Sunny Isles makes for sunny disposition

 

Sunny Isles Beach Bay

One shimmering glass and steel tower after another line the beachfront of Sunny Isles, Fla. Construction is booming with multimillion-dollar projects appearing to outdo each other in height and creative design. Still, this shouldn’t stop anyone from getting excited about vacationing in this south Florida paradise.

Somehow despite all this development Sunny Isles has been able to retain charm and natural beauty that have been diminished in too many Florida destinations.

Sandwiched between Fort Lauderdale and Miami, Sunny Isles is merely 2.5 miles long with well-groomed beaches—all public that hotels and condos mark with signature-color lounge chairs. No problem for those not staying in a beachfront property, there are 18 public access points to the beach.

The water is that iconic Florida shade of tranquil blue/green with fine near-white sand that draws so many back again and again. At the southern end of the beach, Sunny Isles gives way to Haulover Beach, a clothing-optional beach that’s popular with Europeans and Canadians as well as adventurous Americans.

Not far from the beaches is Oleta River State Park, where unspoiled Florida can be enjoyed in an array of ways. This 1,000-acre park, which Park Manager Barry Stevens said is under-used during the week and crowded on the weekends—draws a million visitors a year.  Not surprising with all its vegetation providing a tremendous amount of shade and plenty of nooks and crannies for those fishing, swimming, kayaking, picnicking, biking and who come to explore the mangroves, trees laden with seagrapes and a variety of butterflies.

There are also nine other parks in Sunny Isles—all with free WiFi.

I fell in love with Sunny Isles’ abundance of locally owned restaurants. And what an array of cuisines—Cuban, Colombian, French, Argentinean, Russian, Brazilian, Canadian and Mediterranean, to name a few.

Through the recommendations of locals and just driving along the main thoroughfare—Collins Avenue—we dined at several distinct eateries. Almost all were small places with inviting décor and servers with just the right level of attentiveness. An early dinner at the Cuban eatery El Tropical and a lunch at H Restaurant, a French bistro were both immensely satisfying. My companion and I spent three hours at Duffy’s, a huge restaurant that backs up to the Intracoastal Waterway where we lunched on seafood with a view of the water as the weather changed from ideal to one of the worst downpours I’ve experienced. (Locals told me that Sunny Isles is prone to flooding during rainstorms, and I witnessed 6-inch deep water on Collins Avenue with several vehicles stalling.)

One interesting phenomenon is that despite all the highrises, streets aren’t jam-packed with pedestrians or motorists, which locals say remains true even during the busiest season December through April. The reason is that a great many of the units in the glimmering new condos are unoccupied, having been purchased by wealthy Argentinians, Brazilians and Russians as investment property.

The toney Aventura Mall offers shopping experiences for those who favor Louis Vuitton, Coach and Nordstrom’s as well as those who prefer JCPenney, Macy’s and The Gap.

Along Collins Avenue, there are places to stay to fit just about every taste—humble ‘50s-style one- and two-story motels and ultra-luxurious towers such as the Trump International Sonesta Beach Resort and the AAA/5 Diamond Acqualina Resort and Spa. Beware that parking is a hot commodity here with some hotels charging as much as $30 a night for valet parking.

I spent three nights at the 293-room Marenas Beach Resort & Spa, which opened seven years ago as a Starwood condo hotel. It’s a beachfront, ultra-modern property with a sophisticated vibe present in the white-on-white lobby and bar as well as guest suites. We had plenty of room to stretch out in our one-bedroom suite with a full kitchen (utensils, dishes and glasses included) with a roomy balcony with views of both the beach and the Intracoastal Waterway.

Marenas suites can be had for $159 a night  during the low season and $450 a night during the high season. Parking is an additional $27 a day for valet parking and, unfortunately, there is no self-parking.

 

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