Where To Stay & Play for Your Miami Meeting
As American cities go, Miami is an outlier, whether in climate, culture or geography. It holds such a place in our teal and turquoise dreams you sometimes wonder if it’s real. Even after you’ve planted yourself on one of its soft sandy beaches, it’s easy to mistake the swaying palms and ever-glowing sun as mere props in the paradise of your mind.
Pinch yourself; you’re not dreaming. Blessed with blue skies and bluer waters, salt-kissed breezes and broad beaches, the city has entranced sun-worshiping groups since Henry Flagler first opened the doors of his Royal Palm Hotel in 1897. But Miami is more than just a pretty face. A world-class art scene, award-winning culinary options and pulsating nightlife makes for the perfect mix of pleasure and business.
The good news for planners is a seemingly endless supply of hotel options and supply. Downtown business, luxury resort, seaside escape, hip boutique, citywide value, are all within paddle-boarding distance from one another.
Even if you’re staying elsewhere, a visit to South Florida’s playground, aka Miami Beach, is a must-do and see. South Beach’s iconic Ocean Drive features one of the largest collections of art deco hotels found anywhere, making for a scenic stroll that only gets lovelier as the sun goes down. Walking (or bus) tours of the historic art deco district are a popular group activity, though many prefer to perch themselves atop these buildings at one of several rooftop lounges, such as the Polynesian-themed restaurant/bar at Watr or the pool bar/lounge at The Hotel.
For group events, it doesn’t get any more classically “South Beach” than a private party at the Villa Casa Casuarina, the one-time home (complete with observatory) of the late fashion designer, Gianni Versace. Another option is the beach itself, which regularly hosts private and public events, such as the South Beach Food & Wine Festival.
For meetings properties, few can rival the historic swankiness of The Fontainebleau, a mid-century modern gem and the grande dame of Miami hotels that once served as the main digs to Dean Martin and the rest of the ‘50s rat pack (and is now the unofficial convention center hotel for Miami Beach). Hotelier Ian Schrager’s Delano Hotel, the first of his “urban resorts”, as well as neighboring hotels that date from Miami Beach’s heyday in the 1920s and ‘30s, are glorious period pieces that encapsulate Miami’s modern chic.
Notable properties outside of Miami Beach start with The Biltmore hotel in Coral Gables, a beacon of classic luxury and Mediterranean Revival that once boasted the largest swimming pool in the world, and had Olympian and Tarzan actor Johnny Weissmuller as a swim instructor. For a true retreat in the city, The Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne sits along the shores of this sleepy island, most of which is made up of state and county park land, but also just minutes from the bustle of downtown.
The most popular activities in Miami will likely involve a bathing suit and flip-flops, an easy job for planners who simply need a “This way to the beach” sign to keep attendees happy. A close second might include mojitos and cuba libres, and immersion in a dining scene that includes hot new additions like Estefan Kitchen (yes, that’s Gloria and Emilio) featuring high-end Cuban cuisine. Lovers of both seafood (specifically stone crabs) and iconic eateries should pencil in a visit to Joe’s Stone Crab, which opened in 1913 and has been serving diners the same classic style and deliciousness for decades.
Besides a constantly evolving food scene, Miami has become one of the hottest art destinations in the country, playing host to Art Basel Miami Beach each December and supporting uber trendy art locales like the Wynwood Art District. Groups can immerse themselves in culture with private events at galleries or studios such as the Wynwood Warehouse Project or Bakehouse Art Complex.
Speaking of bathing suits, slap on some SPF 30 and bring your group to nearby Biscayne National Park for a paddle along mangrove waterways, islands and coral reefs. The shoreline and shallow waters are filled with wildlife, from rays to egrets, ideal for canoeing or kayaking for a relaxing respite from meetings. Of course, one of the most famous natural expanses in the world, Everglades National Park, sits immediately to the west of Miami and offers a host of activities and tours, from canoes to airboats and hiking, and up-close views of alligators, flamingoes and other wildlife. Just remember to pack some Off.
Photo credits: Shutterstock.com. Hotel room image courtesy of Villa Casa Casuarina.