City Guide: Christmas in Miami
It all started with the gnomes.
By now we've all heard the joke that every Jewish kid in America's secret dream is to celebrate Christmas, at least once, if only to see what all the hype is about.
Lucky for me, I've got connections. And this one happens to come from a place that really knows how to have a non-religious celebration: Sweden.
Normally my partner Gustav heads to his parents' home in Sweden for Christmas. This year, our first real holiday season together, a few factors beyond our control kept us from being able to make the trip. But still, he was pretty committed to giving me a real Swedish Christmas.
Which, for us, apparently meant abandoning all hopes for a snowy, bundled up celebration for beaches and tropical weather.
We spent Christmas Eve and the five days following in Miami, spending several days on the beach and venturing out of our comfy Miami Beach digs to Wynwood for some art and tacos.
We knew we wanted to spend our time in Miami on exploring, outdoor activities, and seaside lounging. We chose Circa39 for that reason. Circa39 is a cozy and well-stocked mini-resort on Collins Ave in Midbeach with budget-friendly lodging options that doesn't skimp on the amenities.
If you're looking for a good spot that won't break the bank, I definitely recommend it. The saltwater pool is rarely crowded, the in-house restaurant serves up creative fare, and the staff are incredibly friendly and helpful.
Food & Drinks
Seaspice, which is on the border of Downtown Miami and Overtown and overlooks the Miami River, served a perfect Christmas Eve dinner. The space romanced me with a great wine selection and, in true Miami fashion, soft red lighting. With a special Christmas menu featuring chesnut soup, roasted vegetables, seared scallops, and turbo fillet (Gustav got the porchetta, unsurprisingly), Seaspice served a great substitute to a family dinner.
We moved on to Faena's Living Room, a decadent and exotic but well-appointed space serving up craft cocktails and a Scotch selection that didn't disappoint. We might have been the youngest patrons there, but everyone turned out for the DJ's throwback sets (which included techno remixes of Ain't No Mountain and White Ferrari) and dressed in a spectacular assortment of colors.
After a night of moderate drinking and heavy dancing, Christmas day was spent biking up and down the Miami Boardwalk (aka heaven + coconuts) and I even snuck in a quick workout at our hotel's efficient gym (travel tip: aim to stay where you have easy access to a gym or workout room and beat any excuse to not stay healthy when traveling).
A highlight of our time in Miami was brunch at Yardbird. Named one of 50 Best Restaurants by Bon Appetit the year it opened, Yardbird does not disappoint. Their biscuits are the best I've had maybe ever anywhere, perfectly flakey and solidly constructed to melt in your mouth. The Fried Green Tomato BLT dish was crispy, fresh, and perfectly seasoned. We shared the Chicken 'N' Watermelon 'N' Waffles (a must) and there's not much I can say. You have to try it for yourself.
Don't just take it from me, Anthony Bourdain joined Questlove here for lunch on an episode of Parts Unknown. It's one of Questlove's favorite restaurants in Miami.
But hands down, Miami is a great town for tacos. Bodega and Coyo Taco were my favorites.
Bodega is part taco truck, part speakeasy, part nightclub in South Beach. I hghly recommend the Al Pastor and Pescado tacos, while Gustav claimed the Phili burrito was one of the best he's ever had. After eating, venture into the lounge for drinks and cozy seating.
Wynwood's Coyo Taco gets crowded by folks hungry after a day of exploring the area's galleries, so be warned. But the grilled fish tacos, guacamole, and homemade agua fresca make the wait worth it. Sit outside and enjoy the Miami evening air.
After tacos, move over to the Wynwood Yard. Friendly bartenders will blend a custom cocktail for you or serve up one of their selection of craft beers at this open-air venue. The night we were there happened to coincide with the 3rd day of Hannukah and the live act was a local Jewish folk/klezmer band.
Of the many food trucks at the yard, my deep and abiding love for mac & cheese led me to the House of Mac. Creamy and hearty portions are made for sharing.
The Miami Beach boardwalk is a can't-miss spot. We rented a couple of Citibikes (they're all over Miami Beach) and spent a couple of mornings biking up and down to explore the beach and nearby attractions. Just be safe around the pedestrians and you'll more than enjoy the ride.
Wynwood is Miami's own arts district. With dozens of galleries, restaurants and cafes, and shops, you could probably spend your entire trip on just this neighborhood. Grab an affordable and organic breakfast at MIAM Cafe before making your way to Wynwood Walls, an outdoor gallery of graffiti art. The pieces, by artists including Fafi, Maya Hayuk, and Cryptik & DALeast, are unique and beautiful.
Afterwards, I recommend a coffee break. Mister Block gets pretty crowded but offers great cold brew. Explore the other galleries in the area, the Wynwood Arts District Association has a great directory of galleries and events.
We didn't do too much shopping on our trip, but the Lincoln Road Mall in South Beach is an easy stop for any last minute needs. Wynwood offers great shopping, as well. My favorite: MIMO Market. Find great tote bags for your girl gang, blazers that harken back to 70s punk with patches, and adorable espadrilles and jewelry.
In the end...
Miami has become one of my favorite US cities. Incredible food, perfect climate, and so much to explore. I'm already planning our next trip back, and certainly not waiting for Christmas.
But back to the gnomes, they're a tradition at Swedish Christmases to protect the trees, keep the peace, and guard against Krampus. A set of three was one of the first Christmas gifts I received.