(Bloomberg) — Nathan Crooks is a breaking news reporter based in Bloomberg’s Miami bureau.
If most cities became eerily quiet during the height of the pandemic, Miami—a global mecca because of its sun-drenched beach days and booze-soaked party nights—was very much the opposite. People flocked here from all over. At one point, Miami International Airport overtook both JFK and LAX to become the busiest international airport in the country.
Part of that was because it’s a good city to be in if your entire social life is relegated to the outdoors. But spring breakers, tech founders, and pandemic snowbirds were also lured by a laissez-faire state one that kept restrictions lax and an opportunistic local government that encouraged remote workers to migrate south.
Although Florida Governor Ron DeSantis emerged as one of the country’s most outspoken voices against sweeping public-health measures—he’s outlawed vaccine passports and school mask mandates, even in the face of brutal state-wide case spikes—it was never been a complete free-for-all in Miami.
Many residents take precautions by wearing masks both inside and out, and Google mobility data show Miami-Dade County residents continue to keep their day-to-day radius significantly tighter than the U.S. average. And with 85% of the eligible population fully inoculated, it’s also one of the most vaccinated metropolitan counties in the nation.
South Florida is as busy as ever. The snowbirds who usually flock south to escape cold winters in the U.S. Northeast didn’t clear out this summer as they’d done in the past, and streets are bustling. Data from the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau shows that hotel and dining activity have recovered to pre-pandemic levels.
Miami has witnessed the beginnings of a dining golden era over the past year. Famed New York restaurants including Carbone, Cote, and Red Rooster opened outposts, and locals, previously not used to competitive reservations, now complain that it can be hard to find a table anywhere. The good news, though, is that just about every restaurant will have some sort of outdoor space, even with indoor dining fully restored.
“Miami is the hottest city in the world right now,” says Mathieu Massa, chief executive officer of the Mr. Hospitality group that operates the famed Marion, El Tucán, and Bâoli hot spots in the city. Business at many of his properties that feature live entertainment, he says, has risen as much as 25% to 30% from pre-pandemic levels.
Miami has been winning market share while “not much was happening in New York,” he continues, pointing to the forthcoming arrival of LA supper club Delilah and London’s Sexy Fish, which is slated to have 10 Damien Hirst pieces and a Frank Gehry-designed fish chandelier in its Brickell location.
Unlike rival destinations such as Dubai or Mykonos, Miami, he says, is attracting new projects because it’s now a year-around, not seasonal, culture hub. Massa is investing in a $30 million overhaul of Miami Beach’s historic Paris Theater, which will reopen next spring as a fine dining and entertainment venue with open kitchens, a DJ, and aerialists.
South Beach, the Design District, and the Wynwood arts district have many new choices that are putting the magic back into Magic City. Cerveceria La Tropical, Cuba’s oldest brewery and now Miami’s youngest, serves beer pairings, featuring among others its Tropilina Double IPA and Gumbo Limbo Helles Lager, in a garden that, with 30-foot-tall trees and an outdoor bar inside a giant bird cage, should become quickly iconic.
Pharrell Williams’ Strawberry Moon is a poolside club at the Goodtime Hotel that’s also a Mediterranean restaurant and a place to sport your fanciest pink bikini. In Wynwood, Oasis has more than 35,000 square feet of orchid-filled outdoor space, with a stage for live music that’s flanked by retrofitted shipping containers from which vendors dole out pork carnitas, Sicilian pizza, and fried chicken sandwiches.
A multitude of new entertainment venues opened throughout the pandemic, but Miami’s ample beaches, waterways, and parks still reign supreme.
If you’re still Covid-wary: Miamians took to the water at the height of the pandemic, and it’s still the best way to spend a sunny, relaxed weekend. Rent kayaks or stand-up paddle boards from Miami Beach Paddleboard, right off Venetian Bay, and you can set off from a new public dock at Maurice Gibb Memorial Park in Sunset Harbor nearby. From there, paddle through the canals of the Sunset Islands or pretend you’re somewhere far more remote amid the palm trees and fallen coconuts that line the tiny Flagler Memorial Island.
If paddling isn’t your thing, go full Miami by chartering a boat for a day of cruising down the Miami River and Biscayne Bay. To see and be seen in a glam outdoor setting, pull up for a late lunch at Kiki On The River or The Wharf.
For an early morning or evening stroll, check out The Underline, a new 10-mile “linear park” that starts in the heart of buzzy Brickell, below the tracks of the Metrorail, and features outdoor basketball courts, gyms, and pingpong tables in a promenade area with native plants and exposed limestone bedrock. Brickell City Centre, with its mostly open-air shopping center and food halls, is nearby.
If you need a gentle reentry: The city is full of outdoor entertainment venues where you can dine and catch a concert. The Fever app and website took off during the pandemic, offering open-air events including a candlelight concert series. Palapa at Upper Buena Vista near the Design District plays host to many of the events underneath its massive thatched roof. Ironside, a mixed-use center located in Miami’s Upper East Side, features shops from local designers, art studios, galleries, and a restaurant.
Much of Miami’s avant-garde arts scene has moved north from Wynwood into Little River and Little Haiti, where vast outdoor spaces provided a pandemic refuge. The Center for Subtropical Affairs hosts a plant market, festivals, and jazz evenings under the stars in its sprawling gardens. Space Park hosts yoga in the daytime before the DJs take over, playing to people dancing or chilling in hammocks. Just next door, Heartland is a more relaxed spot to catch a live blues band.
For museum buffs, the Perez Art Museum remains a Miami mainstay. Its exhibition featuring international African and African diaspora art is on view through February. The museum still requires reserved timed tickets to ensure some social distancing. The Rubell Museum has reopened two Infinity Rooms by Yayoi Kusama that transport visitors into to an “alternate, limitless universe,” in addition to a “Narcissus Garden” filled with reflective stainless steel spheres, on view through December.
If you’re up for getting back out there: Catch a concert or comedian at the historic Fillmore in Miami Beach, where Chelsea Handler is set to take the stage on Oct. 28 and Mexican rock band Café Tacvba preforms on Nov. 13. Attendees are required to bring printed proof of full vaccination or a negative Covid-19 test taken within 72 hours of the event. Larger shows are arriving, too, and the schedule at the FTX arena downtown is starting to fill out once again. Upcoming acts include Dua Lipa, the Weeknd, and Elton John.
Less ephemeral is the Faena Hotel in Miami Beach, where at its Los Fuegos restaurant any night can start with an Argentine-style asado dinner of wagyu short rib or local red snapper cooked over an open fire. The Living Room, also at the same hotel, offers live music and DJs almost any night of the week, while the Faena Theater is currently home to an immersive cabaret show with sultry cirque nouveau acts every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night.
The only thing worse than Miami traffic is Miami parking. Uber and Lyft, however, are readily available at reasonable fares. If you’d rather commute al fresco, there’s the new Poseidon Ferry, which offers scenic, 30-minute rides between downtown and South Beach along the Miami River and Biscayne Bay. The Citi Bike network is also extensive, and scooters are readily available in most commercial and tourist districts. (Remember to hydrate!)
While there is no city-wide mask mandate, it’s not unusual to see people wearing masks inside and out. And while many office buildings and condos do have mask requirements, it’s not unusual to see people flouting those rules. People generally do what they want.
That applies to greetings, too. Handshakes, elbow bumps, or a Latin American kiss on the cheek: You’ll see it all. The good news is that it’s no longer considered rude to simply smile and nod your head to say hello.
Now more than ever, Miami is a city where just about anything goes. Good thing there’s plenty of open space and sky for everyone.