Home Architectural Travel The Best Way To See Art Deco Architecture in South Beach

The Best Way To See Art Deco Architecture in South Beach

written by Penny Sadler

South Beach. Miami, Florida:

Quick, tell me – what do you think of? If you know nothing about the area at all, you probably think of the obvious: beaches, the ocean, palm trees, sunshine, and fruity drinks decorated with tiny paper umbrellas.

south beach, Miami

But did you know South Beach = the Miami art deco district, with the largest collection of art deco architecture in the world?

And it’s the perfect place for it – it’s as if South Beach exists so that all of those wonderful art deco structures can have a home. Art deco is synonymous with South Beach, which consists of about ten blocks of beachfront on one side, and fantastic art deco structures on the other. It’s a must see and do if you’re in Miami, Florida.

orange vintage car on South Beac, Miami, Florida, Chevrolet Bel Aire

I couldn’t believe my luck to see this mint condition 1950’s Chevrolet Bel Aire, parked in front of a restaurant with matching umbrellas. Photo op!

What is art deco?

The term art deco came from the Exposition des Arts Decoratifs, held in Paris in 1925. It is a style that blends many design elements from Europe, Asia, and Africa. Geometry, vertical lines, curved lines, round porthole windows, and strong colors define the more modern art deco designs of South Beach.

ocean drive, miami, Art Deco architecture

Ocean Drive, Miami

The Miami art deco district was built in the 1930’s but, towards the end of World War II, was in decline.  By the 1970’s many of the art deco hotels and buildings were seriously rundown and scheduled for the wrecking ball. Luckily in 1976, Barbara Capitman founded the Design Preservation League to establish this area as a historic district. Today there are still buildings that are being renovated.


<img class=”wp-image-4149 size-large” src=”https://www.adventuresofacarryon.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Starlite-Motel-600×484.jpg” alt=”south beach architecture, the Starlite” width=”600″ height=”484″> The Starlite, Miami Beach

The design elements that define art deco are a perfect fit in this easy, breezy beach environment. Come to think of it, even the colors of the buildings remind you of those umbrella drinks.

miami Art Deco district, south beach

Mermaid sculpture

Walking the Miami Art Deco District

Each building is a work of art on its own, and the best way to see the Art Deco district is on foot. Begin at the south end of Ocean Drive at 5th Street and walk north. The beach will be on your right. Ocean Drive is the heart of South Beach.

The Breakwater Hotel @PennySadler 2013

The Breakwater Hotel, Ocean Drive

Walk up to Lincoln Rd., then head west over to Collins. From there, you can continue south to about 10th St. You’ll want to head back to Lincoln Rd. for one of the best outdoor shopping malls anywhere – and lots of options to gawk at all the beautiful people that seem to be everywhere.

Art Deco architecture, south beach, colony hotel

The Miami Design Preservation League has a guided tour which you can do solo or in a group. If you want to do the tour on your own, you can rent an iPod at the Art Deco Headquarters on Ocean Drive. The MDPL also offers guided tours that include other areas of Miami. All tours depart from the Art Deco Headquarters, 1001 Ocean Drive at 10th Street.

Waldorf Towers,South Beach Miami Florida

Waldorf Towers

I did not take the tour, however, based on the research I did for this story, it seems that not every building is on the tour. Be sure to allow yourself time to really explore this neighborhood. After, or maybe even during your walk, you’ll want to take a break and sample some of the local cuisine, have a refreshing beverage, do some retail damage in the boutiques, and enjoy the scenery.

If you love traveling to see great architecture and public spaces, you will love South Beach.

Park Central Hotel, Ocean Drive, South Beach, Miami @PennySadler 2013

Park Central Hotel

For a map of the area stop by
Art Deco Headquarters at 1001 Ocean Drive. There’s also a fun gift store there.


Best Way to See Miami Art Deco District

All materials ©PennySadler 2013. All rights reserved.

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The Travelling Chopsticks May 14, 2015 at 6:15 am

I’m going to Miami next week for a few days and am currently planning my trip – I am so happy I found your blog and your recommendations on the Art Deco District!

Penny Sadler May 16, 2015 at 7:08 pm

Thanks for visiting the blog. I’m so happy to hear you found this useful! Pleas feel free to comment after your visit. I’d love to hear about it.

Caro June 3, 2014 at 1:01 pm

I’m in LOVE with art deco, have always dreamed of seeing South Beach! Do you recommend finding an apartment in South Beach or is it far too expensive?

Penny Sadler June 3, 2014 at 1:17 pm

South Beach is expensive but summer is off season. It’s hot! So you can probably find some deals. Also there’s a great hotel on Ocean Blvd I stayed in called Edgewater that offers good rates for great location. Have a look. If you don’t care about staying right on the beach I’m sure you can find something.

Franca August 24, 2013 at 7:01 am

I think both me and Dale would love to spend some time in South Beach if we ever make it to Miami. We love architecture and Art Deco is one of Dale’s favorite style. Cheers for sharing Penny!

Penny Sadler August 24, 2013 at 8:19 am

South Beach has the largest collection of art deco architecture in one place. You’d love it. Thanks for stopping by! Perhaps we’ll meet in Italy if you two can stay in one place long enough! 🙂

Postcard: South Beach - Adventures of a Carry-on | Adventures of a Carry-on August 20, 2013 at 9:17 pm

[…] My second trip to South Beach, Miami, Florida, and I finally made it for a photo walk on the beach. I never would have guessed that the Atlantic Ocean could be so colorful and the beaches so pretty. Not only can you walk for miles, but they’re nice and wide, and best of all there are plenty of chairs and umbrellas for rent. If you’re staying at one of the hotels in the area, most provide you a towel and beach chair, but you’ll still need to rent an umbrella if you want one. If you’re pasty white, like me, it’s a good idea. […]

Penny June 10, 2013 at 9:16 pm

Cat, if you are ever near SB, you MUST go!

Overnight New York (@HotelreviewsNYC) May 14, 2013 at 1:47 pm

I love Art Deco South Beach — and your pictures really capture it.

Penny May 14, 2013 at 3:17 pm

Thanks for the compliment. I only had about an hour there right before the sun went down – I had to work fast! 🙂

Terry at Overnight New York May 14, 2013 at 1:44 pm

I’ve love Art Deco South Beach ever since I stayed in a Deco hotel on the strip in the early 90s. A weirdly wonderful place — and great photos, btw.

Penny May 14, 2013 at 3:17 pm

The Strip in Vegas? What hotel was it?

Cat of Sunshine and Siestas May 13, 2013 at 3:51 am

I’ve never been to SB, but thanks to my sister’s love of the Roaring 20s and the Great Gastby, which I just finished re-reading for the big premiere in Spain this weekend. I’d love to see it in person, especially when the lights are coming up!

I’m sure you caught Larissa’s post about Art Deco theatres in the Midwest? Great stuff!

flashpackerfamily May 11, 2013 at 6:26 pm

I love anything Art Deco so South Beach would be heaven for me. 🙂

Penny May 12, 2013 at 3:23 pm

Hi Bethaney, if you haven’t been I do recommend it! It’s crazy fun.

wanderingeducators May 8, 2013 at 3:09 pm

gorgeous colors!

Penny May 6, 2013 at 3:47 pm

I’d definitely recommend South Beach. These photos don’t begin to describe it. It’s really fun!

Island Traveler May 6, 2013 at 3:32 am

Love how you captured the beauty, magic and nostalgia of every architectural wonders. I am going to Florida this Summer. My wife hopes to see Miami. You just gave me a priceless idea. Thanks.

Suitcase Stories (@Suitcases2) May 2, 2013 at 6:29 pm

We loved SB when we visited last year. Loved the art deco look!

sankar bhadra May 2, 2013 at 5:39 am

It’s different to me, i travel while i go through this post and so it never completes, i like to know and i come to know while i sail through your posts, thanks.

Jeff Broman May 1, 2013 at 10:16 pm

I lived on S. Beach for a couple of years and spent a lot of time just wandering the streets and looking at the architecture. There is so much to see that you can not even come close to seeing it in one trip. The residential streets also have an amazing collection of Art Deco buildings that most people never get to see. I almost never saw any tourists on these side streets which is a shame because they do not know what they are missing.

Penny May 1, 2013 at 10:34 pm

I knew I had missed a lot. Would love to go back there.


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