South Beach vs Miami Beach: Is South Beach the Best Place to Stay in Miami?

I have a bucket list a mile long of places to go in Florida and things I want to see and do and I’ll be honest…Miami was never on it. I guess I’ve always had preconceived notions about the “vibe” or what it was like and it never seemed for me. BUT as a full time travel blogger, I ended up taking one for the team and booked a trip to Miami. It’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it ; ) 

First of all, I have to make a HUGE distinction here. There’s Miami (the city on the mainland), and then Miami Beach (a separate city on a barrier island just off the coast of Miami). Most people just use the term “Miami” for both, but they’re VERY different. I actually really love the city of Miami. It’s super international, very eclectic, has a ton of world class attractions, has great places to stay, eat, and shop, and it’s a great winter getaway since the weather is absolutely perfect. 

My feelings about Miami Beach are a little more…complicated.

Here’s the deal…I think whether or not you like Miami Beach probably has a lot to do with your mindset going in. Miami Beach is a lively area with great hotels, top notch restaurants (like it’s seriously a world class foodie destination), hopping clubs, and non stop action. It also has a 10 mile stretch of golden sand, but I wouldn’t call it a relaxing getaway. It’s kind of like Vegas, but there’s also a beach. Miami Beach has kind of a frantic energy that doesn’t make for the most relaxing getaway. 

And yeah, Miami Beach is a beach town, but it’s really more like a beach city. It doesn’t feel like a city compared to downtown Miami, but it’s BIG. It’s not particularly quaint. Also, while the beach is big, long, and very accessible, depending on what other beaches you’ve visited you might not be super impressed. In Florida, it’s hard to beat the beaches on the Gulf Coast or the Panhandle and I think the beaches on the Atlantic coast fall pretty short. 

So now, the question you came for…

South Beach vs Miami Beach?

Well, they’re kind of the same thing. Kind of. Here’s a little rundown for you…

As I mentioned above, Miami Beach is a 10 mile long barrier island just off the coast of Miami. The whole island (except for the very top bit where Surfside and Bal Harbor are located) is called Miami Beach. South Beach is a section of Miami Beach (the most famous section) at the – you guessed it – south end of the island. 

So there you have it…South Beach is a neighborhood of Miami Beach. So if you’re staying in South Beach, you’re also staying in Miami Beach. 

South Beach is obviously world famous and is basically synonymous with Miami itself so it’s where most people think they want to stay. 

Technically South Beach is everything south of 23rd Street, but I like to break it down into three separate sections:

Sofi: South of 5th (Sofi) is an area that I really liked. There aren’t a ton of hotels in this little pocket and it feels much more local.  Also, the beach at South Pointe Park is the absolute prettiest I saw in the whole Miami Beach area. 

5th-15th: This is the heart of South Beach and the area of Miami Beach that I would absolutely avoid at all costs. Ocean Drive Avenue is lined with old art deco hotels that are ground zero for the Miami Beach party scene. I’m talking about parties until 5AM every night (day?) that probably involve some illegal substances. You don’t stay here to sleep or relax. 

15th to 23rd: This area is still South Beach but it’s a lot more upscale than the party scene just south of there. It’s more resorts (nice places to stay) and things get calmer as you get farther north (but hey, this is still Miami Beach ; ) 

Mid Beach: North of 23rd Street, South Beach starts to blur into Mid Beach. The resorts get bigger and nicer. It’s still a party, but it’s a little more upscale. I will say this…people who live in Miami or are super familiar with the area will note the distinction between South Beach and Mid Beach, but most people just call the whole thing South Beach. “South Beach” has such international appeal that many hotels that are as far north as the 40th Street area use “South Beach” in their description. 

Read this post for more specifics about South Beach vs Mid Beach plus hotel recommendations. It will help you decide specifically where to stay in Miami Beach. 

I think the bigger question is…

Is South Beach the Best Place to Stay in Miami?

Ehhhh, I would say no. But that’s probably just me! First things first, decide if you want to stay on the beach or not. If you’re coming to Miami to explore and see all that the city and surrounding area has to offer, I’d probably stay somewhere in Brickell (downtown Miami) or Coconut Grove. It’s going to be easier to get around, you’ll be closer to 90% of what you want to see and do in Miami, plus it’s still pretty close to Miami Beach. 

More posts about where to stay in Miami:

Where to Stay in Miami (Besides Miami Beach)

Miami Beach! Mid Beach vs South Beach (+ My Favorite Hotels)

Downtown Miami vs South Beach: Brickell is the REAL Star in Miami

Key Biscayne vs South Beach: As Different As It Gets in Miami

The EDITION Miami Beach Review (Marriott Bonvoy)

Ritz Carlton Key Biscayne Review

If you’re coming to Miami specifically for a beach getaway, I’d personally pick Key Biscayne, Surfside, or Bal Harbor over Miami Beach/South Beach, but that’s probably because the party scene is 100% not my jam. You’ll find some of the best resorts in the Miami area in those spots, plus it’s really not that far to drive down to Miami Beach for dinners. 

If you’re coming to Miami for the beach, food, and a bit of a party, I would stick to the 15th St to 30th St area of Miami Beach/South Beach. It’s where the best resorts are so where you’ll find the best dining. There’s also a really easy free trolley system to get around which is a real gem since I’ve always had a hard time getting Ubers on the island. 

Don’t miss these other posts about Miami:

Miami Art Deco Walking Tour

Things to Do in Miami BESIDES Party

Things to Do in Little Havana

Biking on Key Biscayne (Cape Florida Lighthouse)

Where to Play Tennis on Key Biscayne

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