South Florida-based travel writer Sara Liss breaks down why this posh enclave is more than its famous mall (and also shares why the Bal Harbour Shops are actually fabulous).
The storied “village” of Bal Harbour, with its million-dollar penthouses, opulent hotels and upscale shopping has a way of conjuring images of bauble-clad ladies sipping Kir Royal cocktails on café patios next to piles of shopping bags. And yes, this slender mile-long beachfront town has always exuded an air of exclusivity. But this coastal town is constantly evolving, welcoming new shops, restaurants and attractions with each season. The remodeled Bal Harbour Shops is attracting cross-generational shoppers in search of the perfect toro tuna tartare as well as luxury goods. And there’s a cultural presence here, with galleries and a town-sponsored public art program that infuses this enclave with a jolt of creativity and edginess. To usher in the city’s busy season, we’ve gathered the best things to do and see in this beachfront locale.
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The city’s “Unscripted” public art program brings art and culture to public spaces throughout the neighborhood with permanent installations and programming like opera performances or classical music concerts on the beach. Many blue-chip pieces are stationed along or near the beachfront, starting at the northern end with Manolo Valdes’s bronze rendition of 18th-century Puerto Rican painter José Campeche y Jordán’s “Dama a Caballo.” (Other works by Valdes on display in Bal Harbour include his bronze “Butterflies” and “Triple Butterfly” sculptures) Further south along the beach, Jeff Koons’s “Seated Ballerina” takes her chrome seat amongst the palms. Next, New York-based, Swiss-born Ugo Rondinone’s “2,000 Year Old Olive Tree” is a captivating white-enameled aluminum cast of an actual Italian olive tree from Naples, Italy. The collection gets updated every year.
Another perk of Bal Harbour life: the city provides all residents and hotel guests with its Art Access Card, granting complimentary admission to many Miami museums including heavy hitters like The Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) and the Bass Museum.
Bal Harbour Shops is reportedly the most lucrative “mall” in America per square foot, with a bevy of luxury brands showcasing everything from ornate watches to exquisite handbags. But the shops are also more of a tropical oasis than the typical retail center, with a focus on creating a serene experience through lush foliage, fountains, koi ponds and lovely spots to sit and have coffee or a glass of wine. While the current roster of boutiques includes houses like Gucci, Stella McCartney, Dolce & Gabbana, and Chanel, the shops are also undergoing a major expansion which will almost double their square footage and welcome new retailers and restaurants to the fold. Celeb-spotting is virtually guaranteed here, and the shops host events throughout the year as part of the Access membership program (its app is free to download and open to all), which includes perks like shopping rewards, cocktail parties, yoga and complimentary coffee and parking.
Ear candy fanatics were elated when piercing guru Maria Tash opened her only Miami location inside the shops in 2021. The New York-based brand is best known for its earrings—and a myriad of piercings which can be administered in-store. Tash, the company’s founder, has been in the jewelry business since 1993, and created the ‘Curated Ear’ concept, customized piercings designed to the wearer’s ears and style—and tempting brave ones to opt for the “snug” cartilage piercings with her jeweled creations. Be sure to check out her Mohawk collection, inspired by the ‘80s punk scene, and the Faceted collection, which draws on the silhouettes of stilettos.
Shopping in Bal Harbour isn’t all designer goods and bespoke suits. Independent bookseller Books & Books has a charming store in the Shops, in addition to their locations downtown and Coral Gables. While the store carries a variety of literature, the Bal Harbour location focuses on large design and art books, many of which pay tribute to Miami’s Deco era.
The Shops have come to be a culinary destination in the last decade with the opening of Stephen Starr’s Makoto restaurant which was an instant hit when it opened in 2011. Led by Chef Makoto Okuwa, the Japanese eatery managed to be something for all types who frequented the shops—from ladies who lunched on spicy crispy tuna to parents pushing designer strollers to food bloggers looking to refuel on pristine sushi and sake cocktails. In 2022 the restaurant got a refresh and a new dining room on the third floor of the Shops, in a new space outfitted with wicker chairs and flowered upholstery that many have called “Golden Girls Chic” by the world renowned designer India Mahdavi.
On the first floor is also Starr’s French bistro Le Zoo with excellent classics like escargot, Trout Amandine and profiterole serving as the perfect accompaniment to the outdoor patio seating where you can ogle the million-dollar sports cars that pull up to the shop’s valet. On the second floor is Hillstone, a favorite amongst locals who go for the strong cocktails, spinach-artichoke dip and always-perfect French Dip Au Jus sandwich. Newcomer Aba has also proven to be a hit with locals who come for the fresh Mediterranean mezze and kabob platters and stay for the dessert of Greek yogurt soft-serve.
If you’re perusing the shops with little ones, a stop at Bianco Gelato is a fun way to round out a visit to the destination. Located on the third floor, the frozen treats emporium uses only organic ingredients and specializes in vegan flavors as well as old school scoops. Their blue milk cookies and cream is made with blue spirulina for a unique spin on the classic staple.
This content was created in collaboration with Bal Harbour Village and published by Indagare Travel.