Miami – An Art Deco Tour

Two years later than planned I finally flew to Miami. I felt as if I’d lost the rhythm of travel; all those pre-trip routines I used to be able to do in my sleep had been forgotten thanks to Covid and lockdowns, and my journey to Miami felt stressful, admin-heavy and I felt every one of the 9 3/4 hours of the flight. Thankfully, after the first woozy and vertigo-ridden 12 hours in Miami Beach, I found my bearings and watched the sun rise from the other side of the Atlantic for the first time in four years.

Miami was the first of four stops on this trip, the main focus being my pirate-inspired trip to The Bahamas, but I met up with two friends in Miami Beach and crammed in a lot of seafood, ice cream and people watching in the few days I was there. However, the main draw in Miami was the Art Deco architecture, and I started my trip at Art Deco central: Ocean Drive.

I had booked a room in the Avalon Hotel, one of the many iconic hotels on Ocean Drive, facing Miami’s beautiful South Beach, instantly recognisable from the 1955 Oldsmobile which is parked outside. The rooms were decorated simply and without fuss, but very comfortable and surprisingly quiet; considering I arrived on a busy Saturday night and revellers were out in force, I didn’t hear much noise.

Being an early riser has its advantages, and while I don’t get to see as much of the nightlife of a city as I used to, I do see the sunrise and catch the streets before they get too busy. An early morning walk across the road to South Beach was a calming and beautiful start to the day, and I walked the length of Ocean Drive, trying to photograph as many Art Deco details as I could.

The heat in Miami was pretty intense, especially as I’ve not escaped the UK for 3 years, but I joined one of the Art Deco Walking Tours, run by the Miami Design Preservation League. Our guide took things at a leisurely pace, gave us several rest stops in the shade, and provided an insightful and detailed account of the Art Deco history and developments of Miami, pointing out many features of the hotels’ exteriors and interiors which I would have easily missed.

Many of the features and shapes are instantly recognisable from the Art Deco movement, but I hadn’t realised the significance of the imagery and symbols pertaining to Egyptian culture, the recurrent sea and maritime images, the styles of terrazzo, and the Mediterranean influences. Despite it being one of my favourite styles, there was a lot I still had to learn. The tour took us inside three of the iconic hotels, where I couldn’t take photos, but the Avalon where I was staying had its fair share of curves and terrazzo which I could photograph.

At night, Ocean Drive is a different place altogether. Heaving with people, both local and tourists, it’s a strip of overpriced drinks and laminated menus, sports cars and cigars; and all that glorious neon comes out to play.

I had no idea it was going to be Miami Beach Pride weekend during my stay, and the streets were even more colourful than usual. Ocean Drive was cordoned off for a Pride Parade, and our table at the hotel terrace gave us a prime spot to see the floats and support the celebrations.

Taking a break from gawking at window ledges or porthole windows, we went to Downtown Miami for a boat trip around the bay, and continuing with the theme of my trip, we chose the pirate ship tour!

I returned to Miami Beach before flying home to Heathrow, and walked along Lincoln Road for two last locations to tick off my list. Firstly, I went to Collins Park, home of The Bass Musem of Contemporary Art. Here I found Ugo Rondidone’s Miami Mountain (I’ve seen its counterpart outside Tate Liverpool), its colours beaming out against the blue Miami sky. My final stop was at the 1 Hotel for lunch in the beautiful Watr at the Rooftop bar. I had picked a relatively quiet time to eat there and the food was excellent – and the views were incredible.

It was time to leave the pastels, palm trees and neon of Miami behind, but it wouldn’t be right to leave out my favourite pastime, visiting film locations…my hotel was right next door to a building used in Scarface (1983), and the famous Carlyle Hotel a few doors away was the titular club in The Birdcage (1996).