Thanks to my parents' friends who lent us the use of their penthouse apartment, we spent a lovely Christmas holiday in South Beach, Miami. Here's my recommended itinerary, which closely follows our own:
Walk along Ocean Drive/on the beach
Stop by Art Deco center and gift shop
Lunch at Charlotte Bakery
Lincoln Road Mall
Dinner at Oliver's
Ocean Drive contains the highest concentration of art deco buildings anywhere in the world (iirc). The Art Deco center has a cute gift shop full of retro items. Both Española Way and Lincoln Road Mall are major shopping areas - the former is smaller, more boho, and has more restaurants. Resist the urge to stop and eat, and head over to Charlotte Bakery instead, where you can sample empanadas in the style of several different South American countries. Be sure to visit the bakery instead of the cafe next door and ask for the special sauce! After lunch, Lincoln Road Mall has more of your chain stores, but is the perfect place to buy ridiculously tacky souvenirs at 'Surf Shop'. For dinner, Oliver's is a nice little cafe with good service and food. It had the added advantage of being a block away from where we stayed, and was cheaper and calmer than things on the beach side.
Big Bus Tour of South Beach and Miami
Stop at Versailles for lunch, doggy-bag it for dinner
Walk down to South Pointe for the sunset
Stop by Joe's Stone Crab for a take-out slice of key lime pie
The Big Bus tour was kind of a mixed bag, but it was a good way to see South Beach and Miami in one day. More importantly, it got us to Versailles, where we stuffed our faces with Cuban food. The restaurant was insanely crowded, but lines moved fast. Our waitress spoke mostly Spanish, which might be an issue if you have dietary restrictions, but just added to the experience for us. We returned to South Beach stuffed. I walked down to South Pointe just in time to see the last few cruise ships leave for the day. On the way back to the apartment, I picked up some Key Lime Pie from Joe's Stone Crab. (Look for the carry-out shop to the left of the restaurant.) I took it back to the apartment and had it with coffee.
Drive down to Everglades Nat' Park
Take the Anhinga Trail to see birds and gators
Stop by the 'Robert Is Here' roadside stand for shakes
Snorkeling at John Pennekamp State Park
This was our day to get out of Miami. A note about tolls in southern Florida - there are no booths. Either you have a local smartpass, or they take a picture of your plate and send you the bill in the mail. Honestly, it's a great way to do things (sparing the locals the extra cost and slowed traffic), and none of the tolls were exorbitant. Anyway, we took the toll road down to Everglades National Park. We only had an hour, but the Anhinga Trail, close to the park's entry, delivered - we saw about a dozen gators. On the way out, we stopped by the fruit stand for shakes - so good. Finally, we headed down to the keys to snorkel at John Pennekamp State Park. We had reservations for the last tour of the day, but the water was still pleasant and very clear. We even saw a nurse shark!
Spend a day at the beach
Cubanos and medianoches from Puerto Sagua for lunch
Walk down Ocean Drive at night
On Christmas day, we relaxed, spending most of the day on the beach. The liquor laws seem to be unenforced on the sand - we saw plenty of people with coolers. We indulged in cubanos from Puerto Sagua, which was open Christmas Day, and lazed about in the sun. That evening, we took a stroll down neon-lit Ocean Drive for one last look.
Of course, in nicer weather, more beach days should be added. It was a chilly 72 on Christmas Day! I don't usually eat breakfast, but for those who do, Big Pink was highly recommended - we just never got around to going there. Finally, there are closer places to snorkel, like Bills Baggs State Park on nearby Key Biscayne, where you can also check out the lighthouse and Stiltsville. Any must-sees we missed doing?