It's natural this time of year to yearn for a weekend getaway to Miami Beach. But when everyone has the same idea, vacation rates rise and the goal isn't so attainable on a limited budget.
Instead of paying premium winter airfares and hotel rates, book a spring trip now. An April warm-up in (affordable) Miami Beach sounds pretty good.
According to a recent search on Kayak.com, airfares drop from an average of about $350 in February and March to about $250 in April, and hotel rates also decline. Book a Saturday-to-Monday trip instead of Friday to Sunday, and you can save up to $50 more. Hotel rates are also usually less expensive.
Once you've made it (with a little extra cash in your pocket,) here are some other ways to save:
The Art Deco hotels that line Ocean Avenue paint a classic picture of Miami, but any time of year you'll pay for that oceanfront charm.
If you'd like to hobnob with the crowd from the stylish Delano but don't want to pay $400 or more a night, stay nearby at Hotel18 (230 18th St., 305-672-2789) for about $150 a night. Rooms and suites surround a quiet courtyard just one block from the beach.
Also just one block off the beach is The Kent (1131 Collins Ave., 305-604-5068), where rooms cost about $150 a night. The building still offers a 1930s Art Deco atmosphere, and you'll still be near plenty of bars, restaurants and shopping along Collins Avenue.
If you want something with a little livelier South Beach flavor, walk two blocks west of Ocean Drive to the Hotel Chelsea (944 Washington Ave., 305-534-4069). Trendy rooms in the 1936 Art Deco building cost about $200 per night. There's a nonstop DJ in the lobby, a complimentary happy hour for guests and many of the clubs are a short walk away.
Eat like a local
South Beach can tempt even the most budget-minded traveler with its fine dining. But there is a certain charm in eating like a local.
For a great morning wake-up, sit down for an al fresco coffee and generous plate of granola pancakes at the Front Porch Café (1458 Ocean Dr., 305-531-8300). Located in the Z Hotel, the restaurant offers relaxing seaside dining at a quieter end of Ocean Drive.
Walk up to the casual takeout window at La Sandwicherie (229 14th St., 305-532-8934) for a satisfying sandwich or fresh salad - don't forget the French vinaigrette. You can eat at the outdoor bar or take the food to go for a beach picnic.
Any time of day, sample authentic Cuban cooking at Puerto Sagua (700 Collins Ave., 305-673-1115). Feast on a meal of oxtail stew or shrimp in garlic sauce.
Fun for free
The No. 1 free attraction in Miami Beach is, of course, the expansive beach. But once you've had enough sun, there are other great gratis things to do.
Don't miss the open-air pedestrian strip known as Lincoln Road, between 16th and 17th streets. Grab a treat at a café, shop at the first-rate boutiques or just people-watch as you stroll.
The Mediterranean-style Española Way was first set up as the Historic Spanish Village in 1925. Over the years, it has become a quaint area for art galleries, interesting shops, restaurants and bars.
Finally, take a walking tour of Miami Beach's Art Deco architecture. Print out a list of sites at every trail.com, or get the app for $1.99.
If you were hoping to catch the Food Network South Beach Wine and Food Festival (www.sobefest.com) from Feb. 21 to 24, but have decided to postpone your Miami getaway until spring, don't worry, you have the United Way Miami Wine & Food Festival to fill your void. From April 17 to 20, check out the impressive beer and wine tastings and gourmet dinners.