The Miami hotel scene is all about flashiness, luxury, and one-upmanship, a bling-on-the-beach circus that kicked off in 1995, when Philippe Starck and Ian Schrager opened the Delano, and hasn't let up since. Despite the economic slowdown, the building boom continues, with each new property outdoing the last with an even hotter pool scene and an even more buzz-worthy bar. Miami's historic hotels are trying to get a piece of the action as well: The Eden Roc and the Fontainebleau, grand midcentury hotels in Mid-Beach, have also reemerged from multimillion-dollar face-lifts where no stone was left unpolished.
South Beach's iconic hotels have made the area the 24-hour party destination that it is today, and the Delano, the Shore Club, the Raleigh, and newcomers Gansevoort South and the Mondrian promise the quintessential Miami Beach experience and hopping pool scenes to boot. If you care about service and luxury, the Setai is your best choice, followed by the Ritz-Carlton; neither comes cheap.
Indeed, speaking broadly, and frankly, the high-end hotels on South Beach aren't focused on delivering good value for the money: Prices are high but service standards are distressingly low, and style often rides roughshod over substance. There are still budget-friendly hotel options, at least outside the peak (December and January) of the high season (December through March). Art Deco hotels like the Catalina and the Beacon are just steps from the ocean yet offer rooms under $200 a night, as does the Standard. Staying Sunday through Thursday will save you heaps.
If you're not interested in the social maelstrom of South Beach, there are other options. Downtown—where the new Epic and Viceroy hotels opened recently—draws business travelers as well as those focusing their visits on the Design District and the mainland's new cultural offerings. Brickell Avenue is another business hub with a clutch of ultraluxury choices (the Mandarin, the Four Seasons), and Key Biscayne is an island alternative where the beach scene has less energy but no less lucre. In all three areas, service standards tend to be much higher than on South Beach.