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By: Shayne Benowitz

South Beach is synonymous with its boutique Art Deco hotels. Had it not been for a few visionaries in the late 1970s who saw the neighborhood’s architectural importance, this ultra-cool enclave might not be what it is today. These hotels were lovingly restored over the 1980s and 1990s, catching the eye of fashion models and film producers who helped spread the word of South Beach’s unique Art Deco quarter – along with its stunning beaches – to the world.

Today, South Beach boasts beautifully restored Art Deco hotels, bustling cafes and restaurants from celebrity chefs.

Stroll the streets of South Beach as you marvel at one of the largest collections of Art Deco architecture in the world – and one of the most distinctive cityscapes in the country. Start here with a primer on these iconic buildings and where to find them.

Colorful Art Deco floral embellishments
Floral embellishments in South Beach

What Is Art Deco Architecture?

Art Deco is a design aesthetic first popularized in 1920s Paris that spread throughout the world during the 1930s up until World War II. Most of Miami Beach's Art Deco buildings were built during the 1930s and 1940s and are considered to be part of the second wave of Art Deco known as Streamline Moderne. With our tropical, seaside influences they’re sometimes called Tropical Deco, and are characterized by pastel colors, floral and aquatic embellishments, as well as nautical designs reminiscent of ocean liners.

Porthole window & ivy wall
Porthole window in South Beach

Strollable Scenery In South Beach

Miami Beach is one of the few cities designed to be walkable after the advent of the automobile, so there’s a lot to see on a short stroll.

If you find yourself ambling along Ocean Drive or Collins Avenue, here are some of the hallmarks of Art Deco architecture to look for: symmetry, ziggurat (stepped) rooflines, eyebrow window overhangs, friezes, porthole windows and neon lighting. Make your way inside building lobbies and look for glass block details, chandeliers, curved plaster ceilings, terrazzo floors and murals depicting idyllic scenes.

Celino's purple & blue design lines
Celino South Beach was designed by Art Deco era architect Henry Hohauser

Exploring Miami Beach Art Deco Hotels

Ocean Drive is lined with Art Deco boutique hotels overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and Lummus Park.

Originally constructed in the 1930s after the stock market collapse, you’ll notice that these hotels take up relatively small plots of land – they’re not the sweeping resorts that Carl Fisher previously erected overlooking Biscayne Bay or that Morris Lapidus would go on to design further up the beach. Many are only three to four stories tall (more floors would have required elevators and would have been more expensive to construct).

Two of the most prolific Art Deco era architects on Miami Beach are Henry Hohauser and L. Murray Dixon. Both men designed hotels, apartment buildings and private homes in the area. For a glimpse of Hohauser’s work, stop by the Celino South Beach at Ocean Drive and 6th Street. It has a slightly grander feel than other Ocean Drive hotels, thanks to its double-height lobby and seven floors of rooms. Note the three porthole windows on the façade, the symmetry of its exterior and the curved design of its terrazzo floors.

Street view of a glowing Essex House at night
Look up to see Essex House's neon-lit spire

At Hohauser’s smaller Essex House Hotel on Collins Avenue and 10th Street, look up to admire its neon-lit spire and curved “eyebrow” windows. Once inside, marvel at the hotel’s well-preserved Everglades mural and striking ziggurat fireplace. The fireplace and lobby wainscoting are both made of Vitrolite (a man-made composite similar to, but cheaper than, marble). L. Murray Dixon’s work includes the Hotel Victor South Beach, the Marlin Hotel and The Betsy.

Aqua Art Deco design circles & a palm tree
See classic Art Deco architecture in Miami Beach

Melding Classic & Modern

You may notice that many of South Beach’s hotels bear two names on the façade – for instance, the Ritz-Carlton South Beach includes the name DiLido Beach. As a measure to preserve the original architecture of these buildings, the original names on the façade must remain.

A modern hallmark in South Beach hotel design is a dramatic overhaul resulting in contemporary glitz and glamour, often envisioned by star architects such as Philippe Starck. This is the case with the SLS South Beach, which was redesigned by Starck. While many hotels take pains to respect the Art Deco aesthetic, new amenities such as rooftop pools and bars, spas and expanded patio restaurants were not part of South Beach’s original hotel landscape.

Vintage car under Shelborne's white cylindrical carport
Shelborne South Beach's Art Deco essence

New Decade, New Heights

As you walk north along Collins Avenue, the history of Miami Beach unfolds before your eyes, as illustrated in the architecture of its hotels.

Starting at 17th Street, a string of taller boutique hotels built in the 1940s in the Art Deco style can be found, including the adults-only National Hotel Miami Beach and the Shelborne South Beach.

Pop into hotel lobbies, meander the grounds and get caught up in the dream worlds that were constructed over the decades.

Each was designed with a fantastical point of view that characterizes the essence of Miami Beach through art, design and architecture.

Row of pastel hotels on Ocean Drive
Explore the many boutique hotels in Miami Beach

See More, Learn More

Want to see more? Here is a comprehensive list of boutique hotels in and around Greater Miami & Miami Beach.

Looking for a deeper dive? The Miami Design Preservation League (MDPL) is the organization responsible for designating much of Miami Beach’s terrain into historic districts. The Art Deco Welcome Center, located at MDPL’s headquarters at 10th Street and Ocean Drive, is a great way to start your exploration of the Art Deco District, which stretches from 5th to 23rd streets in the heart of South Beach.

And if you’re here in January, Miami Beach celebrates its architectural heritage during Art Deco Weekend, a three-day festival celebrating Art Deco architecture, automobiles, music, fashion and art.

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