Although South Beach ’s reputation as a vacation destination for the rich and famous leads most folks to assume that hotel accommodations in the area are universally high-priced, it’s important to remember that South Beach wasn’t always such a glamorous outpost. There are quite a few hotels in the area that could easily be considered a bargain.
Guest rooms in most of them are quite small, and the decor is usually not the most sumptuous, but the art deco architecture and central location of places like the Majestic Hotel (660 Ocean Dr., 305/455-3270, from $135 d) manage to more than make up for its relative lack of glamour. Still, guest rooms are spacious, clean, and bright, with reasonably up-to-date furnishings, and some of the guest rooms have great ocean views.
Another good bargain is the Villa Paradiso (1415 Collins Ave., 305/532-0616, from $139 d); with its location right on Collins Avenue, the guest rooms are surprisingly calming, with views of the quiet courtyard. More like cute (if cramped) studio apartments than standard motel rooms, the suites are good for those looking for a comfortable and inexpensive place to stay in the heart of South Beach.
The Royal Palm Resort (1545 Collins Ave., 786/276-0177, www.royalpalmmiamibeach.com , from $149 d) is a large, relatively modern high-rise hotel with over 400 guest rooms, many of which are suites. The guest rooms are equipped with new bathroom fixtures and flat-screen TVs but still have a bit of a worn feeling. The “resort” designation is earned by the presence of two outdoor pools, beachfront cabanas, two bars, a restaurant, a fitness center, and the availability of various water activities. For history buffs who may be confused by the name, this property has no connection with the Royal Palm Hotel that was Henry Flagler’s first hotel in the city, opened when Flagler extended his Florida East Coast Railway into Miami  in 1897.
Blessed with a great location on Collins Avenue in the heart of South Beach , the Blue Moon Hotel (944 Collins Ave., 305/673-2262, www.bluemoonhotel.com , from $145 d) could get away with charging quite a bit more for the clean and well-equipped guest rooms in its classic-looking building. As it stands, though, the guest rooms are an incredible bargain. Even “standard” guest rooms are spacious and stylishly appointed, with phones, TVs, in-room safes, minibars, and coffee-makers, while the somewhat larger “deluxe” guest rooms are more conveniently located, with better views and slightly larger floor plans. While the Blue Moon may not be an optimal selection for families—all guest rooms have one queen-size bed—couples looking for reasonably priced and centrally located lodging could do a lot worse.
The Beachcomber Hotel (1414 Collins Ave., 305/531-3755, from $119 d) is a charming small hotel that manages to combine an inexpensive lack of pretense with aspirations to boutique-style intimacy. With fewer than 30 guest rooms, the Beachcomber is quiet—or at least as quiet as popular budget accommodation in South Beach can hope to be. The staff are pleasant and helpful, and though the standard guest rooms are a bit cramped, a few larger suite-style guest rooms are available.
Next door is a sister hotel, the Nassau Suites (1414 Collins Ave., 305/532-0043, www.nassausuite.com , from $249 d), an all-suite resort property; guests at the Beachcomber can use the Nassau’s gym and business center.
For all the bright colors and inventive design one encounters in South Beach, it’s surprising that so many hotels in the area take themselves so seriously. While the staff at The Kent (1131 Collins Ave., 305/604-5068, www.thekenthotel.com , from $149 d) are definitely serious about providing guests with a pleasant stay, the decor seems solely procured for the purpose of putting a wry smile on visitors’ faces. Edging right up to the line of kitschiness—think lots of toys and plastic—yet balanced with a modern sense of style—think lots of sharp lines and brushed metal—the atmosphere at the Kent is especially welcoming to those with a sharpened sense of irony. The guest rooms aren’t the largest on South Beach, but neither do they raise the “is this a room or a closet?” question that some hotels in the area do.
With a similar sense of bold and whimsical style, The Catalina Hotel & Beach Club (1732 Collins Ave., 305/674-1160, www.catalinahotel.com , from $149 d) is a blast out of the ’60s retro-futurist past. Combining both the ornamental excess and the plasticky colors of jet-age chic with a refined modern touch (although one must wonder exactly where on that spectrum the Tempur-Pedic mattresses fall), the Catalina exudes the sort of visual decadence that so many visitors to South Beach  are searching for. With more than 130 guest rooms spread over two buildings it doesn’t quite feel like a boutique hotel, but its individualistic flair makes it feel far more intimate than it really is. Guest rooms are beautifully appointed with upscale fixtures and flat-screen TVs, and the restaurant (Kung Fu Sushi), lounge, and two swimming pools round out the glamour factor.
For a while, many visitors to the Hotel Astor (956 Washington Ave., 305/531-8081, www.hotelastor.com , from $179 d) never made it past the restaurant in the basement; the Metro Kitchen + Bar was a preferred spot for B-list celebs and those who sought them out. Now that the Metro is closed and replaced by the even more stylish yet less star-infested Maison d’Azur, where it is still just as hard to get a reservation for a table, getting booked into one of the gorgeous and intimate guest rooms at the Astor is still pretty easy. The 40 freshly renovated guest rooms in this 70-year-old art deco building are beautiful, although the views generally aren’t, and they are incredibly comfortable, with adjustable lighting, soft mattresses, and upscale appointments. Even better, despite the Astor’s relatively central location and the popularity of its lounge and courtyard, the guest rooms manage to be pretty quiet.
The Abbey Hotel (300 21st St., 305/534-2114, from $185 d) is a block away from Collins Avenue, which is enough to make it feel like an oasis miles away from the activity of South Beach. Nonetheless, it’s still just a couple of blocks from the beach itself and walking distance to the clubs and nightlife of Ocean Drive . Guest rooms are small but modern and stylish, playing off the building’s beautiful art deco architecture.
The Clevelander (1020 Ocean Dr., 877/532-4006, from $199 d) is best-known for its late-night parties and raucous poolside scene, so despite its classy art deco exterior, those seeking a peaceful evening of rest in a historic building should look elsewhere. Those looking to indulge (or overindulge) themselves will find copious opportunities and won’t mind stumbling back to guest rooms that still show their age despite recent attempts to dress them up with flat-screen TVs and nice linens.