South Beach combines the playful pulse of Rio, the intense revelry of
Manhattan, and the tropical ambience of the Bahamas, all on one relatively
affordable island that's just a 10-minute drive from one of North America's
largest cities - Miami. You can combine a holiday here with a stay in Orlando if you
want to do the theme parks or outrageous Key West, both an easy few hours drive away.
Before deciding where to stay, keep in mind that
this is an exceedingly tolerant area, and lesbians and gay men played a pivotal role in
turning a once-decrepit retirement community into a hallowed repository of Art
If you're looking to spend your vacation floating butt-side-up in the lap pool at a
clothing-optional gay resort, you'll find many more possibilities in Key West or Fort Lauderdale.
Every evening, the stunning
Art Deco hotels and restaurants along Ocean Drive glow with pastel shades of neon.
Photo courtesy of the Greater Miami CVB
On the whole, South Beach is fairly straight but on the palm-shaded lanais of most South Beach hotels, the gay and straight guests -
many of them clad in form-fitting designer swimsuits - mix it up to the point that
it's nearly impossible to tell who's cruising whom. Of course, a little confusion can be fun, but don't assume anything!
If South Beach isn't necessarily the gay mecca many of its boosters once
hoped it would be, neither is it as exclusive or body-conscious as it's
sometimes described. In the height of the popular winter season, it's fairly
easy to book a room at a decent hotel within a five-minute walk of Ocean Drive
for under £150 a night. And while curvy models and moody glitterati
traipse regularly through the swanky lobbies of a few notable hotels, you'll
be warmly received in most of these places regardless of who you are or
what you're wearing.
You practically need a scorecard to keep up with the constantly
changing hotel landscape in sexy South Beach. Hoteliers in Miami continue to
outdo one another in a seemingly endless quest to land the hottest photo spread
or model shoot in the magazine of the moment. It's easy to get overwhelmed by
the variety, and also intimidated by the sometimes icy attitudes of many
employees. But fear not: whatever your budget, or your tolerance for haughty
service, you'll find dozens of commendable, gay-friendly hotels in South
Beach - and even some gems in nearby Miami proper.
In the past decade, hotels in South Beach have improved consistently on all
fronts, from staff to decor. Still, while many of these Art Deco icons look
great from the outside, and even the least expensive of them usually have
glitzy lobbies, the quality of the actual guest rooms varies tremendously
from property to property. Even in the fanciest pads, bathrooms are sometimes
tiny and merely functional. And more than a few Miami interior designers seem
to have confused hip minimalism with just plain nothingness.
It's worth asking to see a room in advance of booking in, if that's at all possible.
There are several beaches in the area, but the two most notable for gay men are the 12th Street beach and the Haulover Beach.
The undisputed gay hub of Miami is the 12th Street beach which also happens to be a gorgeous stretch of sand in its own right
and also one of the most lovely beaches in the world.
CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Finding the 12th Street gay beach is not difficult at all. It is located
at the intersection of 12th Street and Ocean Drive, the cityís main seaside street, that's full of art-deco style hotels.
It's full of gay gays and some good looking straight guys too, and the water is superb - very blue and clean.
Haulover beach is located around 10 miles north of Miami Beach. It's the only legal clothing-optional beach in Florida. The gay
area is in the northern section between lifeguard towers #15 and #17 Ė look out for the many rainbow flags to guide you
to the right area. There are sun-loungers and parasols to rent here but very little in the way of snacks and drinks. It's not as busy
as 12th Street Beach but there's plenty of naked gay guys having a swim and getting to know each other.
Miami Beach Pride is a weeklong celebration with special events, social mixers, dance events, a VIP gala, an incredible two day festival and Parade.
Since its inception in 2009, Miami Beach Pride has grown from a neighborhood event to an event on the global stage with thousands of
gay, lesbian, bi and transgender revellers who celebrate Pride each April.
The Annual Gay Pride at Ocean Drive in Miami Beach
An estimated 15,000 spectators turned out for the first Pride parade in 2009; an estimated 145,000 attended the event in 2018. In addition to Parade
spectators, last April's event included more than 70 parade contingencies, 35 floats and 3,000 participants.
There are two other gay festivals during the year, apart from Pride.
Miami's Gay8 Festival is the first gay event of the year and is normally held in February. Gay8 Festival is an all-encompassing celebration of all
things gay with DJs, live music, performers, comedy, food vendors and much more.
The Winter Party Festival is a fun gay event in March that focuses on electronic music, and a big gay carnival. With everything from all-night parties
to performances and vendors, it definitely focuses on high energy music at its core. You can expect some of the biggest electronic music DJs to be appearing.
Sizzle South Beach was a series of gay pool parties across the Memorial Day weekend in May but sadly 2022 saw the last event being organised, having run for 20 years.
Two vaunted designing minds - preservationist and Art Deco booster Tony
Goldman and gay fashion guru Todd Oldham - have teamed to create one of
most memorable properties in Florida, called simply The Hotel. This
gloriously revamped 1939 stunner has a rooftop pool and exotic yet liveable
furnishings. Extensive in-room entertainment centres, poolside cabanas,
and room service from the hotel's to-die-for restaurant, Wish, contribute
to the sense of indulgence. The low-key but luxurious Hotel Astor offers the
elegance and comfort you'd expect of a high-end property, but without
gimmickry or attitude. The sedate, classy rooms are done in off-white
and beige tones, with muted lighting and marble baths. It's just three
blocks from the ocean and steps from the many bars and clubs along Washington Avenue.
If you're seeking a little more intimacy, opt instead for a room at the
12-room Marlin Hotel. Music-industry executives and recording artists
favour this small gem which was originally owned by Island Records mogul Chris
Blackwell. The hotel was sold in 2015 but is still a quite popular choice.
In the herat of South Beach is the Hotel Breakwater. It's steps away from the beach and
shows off the unique vibes of Miami with it's vobrant colours and furnishings. It has one of the
best pools in the area and some luxurious rooms.
Photo: Sharon Hahn Darlin
CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
One of the finest small accommodations in South Florida, the Hotel Impala's
greatest strength is its relatively understated elegance - a welcome relief from
the over-the-top, harem-inspired decor of some competitors. Imported cotton
linens, Eastlake sleigh beds, and spacious bathrooms with large tubs
make this perfect for a romantic getaway. State-of-the-art communication and
entertainment centres keep business or pleasure close at hand. The restaurant,
Spiga, is commendable.
The peach-and-red Penguin Resort strikes one of the more inspired poses
along Ocean Drive. It comprises two artfully renovated and moderately priced
Art Deco beauties and has a major gay following. Though fairly basic, rooms
are clean, brightly decorated, and outfitted with decent-size closets. In
the afternoon local drag queens are often on hand to serve cocktails in the
lobby bar. A row of extremely gay-popular, jointly owned budget properties,
the 138-room Park Washington Resort takes up a prime block of Washington
Avenue. Accommodations are clean if unremarkable, with modern baths and
minirefrigerators. A major plus are the grounds, which consist of a
foliage-enclosed lanai and pool - both of which are clothing optional.
One of the best gay-oriented accommodations around, South Beach Villas
is a luxurious but reasonably priced compound on the relatively quiet west
side of the island - it's still just a 10- to 15-minute walk to the beach. Many
of the smart-looking, elegant rooms have full kitchens. There's a handsome
pool out back, and the free parking and local phone calls are something of a
rarity in these parts. A few blocks closer to the beach, the nine-room
SoBeYou Tropical B&B Hotel has for many years been a reliable and well-run gay
guest house. Rooms are in a two-story building behind the owners' 1929 home
and are furnished with a mix of tropical resort furniture and Art Deco antiques
(they all also have CD players). Here you can also lounge by the pool and
patio all day long.
Although you might not think to stay in Miami proper, a surprising number of
gay visitors to South Beach do. Some people prefer the easy-going pace
of some of Miami's most appealing neighbourhoods, including posh Coral
Gables and bohemian-turned-trendy Coconut Grove. On the high end, there's Coral
Gables' decadent dowager, the Biltmore. Although it dates to the 1920s, this
old-money palace has been beautifully updated. Rooms are enormous and
reveal an eye-catching Moorish flourish. The 15,000-square-foot spa and
fitness centre is among the best in the city - also note the many tennis courts
and the acclaimed golf course. Spend a few days amid the Biltmore's cushy
confines, and you may never go back to the less-is-more austerity
aesthetic that's such the rage in South Beach.
One affordable and highly gay-friendly option is the charming Miami River Inn,
a historic compound consisting of four early 20th-century houses edging
the city's Little Havana neighborhood. It is just a 15-minute drive from
the Ocean Drive Strip at South Beach.
With its lush landscaping, sunny rooms with hardwood floors and
tropical furnishings, and palm-shrouded swimming pool and Jacuzzi, it
has the look of one of Key West's vintage compounds - albeit with a less social
pulse. And falling asleep to the occasional clang of tugboats gliding
beneath the adjacent Flagler Avenue drawbridge can be surprisingly romantic.
Photo: Infrogmation of New Orleans
CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Hotel Gaythering is located in the Lincoln Road shopping district. The boutique hotel features a complimentary men-only self-service spa
including a steam room, dry sauna, and hot tub. You are close to lots of good restaurants within a 5 minute walk. There's evening entertainment
at the hotel with a full bar serving cocktails. A library with communal events, games room, and free bicycles are also available.
Their most popular room is their Fun-King Room which they describe as a performance playground for grown-ups. It features a King Size Ceiling Mirror
above a King Size Bed, a Fort Troff Command Sling, and a Fu_ck Bench. The Playground is slightly over 400 square feet and with Refrigerator,
Microwave Oven, Keurig Coffee Machine and a Guest Tool Box which includes everything you need to have a clean, safe fun time such as a bottle of lube,
condoms, shop towels, wipes and more.
AxelBeach Miami South Beach is on on Collins Avenue and is specifically geared toward the LGBTQ community. They have simple but immaculately
clean rooms decked out in classic Miami style with plenty of sunny artwork and cute art deco touches. The W Miami is in downtown Miami and is
perfect if you want to stay more in the city than in the beach area. The rooms are fabulous with an ultra-modern design and colourful touches
amongst marble-lined private bathrooms. There's an incredible on-site spa with a water lounge, plunge pools, and even a floating library, and an extensive gym..
They also have a 300-foot infinity rooftop pool thatís filled with beautiful boys dipping in and out for a cool down. The poolside Wetdeck Cafe bar
serves up tasty, refreshing cocktails and light snacks.
South Beach Nightlife
THE LITTLE BLACK BOOK
Axel Beach Miami South Beach (1500 Collins Ave; T: +1 786-628-6362; Website)
Hotel Astor (956 Washington Ave; T: +1 305-531-8081; Website)
Hotel Breakwater (940 Ocean Dr; T: +1 305-532-2362; Website)
Hotel Gaythering (1409 Lincoln Road; T: +1 786-284-1176; Website)
Marlin Hotel (1200 Collins Ave; T: +1 305-695-3000; Website)
Miami Beach Gay Pride (1210 Washington Ave Suite 210; T: +1 305-496-7635; Website)
Miami Gay8 Festival (Website)
Miami River Inn (S.W. 2nd St. and S.W. 4th Ave; T: +1 305-325-0045 or 800-468-3589)
Miami Winter Party Festival (Website)
Park Washington Resort (1020-1050 Washington Ave; T: +1 305-532-1930 or 888-424-1930; Website)
Penguin Resort (1418 Ocean Dr; T: +1 305-534-9334 or +1 800-235-3296; Website)
SoBeYou Tropical B&B Hotel (1018 Jefferson Ave; T: +1 305-534-5247)
South Beach Villas (1201 West Ave; T: +1 305-673-9600 or 888-GAY-SOBE; Website)
The Biltmore (1200 Anastasia Ave, Coral Gables; T: +1 305-445-1926 or 800-727-1926; Website)
The Impala (1228 Collins Ave; T: +1 305-673-2021 or 800-646-7252; Website)
W Hotel Miami (485 Brickell Ave; T: +1 305-503-4400; Website)
Revised September 2023.