure of interviewing Santiago De La Torre, a South Beach resident. While we were talking, he spoke about how South Beach has not changed much since he moved here around 20 years ago. Spring breakers still come on a yearly basis and increase traffic which is already a problem. He mentioned how even though it seems fun to live in a tourist destination, it can be kind of annoying around certain times of the year such as spring break because visitors come, and many leave the beaches full of trash which destroys the natural environment. He mentioned how he rides his bike or walks around the island to get around. Parking can be hard to find at certain places and he mainly uses his car when he must go back to the mainland.
Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU
The Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU comprises two historic buildings in South Beach which served as synagogues for the first Jewish congregation on Miami Beach. When Jews began to move to South Beach in 1913, they were not allowed to live north of Fifth Street. For that reason, the area south of Fifth Street became a Jewish ghetto and the earliest synagogues on the island were built in this neighborhood. Founded in 1927, Congregation Beth Jacob was the first congregation to build a synagogue in 1929. The primary building contains stained glass windows, Art Deco chandeliers, marble bimah, concrete relief panels on the exterior, and a copper Moorish dome on the top. This building served as the center of the South Beach Jewish community until 1986. In 2005, the Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU purchased both buildings and undertook a restoration project to preserve the historic site.
Art Deco District
With over 800 historic buildings, South Beach contains the largest concentration of Art Deco buildings in the country. Due to the work of the Miami Design Preservation League and women like Barbara Baer Capitman, Art Deco buildings can be purchased but the historic architecture must not be altered in any way. The Miami Design Preservation League conducts daily guided walking tours of the district so that you can experience the beauty firsthand. You can easily spot an Art Deco building by looking for the ten aesthetic characteristics that are commonly used: the law of three, white facade and pastel-colored highlights, ziggurat rooflines, curved edges, “eyebrows”, porthole windows, relief art, glass bricks, terrazzo floors, and most importantly, neon.
The Betsy Poetry Rail
As a great supporter of the arts, The Betsy Hotel in South Beach decided to create a poetry rail instead of having a boring metal rail. The Betsy Poetry Rail contains poems from authors who in some way contributed to the identity of Miami. One of its featured artists is Richard Blanco. Richard Blanco is an American poet who read the poem “One Today” at Barack Obama’s second presidential inauguration. Born in Madrid, he and his Cuban-exile family moved to the United States. He was raised in Miami, studied at Florida International University, and was the youngest, first Latino, immigrant, and openly gay writer to serve as an inaugural poet.
South Point Park
South Point park is a must when visiting South Beach. On the southernmost tip of South Beach, South Point Park features unparalleled views, none of which you can find anywhere else in the country. At the end of the park is South Point Pier, a photo op where you can see the beach, Fisher Island, Port of Miami, and Downtown Miami. As the cruise ship capital of the world, you can see cruise ships sail in and out of the Port of Miami through government cut. This park is a great place to take a walk with your family and just take in the sights. South Point Park also features a water play area for children, and a workout area for adults.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas Park
Located on Ocean Drive and 2nd Street, Marjory Stoneman Douglas Ocean Beach Park, offers a wide range of activities for South Beach residents and visitors. The park is designed for children ages 2-5 and 5-12, with shaded play areas with rubber surfacing. The play equipment includes climbing and upper body components, as well as swing sets. The park is open every day, Sunrise to Sunset. The park offers beach access and public restrooms. The park is named after an American journalist and author who was a strong advocate for the preservation of the Everglades; helping make Miami what it is today. The park also incorporates “Ocean Beach” into its name as the City of Miami Beach was incorporated as the City of Ocean Beach.
Located along Ocean Drive at 6th, 9th, 11th, and 13th Street, Lummus Park offers a variety of activities for teens and older. The park is open every day, Sunrise to Sunset and contains several restroom locations. Less than 100 ft from the beach, the park contains direct beach access and several beach wash stations. The park features workout equipment at three distinct locations along Ocean Drive, a pavilion shelter, and around 18 sand volleyball courts. At 6th Street, you can find multiple health beat stations over rubber surfacing for support. At 9th Street, also known as Muscle Beach South Beach, you can find beach wellness equipment made by the outdoor fitness company My Equilibria, which offers twelve distinct features to help users build strength, power, agility, and stamina. The park also features concrete paths along the beach for those who choose to bike, walk, or run. The park serves as the host to several events year-round, including concerts, marathons, and fitness competitions.
As can be expected from a major tourism destination, South Beach is plagued with traffic. With one main entrance to South Beach (McArthur Causeway), you might find yourself getting stuck in traffic on your way back and once you are on the island there not many backroads you can take to try and avoid traffic.
CitiBike is a bike rental/sharing system in Miami. It is a fun, easy, and convenient way to get around. The bikes are solar powered and locked into a network of stations where you can dock the bike after you are done using it. CitiBikes are available for use 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. To use CitiBikes all you have to do is unlock the bike from any of the multiple stations, ride and explore the city, and return the bike to whichever station you’d like. CitiBike is a great way to explore the city without having to deal with traffic.
Miami Beach Trolley
The Miami Beach Trolley is another form of transportation on South Beach. It offers free transportation that connects the entire beach. The trolley runs every 15 to 40 minutes and operates seven days a week. The Miami Beach Trolley is another efficient way to explore the city.
If you don’t like any of the above options, walking is always an option. Walking on South Beach may be preferred by some because it offers another perspective. Walking allows you to see things that you otherwise could not if you were driving, riding the trolley, or biking. Walking on South Beach just got better as Ocean Drive was recently closed to motor traffic. This allowed restaurants to expand their outdoor dining and allows pedestrians to walk iconic famous Ocean Drive taking in the sights of the Art Deco District and the beach without having to worry about getting hit by cars.
Overall, the transportation system on South Beach is very efficient and offers you multiple options so that you can choose whichever best fits your needs.
As we all know, social media is a very useful tool for getting information to millions of people in a short amount of time. If you frequent on TikTok, there is a good chance that this restaurant has popped up on your “For You Page” at one point or another. Speaking from personal experience, the second I heard about this restaurant I knew I had to try it; and all of this thanks to a 30 second tiktok. Located on 10th street and Collins Ave, Bacon Bitch is a breakfast and brunch restaurant founded by Chris Viso. Chris got his inspiration for this sensational restaurant from his childhood. When he was young, he would have a bacon, egg, and cheese croissant from his neighborhood bodega before going to school. This inspired him to create a restaurant that did not just serve breakfast food, but rather gave you an experience you would never forget. This was achieved with a menu that is both visually appealing and exciting to the taste buds. Instead of a traditional greeting, when you walk into Bacon Bitch you are welcomed with a “HEY BITCH!” adding to the experience and the Bacon Bitch culture. The restaurant has now become one of the best breakfast/brunch experiences in Miami, attracting both locals and tourists. I highly recommend you visit whenever you have a chance, it really does live up to the hype. By the way, you should try the OG, it’s amazing! Make sure to follow Bacon Bitch on Instagram (@baconbitch) to catch a glimpse into what they have to offer.
As indicated by its name, Havana 1957 strives to give you an immersion into Cuban cuisine and an experience that allows you to relive the glory and glamour of old Cuba in the 1950s (Havana 1957). The restaurant’s theme “Un Dia En La Habana” is keeping with the restaurant’s decor and menu. Its decor features vintage Cuban memorabilia that will have your grandparents relive their youth. In keeping with the theme, classical Cuban music is played in the dining room from artists like Celia Cruz, Benny More, Willy Chirino, and several others. Renowned chef Juan Luis Rosales crafted a menu that incorporates fresh ingredients and the flavors of authentic Cuban cuisine that adds to the experience of “Un Dia En La Habana”. Havana 1957 is located on Ocean Drive and 14th street and is open daily from 9 AM to 12 AM. Havana 1957 is a must if you are ever in South Beach. I suggest you order the “Churrasco A La Cubana”, it is delicious.
Joe’s Stone Crab
Located on Washington Ave and South Point Dr, Joe’s Stone Crab is one of the earliest restaurants established in South Beach. Joe Weiss opened a small lunch counter on Miami Beach in 1913, two years prior to the establishment of Miami Beach as a city. In the beginning, Joe’s Stone Crab was ran as a family restaurant. He would do the cooking and his wife Jennie would run the fining room. Notable guests include Al Capone, The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Joseph Kennedy, Edgar Hoover, and several others. The restaurants signature dish is Stone Crab and is served with mustard sauce.
Since its opening over three decades ago, News Cafe has been an iconic landmark of Ocean Drive. In 1988, Mark Soyka opened the cafe/newsstand on Ocean Drive and immediately caught the attention of locals and tourists. At the time, online news was not a thing, and it was difficult for immigrants to stay up to date on the current events back in their home country. The News Cafe allowed them to purchase a newspaper from their home country and stay updated, not to mention enjoy a delicious breakfast in the meantime. Apart from tourists and locals, the News Cafe was also frequented by celebrities. The most notable of them, designer Gianni Versace. Each morning, Gianni would walk to the cafe from his mansion on Ocean Beach to pick up a newspaper and then return home to enjoy breakfast. It was on his way back home from the News Cafe that Gianni was murdered by Andrew Cunanan on the steps of his home. The cafe was open 24/7, providing refreshments to those coming back from the beach, or just an afternoon pick me up for those coming home from work. Unfortunately, the News Cafe has been temporarily shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The decline in tourism and the effects of the stay-at-home orders halted the income of the cafe, and like many other businesses, it was forced to shut down due to lack of funds. The pandemic has been devastating for businesses across South Beach and the Miami area. Businesses like the News Cafe that have been a staple for the surrounding community have not been able to operate for over a year and unfortunately, their future is now uncertain.
Another business in South Beach worth mentioning H&M. Particularly the location in the Lincoln Road Mall. Located inside the old Lincoln Theater, H&M converted the 1936 theater into retail space. This allowed new businesses to be introduced to Lincoln Road Mall while preserving the history of South Beach. In 1936, the Lincoln Theater first opened its doors to the community as a cinema. After being vacant for several years, the New World Symphony bought the property in 1990 and renovated it to its former glory. In February 2010, after the New World Symphony had moved to its current location, the theater was converted into retail space, and H&M moved in. Instead of tearing down the theater to build a store, the historic building was instead converted to meet the needs of today while showing respect to its long history. Where you used to see seats for the guests, you now see racks of clothing, while preserving the iconic floors, mezzanine, and ceiling.
In keeping with the South Beach party mood, CAMEO Nightclub promises to give you an experience you’ll never forget. Located on Washington Ave and 14th Street, Cameo is in the heart of South Beach and at the center of South Beach nightlife. Cameo features performances from top artists, DJs and has celebrity guest appearances every other Friday and Saturday. With two stories, two dance floors, various bars, Cameo proves to be one of the best locations on South Beach to enjoy a special occasion with friends and family.
Since its inception, South Beach has been all about luxury and party. If not for Fisher, who dreamed of turning a mangrove filled barrier island into a resort city, Miami Beach would not have become what it is today. However, South Beach is not just all about party, it is also rich in culture that sometimes gets overlooked. From the Jewish Museum of Florida to the Art Deco District, Betsy Poetry Rail, and the Holocaust Memorial, there is meaningful history everywhere you look. As a city, there are various things that South Beach did right. Partnering with CitiBike, My Equilibria, Health beat, to incorporate outdoor activities to the lives of their residents and establishing effective public transportation. They also preserved Art Deco buildings which is a main tourist attraction as the largest concentration of Art Deco buildings in the country. Although South Beach seems like paradise, there are also some downsides. Due to its low elevation, flooding is very common in the city and can be a major inconvenience when you are trying to get around during the rainy season. Tourists can also be considered a downside of South Beach as it can be a nuisance for residents during the Spring Break and Summer seasons. Overall, the positives outweigh the negatives and South Beach maintains its party culture. Making it a dream destination for people around the world.
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