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A Taste Test: Tips for Surviving The South Beach Wine & Food Festival

March 3, 2014 at 2:32 PM | by | ()

Last weekend, Food Networkís South Beach Wine & Food Festival devoured Miami, bringing in thousands of tourists to the Magic City.

The last time we saw a crowd of this size flock to South Florida was for Art Basel. While both events draw a champagne-chugging, hors devours-loving bunch, the vibe at SOBEWFF was so much more relaxed (read: not snobby) and we found people to be a lot friendlier to their fellow SOBEWFF attendees.

Maybe itís the beach. Maybe itís the booze. Maybe itís the fact that no one attending SOBEWFF is a grouchy, starving artist. Not for long, anyway.

At times, the crowds can be a claustrophobic cluster and the humidity deadly, but we enjoyed the excuse to day drink, wander about some of SoBeís coolest hotels and reveled in the many opportunities snap selfies with some of our favorite celebrity chefs. After four days spent in Miami living on small bites and booze, we discovered that the South Beach Wine & Food Festival is the bucket list item we never knew we had. Here are some tips on how to make the most of your visit:

1. Get a hotel room on Collins Avenue or within walking distance from South Beach:
Itís going to be super expensive and nearly impossible to find a room, but itís worth it and apps like HotelTonight or Hotel Room Alerts make the search a little easier. If you think youíre going to find a cab between SOBEWFF events, be prepared to wait upwards of 30 minutes to an hour, even for just a short drive.

We stayed at The Loews Miami Beach, SOBEWFFís host hotel, and it was so convenient to be able to walk from our room, through the hotel pool area and onto the beach, where many of the big events were held. When we wanted to take a cab from Loews to the Fontainebleau, we found ourselves waiting half an hour for a five minute cab ride. Luckily, we were able to make friends while waiting in line and shared a cab with other SOBEWFF attendees heading our way.

The Fontainebleau Lobby

2. Budget For Parking:
If you do drive or rent a car, budget extra for parking. If you can even find a spot, itís going to be pricey. Hotel valets will charge between $30-50 per day, and often you have to be a guest of the hotel. If youíre willing to fight for a spot in a street garage, fees are $5-10 an hour and there are no in and out privileges.

3. Bring ear plugs:
If you do score a hotel on Collins Avenue and you happen to be a light sleeper, ear plugs will save you. Otherwise, be prepared for the sweet sounds of Sammy Hagar to rock you to sleep.

4. Take advantage of the beach in between tastings:
Are we the only ones that didnít know that the microcosm of tasting tents that make up the Grand Tasting Village was right on the beach? As in, when youíre tired of waiting in food lines, you can fill up your SOBEWFF glass, chill out on South Beach and go back in when you feel like it? Food festivals held in parking lots or inside ballrooms just donít compare any more. Also, for beach events, ladies ditch the heels and wedges. There is a lot of walking and the sand is not kind. After a while, you can even stow your flip flops in a tote bag because itís not weird to see people walking around barefoot.

A tasting at the Ritz-Carlton South Beach

5. Check out the large scale events, but do attend a more intimate gathering:
If crowds really arenít your thing, skip the Grand Tasting events altogether, and attend SOBEWFFíS private lunches and dinners instead. There are usually fun themes, fewer people, celebrity chef hosts and better quality food (full plates vs. bites).

On our way back to our hotel room from the Grand Tasting, we felt a bit of FOMO once we saw how much fun the Big Gay Ice Cream Social was at The James Royal Palm Hotelís pool. (Count us in for next year!)

Another benefit to attending the smaller events is the indoor locale. Many events are in hotels, giving guests a welcome break from the Miami heat and a chance to scout a place to stay for the next festival or South Beach vacay.

In particular, The Fontainebleau was the perfect venue to host Wine Spectatorís Best of the Best fine dining restaurant tasting. The resort had just as many chandeliers as champagne bottles, and probably even more marbling than the gourmet steak samples served.

Who knows, now that weíve gotten a taste of what itís like to eat and drink like the rich and famous, maybe weíll fit right next year at Art Basel.

The Food Network South Beach Wine and Food Festival is set for February 19-22, 2015. Might want to get your hotel booking in now.

[Photos: BrandyAlxander for HotelChatter and Twitter]

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