Staying in the right South Beach hotel is like picking the right outfit for a party. Sure, you’ll be OK if it isn’t the right fit, but it’ll be spectacular if it hugs you just right.
For all out luxury, my pick is The Setai. With room rates starting at $700, expect an older more established crowd. Couples, empty nesters, and the occasional young hedge fund manager. With three pools — each with different temperatures — and an afternoon tea worthy of an emperor, this is the place to be pampered.
In my opinion, the pool scene at the the Delano hotel is still unrivaled. With those "makeout cabanas" as they are affectionately called, mattress lounges, and room rates that attract singles in their 20s and 30s, this is still the hotel for the sophisticated party crowd.
If Brangelina would stay at the Setai and The Donald would dine at the Delano, Audrey Hepburn would make The Raleigh Hotel her home. With affordable rates ($550 for an ocean view in high season — everything is relative), a "bodacious, curvaceous (UK Observer)" pool originally built for MGM movie star Esther Williams, and a European aesthetic that is more South of France than South Beach, this hotel is for guests who don’t have to prove anything to anyone.
Let the masses gather at Joe’s Stone Crab. You want the hottest restaurant right now? These four score high with the concierges at the hotels above. I haven’t eaten at any of them — yet.
Nikki Beach shows no signs of slowing down. This post-sorority hangout is a complex of daytime beach club and nighttime ultralounge. Order a bottle of Dom and a cabana and invite your entourage to kick back with some good beats.
Opium Garden — Book a VIP table far in advance or you’ll wait like everyone else in the very very long line. The club is entirely outdoors with sheer white curtains and people who really dance — not just poseurs. If you want to get into Prive (the private upstairs club) make sure your concierge knows somebody.
Funky Urban – Now that T-shirts have displaced billboards, this store jumps into the fray with designs you won’t find at the gap. From the relatively staid "Don’t Be Jealous" that Paris Hilton wears, to the less family-friendly "Get Down" with appropriate directional signage, this is the place to get a souvenir they’ll remember.
Culture Kings — Worth the trip just to see what happens when modernist boutique marries urban ghetto.
BASE — Limited edition clothes, footwear and accessories selected by a curator.
Genius Jones — For the parents who believe good design is ageless, this crisp white store displays refreshing toys and baby basics in a minimalist setting. Where else can you get a matching cowgirl themed Bib & Burp set in South Beach?
So enjoy the South Beach scene: Pack your favorite outfits and choose one of the South Beach hotels that fits your style. And stay tuned for my story on South Beach on a budget.
Related Orbitz resources
Samantha Chapnick is a New York writer who scours international destinations looking for what hasn’t been found.