A month ago, some friends in New York wondered aloud where to go for a few weeks this winter to get away from the cold. They mentioned Spain. I countered with Miami. They were skeptical. They remembered Miami from back in the day: the dull place our Jewish grandparents went in winter to sit by the pool and bake in the sun.
There's still plenty of doing that here, but there's much more, even for folks like us - city dwellers who need mega-doses of urban stimulation. Visiting Miami Beach a year ago, I was bowled over by the glitz and charm of the New Miami and wrote about some of the hot spots for Huffington Post. This January, I'm captivated anew, and my list of where to go and what to do keeps growing.
1. Home Sweet Someone Else's Home
Unless your grandmother still has a place for you to stay here, skip the hotels and rent a room, an apartment, a private house or a villa, through these private rental services, Vacation Rental By Owner or Airbnb. You can spend $100 a night -- or $3000. For closer to $100, you can stay at colorful compound on the Little River, around 80th Street in Miami, Magic City Farm, in a cabin with dazzling Caribbean colors.
In Miami Beach, rent a bike at Bike and Roll on 10th St. and Collins Avenue, where you can also get a helmet, or bring your helmet and pick up a bike in anyone of Decobike's dozens of stands scattered throughout Miami Beach, from the southern tip of the island to 87th Street. The bikes are on the clunky side, and each has a basket and light - and they're $10 for two hours. You can pick up a bike and drop it off miles from where you started. There seem to be more Decobike stands around town than Starbucks.
3. Sobe Pole Dance
For the truly adventurous, there is now a studio on 8th and Washington in Miami Beach where you can learn "the art of striptease," and to pole dance and lap dance (including "exotic lap dance"). As of this writing, I have not taken any classes here, but I promise myself I will before I leave town this time.
4. The Miami International Air Fair
This takes place a month after Miami Basel, and it's a much smaller affair, but this year, from January 13 to the 16th, 30 international galleries, from Seoul and Moscow to Bogota are showing artwork aboard a luxury yacht in downtown Miami. On the top deck of the boat is a sushi bar. The other decks are full of trendy paintings and photos from modern masters like Miro and Andy Warhol, to names you don't know but might be hearing in years to come. Those looking at the art as sometimes as compelling as the work itself.
This one, in Little Havana at 3555 SW 8th Street, is pronounced Ver-Sigh-Ess, because it's a Cuban restaurant, not a French one, and it's a local landmark - a spacious diner with sweetly glamorous pretentions and a massive menu. Don't miss the bakery next door, part of the restaurant. I ate a tartaleta coco dulce de leche that changed my life.
6. David's Cafe
Another celebrated Cuban eatery, with two restaurants in South Beach, one at 10th and Collins, the other at 16th and Meridian around the corner from the Lincoln Road Pedestrian Mall. The all-you-can eat lunch buffet - $8.95 - is a gift from the culinary gods.
7. Miami Beach Cinematheque
Located in the gorgeously renovated old City Hall at 11th and Washington, Miami Beach, this non-profit for movie lovers and home to the Miami Beach International Film Festival, is an inviting space filled with books, posters, art work - and a lovely small theater that shows films you won't see at the multiplex, and many have a Miami theme.
8. The Jewish Museum of Florida
Located in South Beach, three blocks from the southern tip of Miami Beach, in an impressive art deco building, the museum is a rich, wonderful source of information about all the generations of Jews - going back to 1763 - who settled in Florida. When Florida was under Spanish domination, until 1763, Jews weren't allowed in, but once Spain traded Florida for Louisiana, Jews came and prospered (many moving from Louisiana, where they were no longer welcome). The refugee from Germany who built the synagogue that now houses the museum also built hundreds of Miami Beach's noted art deco buildings.
9. Art Deco Weekend, Miami Beach, January 13 to 15th
Every year for the past 35 years, the Miami Design Preservation League has held this indoor-outdoor celebration of the style of architecture and design we know from Radio City Music Hall and all the Marx Brothers movies. There are tours of the much-renovated art deco buildings, lectures on how the district became a historic one, films with a Miami deco theme, a display of antique cars, and Ocean Drive is closed to cars and filled with art and tsotches for sale.
10. South Pointe Park
At the southern tip of Miami Beach is a dazzling new urban park, with a walking and bike path that runs along the water from the ocean to the Biscayne Bay. It includes a marina, a playground, a branch of Smith & Wollensky's steak house, and that magical, marvelous force that drew our grandparents here - and will keep us coming back, more or less forever: sunshine that won't quit.
Elizabeth Benedict is a novelist and journalist. Her anthology, Mentors, Muses & Monsters: 30 Writers on the People Who Changed Their LIves, is about to be published in paperback.