Eye Candy Aside, Miami Beach Bears Little Resemblance to CSI Miami

Most of the time I arrive at a destination without preconceived notions, but Miami Beach was steeped in expectation. Thanks to the popular TV show, CSI Miami, I imagined exquisitely preserved art deco architecture, tropical weather, oiled body-builders with rippling muscles, exuberant Latin culture, and colors vivid enough to make your eyeballs hurt. It was none of those things.

Palette of pastel colors adorn the famous art deco architecture of Miami Beach
Palette of pastel colors adorn the famous art deco architecture of Miami Beach

Just my luck, when I finally had an opportunity to visit Miami Beach, the temperatures plunged into the low 50’s. I was not the only one unprepared; tourists everywhere shivered in shorts and sleeveless tops. Even the Holiday Inn Oceanfront, where I won a free night’s stay in a contest held by Travel Wonders of the World blog, had a hard time coping. Housekeeping had set my room’s thermostat at 50 degrees and it was ice cold. Even turning up the thermostat had little effect. Since south Florida temperatures are normally much higher, the hotel has both “room air” and “facility air;” the room air could be turned off but the facility air could not. It took a portable heater and extra blankets – which the hotel graciously delivered – to remedy the problem.

The frigid weather also nixed my plans to lie on the beach, although plenty of souls heartier than me ventured out in the middle of the afternoon, when temps soared to the high 60’s. Not to be deterred, I put on my warmest available clothes and walked along the oceanfront, searching for the Miami Beach I envisioned. Rather than long legged, exotic women in skimpy bikinis I found families; instead of sugary white sands, grainy beige sand squished through my toes; and just one lone body-builder worked out at a makeshift pavilion.

South Beach, wide sand and turquoise water but still not as nice as Florida's Gulf Coast beaches
South Beach, wide sand and turquoise water but still not as nice as Florida’s Gulf Coast beaches

Still hoping to discover the exotic scenes in CSI, I turned my attention to the famous art deco architecture. Miami Beach is a barrier island, separated from the city of Miami by Biscayne Bay. Art deco buildings can be found throughout the island, but the preponderance of them are located in the area known as South Beach, which runs from about 22nd Street to 1st Street at the southern tip. Unfortunately, my hotel was located in Mid Beach at 43rd Street, an area that has been hit hard by the recession. As I walked the 20+ blocks to South Beach, I passed one abandoned building after another, many with black mold creeping from behind plywood-covered windows. Even new high rise developments stood half-finished, crumbling in the humidity.

In South Beach the blight vanished, replaced by luxury hotels, upscale shops, and restaurants lining a palm studded boulevard. Giant flamingo sculptures, painted in wild colors, were tucked into gardens and dotted the right-of-ways between sidewalk and street. Neon signs flashed messages: a liquor store advertised lotto tickets, a 24-hour deli was flashed its name in cherry red neon. At the skyline, art deco low-rises flaunted a palette of pastel colors; at street level, multi-colored awnings splayed over sidewalk cafes. Colorful, yes. But aside from an occasional bar or storefront, I did not see not the richly saturated, vibrant colors of Miami CSI, and I was not the only one making the comparison. Snatches of overheard conversations confirmed that others were of the same opinion.

Can’t view the above slide show of Miami Beach, Florida? Click here.

I had expected Salsa and Merengue to boom into the streets, older men in embroidered white shirts to gossip over espresso, and mellifluous Spanish to be the primary language, but even the Latin influence seemed subdued. During my three day stay, brief glimpses of authentic Miami Beach included a struggling artist surrounded by behemoth paintings at the South Florida Art Center and a Buddhist Yogi living in a hole-in-the-wall in the Historic Spanish Village known as Espanola Way, but my primary impression was of a destination ruined by too many tourists and too much exposure on national TV.

I’m glad I went, but it’s not a place I’d be inclined to revisit, not even in warmer weather. As for CSI Miami, I never really liked the show. I was just fascinated by the colors, which I now realize were manipulated. Really, it’s my own fault for having expectations. I know better. As the old adage says, “Expectations are resentments waiting to happen.” I won’t go so far as to resent CSI Miami’s misrepresentation, but I’m not likely to ever tune in again.

14 thoughts on “Eye Candy Aside, Miami Beach Bears Little Resemblance to CSI Miami”

  1. I was in South Beach for the first time in January 2011 and felt the same way regarding South Beach being nothing like CSI Miami from a color vibrancy standpoint. It’s kind of funny that a television show should determine our expectations, but they do. On the other hand, the weather was beautiful while I was there (certainly not a guarantee in January) and I enjoyed the beach part of South Beach immensely. No, the sand isn’t white like on the Gulf, but Atlantic Ocean beaches don’t have white sand. Nonetheless, the beach was clean, the water was bright blue, and the people watching was fantastic.

  2. CSI Miami pictures do look quite fake, but I didn’t imagine the difference was so striking with reality! I guess it’s just spectacular sensationalism 😉

  3. Art deco buildings aside, when it comes to the temperature, that’s what it’s normally like in Cornwall all summer. We’re used to dabbing a bit of sun cream on our nose to be on the safe side and keeping the pullover to hand for when the wind turns chilly.

  4. My experience with Miami was an unplanned overnight stay when I missed a connecting flight to Brasil. My impression was that of being in another country than the US. At the hotel pool, every language was being spoken, except English!

  5. I have to say, I pretty much agree with what you found down there. I’m from the Clearwater area but had never really been to South Beach or much of Miami at all until last month – and once I got there it was a lot glitzier than I thought. Although there was some Latin music booming out of some places, it really just reminded me of so many other places in the US. 🙂 Sorry to hear it was cold too, that nearly defeats the whole purpose of visiting there!

  6. Actually, before salsa and merengue, before the CSI and Miami Vice flash and sizzle, South Beach was a Jewish mecca. Reformed – conservative – Hasidic – they flocked in the winter and dined at Wolfie’s – a Miami Beach landmark. It was a very different place in the 60s, but it had its own great – some would say preferred – flavor.

    Hey, Barbara, Sorry you couldn’t make our Sunday brunch. I would have liked to have given you a hug goodbye. Wishing you happiness going forward and peaceful holidays. Please stay in touch.

  7. I live in South Florida and the only reason I venture down that way is to go see a show at the Jackie Gleason Theatre. And that’s only if the act isn’t coming to Ft. Lauderdale or West Palm Beach.

    Funny you experienced the “cold” weather we all anxiously await when you wanted a little beach.

    For white Florida sand, try the west coast. I highly recommend Naples (La Playa resort specifically).


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