While Miami Beach is well-known for its gorgeous beaches, vibrant culture and nightlife, this beachfront enclave is also home to the renowned Art Deco District, the first 20th-century neighborhood listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
While joining a friend for breakfast, ironically at the Art Deco style 11th Street diner, she casually mentioned the Art Deco walking tour she’d be leading later that morning and proceeded to extend an invite.
A gorgeous spring day with low humidity and minimal South Beach crowds, the timing couldn’t be better. I also couldn’t fathom doing this tour in the middle of the scorching Miami summer heat. So I jumped on the opportunity to explore the architectural treasures that draw millions to South Beach each year. It was well overdue!
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Miami Beach Art Deco District
Miami Beach Architectural District Design Styles
Art Deco as an art form received international acclaim during the 1925 International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts in Paris. It was a celebration of how modern technology fused seamlessly with the decorative arts; inspired by the geometric forms of cubism and elegant materials like chrome and ivory.
The architecture was sleek, elegant, sophisticated. Smooth facades of stone, cement or stucco accented with glass, chrome and shining metals.
Today there are more than 800 buildings designed in the Art Deco style here, including Art Deco Miami hotels, making it the largest concentration in the world.
Mediterranean Revival is a specific style that borrows features from Spanish colonial architecture, such as red-tiled roofs, iron balconies and dramatic, arched or circular windows. Often accompanied by lush gardens, there are plenty of these types of structures in the district, particularly along Española Way in Miami Beach.
Miami Modern, also called MiMo, is a regional architectural style unique to certain parts of Miami, like Biscayne Bay. Borrowing elements of art deco, these buildings – many of which were built in the 60’s – are fun, glamorous, and tropical. Good examples are the Deauville and Fontainebleau hotels.
Miami Art Deco History
In Miami Beach, the architectural style began to take root in the mid-1920s, a time when the region was recovering from the devastating hurricane of 1926.
A blank slate, Miami Beach became the perfect stretch to showcase the popular Art Deco architectural style. Which explains why there was so much Art Deco construction in a relatively small area.
Miami Beach architects made the style their own by representing the jolliness of the area with pastel colors and adding tropical and nautical designs. With porthole windows and open balconies, hotels resembled landlocked ocean liners.
And then the tide turned. Minimalism replaced ornamental; white or cream replaced the rainbow of pastels. High-rise condos began to replace the charming three-story Art Deco hotels.
In contrast, Art Deco started looking dated. By the 1970s, the glitz faded, the once-cutting-edge buildings sadly neglected, and developers with visions of stark skyscrapers were poised to demolish the buildings.
Founded by Barbara Capitman in 1976, the Miami Design Preservation League (MDPL) intervened to protect the Miami Beach architectural structures from destruction. The MDPL has since been dedicated to preserving and promoting the Miami Beach Architectural District ever since, including their daily walking tours.
Miami Design Preservation League (MDPL) Art Deco Tour
While you can explore the district on your own, I recommend first taking the Miami Design Preservation League’s (MDPL) walking tour for historical insight.
From retro sidewalk diners dating back to the 1930s and 1940s, to beachfront boutique hotels, we experienced first hand the Art Deco, Mediterranean Revival and Miami Modern (MiMo) styles that make the Miami Beach Architectural District so unique.
The MDPL’s walking tour took us through the historic district, exploring hotels like the striking Winter Haven, restaurants and other iconic structures selected to demonstrate the unity and variety of the Art Deco style and its part in Miami Beach history.
The tour primarily features the exteriors, but we entered the buildings at designated stops to take a peek at the interiors. It was only about a mile in length and last about 90 minutes but can it extend to two hours, so wear your comfortable walking shoes.
Strolling through the district was like being back in time, with our guide providing loads of historical tidbits and juicy anecdotes to give us a taste of South Beach in its Art Deco heyday.
Where to see Art Deco Architecture in Miami Beach
Here are a few of the iconic structures situated in the Miami Beach Art Deco District between 5th Street and 23rd Street, along Ocean Drive, Collins Avenue, and Washington Avenue:
Note: Not all the properties featured below are part of the MPDL walking tour.
Winter Haven Hotel
Location: 1400 Ocean Drive, Miami Beach
Dating back to 1939, this icon is a splendor of color and vintage style. Highly symmetrical, this hotel was once a diversion for the country’s wealthy families seeking a respite from the northern states’ cold. Now it sits in the heart of the shopping and entertainment area of the city.
Location: 1320 Ocean Drive, Miami Beach
The Cavalier is a dapper, square-edged building accented with colorful patterns inspired by Mayan and Egyptian art. The unique building’s lobby is decked out in black and gold furniture, terrazzo flooring and nautical accessories. Truly an eclectic exploration. Consider looking into this iconic hotel and explore the fascinating boho decor within.
Location: 1244 Ocean Drive, Miami Beach
With a white and lemon-colored façade that invokes the heyday of tropical glam, this boutique hotel dates back to 1937. This highly regarded hotel is popular for its luxurious rooftop pool overlooking the lush Lummus Park.
What to Know About the MDPL’s Art Deco Walking Tour
- The Miami Design Preservation League daily guided walking tours start at the Art Deco Museum and Welcome Center, located at 1001 Ocean Drive (10th Street and Ocean Drive).
- The tours depart at 10:30 a.m. seven days a week, with a second tour on Thursdays at 6:30 p.m., except for major holidays.
- The tours are very popular. You can purchase advance tickets on the Miami Design Preservation League website. Be sure to have your printed ticket(s) or mobile confirmation with you on the day of the tour. Tickets can also be purchased at the gift shop at least 15 minutes before the tour departs.
- Tickets cost $30 for adults and $25 for seniors (65+), students, and veterans. Children 12 and under are admitted free. Tour ticket also includes admission to the Art Deco Museum.
- If you prefer to explore at your own pace, self-guided audio tours are available in English, Spanish, German and French for $25 during the Welcome Center’s open hours: seven days a week from 9:30 a.m. until 5 p.m.; Thursdays until 7 p.m.
- Private tours for groups of 10 or more people are available upon request. Reservations need to be made at least two weeks prior to the desired tour date by contacting the Miami Design Preservation League (MDPL).
Miami Beach Art Deco Festival
If you can make it during January’s Art Deco weekend, you’re in for a treat. This annual South Florida event is a celebration of all things retro; the free community festival features food, drinks, live music and plenty of walking tours.
It’s hosted by the Miami Design Preservation League and playfully referred to as “the best three days on Ocean Drive.” If you want to immerse yourself in the vintage, tropical playground life for a few days, there is no better place to be.
Strolling through Miami Beach’s Art Deco District is a fantastic experience for the history buff to the curious globetrotter and everyone in between. Learning about the district’s colorful history and fascinating insights instill a greater appreciation for the iconic buildings. Whether you are a local or out-of-towner, this is a great experience to undertake. Be sure to spare some time at the end of the tour to revisit your favorite buildings.