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Facades don't get much more unmistakeably art deco than the Marlin's pastel-painted masterpiece. The rising central section splits two symmetrical, curving horizontal sections, and the jutting "eyebrows" cover the windows.
The hotel was opened in 1939, and has undergone various incarnations before morphing into the musician-focused, high tech joint it is today. It's also home to the South Beach Recording Studios, where many a track is laid down. There are just 15 rooms, and they are studios in both senses of the word: each comes with full post-production facilities. All the other electronics, meanwhile, are controlled from an in-room iPad. Rooms from $350. See www.themarlinhotel.com .
The Courtyard Cadillac
Added to the US National Register of Historic Places in 2005, the Cadillac manages to retain its sleek, 1940s deco look despite the 21st century addition of a 93-room tower. Slightly to the north of the main art deco district, the Cadillac has a prime position bang on the beach. Inside it has modernised, but still nods to its past with unmistakably deco stripes across the reception desks. The rooms are deliberately bright, colourful and cheery, and the balconies are perfect for clinking sundowner wine glasses on. Rooms from $240. See www.hotelcadillacmiamibeach.com.
The Metropolitan by Como
The exterior is clean, classic art deco without the gaudy flourishes that later crept into the South Beach style. The purists will love the whitewashed, simple elegance of this recent refurb. What was once the Traymore Hotel has now gone superplush. Rooms have soothing Italian design elegance to them, the poolside cabanas are hot tickets and the ocean view rooms have enviable lookouts over the beach. Little extras, such as the free daily yoga lessons and the rooftop hydrotherapy pool linked to the spa, add character-packed points of difference. Rooms from $415. See www.comohotels.com.
The rule of three sections and symmetry applies again at the Tides, but there's also a nod to the later concept of making hotels resemble cruise ships with the porthole windows. Inside the lobby, grandstanding classic deco lights hang down and sunburst symbology adorns the walls. Rooms are huge and have an unshakeably cool swagger to them – shimmery gold work desks, zebra-striped rugs and sink-in superking beds. The hotel also has its own section of the beach marked out, with sunloungers reserved for guests. Rooms from $415. See www.tidessouthbeach.com.
The sunburst bas-reliefs of the exterior give way to some quirky art installations of wolves and panthers. But the Blues Bar – dating back to 1939 and with photos of famous former guests on the walls and a prominently placed piano – strongly maintains the sense of heritage which is regularly leaned on throughout the hotel's decor. Exotic hardwoods and terrazzo flooring in the rooms helps, too. Japanese manga-style art adorns screens dividing the rooms with direct access to the pool, which is long and slender with a glorious compass point mosaic at the top end. Rooms from $375. See www.nationalhotel.com.
The Raleigh's pool has been the darling of photo shoots since the 1940s, and it's an absolute stunner. It's shaped like a baroque mirror frame, and has a gorgeously circular deco lifeguard hut next to it. Unsurprisingly, it's home to one of South Beach's hippest pool party scenes. The restaurant turns up the atmospherics too, with wood panelling, distinctively deco old-fashioned lighting and framed photos of former guests ranging from Gianni Versace to Madonna. Elsewhere, period touches have been thoughtfully retained, and the terrazzo floors are utterly faithful to the deco heyday. Rooms from $320. See www.raleighhotel.com.
The writer travelled as a guest of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau