Posted October 23, 2013
By ISABEL BRADOR
PINECREST, Fla. — Tight budgets and stretched paychecks can be enough to strangle anyone’s wanderlust. Thankfully, for those who live in Miami-Dade County, there are 35 incorporated cities and many other unincorporated areas to satisfy their inner wanderer.
As the economy slowly moves forward, the art of “stay-cationing” is still something which any seasoned traveler can learn to appreciate, especially between those often pricey international jaunts.
The key to “stay-cationing” is a sense of adventure and an appreciation for the unconventional. The entire process is more like a treasure hunt and, since “stay-cationers” live in near or in the areas they’re exploring, visitors can take their time to enjoy each neighborhood gem as quickly or as slowly as they want.
With this in mind, Miami “stay-cationers” should consider areas other than the typical South Beach touristy hotspots and explore the rest of Miami.
Some of the least explored incorporated areas are the cities of Pinecrest and Palmetto Bay.
Often dismissed as cookie-cutter suburbs, these two areas offer two major finds that are common knowledge to many locals: Pinecrest’s Pinecrest Gardens and the Palmetto Bay’s Deering Estate. While the areas lack boutiques and the fine dining of South Beach, they make up for it by offering visitors a chance to explore South Florida sans the clubs, the neon signs and the suffocating throng of tourists. Visitors can stop to catch their breath and explore the natural side of South Florida.
The trendy and small village of Pinecrest is one predominately made up of idyllic suburbs, and small parks; this usually indicates that a traveler has entered into suburbia. Yet, the city of Pinecrest can offer a day filled with exploring if the stay-cationer knows where to look.
Nestled among rows of houses with well-manicured lawns, and armadas of high-end mini-vans is Pinecrest Gardens. The 20-acre park is filled with lush native foliage, enormous banyan trees and winding nature trails. The cool breezes, small walkways and make visitors feel as if they’re exploring their own personal jungle.
The park originally opened in 1936 under the name Parrot Jungle. The park’s founder, an Austrian named Franz Scherr, envisioned a tourist attraction in which guests could see tropical birds up close. After its opening, the attraction grew to become a popular tourist hotspot prompting Winston Churchill to visit. While Parrot Jungle is no longer there, the attraction has been moved to Watson Island, the park still offers guests a look at native tropical foliage and exotic birds. Additionally, the park feature jazz and art festivals, movie nights and gardening classes along with a small water playground for children.
On Sundays, part of the parking lot is transformed into a farmer’s market. Tucked underneath tall banyan trees, the market provides a welcomed change of pace from normal grocery shopping. The vendors offer samples of their wares and the laid back attitude easily makes visitors feel at ease. Guests are able to shop for fresh organic produce, native plants as well as many natural and organic products.
The market is also a great place to grab a bite to eat after or before touring the gardens. While the vendors are subject to change, guests can usually find fresh squeezed lemonade, teas, Arnold Palmers, as well as a variety of different foods. The conch fritters stand, usually located at the front of the market, has the best conch fritters north of Key West. Guests should remember to have cash on hand, as many vendors only take cash; though more and more are beginning to accept credit cards.
Fridays through Sundays are the best days to visit the park due to the fact that most festivals and movie nights occur on those days. The park’s website has an up-to-date calendar which has all the events which occur at the park. If weekdays are the only days available, coordinate the visit with a trip to a county park. Suniland Park, located a short drive away, hosts free yoga in the park on certain weeknights and is a great spot for a picnic. This information is available online at the park’s website.
The small and fairly new Village of Palmetto Bay is usually unnoticed by most South Floridians. Yet, there are places which make the drive and the battle on U.S. 1 well worth a visit. The Deering Estate at Cutler, with its expansive trails and elegant mansion, is one of those places.
After the death of the Charles Deering in 1927, the estate’s owner, the 444-acre property sat unoccupied for about 60 years. Thankfully, its present day usage offers a myriad of interesting activities for visitors.
Visitors can tour the historic house which belonged to Charles Deering, or take one of their many natural wildlife tours. During the weekends, through the months of October through May, the natural tours available depend on the week. Visitors who plan on taking the tours should plan their weekend visit according to the tour calendar available on the estate’s website. The tours range from an exploration of Florida’s pinelands to a butterfly garden tour. There are also a wide variety of special nighttime tours, and tours, which focus on conservation, this information is also available on the estate’s website.
Regardless of the day week, the historic homes and grounds are open for visitors to explore and experience an earlier version of Florida. The historic house has a prohibition cellar with original bottles, and guided tours are available, free of charge, for those who want to hear the story behind the each of the rooms in the turn of the century mansion.
The estate also has a banyan boardwalk, which enable visitors to walk through a banyan grove and appreciate the natural beauty of wild south Florida. The estate is focused on conservation and preservation and offers birding tours and conservation education programs. There are also weekly fitness classes available, various types of yoga and Pilates, for those who need to exercise even while on stay-cation.
The south-dade areas features places where both the tourist and the South- Floridian can enjoy these quiet neighborhoods and their subtle connection to nature. Pinecrest and Palmetto Bay offer up an opportunity to re-connect with the natural south Florida and learn something about your own neighborhood along the way.
If You Go
- Where: 11000 Red Road Pinecrest Fla., 33156.
- Time: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., fall and winter. 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., spring and summer, Farmer’s Market 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sundays
- Admission: $3, adults and $2(ages 2-17)
- Parking: Free
- Website: http://www.pinecrest-fl.gov/index.aspx?page=34
- Tips: Bring swimsuit or extra clothes for water playground, also cash for farmer’s market.
- Where: Suniland Park, 12855 Pinecrest Parkway, Pinecrest, Fla.
- Time: Sunrise to Sunset
- Parking: Free
- Admission: Free
- Tips: Bring a picnic basket, or a blanket to layout and enjoy the shade.
- Where: 16701 SW 72 Avenue, Palmetto Bay, Fla. 33157
- Time: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (last ticket is sold at 4 p.m.) year round, except Christmas and Thanksgiving
- Admission: $12, adults. $7 (ages 4-14)
- Parking: Free
- Website: http://www.deeringestate.org/index.aspx
- Tips: Tours are free, but are limited, make sure to check website for tour times. Picnic baskets are welcomed.