As a full-time employee, my “annual leave” or vacation days are precious, so the general goal is to see as many different places as possible.  It’s a big world, and time is relatively short.

So why then have our last three Januarys, albeit in combination with three different supporting destinations, seen Miami Beach as a port of call?

View from the Savoy Hotel at dawn

The weather is a given of course.  This is NOT a budget destination, but the choice of restaurants, bars and hotels is strong, even though I couldn’t name too many great meals in three visits.

A real plus is that it’s a good spot to access a range of destinations, particularly in Central America and the Caribbean, that are not the easiest to reach directly from Europe.  It also of course opens up all of southern Florida, with fond memories of the Keys already made.

More than anything though, what has brought us back after an unplanned first visit which was merely a by-product of winning a cruise, is the wonderful outdoor lifestyle and ambience of Miami – and by Miami I am talking quite narrowly about South Beach itself.  A dawn jetlag wander shows you that this is almost a 24 hour fitness centre.

Fitness begins early in South Beach

Walkers, joggers, swimmers, beach volleyball, the free workout equipment at Lummus Park facing Ocean Drive, cyclists, rollerbladers, the boxing gyms, the full service fitness centres. tennis courts in Flamingo Park, it is a hive of healthy activity that’s absolutely infectious.

Set against this is the backdrop of a near hedonist lifestyle of clubs, hotels which are destinations in themselves, the larger than life Ocean Drive, $27 million penthouse apartments, the Versace Mansion, boutique shops including the Karashian’s Dash, see and be seen brunches and more.  It also hosts a most powerful Holocaust memorial, the Wolfsonian Museum and of course the Art Deco district.

It has the feel of the majority Hispanic / Latino population, a fair selection of snowbirds, newly loaded Brazilians and Russians, and other wealthy immigrants from the 49 colder states and further afield.

The traffic can be dreadful, the public transportation extremely limited (getting by bus from South Beach to see the Miami Dolphins is an ordeal) and the obligatory 20% plus tips are a shock to the European system in particular.

But that year-round beach life invites, and the sunshine state gives a sunshine state of mind.  Four winter escapes in a row to the Magic City is already a distinct possibility.  I’ll blog in more detail over the next while on some of the hotels and must sees we’ve experienced… far.