5 min

Miami Pride machine

Getting maximum enjoyment out of South Florida's largest gay festival

The Miami Beach Pride parade, on Ocean Drive. Credit: Juan Saco Mironoff

Any gay tourist already knows that South Beach, Miami, is one of the seven gay wonders of the world. There is no place on earth like 12th Street and Ocean Avenue. The weather, the bodies, the friendly people, the music, and did I mention bodies? Without exaggeration, it’s like a living, breathing Jennifer Lopez video.

This is what makes Miami Beach Pride such an incredible event. With the groundwork already laid for a weekend of guaranteed homo high jinks because of its location, Pride makes everything seem amplified, friendlier, happier, more delicious and beautiful.

For many, the Miami celebration in April marks the perfect kickoff to the North American Pride season (the 2015 festival takes place April 10 to 12). Launched in 2009, the event is relatively new to the scene, but that is also what makes it unique. Started by the city’s former mayor, it’s a festival without a history of protest — it’s always been about celebration. These people don’t have deep roots in gay history like New York, San Francisco or Toronto. They’re young and they want to have fun (okay, they also want to make money: theirs is the largest Pride in South Florida and brings in mountains of tourist dollars).

The 2014 grand marshal was Gloria Estefan, who is basically the unofficial mayor, president and queen of South Beach. The pint-sized pop star spoke at the Pride main stage extravaganza (which also featured Lady Bunny and Drag Race finalist Courtney Act), thanking the gays for their support and wishing for a world where everyone can live as equals. She didn’t sing, but she didn’t need to; the crowd ate up her every word. This was definitely Miami’s biggest Pride yet; it’s certainly a festival to watch for next season.

Below is a guide to getting maximum enjoyment out of Miami Pride. In all honesty, a tourist could walk around randomly and be completely entertained, but let us give you some helpful tips to get the most out of your weekend.

Where to stay
When experiencing Miami Pride, try to stay as close to the beach as possible; that’s where everything is happening, and you won’t want to miss out. The Breakwater, an Art Deco boutique hotel with a fishbowl pool, is a great little place on Ocean Drive. It’s nothing too fancy, but the location and cleanliness are all a visitor will need for the weekend.

Having said that, for a more exclusive experience that’s off the beaten path, book in to the Hôtel Gaythering. This place is the unicorn of gay hotels. It may be a half-hour trek to the beach, but the details and the potential for fun here make it worth the journey. It’s South Beach’s only “straight-friendly” hotel, with a stellar bar and cocktail menu, a self-service spa (they provide the products, pool and saunas; you do the rest) cute parties —like Bears & Hares every Friday — and fantastic coffee. The service is impeccable and the clientele is exactly what you want during a Pride weekend away: lots of friendly and devastatingly handsome men. While queer women also frequent this boutique hotel, the clientele is mainly men. We highly recommend this place.

Where to eat
Finding good food along Ocean Drive can be tricky. The restaurants on the famous street have a view unlike any other, but the food is often cheap and greasy and really doesn’t leave one wanting to take one’s shirt off on the beach. Take a stroll away from the main drag to Huahua’s Taqueria, a little hideaway where you’ll find the best tacos in South Beach. Chef Todd Erickson is an up-and-coming culinary sensation, and he really impresses with his scrumptious tacos (we highly recommend the fried chicken version with a marguerita). Be sure to pick up a homemade popsicle on your way out.

Naked Taco is a close second for service, variety and deliciousness. They win for location (the expansive space is at the perfect people-watching corner of Collins Avenue and 11th Street) and tequila selection.

If you get bored of tacos and Latino fare, head to Khong River House for some incredible Thai-Vietnamese fusion food. With its stunning interior and the kitchen’s delicious family recipes, it’s hard to stop eating.

Villa Azur feels like somewhere Dona-tella Versace would eat on a Tuesday night. It has its own art gallery and a chic, gorgeous, all-white patio. It’s completely over-the-top, but the crowd watching is top grade and all the front-of-house staff appears to have been picked from a line of supermodels.

If you’re feeling adventurous, take a taxi to the Wynwood neighbourhood and visit SuViche for some traditional Peruvian ceviche. It’s the best in the area.

Finally, at the end of any night out in South Beach, don’t be embarrassed to stop at Burger King’s Whopper Bar. Whoppers the size of small pizzas and one last beer on the patio are a hilarious way to coat the stomach before calling it a night.

Where to go out
During Pride, just make your way to the beach. It’s bustling with stunning examples of gay men and women on display and at play. When the sun starts to set, head to Palace for the traffic-halting drag shows, Twist for its multi-room dance-party options and Score for its authentic Latino nightclub madness. They’re all packed over Pride weekend and are open late. We ended up at Twist every single night of the weekend (as many do) in the top-40 room, the stripper hut and the starry patio. It’s a gay mecca that never disappoints.

What to see
Take an Art Deco tour down Ocean Drive. Learning about this architectural style and its history in South Beach (spoiler alert: they owe a lot to Miami Vice and Gianni Versace) is a must. Every building along the strip, and the colours they’re painted, has a story.

The Pérez Art Museum (PAMM), designed by Pritzker Prize–winning architects Herzog & de Meuron, is not to be missed. A visit won’t necessarily eat up a big chunk of time, as the museum is new and somewhat sparse, but it’s worth the trip to see the stunning building and the refurbished urban park that surrounds it.

It must be said again: get to the beach. The gay block at the bottom of 12th Street is an experience. During Pride, it’s more of a beach buffet.

Where to escape
If you need a break from the bulging bodies and cruising, visit the revitalized Wynwood neighbourhood. It’s an art district splattered with abandoned factories, impressive restaurants (check out Wynwood Kitchen & Bar) and more than 70 galleries. It’s a little forced, but don’t think too much about it — just take a stroll and enjoy the very expensive graffiti.

The backyard at the Freehand hostel offers another great breather. It’s away from the beach, but the adorable space is like walking into a Solange music video. Effortlessly good-looking tourists from all over the planet linger around the pool, Ping-Pong table and tiki bar.

Where the locals go
La Sandwicherie: This cute little sandwich hut on 14th Street serves French-style sammies on fresh baguettes. Run by a French ex-pat, it’s a fave for lunching locals and curious tourists. Any Pride dwellers you meet at this spot will make instant weekend pals.
DecoBike. This easy-to-use bike-rental service will save you cab fare and is a great way to get around South Beach, with its many bike lanes and lock-up locations.
Base Superstore. Shopping on the famous Lincoln Road open-air mall is fun, but it’s filled with generic American brands. The Base store is tucked away in an alley off the main drag and features cool brands, scents and drinks.

For the most up-to-date travel information on gay Miami, see our City GuideListings GuideEvents Guide and Activities Guide.