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South Beach: Your Personal Spa Retreat

By Rona Gindin | Originally appeared in Central Florida Lifestyle Magazine

Clean food, massages and outdoor yoga rejuvenate even the weariest travelers in Miami.

Face it. South Beach is intimidating. The models, the fashion, the sizzling hipness of it all. Are Central Floridians too schlubby to fit into Miami’s hottest district?

Dismiss those concerns and think about this: wellness. Health-oriented endeavors like yoga classes, bike rides and meals at nutrition-oriented restaurants abound among the wide sandy beaches, bikinis and boutique hotels. Plan strategically and South Beach can be a place to recuperate from everyday life. Here’s how to pack a wallop of rejuvenation into your tropical getaway.

For starters, situate yourself right on the beach. That way you can meander, or power walk, up and down the boardwalk and sand at will. The people-watching along the sand is so entertaining – studly millennials, monied matriarchs, homeless people with costumed dogs – that you may keep your Nikes moving an extra mile or two just because.

The Palms Hotel & Spa is a fine choice for accommodations for four reasons besides location. The property has an Aveda spa with treatments such as Journey into Relaxation, it offers yoga under an outdoor pavilion every Sunday morning, it hosts Nature & Nurture packages and periodic Sanctuary yoga and mediation retreats, and its restaurant, Essensia, serves creative fare from farm-fresh ingredients, some of them homegrown.

Bring a bicycle or rent one from the nearby Citi Bike Miami station for a private or group tour of the neighborhood. The quirky, personable and super-knowledgeable Frank W. Schena of Royal Palm Tours of Miami will lead you around South Beach with a fascinating banter. The self-appointed historian shares in-depth facts about architecture, history, cultural diversity, nature and landmarks.

While you’ll probably start each day with a hearty breakfast at Essensia’s buffet or with a nutritious grab-and-go option at the hotel gift shop, be sure to venture out for your midday sustenance.

Think green for lunch. One option is Dirt, a spiffy counter-service restaurant that’s all about putting only thoughtfully sourced and prepared foods into your body. Organic salads, bowls and sandwiches are menu basics, and options are spelled out on a traditional menu as well as on dedicated paleo, vegan and gluten-free versions. Pretty much anyone can fill up on items like the Autumn Bowl, filled with quinoa, roasted curried cauliflower, arugula and pomegranate seeds, adding chicken or shrimp at will. Need a boost? Sip the Double Barrel, a coffee drink made with Bulletproof XTC oil, butter and protein powder.

Another day, embrace the organic juice options at JugoFresh, a four-unit chainlet where beverages are labeled with their diverse ingredients. The Mimosa Detox, for instance, is made with orange, grapefruit, apple cider vinegar, cayenne extract and ginger. For a bigger food fix, consider the bowls, which are surprisingly filling with ingredients including acai berries, pineapple and coconut.

Area restaurants are so creative that you might consider after-hours indulgences as part of your reboot. Hand-crafted cocktails are ubiquitous in town. Start an evening at WunderBar in the lobby of the homey-chic Circa 39 hotel. Try the Vanilla Sky, a spicy rum libation laced with ginger and serrano pepper, plus a vanilla-infused ice spear. Nibble on housemade curry-fried chickpeas with rosemary.

Try two of Miami’s newer restaurants for dinner. At GK Bistronomie, chef Rafael Perez takes creative license with South American standards. You might have a somewhat classic ceviche or, maybe, a playful tuna foie gras variety followed by grouper with yellow chili pepper, lime and sweet potato. Make the finale a crème brûlée with pickled blueberries and ginger marshmallows. GK Bistronomie is in a one-time welding shop in the newly popular Wynwood district, an up-and-coming area known for its street art.

If you can handle a hardy noise level, you’ll like the impish The Gang, a midtown spot that mixes grunge and gastronomy. The entire dining room is subway-esque, and you have to giggle at the food bar. It’s supported by a line of washing machines that are handy for storing your handbag while you eat. Within the edgy space, chef Bogdan Niculae, a Romanian native who has lived in Thailand, sees few culinary borders. He makes crab Rangoon with green tea and lamb chops with both Malaysian flavorings and truffles.

Cap off your South Beach adventure with dinner at The Palms’ signature restaurant, Essensia. Here, chef Venoy Rogers III bring a southern California sensibility to Florida foods, some grown in a small garden just past the hotel pool. Forget your wellness pledge and begin with the tempura-fried avocado with tomato jam. Chili-dusted snapper with carambola chipotle salsa and cilantro lime cream is a fine entree.

Wellness by day, daring dinners by night – follow that recipe and you’ll return from South Beach refreshed.

Kim Kirby

London, UK