Sunny Isles Beach and Miami, Florida

When I Went: Dec. 22-25, 2011

Was That the Best Time of Year to Go? As far as the weather goes, we could not have timed it more perfectly. Temperatures were in the high 70s to low 80s during the day with slightly chillier temperatures at night. It was perfect for the beach and dining outdoors.

Why I Went There: My sister and I decided we needed a Christmas getaway. After rifling through online travel deals, I came across a discount package in Sunny Isles, Florida, near Miami. It was the perfect place to meet up with my sister, who now lives in New York (It was only a three-hour plane ride for both of us). The decent airfare and warm climate coupled with the promise of delicious Cuban food sealed the deal. The dichotomy of Christmas on the beach was also intriguing.

Who Went With Me? I went with my mom and older sister, who (as I previously mentioned) escaped Texas for New York City about nine months ago. As my sister and I get older, we realize that opportunities for us to spend time together in one place are becoming few and far between. The remedy for this is vacations.

We Stayed Here: Marenas Resort in Sunny Isles Beach. They offer suite-style rooms with fully stocked kitchens and beautiful views of the beach. Located halfway between Miami and Fort Lauderdale, an enjoyable 20-minute drive south on Highway 1A will get you to the robust South Beach area where dining and shopping options abound in close proximity to pristine beaches. The accommodations were sleek and modern while the staff was extremely kind and helpful.

You Won’t Want to Miss: You can’t miss South Beach. For good reason, it’s where we spent the majority of our time. The beach is lined with volleyball courts, and the shore is full of paddle ball players. For those adverse to moving and sweating, tanning and people-watching are a great alternative. Just beyond Ocean Drive, there’s a long row of adorable eateries for when you’re tired of guessing which of the beautiful beach-goers have been surgically enhanced.

Eat Here: Of the Ocean Drive eateries we tried, News Cafe was probably my favorite. We enjoyed classic breakfast fare with fizzy mimosas under a canopy of overgrown trees. My hands-down favorite restaurant was Versailles in Little Havana. The forest green decór and opaque glass dividers make the place look like a fancy IHOP, but the authentic Cuban food is amazing. We had empanadas, plantain chips, and ropa vieja with white rice and more fried plantains. I doubt you could go wrong with anything on the menu. Located among the swanky shops at Bal Harbour, Makoto is a great spot for sushi. The interior is trendy and dimly lit, which is great for hiding your expression of shame and guilt after a day of luxury shopping. La Sandwicherie is just blocks from the ocean and is crowded with beachgoers during lunchtime. This laidback stand serves fresh sandwiches perfect for a beachside meal. Lastly, you should try to squeeze in the heavily reviewed Le Tub Saloon in Hollywood, Florida. This quirky waterfront burger joint boasts “the best burger in America.” Aside from having the rudest waitress on the planet, I was charmed by the rusted yellow bathtubs in the parking lot and the delicious french fries.

Play Here: For shopping, check out Lincoln Road. You will find anything and everything from tacky souvenirs to clothes and accessories from your favorite mall staples like Aldo and Madewell. For nighttime dining, try Espanola Way. This narrow, cobbled street lined with restaurants and twinkle lights will make you feel like you’re in Europe. There are plenty of dining options, but be wary of Hosteria Romana. The pretty atmosphere won’t make up for the overpriced, mediocre food and obnoxious waiters with over-exaggerated Italian accents.

If I Went Again: I would definitely check out more of the Miami nightlife.

How Did You Get There From Dallas? I departed from Houston. However, there are direct Continental/United Airways flights to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport from DFW Airport. Marenas resort is a 20-minute ride from the airport. I would recommend renting a car. We opted for a red Mustang convertible, and yes, we were well-aware of how cliché we looked jamming to LMFAO while cruising down Ocean Drive. However, it was definitely worth it.

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