Given that it's below-freezing in NYC right now (and has been all week), I wanted to brighten your Friday with a little winter getaway to Miami! Brandon and I were just down there last weekend as you all know, celebrating his birthday and the completion of his hyperbarics treatment. We had a blast, and I wanted to share a few of our favorite spots in the event that you're jonesing to escape the cold and head south.

It was our third time in Miami, which is kind of hilarious considering that neither of us care at all for the clubby South Beach scene. In fact, we avoid it. What we love is the warm weather (even in the dead of winter), the beautiful beaches, the great food, and the affordable flights. It feels like you're going to the Caribbean – same weather, same turquoise water – only the flights are half the price.


(L) The courtyard lounge at The New Hotel; (R) pristine beaches and blue skies in North Beach.

This past trip, we stayed in two new (to us) sections of Miami Beach: North Beach, which is quieter and more residential, with loads of authentic Latin American bakeries and cafes, and SoFi (a.k.a. "South of Fifth St."), an up-and-coming residential neighborhood at the tip of South Beach. The areas felt totally different, but it was fun to explore both. With no further ado, here are my favorite spots to Stay, Eat, Drink, and Explore...


Budget Boutique: The New Hotel (North Beach) - This adorable, eco-friendly 10-room boutique hotel is just two blocks from an uncrowded beach. They've got a beautiful pool area with lounge chairs and tables, plus a great bar and restaurant (more on that below). Rooms start at just $159/night (in high season) and they have free parking, which is unheard of in Miami. Another perk: free bike rentals!


The pool at The New Hotel.

Cool & Edgy: Lord Balfour (SoFi) - This newly renovated property has 64 spacious guest rooms, a serene private courtyard for coffee or cocktails, and easy beach access (across the street). The hotel has a playful, edgy feel (carrying on the theme of its namesake, a former British Prime Minister who had a reputation for being a playboy), with pictures of a tatooed woman above each bed, and hands holding mirrors coming out of the walls. Rooms rates include continental breakfast and free WiFi. Also: the staff could not be any more wonderful.


A room at Lord Balfour.


(L) Brandon and me soaking up the sun; (R) the tranquil courtyard at Lord Balfour.

Home Away From Home: Sense Beach House (SoFi) - We didn't get to stay at this cozy little hotel, but since it was right across the street from Lord Balfour, I had to check it out. Think private Hamptons beach house: the 18 guest rooms are bright and airy, done in whites, blues, and beige, with common areas for guests to enjoy like the "playroom" (with ping pong, foosball, and surf boards on loan to guests), a comfy reading room, and a casual bar and restaurant. But the rooftop is perhaps the best-kept-secret in Miami: overlooking the ocean, Sense boasts a private lap pool surrounded by lounge chairs, day beds, and a bar. I'm dying to stay here on my next trip!!


Daybed on Sense Beach House's rooftop...I wish I could transport myself right here!


One of the light-filled bedrooms at Sense Beach House.


(L) Rooftop pool at Sense Beach House; (R) Michael's Genuine = my fav Miami restaurant!


For Seafood: Joe's Takeaway - The famous (and always-packed) Joe's Crab Shack has a takeaway shop next door that sells the same items they're known for (stone crab claws, lobster, oysters, crab cakes, etc.), at a fraction of the cost. They also sell great bottles of wine at bargain basement prices. You can eat in if you like, with no-frills picnic tables and plastic utensils, or take your food to-go and enjoy it at the nearby South Pointe Park or at your hotel. Make sure to try their Key Lime pie, which is out of this world!! (Note: Joe's closes for the summer, starting May 22.)

For Brunch (North Beach): Lou's Beer Garden - On the weekends, Lou's Beer Garden (the poolside restaurant at The New Hotel) serves a delicious brunch, with "Hangover Killers" like the "Nobe Kobe" burger and the "Big Boys" Steak and Eggs. For lighter appetites, their panini and salads are delicious or – if you want something sweet – try their Nutella and fruit-stuffed crepes. If you're a beer fan, you'll appreciate their extensive list of craft beers, and the fact that every item on the menu comes with a suggested beer pairing.


Lou's Beer Garden (poolside at The New Hotel.)

For Brunch (SoFi): The Local House - This fantastic restaurant inside Sense Beach House serves a daily brunch that includes ridiculously good banana pancakes and four variations of Eggs Benedict (try the crab cake version). The Italian bartender makes a great cappuccino, or if you prefer - bottomless mimosas are $19! (Also open for lunch and dinner daily).


Local House (inside Sense Beach House) serves seafood, cocktails, and a fabulous brunch.

For farm-to-table: Michael's Genuine - This is hand's down our favorite restaurant in Miami. Great food, fun vibe, fantastic wine list...this place has it all. Located away from the beach in the Art & Design District, Michael's prides itself on sourcing its ingredients as locally as possible (which is not something that many Miami restaurants can say). The menu changes often, but some sure bets are the pork belly appetizer, the pizza of the night, any of their amazing salads, and most importantly: dessert. The "Tangerine Creamsicle Pot de Creme" with warm buttermilk doughnuts and blackberry-tarragon jam is Trust me. Order it, and you'll weep from happiness.

Splurge Dinner: Setai Grill - Located in the beautiful Setai Hotel, this Asian-inspired restaurant serves seafood-centric small plates like yellowfin sashimi, hamachi tiradito, shrimp crudo, and oysters and a variety of top-notch steaks from Pat LaFrieda & Sons. They also just launched a new seasonal 6-course tasting menu, which is definitely worth a splurge – truffled scallop and lobster dumplings, striped bass en papillote with vegetables and seaweed butter, and the Korean barbecued short ribs were some of my favorite dishes. (Oh and the Champagne sorbet served with strawberries at the end of the meal was pretty fabulous!) But food aside, this restaurant has probably the best service I've ever experienced in Miami. The staff - from the servers to the manager to the chef - are impeccably trained and it shows.


The sleek Setai Bar...stop by for a drink on your way to dinner at the Setai Grill.

South Beach Oasis: Setai Bar & Courtyard - If dinner at the Setai Grill is a tad too pricy, go next door to the courtyard bar for a cocktail (like the spicy Chili Passion Martini) and some small bites. Filled with palm trees, low couches, and a gigantic shallow pool, the space is totally serene – if it weren't for the DJ spinning tunes, you'd never know you were in South Beach.


The beautiful courtyard lounge at The Setai.

For a Great Sandwich: La Sandwicherie - Smack Dab in the middle of South Beach (Washington and 14th), this little trailer serves amazing sandwiches (on baguettes or croissants), salads, and juices to go. Or you can snag a bar stool and eat there! I love the sandwiches, but truthfully it's their Dijon vinaigrette that keeps me coming back again and again.

WHERE TO JOG, WALK, OR WATCH THE SUNSET: South Pointe Park - This beautiful, new park is super-clean, with trails along the water for walking, jogging, or biking, as well as grassy areas to have a picnic or read a book. Watch the cruise ships leave from here, or stay and watch the sunset. If you're just strolling, stop in at Smith & Wollensky's outdoor bar for a glass of vino - they've got an incredible view of downtown Miami and the waterfront.

In the mood to travel? You might enjoy these posts as well:

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