Miami's Coral Gables for Families
By: Laura Albritton
Drive past Spanish Mediterranean Revival-style mansions tucked away off streets crawling with tropical foliage, named for cities in Spain (Seville, Malaga, Valencia), and you’ll understand why Coral Gables is known as The City Beautiful. Established in 1922 by visionary planner George Merrick, this lovely neighborhood is celebrated for its beautiful homes, European-style plazas, picturesque canals and Royal Poinciana trees bursting with orange-red blossoms. “The Gables,” as locals call it, lures travelers with fantastic boutiques, enchanting tropical gardens and iconic swimming venues perfect for families.
No Ordinary Swimming Holes
One of the most kid-friendly attractions in Coral Gables is the glorious Venetian Pool. This 820,000 gallon swimming hole was created in 1923 out of a coral rock quarry. The atmosphere is rather magical with Italian-style loggias and porticos, caves, waterfalls, and a romantic bridge. Fed by a natural spring, the clear, chilly water feels best on a hot Miami day. A separate shallow pool is ideal for young swimmers, while lifeguards are stationed throughout the complex.
On Biscayne Bay in the southern section of Coral Gables, you’ll discover another ideal family destination, Matheson Hammock Park. “Hammock” in this case does not refer to the mesh sling you hook up between two trees, but to tropical hardwood forests, which have been preserved within the boundaries of this special park. The protected, calm waters of its manmade atoll make it ideal for taking a dip with babies and toddlers. Older kids can learn to windsurf or paddleboard with child-sized equipment at the Adventure Sports Miami concession.
Culture with Kids
Why not see real, live entertainment during your Miami vacation? The Actors’ Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre presents musicals and plays perfect for children throughout the year. Previous productions include Peter Rabbit and the Garden of Doom, Cinderella, and A Christmas Carol. Check their website for upcoming shows and to purchase tickets.
The Coral Gables Museum, housed in the city’s original police and fire station buildings, features exhibitions designed to appeal to adults and children with a focus on local history, design and architecture. On the second Saturday of each month, check out the free Family Day on Aragon when kids can make crafts, listen to music, hear stories and watch films.
Next door to the Coral Gables Museum, don’t skip the original outpost of Miami’s best loved local bookstore Books & Books, which has an excellent kids section and garden café perfect for a bite to eat.
If your children are new to art museums, the University of Miami’s Lowe Art Museum will give them an accessible introduction with its manageable size and range of work. Their permanent collection includes a Monet painting and a fourth century Greek krater (mixing bowl). Their Asian section ranges from a Chinese Tang Dynasty horse to Korean Lion-Dog sculptures. The Lowe’s galleries also display art of the Americas, Africa, and the Pacific Islands.
A Botanical Paradise
Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden showcases a huge lush, tropical landscape with various exhibits: Windows to the Tropics, Wings of the Tropics butterfly conservatory, a palmetum, a rainforest, arboretum, succulent section, and Keys coastal habitat. The narrated tram tour is a must. You’ll learn many entertaining facts, such as why the peeling gumbo limbo is called the “tourist tree” and which plant is endearingly known as “Mr. Stinky.” Plus, taking the tram helps little feet from getting tired. The gardens also contain the Glasshouse Café and the Lakeside Café, two great places for a healthy family lunch, along with an alluring gift shop.
Shopping à la Gables
Miracle Mile, Coral Gables’ main strip for dining and shopping dates back to the city’s origins in 1922. For over 90 years, families have strolled the Mile for leisurely afternoons of shopping and dining. At the western end of Miracle Mile, you’ll spot City Hall with a large statue of George Merrick. High-end children’s stores like Bellini, Sweet Amor Baby, and Baby Tots’ Den will appeal to parents looking for beautiful furniture and clothing. Grownups wishing to indulge will find everything from exquisite jewelry to bathing suits.
Restaurant options range from the casual chain restaurant to the more exotic, like Ortanique on the Mile serving Caribbean fusion.
More fabulous shopping possibilities await at the upscale Village of Merrick Park, a three-story plaza built around a spectacular outdoor courtyard with palm trees and tropical greenery. Toddlers and little ones looking to burn off some steam can play a game of tag around the central fountain before enjoying a cool frozen yogurt.
Department stores Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom anchor the development. Children’s shops include Janie and Jack and Pottery Barn Kids. Adults may want to stop by Anthropologie, L’Occitane or Hugo Boss. When it’s time to eat, you’ll find plenty of choices from sushi to Italian. Nordstrom’s Cafe Bistro serves scrumptious meals like a Niçoise salmon salad and steak frites and their kids’ menu proves perennially popular with young ones.
Whether you and your children want to shop ‘til you drop, explore a natural beach or experience art, Coral Gables entices visitors and locals alike with its irresistible, historic style.
Laura Albritton is the author of the guidebook Miami for Families: A Vacation Guide for Parents and Kids (www.MiamiForFamilies.com). Laura has guest blogged for popular travel websites Uncommon Caribbean, Your Life is a Trip, and Authentic Florida; she also reviews books and art for the Miami Herald, Sculpture magazine, The Florida Keys Weekly, and Harvard Review.
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