you live somewhere cold and dark, it's hard to resist throwing in a sweater while
packing for a trip, even when you're going to the halter-top capital of the country.
But resist one must. With an average winter temperature of 83° F, Miami is
the land of perpetual sunshine. If you have any space in the suitcase, bring another
pair of strappy sandals.
been to Miami before so I should've known better, but still I came loaded down
with layers. I used to come here when I was a kid. I always knew we were getting
close when the air warmed up and the smell of oranges seeped into the car. Flying
in, the change is more abrupt. As soon as I walked out of the airport and my glasses
fogged up in the humidity, I knew I wouldn't need that dumb sweater.
time, I was on a mission to check out the newest addition to the Sonesta Hotel
family-Sonesta Hotel & Suites Coconut Grove. The Sonesta properties are upscale
hotels, resorts and three Nile cruise ships. Most of the hotels cater to the business
traveler and have business traveling perks such as meeting space and office services.
There are Sonestas in Boston, New Orleans, Anguilla, Aruba, Bermuda, Egypt, Peru
and Tuscany. This latest addition in Coconut Grove, opened in April 2002. When
I got there the paint was barely dry.
knew I wasn't going to the local roach motel as soon as I was picked up from the
airport. The Sonesta works with Cococars, a local company that offers luxury rentals
as well as rides to and from the airport. I called for a ride and wound up in
the back of a white stretch limo! Already I felt underdressed. I kept my sunglasses
on and tried to look mysterious through the tinted windows. Cococars also offer
fun rentals such as BMW and Porsche convertibles. A car would come in handy in
this neck of the woods.
we pulled into the half-moon driveway of the hotel, the staff immediately helped
me with my bags and I got checked in without a hitch. The lobby was open and airy,
with modern colorful leather couches and fresh flowers.
then rode the sleek elevator to my room on the 20th Floor, with a balcony that
overlooked Biscayne Bay on one side and downtown Miami on the other.
A parking deck takes up the first seven floors, so every room has a birds-eye view. (This is also proof that most people have their own wheels around here.) My room came with a small kitchen area, a giant comfy bed, and the aforementioned balcony. Before I got to hanging around on the balcony in my underwear (hey, it was so far up, who would know?) I realized I shared the space with the room next door.
After shedding my heavy New York duds, I donned a sundress and went down to the pool area to meet up with friends. We enjoyed gin and tonics (summer is almost here) from the poolside bar that overlooks Sailboat Bay, a picturesque marina tucked into Biscayne Bay. The pool and the hot tub were tempting, but our stomachs grumbled so we walked into the Sailboat Café for dinner. As of this writing, this café is the only restaurant in the hotel, but plans are brewing for a restaurant to move in downstairs.
The Sailboat Café is what they call the "casual" place for breakfast, lunch and dinner. You can show up in a T-shirt but you might feel better more tucked in. That first night, the buffalo mozzarella appetizer-cheese layered with fresh tomatoes and basil, drizzled with a touch of olive oil-blew my mind. Another cool aspect of this place is there is a female executive chef. Throughout my stay, I found myself there, fueling up on coffee and fresh fruit before days of exploring.
Miami is made up of many different neighborhoods. In fact, what most people think of Miami is really Miami-Dade County that has over 30 municipalities that spread out over 2,000 square miles. There's Little Havana, which was settled by Cubans who left when Castro took over. These days there are people from many Latin countries living there. But still, Calle Ocho in this neighborhood is where to go for authentic Cuban cuisine topped with a mud-thick Cuban coffee. South Beach, where all the little old ladies used to live, has become a haven for fashionable folks. Ocean Drive, the main drag, is where Versace was famously murdered on his front steps. Other buildings along this street have been restored to their art deco splendor from the '30s. Even the TGIFridays is decked out in neon deco style. Coral Gables is a lovely, tree-lined neighborhood. A highlight of this area is the curvaceous public pool that used to be a limestone quarry. Downtown Miami is like many big cities-bustling during the day with businesses booming and a monorail whizzing by and at night, it's a bit quieter.
Key Biscayne, one in a string of barrier islands, is a 15-minute drive from Coconut Grove. There's another Sonesta there. Although I didn't have time to go, the hotel on Key Biscayne is ocean front, with a delicious spa, opportunities for water sports, and even ocean-side dining. There's a free shuttle from the Coconut Grove Sonesta to the one in Key Biscayne, so a day on the beach is just a quick ride away.
On the last night of my trip, I realized I hadn't even explored the area right under my nose. So I walked outside my door to enjoy Coconut Grove. Stores, restaurants and galleries line the street. Not even a block from the hotel is a group of stores and a movie theater called the Cocowalk. Rail-thin women perched on stilettos walked by with buff tan guys with perfect hair. Then there are the normal people. I have friends who live in the area and this is the neighborhood they head to for a cocktail or dinner, especially when their out-of-town friends insist on it.
We strolled into a French bistro called Le Bouchon where I proceeded to have the best meal of my trip. Très magnifique. Perhaps it was the doting French waiters or the free flowing wine, but my pan-seared salmon with baby spinach in a mushroom sauce was something I still dream about. Knowing I was leaving the next day and would not be putting on a bathing suit anytime soon, I splurged on dessert. We all got one and shared-I dug my spoon into the crunchy-top crème brulee many times.
After dinner, the streets were still filled with well-dressed people mulling around the CocoWalk and sipping drinks at sidewalk cafes. I bid my buddies adieu, walked back to my room and looked out over the sparkling city one last time before packing up. The next morning, I donned the boots and sweater and prepared for my return to colder climates.