Last Updated on March 11, 2022
If you’re ever in Miami or on South Beach, take the Miami Art Deco Tour. It’s a great, short tour during which you just stroll around the South Beach neighborhood as your guide brings all that famous architecture alive…
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
By Jim Ferri
Miami’s Art Deco tour of Miami Beach / South Beach is world renown. And whether you believe Miami Beach is the Art Deco capital of the world or not, after the tour you’ll realize that it’s right up there with the crème de la crème.
If nothing else, after the Art Deco tour you’ll realize no other place on earth does such a good job of promoting deco and decadence on a leisurely mid-morning stroll.
I’ve always wanted to take one of the Art Deco tours of South Beach and last weekend took the plunge.
It turned out to be exceptionally simple: no reservations needed — you just walk up to the Art Deco Welcome Center on the beach side of Ocean Drive before 10:30am on any given morning and sign up. $30 each ($25 for 65+, students and veterans).
The Art Deco Tour
With a group of eight others, my wife and I were paired with tour guide Gina Davidson, a transplanted New Yorker who moonlights, or, depending on your perspective, daylights as a volunteer guide for the Miami Design Preservation League. Our little international group included people from Australia, London and New York.
As soon as we set off Gina pulled us all over to a spot on the grass next to the center to give us an overview of Art Deco, explaining exactly what comprises the architectural form. She shared how Art Deco wound up here on Miami Beach following the big hurricane of 1926, when the place was rebuilt with money from the mob after the end of prohibition in the 1930s. Thank you Al Capone.
The Essex House
Crowned with our sun hats and baseball caps we then set off like little chicks following mother hen on our adventure. We left Ocean Drive and walked over a block to Collins Avenue to the Essex House Hotel, built in 1938 and then saved and renovated, along with many other Art Deco properties in South Beach in the 1980s. It has a beautiful little deco lobby, complete with arrows set in the floor that directed patrons to its illegal casino.
After the stop in the Essex, we walked over another block to view the Wolfsonian on Washington Avenue, a fantastic small museum that hosts numerous revolving exhibits. Unfortunately, since it was Sunday morning the museum was closed, which was probably a good thing since most of us would have dawdled there.
The Wolfsonian Museum
The Wolfsonian, Gina told us, was originally a moving and storage house, something needed in the humid environment of South Florida. It did, however, have a profitable side business – its trucks would go out and pick up the crap tables and roulette wheels from hotels when their owners got word they were about to be raided, and then drive them around town until the police left empty-handed. The building itself seems kind of odd and drab, until you’re made aware of all the little details, such as the reason for the half-faces on the facade on 10th Street.
Across the street she pointed out the architectural transition from Art Deco to Miami Modern (MiMo) as we wandered over to the old U.S. Post Office. The interior of the post office, the rotunda, is beautiful, but is in a bit of disrepair due to all the cuts in funding.
Another Jewel: The Tides Hotel
We soon headed back to Ocean Drive and up to the Tides Hotel, one of the luxury hotels on Miami Beach, which Gina contrasted with a few others along the street. If you ever visit the Tides be sure to see its lobby (all these hotels, by the way, welcome you to wander in and about). After the tour we came back to the Tides and enjoyed a delicious, and pricey, lunch outside on the sidewalk. When the music started next door we found it was also a good venue to watch its drag-queen sidewalk sing fest, all popular- and pure- South Beach.
We finished the 1½ – hour Art Deco tour strolling past the Hotel Victor and then the Versace mansion, a beautiful building on Ocean Drive where Gianni Versace was murdered on the sidewalk at its entrance in 1997. The mansion is one of the most photographed buildings in Florida, and at almost any time of day you’ll see tourists standing in front having their pictures taken.
If you ever visit Miami take the Art Deco District Miami Beach tour. It’s a great tour to take, especially on a Sunday morning when the traffic has quieted down a bit. All of our little group felt it was fascinating, interesting and well worth the nominal fee.
If you go on the Miami Art Deco Tour:
Art Deco Welcome Center
Miami Design Preservation League
1001 Ocean Drive
Miami Beach, FL 33139
Tel: (305) 672-2014
Adults $20 (65+ $15)