Travel
31 min

Saved by Miami Beach Pride

Sea, sand, sun and thousands of men in bathing suits — this festival is unlike any other

South Beach is a very gay place; it’s a fact. There is, however, one time a year when even more rainbows wave off every art deco building and parking garage; when even more hot bodies gather to dance on the beach in (if possible) even less clothing; and when the queens, businesses, hotels, pools and hookup apps turn things up a few notches to maximum levels of homo. That time is Miami Beach Pride.

Now in its sixth year, this Pride fest is still relatively young, yet knows very well how to throw the ultimate, weekend-long gay beach bash. We survived the celebrations last year, but the 2015 festival was even hotter, with an estimated 130,000 attendees. Below is a guide to surviving the weekend in style. We also recommend taking the Thursday and following Monday off — you’re going to need it.

Thursday

You know who the celebrity grand marshal is — this year’s debutante was Saved by The Bell star, Extra host and never-aging Latino hunk Mario Lopez.  Things will get wild down on Ocean Drive tomorrow, so start things off slowly in downtown Miami.

Book a cute and quaint room at the Aloft Miami Brickell (W hotel’s hip, and less costly, little sister) and take a breather. Brickell is downtown’s safe and sleepy financial district and is a 25-minute cab ride to the beach, but it’s clean, safe and riddled with super-cool architecture, colourful new condos and cultural landmarks. Freshen up, head to The Café at Books & Books for a fresh, light dinner on the peaceful terrace, throw back an espresso from the coffee bar and catch a show at the Arsht Center. The shows range from off-Broadway to Buena Vista Social Club, and a Patti LaBelle show will be appearing in 2016. If you want to keep this night PG, grab a nightcap at the WXYZ bar in the hotel lobby and head to bed. If you want to start lubricating for the weekend ahead, jump in a cab, head to Ocean Drive and order a fishbowl-style slush drink with two mini-champagne bottles inserted into the top. It’s the perfect drink for people-watching and making new friends for a sleepover.

Friday

Pride doesn’t truly blast off until Saturday, but there is still tons to do on Friday. Keep your room at the Aloft and head to the beach. Take a walking tour of South Beach. This tour never gets old, thanks to the hilarious and crazy knowledgeable volunteers who lead the outings. This year, we were guided by a cranky old queen named Jeff. Not only did he tell us all about art deco and its fascinating history on Ocean Drive, but he knew every gay club that’s ever existed in the hood. He was there when Madonna and company were partying at Gianni Versace’s mansion and gay glamour was everywhere. That glamour has now spread itself onto the many new hotel lobbies and pools, and remains strong at places like Palace, where the world-famous drag queen shows never disappoint. I’m not joking. Try and catch Tiffany Fantasia whenever you can; she’s a star. That tour should take about two hours, and as well as being a history lesson, it’s a great way to get your bearings and understand where you’ll be stumbling around later.

After the tour, pop into the MDGLCC LGBT visitor centre for a water and AC break. They’ll treat you like gold and fill you in on anything you’re curious about in the district. They’re a very proud bunch outside of Pride, so when the festival is on, they’re beaming.

Another reason Miami ’mos are beaming these days is because they will be hosting the World OutGames in 2017. The international sports monster will take over every sports venue and inch of beach in the city. It’s a sporting event that not only shines a light on LGBT athletes — including ultra handsome and out college basketball player Derrick Gordon — but features unique human rights conferences and events. Kind of like Toronto’s PrideHouse during the 2015 Pan Am Games . . .  only much, much bigger and, dare we say, way sexier.

Use this day to take in the beach in its more peaceful state, and stop at the gorgeous Loews Miami Beach Hotel a little further off the path to sip on something tall and cool while staring at the ocean. Take advantage of the slower pace of the day and eat at a food tent on the beach (we recommend something quick and Cuban). Then freshen up back at the hotel and don’t deny yourself the moment any longer: head to Twist. This is, according to this gay writer, one of the best gay bars in the world. Guys straight from the beach or fresh from their hotels gather in the multiplex to walk around, flirt, dance or get a “friction dance” from one of the in-house strippers (they can’t get fully naked, but will vigorously rub up against you in their tighty-whiteys for a fast dollar). Let’s face it, you’re going to get very drunk at this point — beware of the bartenders’ heavy-handed pouring — so chug a gallon of water before heading to sleep. Though Grindr and Scruff aren’t buzzing with activity out in Brickell, use the sexual downtime to your advantage. Pride launches on Saturday, and your beachside hotel (and all its adjoining gentlemen) await.

Saturday

Drag your ass out of bed. Pack up your room and, before your relocate to the sun and sand, head to the Perez Art Museum. This is an essential stop on any trip to Miami. There is always something weird and wonderful happening at this stunning museum, which is located right on the water and across from a port filled with monstrously huge cruise ships. See the Marjetica Potrč School of the Forest exhibit, showing until October 2015. Beyond the exhibits, the building itself is a wonder, and you can’t go wrong by just showing up. Bonus: there are outdoor swings that hang above the water, perfect for a post-museum walk and pre-beach party nap.

And now, the time has come: you’re going to the beach. Avoid the typical South Beach spots and slide a little further down to the Hotel Croydon. This Collins Avenue cutie is a fully renovated boutique hotel built in 1937, and is across the street from the ocean. It’s not in the thick of the gay beach zone, but the adorable seven-storey hotel is like a little time trip to an old-school, classy Miami — and the rooftop is pretty spectacular.

After you’ve had your fill of relaxing on a lounge chair, head to dinner at the Bistrot Bagatelle. This French Mediterranean, Parisian-style bistro is a stunner. All the waiters are French imports and are smoking hot. The food is impeccably prepared, and sitting out on the terrace is nothing but a pleasure. Complete with a perfectly paired wine list, we highly recommend going the full seafood route and pairing the ceviche with the daily fish plate. This is a flavour party.

Once dinner is over, walk along Collins or Ocean Drive and (with close-toed shoes and light pants) head into a beachside hotel lobby for a cocktail. A great way to see the cars, the people and the guys you’ll see later at Twist.

Miami Beach Pride knows exactly how to throw a big club bash, and for its 2015 opener Abel & Paulo were unleashed upon the masses at Urge. Once it’s packed, this club is the hottest ticket in town. Take off your shirt and dive into the crowd. Everyone is friendly and fresh at this point. Once the circuit beats have done a job on your eardrums, head to Twist for a last minute double to end the night.

Walking home is totally safe and a lot of fun. We suggest the main drag (though that can get a bit messy), or take a moonlit stroll along the boardwalk which brings you directly to the Croydon at Collins and 38th.  The hookup apps are alive and well in this hood, and the guys are the kind that will probably take you out for breakfast the next day, as the neighbouring hotels are big, showy and pricy.

Sunday

Pride day has arrived! The Friday and Saturday daytime and nighttime activities are bustling, but on Sunday, the beach is rammed and crawling with dreamboats and future husbands. Though it can be fun to watch the parade from the sunny sidelines, the best way to catch the (not too long) march along Ocean is from the front patio of the Hotel Victor.

The parade is cheerful and has a tight, community feel to it. Colourful queens and gyrating hunks abound. What’s best at this parade is that while Miami’s finest are marching, just as many are watching. You’re surrounded. Get your hands up!

But while you’re at Victor, eat some brunch, take advantage of the bottomless mimosas and enjoy the view. Once the grand marshal speeds past (sadly, Mario Lopez didn’t take off his shirt or even wear a tank top to show off his guns) pay the bill and take a short walk upstairs to the Hotel Victor’s upper deck patio. This will give you a great view of the street you’re about to conquer.

Another advantage to having a Pride festival at Miami Beach is that everything takes place . . . on the beach. Major stages with fantastic sound setups (these people host the Winter Music Fest, so they know what they’re doing) take over the sandy real estate, while retail and food booths crowd in between. The central Pride tent where media and local celebrities gather is a great, shady escape, but we recommend slathering on the sunscreen and walking up and down the drag before heading to the 12th Street beach area for an overdose of eye candy.

Drag is out in full force on the stages and on the street. It’s captured quite nicely in the new doc South Beach on Heels.

Every year, a big name is rumoured to perform at the fest. This year’s rumoured diva was Rihanna, and it was Beyoncé in 2014. I’m not sure which convincing little queen manages to drive an entire beach into a pop-hungry frenzy, but these appearances never happen. Your best bet is to walk, talk, dance, swim and relax your way through the perfect gossip storm.

Directly from the beach, grab a cab — or hop on the back of a hot and friendly motorcyclist’s bike, as this writer did — to the Siena Tavern. Top Chef Season 5 alum Fabio Viviani’s vast, hip and warm space is an Italian eatery on Washington. Just far enough away from the noisy beach, Siena is a tranquil giant on the strip, and ordering pretty much anything off the menu will make you and your tummy happy. The wood-fire pizzas and cocktail list are just what’s needed after a day by the ocean.

The beach runs until about 11, at which point most people head to Urge or Twist, or a hotel room. We don’t need to instruct you at this point. Follow your heart.

Monday

Official recovery day. It’s over. Have breakfast on the Hotel Croydon patio: it’s delicious, and the staff will make you think about staying an extra night. Pack up your room, shake off the sand and take a cab to the Miami Design District for some quiet retail therapy. This blossoming neighbourhood is packed with high-end designer stores, all strategically designed for the area. It’s Miami luxury at its most decadent. Architects are eager to get their buildings into the hood, with a new building from Sou Fujimoto and art installations from John Baldessari and the Buckminster Fuller Institute. It’s like an outdoor art gallery with accents of Gucci, Prada and Céline.

After quickly realizing you’re famished and completely hungover, take a short cab ride to The District. Just off the beaten path, this local eatery is a deep-south, Caribbean delight with fresh, original cocktails and signature fish dishes. Get the tacos; we promise you’ll love them. Sitting on the patio which is nestled in a residential neighbourhood of the district has a cantina vibe . . .  it’s very easy going and pleasant. It’s the perfect way to finish off the Miami Beach Pride rollercoaster.

There are gay people on every street and corner of South Beach during Pride, but it’s a unique festival in that it manages to be laid-back and relaxed while surrounded by madness. Beaches, cool neighbourhoods and fantastic food make for a hell of a weekend. Can’t wait to see what this ever-changing homo-Mecca has in store next year!

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

For more information, visit miamibeachgaypride.com.

(All photos courtesy of Joaquin Gasca of Shangay Magazine and Stephen Lang.)