South Beach’s heart is its Art Deco Historic District, from 18th St. and south along Ocean Dr and Collins Ave – one of the largest area in the USA on the National Register of Historic Places. In fact, the District’s rejuvenations and rebirth as a major tourist destination results directly from it’s protection as a historic place in 1979.
The National Register designation prevents developers from wholeheartedly razing significant portions of what was, in the 1980s, a crime-ridden collection of crumbling eyesores populated primarily by drug-crazed lunatics, Cuba’s refugees and elderly residents. It’s a far cry from that now, with a lively mix of neighbors including gay men, for winters only, plus a sprinkling of old timer holdouts. Today, hotel and apartment facades are decidedly colorful, with pastel architectural details.
Your First stop here should be the Art Deco Welcome Center. Which will provide you with a good sense of this much beloved but often misunderstood district. You’ll find an informative permanent exhibit in the gallery, a bevy of walking tours you can sign up for (including an excellent self-guided audio tour), and a very well stocked gift shop hawking souvenirs from old-fashioned postcards to deco-style jewelr