Image: Shore Club
AP; The Shore Club
It's an open secret that celebrities stay free at the Shore Club. But they also come for the sushi: the 14 Nobu restaurants around the world are synonymous with celebs. When in town, this is where Lance Armstrong and Matthew McConaughey shack up.
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updated 11/25/2008 11:05:26 AM ET 2008-11-25T16:05:26

It’s a problem you’d never have in, say, St. Paul or Seattle. You see a sexy woman on the street. She’s got designer sunglasses, a clingy dress and an entourage. Is that a celebrity? Or does she just look like one? In Miami, these questions pop up all the time.

The Magic City has evolved. The sun-drenched shores that were once a granny paradise have been transformed into a playground for the rich and the decadent. Money, fame and sunshine just seem to go together.

As the city’s stock rose, stars settled in. Celebrities who make their homes in Miami include Matt Damon, Alex Rodriguez, Anna Kournikova and Pharrell Williams, just to name a few. A growing film industry ("CSI: Miami", "There’s Something About Mary", "Marley & Me") has brought more famous faces to town. These days, the sandy strip of South Beach is one of the most celebrity-dense stretches of real estate in the world. It hosts almost as many stars as Oprah’s couch.

When the Setai Hotel opened in 2006, the jet-set crowd practically lined up at the door. GHM Hotel Group—best known for properties in Bali and Kuala Lumpur— brought a touch of Asia to South Beach. Except for select nights like New Year’s Eve, when Jennifer Hudson and Hilary Duff have performed, the hotel shuns the party scene that’s common at other oceanside hotels—which is precisely why celebs drop their bags here. The pool area is closed except to hotel guests, but try to lunch at the outdoor grill and you may spot actresses like Christina Ricci reading a book in a lounge chair.

In the 1990s, fashion designer Gianni Versace seemed not to mind that his oceanfront mansion, Casa Casuarina, was one of the only residential properties amid the bars and shops on South Beach. That changed, of course, when he was shot and killed on his doorstep (where morbidly inclined tourists still snap photos). The fabulousness of the property lives on, though; it’s been converted into an exclusive restaurant, hotel and event space. Name a celebrity who’s been to Miami—Fergie, Enrique Iglesias, Snoop Dogg, Matt Leinart—and they’ve either eaten, partied or slept here.

The nightclub Mansion has become something of an institution. Designed with curved, sweeping staircases and huge chandeliers, it’s made to look like partygoers have taken over Daddy Warbucks’ place. It’s huge, cavernous, young and loud, and few places are more reliable for celebrity-spotting. Look for big names—Tommy Lee, Ashlee Simpson, Kobe Bryant—to take the stage, or chill in the corner booths in the VIP section.

Tried and true, the Shore Club hotel remains a pit stop on any celebrity itinerary. Eat at Nobu and have a drink at Skybar, the outdoor lounge, or in the smaller and more exclusive Red Room. Jessica Simpson’s gone swimming here, and Lance Armstrong stopped by to mingle with Miami’s ladies.

Since 2004, Prime One Twelve, the steakhouse inside the historic Browns Hotel, is where couples have met for a romantic dinners and businessmen have sealed deals over filet mignon. (Even the hot dogs and meatballs are made from Kobe beef.) Just as delicious, if less caloric, are the ever-reliable celebrity sightings. In one of the strangest ones ever reported, President Bill Clinton dined here with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Star Jones and University of Miami president Donna Shalala.

While trendy spots come and go, the Ritz-Carlton remains a solid celebrity standby. Hotel concierge Kristin Koslow says that’s because “we go to great lengths to meet and exceed the expectations of even our most particular guests. In fact, one celebrity requested ten cases of Smart Water to steam her clothes… And she needed it in one hour for a VIP event she was attending that evening. Of course, we made that happen.”

Lincoln Road is Miami’s famous outdoor shopping promenade of cute boutiques, trendy cafes and touristy restaurants. Tyra Banks buys makeup at Browne’s & Co; and when Jay-Z and Beyonce get hungry, they shut down Italian restaurant Quattro so that they can have the restaurant to themselves. Other celebrities pick up items like Marc Jacobs kids’ clothes at upscale childrens’ store Genius Jones. If you walk down the street and wonder, “Hey, is that Ricky Martin?”—well, it probably is.

Image: The Ritz-Carlton South Beach
AP; The Ritz-Carlton, South Beach
Celebrity guests at the Ritz-Carlton South Beach include Russell Simmons, Britney Spears, J-Lo and Marc Anthony. Look for famous folks on the balcony of the $5,000-a-night presidential suite, or spot celebs on the beach.
The Mandarin Oriental Hotel is off South Beach and on subdued Brickell Key—making it the terrain of A-listers. Janet Jackson has had treatments inside the spa, and Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes sleep here when they come to town. For $1,548, the hotel offers a “Miami Nights” package that includes a chauffeured night with your personal VIP Nightlife Guide who can provide access to the best clubs. For $25,000, guests can ramp up the package to include a makeup artist, a fashion shoot, a personal shopping guide and a stretch Hummer. Late checkout? No problem, it’s included.

So many celebrities eat at Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink that when world champion tennis player Roger Federer stopped in after a match, restaurant staff didn’t even notice him. They were too busy fielding questions about Owen Wilson, Jennifer Aniston and John Meyer. The Design District hangout offers fresh, unpretentious food like exotic mushroom pizza or slow-roasted Berkshire pork shoulder with cheese grits. Chef Michael Schwartz says, “The celebrities found the restaurant like everybody else and for the same reasons: great food in a comfortable setting and friendly service. We have a reputation for not making a big scene about them and I think that makes the restaurant even more attractive because they come and are themselves, unguarded.”

No celebrity gawking adventure would be complete without a cruise through Star Island, Miami’s most exclusive chunk of land. Although Shaquille O’Neal and Rosie O’Donnell moved off the small enclave of 35 homes, Paris Hilton hosted a party last year at the residence of billionaire businessman Thomas Kramer. And, not long ago, Woody Harrelson was spotted jumping off a resident’s dock. There’s an intimidating guard gate at the entrance, but the road is public—so security will let in anyone who asserts their right to take a spin on Star Island Drive. Alternately, do your spying by jetski.

Photos: Miami: Sunshine statement

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  1. Tower to the people

    Lifeguard towers on Miami Beach are colorful and easy to distinguish. Lifeguards care over swimmers who play nearby, and the towers make a great meeting place when surrounded by an endless area of sand, surf and beach umbrellas. (Richard Cummins / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Hot spot

    Thousands of people descended on Miami Beach for Super Bowl XLIV between the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts. The city hosted a number of private and public events ahead of the big game. (Roberto Schmidt / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Wet and wild

    Jet skis cruise along Biscayne Bay near Miami Beach Marina. Tourists visiting the Bay can enjoy a number of recreational activities, including snorkeling, sailing, kayaking and more. (Richard I'anson / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Life's a beach

    South Beach, also nicknamed "The American Riviera," is well-known for celebrities, chic lifestyles and, of course, beaches. The man-made beach runs along the Atlantic Ocean for miles. (Richard I'anson / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Savoring history

    The Art Deco district of South Beach is a hot spot for celebrities and is home to eccentric residents. The district has more than 800 buildings, built in the '30s and '40s, that are architecturally protected, helping its image as a chic, popular destination. (Randy Faris / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Ear to the ground

    Caribbean Flamingos -- this one eats from a pond at the Metro Zoo in Miami -- gets their color from the carotene in its diet. (Robert Sullivan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Dolphins walk, whales fly

    The Miami Seaquarium is a popular attraction that features eight marine animal shows. General admission tickets cost $37.95, and kids between the ages of three and nine get in for $27.95 (plus 7 percent sales tax). (Jon Davison / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Luxe lodgings

    The Biltmore Hotel of Coral Gables "has been a favorite of world leaders, celebrities and sports stars since its opening in the 1920s," its Web site boasts. The resort features 275 rooms, including 130 suites, a spa and fitness center. (The Biltmore) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Pretty in pink

    Classic buildings aren't the only thing visitors to Miami Beach will find. Vintage cars are often spotted in the Art Deco district. The annual Art Deco Weekend hosts a classic car fest where proud owners can show off their treasures. (Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Colorful celebration

    A dancer wears a costume as she participates in the Miami Carnival. The carnival has been an annual event since 1984. It has grown from a small neighborhood festival to an international event bringing live bands and calypsonians from the islands. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Collins mix

    The renovated Delano Hotel (left), National Hotel (center) and the Sagamore Hotel line up Collins Avenue in Miami Beach. The city has a concentration of over 800 Art Deco buildings all within one square mile. (Roberto Schmidt / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Double-tall MOCA

    Miami's Museum of Contemporary Art "is internationally recognized as a force in defining new trends and directions in contemporary art," its Web site says. Admission is $5 per person, $3 for students and seniors. MOCA Members and kids under 12 can enter for free. (MOCA Miami) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Bass appeal

    The Bass Museum of Art was established 47 years ago ater Miami Beach accepted the art collection of John and Johanna Bass, and agreed it would maintain the works and make it available to the public. (Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Different strokes

    A visitor looks at "Thinking" during Art Basel Miami Beach back in 2008. "Art Basel Miami Beach is the most important art show in the United States, a cultural and social highlight for the Americas," the event's Web site boasts. This year's event takes place Dec. 2-5. (Juan Castro / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Reflective moment

    Artist Jude Papaloko is reflected in a mirror on a painted wall in his gallery, the Jakmel Gallery, in Miami. (Lynne Sladky / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Feeling the groove

    Club patrons enjoy themselves on the dance floor at Mansion nightclub in Miami Beach, Fla. Once thought of as a place to visit Grandma in January, Miami's reputation as a party city has grown since the days of "Miami Vice," through the birth of the Art Deco fashion district in the early 1990s and the more recent explosion of the South Beach club scene. (David Adame / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Port of call

    Frequent cruisers can be forgiven for seeing Biscayne Bay and Miami simply as a departure point. However, the area offers a wealth of activities and events that can satisfy tourists with a variety of different interests. (Jeff Greenberg / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Can I get a refill?

    The Venetian Pool in Coral Gables, Miami, started out as a quarry pit and was transformed in 1924 into the Venetian Casino. Now, more than 100,000 people visit Venetian Pool each year. During summer months, the pool is drained nightly and replentished from a subterranean aquifer. (Richard Cummins / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Year of the crab

    Plates full of cracked stone crab claws are ready to be served at Joe's Stone Crab in Miami Beach. Joe Weiss opened a lunch counter in 1913, and the eatery has been serving the public for 97 consecutive seasons. (Wilfredo Lee / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Feeling the beat

    A crowd dances to the rythmic sound of congas at a local latin club in Calle Ocho (8th street), the main street of the Little Havana district of Miami. (Roberto Schmidt / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Home field

    Miami's Sun Life Stadium hosted Super Bowl XLIV on Feb. 7, 2010. The New Orleans Saints defeated the Indianapolis Colts by a final score of 31-17. (Dave Cross / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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