Bal Harbour: The Alternative to Party-Hard Art Basel

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View of the RitzA bird’s-eye view of the Ritz (Photo: Courtesy of the Ritz-Carlton Bal Harbour)

Just a lick away from Miami Beach’s bulging bodies, vodka-fuelled super-clubs and blinged-out Art Basel fair (Dec. 4–7), you’ll find the swank enclave of Bal Harbour. Once largely regarded as a shopping mecca thanks to Bal Harbour Shops (balharbourshops.com), the village’s laid-back resorts and burgeoning community art scene now offer culture without the flash. Here, your curated stay.

Yabu Pushelberg St RegisThe Yabu Pushelberg-designed lobby at the St. Regis (Photo: Courtesy of the St. Regis Bal Harbour)

Say Ahhhhhh…
The Yabu Pushelberg–designed St. Regis (stregisbalharbour.com) has set the standard for epic R&R with its beach­front views (every room has ’em), private cabanas, butler service and serene Remède Spa. For a buzz, check out the nightly champagne sabering—and swigging—in the main-floor bar. If you’re still jonesing for art, I found the sculptural crème brûlée with poached apple at the hotel’s J&G ​Grill (jggrillmiami.com) a sufficient fix.

Bal Harbour BeachAn unobstructed view of the beach from a plush St. Regis lounge chair
Darren Waterson AbstractA Darren Waterson abstract presides over the Ritz lobby

Down the street, the Ritz-Carlton (ritzcarlton.com, formerly the One hotel)—equally moneyed but more discreet—has long, winding hallways that reveal $4 million of contemporary art. The huge Darren Waterston abstract in the lobby and the Jay McCaffertys in every room (each painstakingly made by burning holes into parchment with a magnifying glass) are the cornerstones of its collection.

Jun Kaneko CeramicA Jun Kaneko ceramic from the Ritz’s contemporary art collection (Photo: Courtesy of the Ritz-Carlton Bal Harbour)

Stick to the (un)script
Unscripted, a public art project started in 2012, essentially picks up where Basel leaves off. By tapping Miami-Dade County artists who created public works for the village—as opposed to the megawatt names who come for the fair—or pairing community artists, collectors and critics with international contemporaries for its monthly chats, it serves to enlighten both locals and tourists. I swiped my Unscripted access pass (available to guests of any Bal Harbour hotel) for free entry to Miami’s smaller art fairs and eight of its art institutions—including Pulse (pulse-art.com) and Untitled (art-untitled.com), plus the latest Herzog and de Meuron beacon, the Pérez Art Museum Miami (pamm.org), and the Rubell Family Collection (rfc.museum).

Mark Handforth light installationBal Harbour’s Unscripted pass gets you into Miami museums for free; don’t miss this fluorescent-light installation by Mark Handforth at the Pérez Art Museum Miami (Photo: Courtesy of the Ritz-Carlton Bal Harbour)

For this year’s Basel-adjacent program, Unscripted’s curator, Claire Breukel, has set up a conversation between Guggenheim Museum curator Pablo León de La Barra and Cuban performance artist Tania Bruguera (Dec. 7). They’ll discuss Bruguera’s latest project: gathering signed postcards from a group of collaborators to be sent to Pope Francis.

Jimmy ChooPlay artist by customizing your own Jimmy Choo pumps at the stiletto maker’s Bal Harbour outpost (Photo: Courtesy of Jimmy Choo, Bal Harbour Shops)

The Art of Shopping
If you’re more into applied arts (but maybe lack actual skills), play design virtuoso with Jimmy Choo’s custom shoe service at the Shops. Choose your material (satin, leather, snake—or crocodile for the high rollers), heel height and style; they’ll be ready in eight weeks. (Just in time for another visit.)

Textile Samples for Jimmy Choos(Photo: Courtesy of Jimmy Choo, Bal Harbour Shops)

If you’d rather just look like an art star—all black!—get your uniform at Rag & Bone. Fancy yourself more of a patron? Grab some Chanel, Alaïa, Givenchy or Céline at Miami concept boutique the Webster’s Bal Harbour outpost. (FYI, its men’s shop just opened, making it the ideal place to send both bored and sartorially challenged boyfriends.)

Rag and BornWhen you’re not beach-bound, stock up on denim at the recently opened Rag & Bone (Photo: Courtesy of Rag & Bone, Bal Harbour Shops)