By: Kara Franker
Tour Miami's historic gems and get a taste of Old Florida.
Did you know that Miami is home to one of the oldest buildings in the Western Hemisphere? Or that Miami boasts one of the most impressive collections of Art Deco architecture in the country? What about the fact that you can swim in a giant fresh water spring at a coral rock quarry? These facts might surprise you, but Miami is full of historically significant structures and attractions. In fact, if you’re looking to dive deep into the eclectic history of Miami, then its unique architecture, geography and historic parks are great places to start.
Old Meets New Architecture on Miami Beach
Reportedly the oldest building in the Western Hemisphere, the Ancient Spanish Monastery is a hidden historical gem located in North Miami Beach. The structure hasn’t always been in Florida. Originally built in Segovia, Spain in 1141, Cistercian monks occupied the building for nearly 700 years. After a social revolution in the 1830s, the Monastery’s Cloisters were seized, sold and converted into a granary and stable.
In 1925, newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst purchased the Cloisters and the monastery's outbuildings, dismantled them stone by stone in Spain, packed the pieces in more than 11,000 wooden crates, and shipped them to the United States. Almost 30 years later, Miami developers took on the painstaking project of reassembling the monastery in the place where it stands today — and there’s nothing else quite like it.
Miami Beach is also home to the famous Art Deco Historic District, where you’ll find the largest collection in the world of Art Deco architecture. Structures featuring white façades, neon lights and sleek designs line one of America’s most exciting streets: Ocean Drive. There, you’ll discover some of the most iconic and most photographed boutique hotels. Including the ones you’ve seen in movies like Scarface and Bad Boys.
Head over to Collins Avenue where you’ll find the Delano and The Raleigh, two South Beach hotspots that have drawn the Hollywood elite for decades. Walking tours presented by the Design Preservation League depart from the Art Deco Welcome Center daily.
Nearby on Meridian Avenue, the Holocaust Memorial is a stunning tribute to the six million Jewish victims of Nazi terrorism before and during World War II. The memorial gardens and sculpture was designed by highly acclaimed architect Kenneth Treister.
Historic Homes in Coconut Grove and Coral Gables
Just across Biscayne Bay, Coconut Grove is home to the gorgeous Vizcaya Museum & Gardens, a National Historic Landmark that was once the winter home of agricultural industrialist, James Deering. Nestled on 10 acres of shoreline and located directly on the water, the mansion has been beautifully restored to its Gilded Age heritage. European antiques and art adorn the main house and lush tropical gardens surround the property. After a tour, enjoy lunch at the Vizcaya Cafe and Shop.
Located a few miles away, the Barnacle Historic State Park is another charming historic home to visit. Not quite as extravagant as Vizcaya, but featuring equally impressive water views, the home was built by Coconut Grove pioneer Ralph Munroe in 1891. Now a Florida State Park, the Barnacle hosts a number of special events throughout the year, including old-fashioned dances and family picnics.
Not far from Coconut Grove, the Coral Gables Merrick House is the restored boyhood home of George E. Merrick, the founder of the City of Coral Gables. Inside the 1920s home, you’ll find a tribute to the real estate developer who built one of the first planned communities in the country, with its streets lined with massive banyan trees and luxurious estate homes — it’s no wonder that Coral Gables is known as The City Beautiful.
Also located in Coral Gables, the Venetian Pool is a historic landmark and swimming pool carved out of coral rock with scenic waterfalls and stone bridges. It’s the perfect place to stop and cool down with a dip in the pool before you set off on your next historic adventure.
A Taste of Old Florida Nostalgia
Take a trip south on Old Dixie Highway and you’ll run into the charming Cauley Square Historic Village. Step back in time and visit the Village Chalet Restaurant and the Tea Room, filled with delicate china, crystal and lace. Stroll along the lovely landscaped pathways and tour specialty antique shops and boutiques.
For a more outdoorsy experience, tour the Deering Estate at Cutler with its 444 acres of natural preserve on Biscayne Bay. Rent a canoe for the day and go on a guided nature walk where you’ll encounter butterflies and other indigenous wildlife. Take a tour of the two historic houses on the property — the Stone House and Richmond Cottage.
Get ready for another adventure, and head out west to the Everglades to experience the dynamic culture and history of the Miccosukee Tribe at the Miccosukee Indian Village & Boat Ride. Tribe members perform live alligator demonstrations, teach beadwork and basket weaving classes, as well as lead scenic airboat tours through the Everglades.
A modern day world marvel, it’s worth the journey down south to the Coral Castle Museum in Homestead. As a tribute to his long lost love, a tiny Latvian immigrant who only weighed 100 pounds, moved and sculpted more than 1,000 tons of coral rock for nearly 30 years, until the project was completed in 1951. The feat has baffled scientists and engineered for years.
Insider Tip: The GoMiamiCard is a multi-attraction pass that gets you access to certain Miami tours and museums, as well as discounts on shopping and dining. Visit attractions like the Vizcaya Museum & Gardens and Coral Castle Museum for free with the card.
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