Best Hidden Neighborhood - 2011
Chuck a Frisbee from the east edge of Belle Isle, and if you have a halfway decent arm, you'll hit South Beach. So how can a neighborhood this underrated, this cool, and this historic be hiding in plain sight of Miami-Dade's most famous hood? Belle Isle, the easternmost tip of the man-made Venetian Islands, was once home to retail zillionaire J.C. Penney's exclusive estate. Today, unlike its stuffy, rich-kid siblings, it marries the Venetian's quiet, exclusive vibe with a more bohemian, South Beach cool. Sure, there are million-dollar luxury lofts in the eye-popping Grand Venetian, but there are also charming, squat waterfront apartments that once housed military barracks and quiet, sandy lanes with palm-shaded one-bedroom houses. The island's center is a newly renovated park, and a footpath on the perimeter leads to clear-water views of Biscayne Bay reefs. Just to top it off, Belle Isle is home to hipster paradise the Standard, an über-chic hotel with South Beach's best spa, an Anthropologie-approved lounge, and the Lido Restaurant, a vegetarian-friendly eatery with ridiculous bayside table views. Next time you're in SoBe, take the hike across the bridge — your new favorite neighborhood has been hiding in the middle of the bay all this time.