Seductive samplings of yesteryear elegance.
Just as New York City is an amalgam of diverse neighborhoods, districts, and boroughs, Miami is far more than just the city itself. Along the coast are Sunny Isles, Bal Harbour, South Beach, Key Biscayne and, further inland, picturesque Coral Gables.
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The restored Merrick House is available for tours twice weekly
Big Cypress Reservation
Located seven miles southwest of downtown Miami, the planned community is largely the creation of George Merrick. In the boom years of the early 1920s, he envisioned Coral Gables as a city of Mediterranean Revival homes, a fantasy-inspired municipal swimming pool, the University of Miami, an opulent resort, and a commercial district serviced by a trolley.
It’s all still here—even the trolley. And it is all fabulously seductive.
In contrast to the high-octane energy of South Beach, Coral Gables is refined, elegant, and understated. A good starting point is Coral Way, whose retail center, Miracle Mile, is akin to Winter Park’s Park Avenue. Exploring the shopping district can occupy several hours—even more if you have a penchant for independent bookstores. The original Books & Books (305-442-4408, booksandbooks.com) attracts bibliophiles and visiting authors.
The stunning Venetian Pool
Following your walking tour, take a drive. First see the Coral Gables Merrick House, where the Merrick family lived before the land boom went bust following back-to-back hurricanes in the 1920s. After that, Merrick was on a path from developer to postmaster. From here, explore surrounding neighborhoods where nearly every home is a work of art… and the city swimming pool is a masterpiece. After Merrick used up the contents of a limestone quarry constructing homes and buildings, the depleted space needed to be repurposed. From this, Merrick’s uncle, artist Denman Fink, designed the Venetian Pool with an Italianate fantasy theme. The only municipal swimming pool listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the 820,000-gallon Venetian is highlighted by palm trees, tropical flowers, waterfalls, and quiet “beaches.” Spring for a day pass and enjoy the sensation of splashing in the waters or lazing on the sands.
A few blocks away is another example of Merrick’s vision; the historic Biltmore Hotel, whose castle-like design was inspired by La Giralda, the bell tower at Spain’s Seville Cathedral. Set in the middle of a residential district, the 15-story resort casts a commanding presence over the community—just like the memory of George Merrick. coralgables.com
Luxury and history are omnipresent at The Biltmore Hotel, the towering focal point of Coral Gables. The resort offers fine dining, golf, and the largest hotel swimming pool in America. Even if you don’t stay over, it’s worth a look. biltmorehotel.com
Built in 1926, Hotel Place St. Michel has tiled floors, vaulted ceilings, and antiques chosen with care, and it’s just blocks from Miracle Mile. This charming 28-room boutique property brings a bit of the Parisian Left Bank to the heart of Coral Gables. hotelstmichel.com
Many locals insist Havana Harry’s serves the best Cuban food in Miami. And who would know better? Churrasco steak, mango chicken, seafood parrillada, guava barbecue pork chops—and plenty of house-made mojitos and fruit-flavored daquiris. havanaharrys.net
An American option is Hillstone, where steak, chicken, fresh fish, burgers, and salads are served in a trendy setting (with prices to match) in the heart of Miracle Mile. hillstone.com
Robert Is Here Produce Market
To truly appreciate the diversity of Miami, take a drive south to Florida City. Soon you’re in farmland where, just a few miles east of the Turnpike, you’ll find Robert Is Here. The roadside produce market has become a popular tourist destination because of a well-deserved reputation for its astounding variety of fruits, vegetables, and honeys that you won’t find anywhere else. Don’t miss the legendary handmade fruit shakes.