by Eric Barton | July 5, 2023

Try on a Different Life at One of These Homey Florida Hotels 

These boutique hotels launch you into the Miami community, where you can imagine a life among the locals.

Our room at The Elser Hotel looked north out toward Miami’s iconic Freedom Tower, to whatever the Heat’s arena is called now, to the clump of anonymous highrises in Edgewater, out across the sparkling Biscayne Bay, over toward Miami Beach, and even to the ocean, a distant stretch of blue providing a white-capped horizon. It was late afternoon, and what wasn’t in shadow was lit in an orange glow from the low-setting sun.

The room was just a bed, small couch and a bit of a kitchen, separated in the center by a bookshelf with a TV that magically spun around to face either side of the room. No bigger than a Manhattan loft, it offered the vibe of being a young professional in the city.

The best hotels can do that: give you a glimpse into a life or place that’s new and exciting to you. Even if it’s simply a neighborhood across town, as was the case for me and The Elser, it’s a staycation into someone else’s reality. What if you made that choice to take the job in the city, spent long hours at the firm, coming home well after dark to a quiet studio that glowed with the lights of the skyline? 

In our latest print issue of Flamingo, we wrote about some of the best boutique hotels around the state. Mostly, they’re glamorous places with the sand just steps away, the sound of ocean waves coming in through windows kept open at night. But beyond the boutiques, Florida has a whole lot of other unique places to stay, corporate-owned or dreamed up by a developer to be something entirely new. 

The idea at many of these places is to attract the people who came of age staying at Airbnbs and now fantasize about a vacation in an actual home. These new properties aim to feel less sterile, more like being dropped into someone else’s life.

The Elser opened last year, with 49 stories and 646 units split between hotel rooms and condos. There’s a 132-foot-long pool on the ninth floor that jogs right along the building’s edge. Right there in the pool is a 16-foot LED screen, and you can imagine the residents and hotel guests sipping something cool watching Sunday football, dangling feet into the water. 

This spring, I also had a one-night staycation at The Gabriel South Beach, a collection of four buildings right in the heart of the Art Deco district. Back in my 20s, when my soon-to-be wife and I lived in Fort Pierce, we’d come stay weekends sometimes in South Beach’s historic hotels, in rooms with walls as thin as shower curtains and louvered windows that would rattle from the bass of passing cars. We’d talk about what it would be like to live in the neighborhood just west of there, Flamingo Park, full of low-rises holding restaurant workers who all seemed to skateboard to work. Bustling and always busy, it would be a life of sunburns and industry night happy hours and house parties where four languages would be spoken over salsa music. 

I thought about those trips pulling up to The Gabriel. But these buildings received a renovation and reopened in 2021, still feeling historic but nicely updated. We stayed in the Floridita building, built in 2019 and holding just 12 suites with an open section in the center. Looking up from the ground floor, there’s a swimming pool five stories above, just a wall of glass between you and a swimsuit-clad tourist. It catches you by surprise to look up and see a swimming pool—and also to look down through the pool and see a lounge-like space several floors below. 

Inside, the rooms are gorgeous. Ultra-modern couches and chairs on one side, a low-slung bed on the other, and a wall of windows looking out toward the sweeping sidewalks just west of the dune. Standing there on the balcony that next morning, I could hear restaurant workers setting up chairs, delivery guys unloading crates of vegetables, the crunch of skateboard wheels. I could smell the cafecito and the pastelitos coming from a ventanita nearby. 

This is what it would’ve been like if we chose, all those years ago, to quit everything and move here, this bustling life on the beach. We don’t regret the decision, but it’s nice that we can still step into it, that other choice, if just for a night.