Miami Sizzles for GLBT Travelers
During the cold snap a couple of weeks ago, I found myself at 3 a.m. waiting for a SamTrans bus at the temporary Transbay Terminal in San Francisco, wishing I had dressed warmer. A long-sleeved shirt, sweater, jacket, and scarf were not enough. But relief would come soon. I was heading to San Francisco International Airport to catch an early flight to Miami.
In a reversal of fortunes, the next bus stop at which I found myself was outside the Miami airport. I found myself stripping off layers of clothes as I searched for a shady place to wait in 85-degree weather.
Ultimately, the year-round warm weather is what lures most people to Miami, but there are plenty of things to see and do there even if you are not much of a beach person. The greater Miami area is home to a rich cultural history and natural attractions that keep visitors returning every year.
While most visitors think of it all as Miami, the greater Miami area is made up of the city of Miami and its suburbs on the mainland and the oceanfront city of Miami Beach and several other tourist-centric cities on the barrier islands across Biscayne Bay from Miami.
Miami Beach is world-famous for the largest collection of Art Deco buildings in the world. It wouldn’t have happened had it not been for the devastating hurricane of 1926 that flattened the city. The hurricane coincided with the advent of the Art Deco architectural period, so builders rode the wave of popularity and remade the oceanfront hotels in the Deco style.
Gays were a big part of the renaissance of South Beach in the 1970s when it had gone out of fashion in favor of the larger resort hotels farther north. The resurgence of South Beach continues today with more high-end retailers moving in and hotels skewing even more to the upscale.
Gay Miami Beach has a beautiful 2,500 square foot LGBT Visitor Center in the old Miami Beach City Hall building on Washington Avenue near 12th Street. It is open every day and hosts a Friday night cocktail mixer. You can get information there on the latest LGBT happenings in Miami. It also has lounge with free Wi-Fi and computers if you want to stop by and check your email. Check the center’s website at www.GoGayMiami.com.
While many places have an unofficial gay beach, Miami Beach makes it official. Miami’s gay beach is the 12th Street Beach, the section of Miami Beach across from where 12th Street intersects with Ocean Drive. The city requires the company that runs the concession stands to put up rainbow flags every day.
The gay-popular, clothing optional Haulover Beach is about a 25-minute drive or 45-minute bus ride from South Beach. The clothing-optional section is on the north end of the beach, north of the yellow lighthouse.
The best way to see the top attractions of Miami and Miami Beach without getting lost is to take an organized tour. The Big Bus runs every half hour on loops through the beach area and the city of Miami. You can hop off at any of the attractions the catch your attention.
The strip of Art Deco hotels along Ocean Drive is one of the biggest attractions for tourists to Miami Beach. The strip is packed with restaurants and shops that occupy the first floors of the hotels. If you’ve seen the movie The Birdcage, the Carlyle Hotel on Ocean Drive was the setting for the Birdcage nightclub. One of the few buildings on Ocean Drive not Art Deco is the Versace Mansion (now called Casa Casuarina). The mansion marks a shocking and sad chapter in LGBT history as the place where serial killer Andrew Cunanan gunned down designer Gianni Versace on the steps of the mansion in 1997. Jordache Enterprises, makers of Jordache jeans, bought the property in September and plan to keep operating it as a hotel.
One of Miami Beach’s newer landmarks, the Holocaust Memorial, opened in South Beach in 1990. It is a very touching and important tribute to the victims of one of history’s darkest hours. The memorial is centered around a sculpture of an arm with an extended hand reaching to the sky with naked figures clinging to it.
San Francisco’s own Michael Tilson Thomas is the artistic director at another modern landmark, the New World Symphony building in South Beach, which celebrated its 25th anniversary this year. The big white wall of the building is the screen for the free movie night every Wednesday at 8 p.m.
The World Erotic Art Museum in South Beach boasts the world’s largest public collections of erotic art and includes gay and lesbian erotica. The tacky-looking entrance to the museum on Washington Street doesn’t look like much, but don’t let that throw you, the museum is first-rate and provides visitors a fascinating look into sexuality in various cultures and eras.
The Vizcaya Museum and Gardens in Miami provides visitors with a good glimpse into the history of Florida. The estate’s centerpiece is an Italian Renaissance-style mansion surrounded by 10 acres of gardens. James Deering, who made a fortune making tractors and farm equipment, built the property and wintered there between 1916-1925. Deering was a "life-long bachelor." He has been thought by many to be gay, but if he was, like so many other gay men of his era, he kept that part of his life hidden.
If you are in the mood to splurge, the city of Bal Harbour, north of Miami Beach, has Florida’s version of Rodeo Drive set in an open-air mall called the Bal Harbour Shops.
More moderately priced shops can be found in the city of Miami. The Bayfront Park Bayside shopping area is the Pier 39 of Miami and is part of the rejuvenated previously rundown section of downtown next to the American Airlines Arena, which opened in 2000. The park is across the street from the Freedom Tower, one of the oldest attractions of the city. It was Miami’s first skyscraper and once housed a newspaper office. It was dubbed the Freedom Tower when refugees from Cuba were processed through there following the Cuban revolution in 1959.
South Beach is home to five gay bars and nightclubs all within a short walk of one another. The newest gay bar, the Cabaret, opened just two weeks ago. As its name implies, it will feature live entertainment. It is also perfectly situated on 12th Street, two blocks from the gay 12th Street Beach.
A sixth gay bar, the Cock Miami, is scheduled to open on South Beach next month on the 600 block of Washington and will include a dance floor. It is owned by the same people who own the Cock in New York City.
The Twist nightclub is a couple of blocks from the beach on Washington Street. It is seven bars in one. It gets busiest late at night and stays open until 4 a.m.
The Score nightclub moved earlier this year from the pedestrian shopping mall on Lincoln Way to Washington Street, just up the street from Twist. The space is bigger and the hip vibe is the same.
The Palace Bar and restaurant is on Ocean Drive and its Saturday and Sunday brunch and drag shows literally stop traffic. The performers have been known to do splits in the middle of the street, lay on car hoods, or hop on passing tour buses to entertain tourists for a minute or two.
Mova is still in the Lincoln Way mall area. The upscale lounge tends to be more popular early in the evening. It used to have a lesbian night on Thursdays, but now only has a women’s night on special event days.
Although most tourists stick to the nightlife in Miami Beach, if you prefer to get away from the visitors there is plenty of LGBT nightlife in the city of Miami. The Discoteckker in the city’s largest gay space attracts over 1,000 people on weekend nights.
Club Boi at Sandals is a dance club in North Miami that markets itself to black and Latino men.
The Dugout is a mid-town Miami sports bar.
Right now there are no gay hotels in Miami but one is scheduled to open in Miami Beach early next year. It will be called the Gaythering. The boutique property is on Lincoln Road and will have 25 rooms and a spa. Three years ago, the Lords Hotel had marketed itself as a gay hotel, but earlier this year it went back to its original name of the Hotel Nash and is a mainstream hotel again.
Miami Beach’s gay community leaders run a program called Pink Flamingo Hospitality. It includes 190 properties in the Miami-Dade County area that have gone through a certification program, with each hotel having to undergo an inspection to prove that it and its staff are truly gay-welcoming.
The trendy and modern upscale Z Ocean Hotel in South Beach is near the gay beach and actively promotes itself to the gay market. The hotel has a LGBT section on its website. The gay-owned Front Porch restaurant on the ocean side of the hotel is one of the more popular restaurants in South Beach.
If you want to get away from the crowds of South Beach, head north. The Canyon Ranch is a great example of an Art Deco building that has been completely refurbished with modern luxuries geared to health. The hotel is home to Florida’s largest spa and home to a large gym complete with a climbing wall. The beachfront property has regular fitness boot camps and less strenuous exercise classes scheduled daily.
The Acqualina Resort is another upscale luxury property that has everything in one place. It is just north of Miami Beach in the city of Sunny Isles Beach. The hotel’s grand spacious lobby will impress you as soon as you first walk in the door. It is about three miles to the gay popular Haulover Beach.
Getting There and Around
If you are staying in South Beach, you can get by very easily without a car. Depending on the time of year, parking and traffic can be a challenge.
Cab fare to South Beach from the Miami airport is about $40, but if you want to take public transit, the 150 express bus from the airport makes a number of stops in Miami Beach and the fare is just $2.35. To get to the bus, follow the signs to the transit center station.
Miami Beach began a bike sharing program three years ago called Deco Bikes. It works like San Francisco’s bike sharing program. You enter your credit card information at the bike kiosk and pick your bike up at one station and return it to the other.
If you want to rent a car for a short time, the car sharing program known as Car2Go (www.car2go.com/en/miami/) is a good option but you have to sign up online first. The company will send you a card in the mail and you can rent a car for 38 cents an hour.