A conference in Florida provided the opportunity for some holiday fun. This post shares: how we accidentally stumbled on one of Miami’s most joyous festivals, Gay Pride; the art deco we loved on Florida’s east coast; and how we were blown away by the glitz of Palm Beach.
Combining Business and Pleasure
Contrary to popular opinion, I’m not on holidays all the time. You take your personality with you; so despite the fact I live as an entrepreneur in Thailand, making my own schedule, I’m always beavering away on some project or other.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.
But it does mean I’m still working on downtime and relaxation (and that whole self-care thing – luckily my self-explorations benefit you too – such as my recent post on Tiny Buddha: 45 Simple Self-Care Practices for a Healthy Mind, Body and Soul).
I persuaded a friend to join me in my latest adventure (confusingly for everyone we met, she’s called Helen), and we planned an itinerary around a conference I had in Fort Lauderdale. As always, we managed to pack a lot in.
Glittering Shops and Streets, and a Sense of Space: Palm Beach
Our first stop after a night in a – nice enough – Airport Hilton, was to pick up our Chevrolet rent-a-car. We got upgraded from a small car that I can’t remember the name of to a slightly bigger car (still larger than the last car I owned!) that I also can’t remember the name of. After a slight false start when I accidentally put the car in manual drive (who knew Americans did manual?!) and then couldn’t work out how to a) change gear or b) get it into automatic, we were on our way.
We headed to Palm Beach, their motto: The Best of Everything. It shows. We drove around to explore first, impressed by the sunshine, shady avenues, and huge houses. We had our first proper American food (I don’t count the lacklustre meal in the Hilton the night before) in the airy Surfside Diner, where I had a veggie burger and sweet potato fries. Tasty. Oh, and we both had huge milkshakes, which were basically ice-cream in a glass. Very tasty.
We next headed to where the real money is – Worth Avenue. This road is full of ritzy, upscale shops, their rich clientele and their very fancy cars. We enjoyed looking in the shop windows, but we didn’t actually go into any of the shops. I’d like to say that’s because of my minimalist travel lifestyle, but I think it’s more because the blow-dried-deeply-tanned-plastic-surgery-pod-people (I’ve never seen so many people walking around with post-surgery nose splints) intimidated us a little…
But it was fun to look around, and we had some beautiful blue skies and sunshine. I don’t normally lust after glitters and shinies, but the jewellery in the windows of some of the shops was probably worth more than my flat, and in some cases, stunning indeed.
We walked along the length of Worth Avenue and ended up at the clean, white sands beach, which was very picture-postcard-esque. Even their lifeguard huts are stylish and elegant. We were grateful for the public water fountains (such a novelty for me, drinking local water after all the different countries I go to where it’s not such a good idea), and took a look at some of the incredibly expensive boats along the harbour.
That evening, we drove down to Miami. Here we’d gone for an AirBnB rental, which was basic, but clean with a fabulous location with everything we needed. Miami was everything that we expected, and as it turns out a whole lot more.
The biggest surprise to me was the stunning architecture – the art deco style so beautiful, clean and cool looking (cool in both senses). I’d heard about it, but I hadn’t expected there to be such a strong and consistent look and feel. We were staying just off the major shopping route of Lincoln Drive, close to South Beach, so we were right in the thick of things. We did one of the art deco ‘historic district’ (don’t get me started on what historic means in the States though) walking tours suggested in the Lonely Planet, and a few of the photos I took from that are below. Even the Post Office and Police Station are irresistible.
As with the entire holiday, we ate pretty well in Miami. On the first night, the restaurant we tried was ok, but as Helen saw her first (two) cockroaches there, I won’t name it.
A much greater success was the News Cafe, recommended by not one, but two friends, as well as the Lonely Planet Guide. The News Cafe is just off the actual beach, and has fantastic people-watching as well as delicious brunches. Yes, brunch is most definitely my favourite American meal. If you fancy a taste of people-watching yourself, but can’t be bothered to go to Miami check out their live webcam.
One of the nights Helen and I hit the town. We went from the sublime to the ridiculous (or maybe the other way round), starting with the Pizza Bar, where we had what might be the best pizza I’ve ever eaten. It was divine, and the slices of ‘pie’ were enormous. The beers we had with it probably helped wash it down, and we sat at a counter and felt very local (which is probably silly as it was full of tourists). We did have to wait a while in line for a while, so we practised my new resolution of having small positive interactions with strangers, and chatted to some local lads, who thought our accents were hilarious, and had never been out of Miami. (Ha! So they were local…)
From the delicious, if lowbrow, pizza and beer, we headed to the Delano for cocktails. Another recommendation from friends, this is a very upscale hotel (some great shots of the pool in the daytime not by me here). The architecture again is stunning, and it just screams minimalist luxury at every turn. We chose to sit outside by the pool, where we sipped gin and tonics that cost more than the huge pizza slices and beer we’d just consumed.
Distant Relatives, Posh Miami Suburbs and Yet More Delicious Food
An unexpected highlight of the trip for me was a visit to some of Helen’s Panamanian relatives. You heard me correctly. Helen’s as British as me (more actually, my Mum’s family are Irish), but has some distant (she wasn’t even totally sure of the exact relationship – fourth cousins maybe?) relatives who were political immigrants from Panama to Miami 30 or 40 years ago.
Highly intelligent and interesting, this couple took us to the most fantastic (ok, I’m running out of superlatives for this trip, I can see) Cuban restaurant. You will see in the photos above our table groaning with food. We also tried Cuban coffee, which seems to be a double espresso with sugar and cream – sort of like sweet tar.
Puts a spring in your step.
The area they live in, Coral Gables, was also worth a drive around. Leafy and green, with huge houses and expensive cars, it’s a very posh suburb of Miami which includes one of the US’s presidential hopefuls amongst its residents.
Miami Gay Pride
On the morning of our first full day in Miami, we started to wonder why so many scantily clad lovelies were wandering up and down not just the beach, but the streets around the South Beach area. I mean, we expected some, but really, there were a lot of people in their pants or just…string and buttons.
We eventually asked someone with enough clothes on so we didn’t blush while talking to them, and found out we’d come on the weekend of Gay Pride, an event which attracts nearly 100k people to the area over the course of a weekend. We found this out just minutes before the parade started, and we headed down to the packed road near the beach where the floats, cars, and unusually dressed participants went past us for the next couple of hours. The atmosphere was truly joyful, and the crowd loved every one of those involved, cheering and screaming in adulation. It was great fun. The diversity of the participants was fabulous – my favourite float being the ‘legacy couples’ float, where those on it had sashes which said things like ‘Betty and Louise, 53 years’ or ‘Peter and Joseph, 46 years.’ You get the idea. I think the photos will give you a nice flavour of the chaos.
Three Days Down, A Week to Go
All that happened in our first few days in Florida. It had already hugely exceeded my expectations, and we had a week to go. I have enough material for several posts, so you can look forward to the next instalment which will be about Universal Studios, Orlando – I need the time to find a few more superlatives, as the trip just got better and better…
Have you been to Miami or Palm Beach? What did you think? I’d love to hear any recommendations you have for places to visit in the comments below!