I know exactly what you’re thinking: low-key Miami? That’s like an oxymoron, right?
Yes, in a town overflowing with fancy beach hotels, cheesy nightclubs, and rampant self-absorption, it’s easy to dismiss Miami as a place with #zerochill. However, with some careful maneuvering, Escape Brooklyn founder Erin Lindsey and travel buddy/sommelier/wine writer Meg McNeill of Upstream Wine and Spirits recently enjoyed a week of bliss, trading cold Upstate New York for sunshine, wine, and relaxation. It was utterly, and totally, low-key. Let us tell you how.
First, there’s basically never a bad time to visit Miami, though most opt for mid-February through May. But there’s also an argument to be made for visiting Miami in the summer, when air travel and hotels are significantly cheaper. (The way we see it, if we’re going to be suffering from oppressive heat, we might as well be unplugged and poolside while sweating it out.) In any case, the most important puzzle piece for a low-key vacation is a low-key home base. Our guide begins at The Standard Miami — a low-key oasis amid all Miami’s glitzy opulence.
Where to Stay in Miami: The Standard Spa
Located on Belle Isle, steps away from the action on South Beach, The Standard Spa, Miami Beach is less a “hotel,” and more a spa with guest rooms. Set amidst peaceful tropical gardens, the bright, airy rooms feature private terraces, many with outdoor soaking tubs. The price of all rooms include the Standard’s indoor/outdoor hydrotherapy playground — more on that below.
The best part of the Standard is its saltwater pool, which plays underwater music, basically made for lounging and dips between naps in the sun. It’s surrounded by cherry mustard yellow chaise loungers, facing the pool or the bay, and complete with a waterfall/hot tub and a cold plunge. Once you’ve secured your spot for the day, there’s zero reason to leave: the poolside staff will wait on you hand-and-foot all day, bringing breakfast, lunch, and dinner if you so wish. Steps away, the Standard’s Lido Restaurant & Bayside Grill offers a gathering spot for more formal meals, with a delicious Mediterranean-inspired menu.
The spa at the Standard is tucked away, so it’s easy to forget about, but you’d be remiss to not spend a few hours here. Complimentary to all hotel guests, it includes a Turkish-style hammam, aroma steam room, Finnish sauna, and treatment baths. Add-ons include a full spa menu, or try out the outdoor mud lounge!
Last, its beautiful rooms, incredible spa, and perfect pool aside, the staff at The Standard is outstanding. Everyone is super-friendly, suspiciously beautiful, and completely non-pretentious. From beginning to end of our trip, it was clear that the staff was making an effort to get to know the us, making sure our stay was comfortable and fun. 10/10.
What to Do in Miami: Neighborhood Exploring, Shopping, and Sight-Seeing
Home to over 130 art galleries, showrooms, creative services, stores, antiques dealers, eateries and bars, the Design District is a creative neighborhood and shopping destination dedicated to innovative fashion, design, art, architecture and dining. Aside from its world-class roster of retail shops like Gucci, Dior, Prada, Louis Vuitton and Hermes, it’s also home to the (no admission fee) Institute of Contemporary Art, where contemporary works and site-specific installations span across six galleries and a 15,000-square-foot sculpture garden.
Another nearby cultural destination is the Wynwood Walls, which was described to us as a must-see. Honestly? Skip it, unless you really love graffiti, because let’s be honest here — we can see plenty of graffiti right here, at home, in NYC. Much more noteworthy is the Pérez Art Museum of contemporary art, with its stunning architecture and one of the best views in Miami.
Unless you really love swimming in the ocean, you can pretty much skip the whole beach part — it gets pretty crowded and rowdy, especially during spring break. Instead, take a walk down the beach for sunset once it’s cleared out a bit, and pop-in to some of the fancy (but cool) South Beach hotels. Must-sees include Faena in all its crazy extravagance — check Damien Hirst’s Golden Mammoth, and have a cocktail in the lounge — then grab a meal or a drink at one of the five offerings at eco-conscious 1 Hotel.
Where to Eat & Drink in Miami: Our Favorite Cool & Low-Key Spots
It’d be pretty easy to just take all your meals poolside at the Standard, and we wouldn’t judge you or blame you at all for that. However, should you get the itch to explore, we’ve got you covered.
For breakfast or lunch, we loved the vibe at the quaint News Cafe. Inside the restaurant and bar, there’s a newsstand and bookstore; outside, it’s the perfect spot to perch up and people watch on Ocean Drive. Zak the Baker was recommended to us by basically everyone, and didn’t disappoint; its cafe has sandwiches, salads, quiches and soups to die for. Although we didn’t make it to Versailles, it also came highly recommended and brands itself “the world’s most famous Cuban restaurant.” (Plus, it’s in very cute and Cuban neighborhood of Little Havana!) For all you coffee fanatics, All Day MIA is Miami’s best specialty coffee shop and restaurant, serving breakfast, lunch & brunch.
Our favorite dinner in Miami, hands down, was at Mandolin Aegean Bistro. As you pass through its blue gates into the dreamy candle-lit garden, you’ll swear you’re somewhere in the Greek Islands. The menu matches the vibe, which is superb; we recommend ordering as much as you possibly can, with the intention to share. A close second favorite dinner was 27 Restaurant at the Freehand Hotel, located in a historic house adjacent to the hotel’s courtyard. Before dinner, grab a cocktail at the Broken Shaker, the Freehand’s backyard oasis tiki-themed hotel bar.
Last but not least — bars! They are absolutely everywhere, each out-doing the last, and on every end of the spectrum. On that note, we loved Sweet Liberty, your run-of-the mill-vibe-but-very-good cocktail bar; Mac’s Club Deuce, a total dive, and Miami’s oldest bar, an homage to Miami’s seedy past; and the aforementioned Broken Shaker. Our very favorite spot, true to our low-key nature, was Lagniappe. Buy a glass or a bottle of wine, create your own cheese plate, and enjoy in the magical backyard with nightly live music.