Miami showdown: Staying in South Beach or Miami Beach

south beach or miami beach

With a huge range of accommodation options ranging from chic boutique hotels to glitzy skyscrapers and spa resorts, choosing where to stay on Miami Beach isn’t easy. Add in factors such as noise levels, proximity to the action and ocean access, and the process can seem overwhelming. So which Miami hot spot is right for you? Here are the pros and cons of staying in South Beach or the rest of Miami Beach.

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South Beach

Think Las Vegas is a feast for the senses? It’s fair to say South Beach (SoBe) has Sin City beat in that department. The strip is packed with daytime drinking spots like Fat Tuesdays or Ocean’s Ten, which feature DJs at all hours of the day, barely-clothed dancers, and perky staff who pour shots down patrons throats when certain songs come on. The frozen drinks go down easy in the Florida heat, with the classic mojito or bulldogs that are bigger than a person’s head being crowd favourites.

south beach or miami beach

2 for 1 bulldogs? OK!

Tipsy partiers don outrageous outfits as they prance down the strip, and LGBT bars abound, drawing some colourful characters. What else did you expect on South Beach?!

south beach or miami beach

Ocean Drive

south beach or miami beach

Ocean Drive

The Versace mansion

The Versace mansion

Fortunately SoBe has much more to offer than the club scene, most notably the blindingly white sand beach that stretches for miles. Framed by turquoise water, brightly-coloured lifeguard shacks and umbrellas dotting the sand, it’s the perfect spot to soak up the sun.

south beach or miami beach

South Beach

Seadoos along South Beach

Seadoos along South Beach

Those who don’t want to spend all day bronzing their bod can hit a ball around on one of the public beach volleyball courts, go for a jog along the boardwalk that winds between bustling Ocean Drive and the beach, or rent a CitiBike and explore the area on two wheels.

South Beach

South Beach

Shopping is also a popular pastime on South Beach, which is home to staples like Club Monaco, Zara and Banana Republic, as well as boutiques such as Kardashian-owned Dash.

READ MORE: Stylish shopping spots in Miami Beach, Florida

south beach or miami beach

Art Deco along Collins Avenue

south beach or miami beach

Collins Avenue

It’s quickly apparent while walking through the Collins Avenue shopping district that these aren’t your typical stores. The facades are all done in the charming Art Deco style, which feature white-washed walls framed with pastel accents and retro signs. The decorative theme continues all the way along Miami Beach, where many hotels pay homage to their former past by keeping the original signs over the door despite being long-since bought by bigwigs such as the Hilton group.

south beach or miami beach south beach or miami beachAll in all, South Beach is the place to be for those looking for a crazy day/night on the town, great shopping, excellent food, and some of the best people watching.

Pros:

  • In the heart of the action, so there’s no need to take a cab anywhere.
  • Close to shopping districts such as Collins Avenue.
  • Part of the beautiful Art Deco district.
  • Lots of great restaurants and bars around.
  • Hot nightlife scene.

Cons:

  • Despite your best efforts to book a room away from the street, it will still be loud during all hours of the day. So, so loud. Good luck sleeping.
  • The craziness of SoBe means it may not be the best spot for a family vacation.
  • Rooms are typically smaller than those in NoBe.
  • Few options to avoid eating out, as there aren’t many grocery stores around and most hotel rooms don’t have kitchenettes.

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south beach or miami beach

Miami Beach

Many sun-seekers flock to Florida for R&R, which Miami Beach has in spades—especially for those who go north of South Beach. The Mid-Beach, Atlantic Heights and North Beach areas are all just a quick jog or cab ride from the craziness of Ocean Drive, yet still offer the same stunning stretches of blindingly-white, sparkling sand.
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While South Beach is teeming with tiny boutique hotels, areas to the north are where those looking for a resort-feel will want to go. Gargantuan hotels such as the Fontainebleu have a vibrant, young energy, but with added amenities such as larger suites, bars, huge pool areas and easy beach access.
usa-miami-walkwayThe most notable benefit of heading north is the peace and quiet. While beachgoers won’t get the sand to themselves, the shoreline is much less crowded and typically avoided by shrieking partiers. Families and couples will be much more comfortable here, as well as those looking to relax. usa-miami-beach-toysNow for one of the best features: the spa resorts. Miami Beach is home to The Carillon Hotel and Spa, a spectacular all-suite resort with uninterrupted views of the turquoise ocean. A Miami staple since 1955, it has played host to the likes of the Rat Pack and celebs like Barbra Streisand. Aside from its great location along the water, multiple pools and friendly service, The Carillon’s real selling feature is its spa amenities.

The Carillon Hotel

The Carillon Hotel

With a focus on wellness, The Carillon has healthy food options (no deep fryers here, folks) and up to 40 free fitness classes a day, featuring everything from Zumba and yoga to spin, barre, FIIT and TRX.

As if that weren’t enough to help with a detox, there are also opportunities to get assessments from doctors and nutritionists, enjoy a massage or take advantage of the massive spas which include saunas, a steam room, foot bath and even The Igloo, which makes for a chilly spritz after a soak in the hydro pool. If you can’t relax after a couple of days at The Carillon, then you may need more than a vacation!
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One of four pools at The Carillon

One of four pools at The Carillon

Overall, areas north of South Beach are the perfect place for those wanting to enjoy the best of Miami Beach, without all of the craziness.

Pros:

  • Much quieter than South Beach (always a bonus when trying to sleep)
  • Equal distance between top areas such as South Beach, the Design District, Bal Harbour and Wynwood, which makes it easy to sightsee.
  • More of a resort feel than SoBe properties.
  • There aren’t as many people on the same stretch of beach.

Cons:

  • Will need to take a $20+ cab ride to get to other areas, including South Beach.
  • Not as much ambiance as SoBe.
  • Less dining options within walking distance.

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Still can’t decide which spot to stay in? Then book rooms in both! Those staying for four nights or longer may want to start off their vacation in South Beach to explore the area, then spend the last few nights in quieter North Beach to get some rest and relaxation in the Sunshine State.

TOP TIPS:

Watch the bill: Most restaurants and bars add a steep 18-20 per cent service charge to the bill, regardless of how many people are in the party. Unless your server was absolutely stellar, you’ll want to ensure you don’t accidentally tip twice.

Another pesky charge most hotels add is the resort fee, which costs about $25 per night. Surprisingly, that doesn’t include the cost of renting a lounger or umbrella on the beach. Expect to fork over an additional $15-$20 per chair or umbrella, and up to $150 per day for a fancy sun bed.

Must try: Don’t leave Florida without trying a slice of key lime pie and a mojito. Bonus points if you can track down some ceviche.

YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY:

Florida: A guide to Miami Fort Lauderdale, Orlando and the Everglades

On a boat: How to save money on your cruise

Goat Yoga: Where barnyard meets downward dog

The secret to getting luxury hotel rooms for half price

Globe Guide visited Miami Beach as a guest of The Carillon. As always, hosts have no editorial influence on articles.

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9 Responses

  1. What a great summary of SoBe versus the rest of the island. It’s true, Ocean Drive is a crazy cool place to be, but we do like to stay up in North Beach. On our trip last month, we took Uber almost everywhere, and it was never more than $7 each way (except to the airport). We haven’t stayed at the Carillon, but now it’s on our radar for sure! Last time, we just walked past it and swooned. 😉

    • Thanks Rob, hey that’s a great tip about Uber, we didn’t even think about using it! You should definitely check out The Carillon, it is so beautiful and relaxing. Sounds like you get out there a lot!

  2. Don Nadeau says:

    Excellent post. Thank you.

    My main objection to the northern part of the City of Miami Beach is that it feels oh so VERY concrete. Buildings stand close together. The streets nearest the beach are all too often joyless and unpleasant for walking.

    IMO, the long park that fronts the ocean to ocean in the southern part of Miami Beach, as well as the landscaped boardwalk that fronts the beach in most areas the park doesn’t, alone make SoBe a great choice.

    Nevertheless, the noise level around many hotels, as you point out, especially those along Ocean Drive, would drive many crazy.

    There are options – those hotels that front the boardwalk are much quieter. This is not an Atlantic City-type commercial boardwalk but instead a narrow landscaped walk that runs between the hotels and the ocean.

    Also there are a few hotels in quieter areas away from the beach but easily accessible. I very much enjoyed the Lincoln Arms Suites last year – Quiet as a tomb and perfectly maintained. Gets super reviews. And, of course, there’s always Airbnb to be in a residential area.

    • Thanks Don, you’re right, the boardwalk is a great spot! My husband and I ended up going for a long run along it (in theory not a great idea as it was so hot out!) but it sure made for some great photos 🙂

  3. I left SoFla waaaaayyyyyyy before SoBe became popular. Interesting analysis. One should definitely think about whether to stay right in the action or not. Noise versus closeness.

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