Foodie Travel

South Beach Wine and Food Festival: A Grand Tasting Survival Guide

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Just when winter in most of the rest of the country really starts to suck, a wonderful, beautiful thing happens: the South Beach Wine and Food Festival. I remember last year’s event vividly; I was walking back from the Grand Tasting. And by ‘walking back’ I mean ‘along the beach, in the sparkling blue water, up to my knees’. And as I did so, a single droplet of sweat slid down my back. It was the best droplet of sweat ever, because it was happening outside, in February.

I need to be in Miami right now like I need to breathe. It is cold inside of my room here in Chicago. A brief glance out the window tells me that yep–it’s snowing. Again. Do I want to go out in the cold, sideways snow to get something to eat? No. I want to get on a plane, fly to Miami, and hit up this year’s Sobe Wine and Food Fest.

So. Um. I think I’m going to. And so should you.

Last year, I wrote about SOBEWFF beyond the Grand Tasting. Because there are so many awesome events, dinners, seminars, and tastings beyond the big white tents full of food, yet the majority of people who visit the fest only make it to the Grand Tasting.

Of course, there’s a reason why so many people only choose to check out the Grand Tasting. And that’s because it is pretty damn fabulous. If you are one of the many (many) people planning on attending this year–good for you. If you see me, say hello. But first, check out my survival guide. It is written from the point of view of a woman who loves food but hates crowds. I survived the Grand Tasting, and so can you! Here’s how:

The South Beach Wine & Food Festival Grand Tasting Survival Guide

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  • Wear sunglasses. This is number one for a reason. And it should really read ‘For the love of god, wear sunglasses’. Please see the photo directly above. Does it look bright? Because it was. You are in a white tent on white sand in the sunshine. Even when you are inside the tent, the sides are open to the ocean. Which is lovely. But also blindingly bright. Of course, sitting here in Chicago, I’m not going to complain about bright sunshine. Still. Wear sunglasses.
  • Arrive early. Yes, there will be a line early in the morning, but once the gates open it disappears. And the crowd only gets thicker as the day progresses.  Last year, I visited on both Saturday and Sunday. I arrived on Saturday mid-afternoon, about halfway through the event. It was a lot like arriving at a party two days late (yes, I said two days. People drink at this event, I tell you. They drink like it is their job.) On Sunday, I arrived bright and early. Sunday was a far, far better experience.
  • Pace yourself. When you arrive in the morning, only the village area will be open; the grand tasting tent opens perhaps an hour after the ‘gates’ open. And in the village area, there are all kinds of demonstration spaces, as well as a few bar-like setups serving drinks. By all means, grab a drink as soon as you enter. Maybe grab two. Do not grab six. There will be alcohol available all day and in all different forms. Promise.
  • Don’t get the coconut. Ok. So this is something I always wanted: a coconut with the top chopped off, ideally filled with rum. I do not know why I always wanted one of these. I guess it seems rather exotic. Definitely beachy. And I like beaches. And rum. So when I saw them on offer at SOBEWFF, I was like: I am so going to get me one of those. And I immediately did. Which was stupid, because now I’m carrying around a freaking coconut. And coconuts are big, and heavy. And sticky. It is incredibly difficult to eat anything while carrying one. It is definitely impossible to both eat and photograph what you are eating while carrying one. So maybe skip the coconuts, if they are being offered this year.
  • Take a friend. Speaking of coconuts and food photography: it would have generally been nice to have an extra pair of hands at several points in the day. It would also have been nice to have someone to chat with while standing in line. Because you will be standing in line. So while I did go alone last year–and will likely go alone again this year (hey, anyone want to join me?)–and while I advocate for solo travel in almost every circumstance, SOBEWFF is one of those places where it really would be nice to have a friend or two. It shouldn’t be too hard to convince someone to join you (though, again, I’ve struggled with this. Seriously–anyone want to come with me???)
  • Pace yourself. Yes, I know I said this already. But it bears repeating. Also, you’ll want to pace yourself not just with drinks, but with food as well. You know those lines I referenced? They are a blessing in disguise. I started out the fest getting a bite of food and then eating it while in line for another bite of food. This is a flawed plan. The better option would be: get a bite of food or a sip of drink. Bite and sip, leisurely. Then get in another line. It seems counter intuitive, but really, you’ll be able to enjoy more this way. It will take longer, but what’s your rush? You’re at a food and wine festival on the beach. How could you possibly have anywhere better to be?
  • Expect chaos. This is a popular event. It is stupid, stupid crowded. Like New Year’s Eve Times Square crowded. Like ‘at any moment, you will be physically touching at least five other people with various parts of your body without trying’ crowded. Go in knowing this and relax. And when you need a break, put your sunglasses on and go back out into sunshine and breathe. That’s what I did, and I was fine. Which brings me to…
  • Experience the entire Tasting Village. It’s not all about the big white tents, people. There are culinary demonstrations and celebrity talks and book signings and all manner of other experiences taking place in the village proper. Take the time to check them out.
  • Wear sensible shoes. I was tempted to call this piece of advice ‘don’t break the seal’, but that was a little too graphic (yet I still wrote it, didn’t I?) Because here’s the thing: at some point during the day, you will have to pee. At least if you are drinking. Which you will be. And the ‘restrooms’? They are little portable trailer things set off of the beach on the edge of Lummus Park. So you have to exit the tasting village and walk significantly far through the sand to get to them. I did this twice, I believe. And both times I saw drunken women limping in heels in the sand. Don’t be that girl.
  • Take notes. If you live in the Miami area or, like me, if you visit Miami often, do take notes. Because you will inevitably find yourself wishing you had. Because you’ll want to go out for dinner one night. And you will remember that one amazing bite you had at the fest. And you will be like: where was that again? And you will not remember (possibly because those coconuts are filled with rum). And you will be sad. So take notes. Personally, I like Evernote, or any other note-taking-app. But if all you can manage is to scribble something on a napkin and shove it in your purse–do that.
  • Take a taxi. Parking during the festival is darn near impossible, unless you arrive stupid early (as you well should). So if you are not staying in South Beach (which you totally should, if you can afford it; I can’t) for the love of all that is good and pure, please take a taxi. You will save yourself the frustration of attempting to park and–much more importantly–you will not have to designate a driver. Because no one should drive home from SOBEWFF.

Still on the fence about whether or not to make a trip to the fest this year? I’ll leave you with a few thousand-words worth of photos.  And then I’ll see you there.

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