Caption for Discover a getaway – Sunny Isles:
Shedding its reputation as an outdated beach community, Sunny Isles Beach is basking in the glitter of a luxury resort boom and close proximity to the all the attractions of nearby Miami.
Photo Credit: Sunny Isles Beach Resort Association

By Donna Carter

When billionaire real estate mogul, Donald Trump, opens a hotel anywhere in the world, it’s a sure-fire indication the place is a vacation hotspot or well on its way to becoming one. Consequently, when “the Donald” opened one of his Trump International resorts on Sunny Isles Beach in 2004, it stood as a ringing endorsement for the barrier island situated midway between the cosmopolitan cities of Miami and Fort Lauderdale. Bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on the east and Florida’s Intracoastal Waterway on the west, Sunny Isles sees a million visitors a year lured by a variety of attractions including its four kilometre-long white sand beach.

While Sunny Isles Beach is a city unto itself (incorporated in 1997), it is part of the Greater Miami Area and because of this close proximity, the island enjoys the best of both worlds. “In most cases we are no more than 30 minutes from Miami’s wealth of attractions yet we are set apart from the hustle and bustle of the big city,” says Ibis Romero, executive director of the Sunny Isles Beach Resort Association. In just minutes, for example, you can be strolling on Ocean Drive in Miami‘s trendy South Beach or enjoying a Cuban coffee in the city‘s Little Havana neighbourhood. However, on the island itself, accessible via a causeway and other routes over the Intracoastal, Romero says the unrivalled main attraction is the silky sand beaches that she says are the best in all of South Florida.

Renaissance & Revival
Just a few years ago, the island’s vacation accommodations were largely 1950s-style motels that were basically mom and pop operations, together with a collection of small beachfront hotels. “In their day, the more than 100 motels on Sunny Isles Beach were stylish for the period and attracted celebrities such as the Beatles, Babe Ruth, Burt Lancaster and the Kennedy clan,“ says local historian, Richard Schulman. However, for various reasons, the island’s “motel row” fell into decline and in the competitive world of tourism, it was wisely determined that to be a viable vacation destination dramatic change needed to occur. Hence, a metamorphosis began.

Rooms With A View
One of the biggest shots in the arm for the island’s revival was the development of the 32-storey, 209-room Trump International Sonesta Beach Resort situated on a prime piece of Sunny Isles beachfront. This contemporary Mobil 4-star resort has its own private section of sand beach, plus a remarkable grotto-style pool complex with two pools, fountains and waterfalls, a full service spa, two restaurants, three lounges and tennis.

Fairmont Turnberry Isle Resort recently completed a $100 million renovation that has turned it into one of South Florida’s most lavish hotels. Situated near the top end of Sunny Isles Beach, the 392-room Mediterranean-style resort features a Willow Stream spa, clay tennis courts and a 55-metre water slide. One of Turnberry’s key selling points is two championship golf courses literally steps outside the resort’s back door.

Adding to the mixture of new hotels are Le Meridien, a sleek, modern European Riviera-style property with 215 elegant rooms and suites, and Solé on the Ocean, a 23-storey resort scheduled to open later this year.

Out & About
While activities on the island are generally limited to a variety of beach and water-based pursuits, nearby Miami offers a plethora of things to see and do. One of the most popular attractions for kids and families is the Miami Metrozoo, one of the first free-range zoos in the country. Another popular attraction is the Miami Seaquarium where South Florida’s sub-tropical climate allows for year-round outdoor shows featuring dolphins, killer whales and other sea creatures. The Miami Children’s Museum is a must-see with a host of interactive exhibits.

Other attractions include the ever popular Florida Everglades National Park, where, amid acres of swamps, sawgrass prairies and sub-tropical jungles, visitors can see 14 rare and endangered species of animals, as well as Butterfly World, Parrot Jungle Island and Monkey Jungle.

No visit to Miami is complete without seeing the historical, 20-hectare Viscaya estate. The property’s elegant, European-style mansion offers a glimpse of South Florida life as it was at the turn of the 20th century. The South Beach Art Deco District is also a must-see. Once a disintegrating slum area, this lively district is now a glitzy, revitalized enclave of 800 architecturally protected buildings from the 1930s and 1940s that house everything from stylish nightclubs to restaurants and private residences.

Golf Galore
While the Greater Miami Area has a sizeable inventory of championship layouts, there is something for everybody from the trophy tracks to mid-tier, nine-hole and budget-wise courses – with all of them in close proximity to Sunny Isles Beach.

Arguably the best known of the area’s top courses is The Doral Golf Resort and Spa, a complex dubbed The Kingdom of Golf featuring five world-class championship layouts. Almost every avid golfer dreams of playing Doral’s two most famous tracks, the Blue Monster and the Great White, a dynamic duo that ranks among the best anywhere. Also renowned in its own right is the Biltmore Golf Course, a fine 18-hole track attached to the famous Biltmore Hotel. Built in 1925, the course has been meticulously restored and has challenged the likes of Tiger Woods, Walter Hagen and even Babe Ruth.

Don Shula’s Hotel and Golf Club is likewise a top rated complex. The resort’s Senator course embodies a championship 18-hole layout that takes advantage of a scenic Florida landscape while an adjoining par-3 executive track is a night-lit facility that offers a pleasant round of golf and a lesser degree of difficulty.

Right in the heart of Miami, the venerable Miami Beach Golf Club regularly gets rave reviews from pro golfers, celebrities and ordinary hackers. A Miami landmark, the course, often described as one of the best and most beautiful public courses in South Florida, was built in 1923 and recently treated to a $10 million renovation.

Shopping & Dining
“Our island dining spots are equally as diverse as our range of accommodations,” says Romero. “Again, we have something for everybody.” Moreover, Sunny Isles Beach benefits from a restaurant scene that takes in not only island eateries – both casual and upscale – but the extensive roster of dining spots in the Greater Miami Area. Along with contemporary American fare, the area’s multi-ethnic population has led to a profusion of restaurants whose culinary offerings are influenced by the cuisines of Cuba, Asia, Puerto Rico, Argentina and the Caribbean.

Shoppers head to Sawgrass Mills, the largest name brand outlet mall in Florida, to take in its 350 stores, 23 movie theatres, upscale pool hall, kids’ theme park and 35 restaurants; Aventura Mall with more than 250 stores,23 movie theatres, a children’s playground and several restaurant chains; and the designer boutiques of the Bal Harbour Shops in Miami. Sunny Isles’ major hotels such as the Fairmont Turnberry Isle Resort offer free, round-trip shuttle service for guests.

 “Overall the area is one of the greatest shopping and dining spots in Florida and with Sunny Isles Beach lying at the doorstep of downtown Miami our island offers double the fun,” says Romero. “We are not in competition with city centre; in fact, with our island’s wonderful beaches and great new hotels, we complement each other.”