Posted November 13, 2012
By ALEXIS KANAREK
CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Located just a short drive from Miami, Coral Gables offers unique architecture, a tropical atmosphere, and plenty of activities, whether planning a visit alone, with friends, or one’s family.
Synonymous with good taste, Coral Gables is the prefect destination to enjoy Mediterranean-Revival architecture, museums, luxury spas, well-manicured golf courses, and some of the best cuisine in South Florida.
With more than 150 local restaurants that serve 26 different types of cuisine, Coral Gables has become a hub for foodies who have a taste for unique, top-quality food. From outdoor barbecues and food and wine festivals, to cafes and five-star restaurants, this city has become known for the quality and diversity of its restaurants and the numerous food festivals it hosts.
From restaurants like Café Abbracci, an Italian local favorite, to Hillstone, a national chain, Coral Gables has a variety of cuisines to choose from and enjoy.
One can also experience the city’s unique cuisine by visiting some of its popular farmers’ markets, which satisfy appetites for fresh foods, one-of-a-kind spices, delectable snacks, and cooking presentations.
The Coral Gables Farmer’s Market attracts thousands to the city’s annual January-March street market. Located in Merrick Park and along the Biltmore Way in front of City Hall, the farmers’ market will be extended until May for spring 2013, giving fans more times to enjoy good food and a local tradition.
The city also hosts the annual Coral Gables Food and Wine Festival, every March, and the Gables Gallery Night, which takes place on the first Friday of every month. This Great Gables Gallery Stroll takes place along Ponce de Leon Boulevard and offers a unique pedestrian adventure involving fine art and food.
One simply parks their car and visits dozens of galleries with free transportation within the pedestrian district. One can hop on any one of the Coral Gables Trolleys, which circulate Monday through Friday, and go from gallery to gallery.
It is evident that this city offers more than just good food. Coral Gables provides a cultural experience as well, through its theatre productions, concerts, festivals, lectures, art films, gallery events, and exhibits. Festival Miami, the first-ever gallery night in the region, the Mostly Mozart Festival, the award winning GableStage, and the Actor’s Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre and New Theatre, all originated in Coral Gables, displaying the distinctive, yet diverse culture throughout the city.
One could also attend one of the events or art lectures at the Coral Gables Museum, which has been open for less than a year, or visit the Lowe Art Museum located at the University of Miami. With various unique exhibits, including Introspection and Awakening: Japanese Art of the Edo and Meiji Periods, the Lowe Art Museum features Miami’s most comprehensive collection of western and non-western art.
If in the mood for salsa and samba, one can attend Coral Gables’ annual Carnaval. During Carnaval, held in March on Coral Gables’ famous Miracle Mile, a two-mile stretch is taken over by food, children’s activities, exhibitions of art and jewelry, and performances by more than 30 musical groups.
Similar to its culture, Coral Gables’ architecture is unique, yet diverse and can appeal to almost every taste. From city founder George Merrick’s early style, resembling Spanish castles, to today’s modern architecture, the city boasts an array of architecture that harmonizes the old and new. One can explore the city’s numerous villages, representing various styles, including French Normandy, Italian, Chinese, Dutch South African, and Pioneer.
One could also visit the various historic landmarks within the city, like Coral Gables City Hall, the De Soto Fountain, and the Alhambra Water Tower, one of the city’s hidden gems. The Merrick House, for example, is the oldest structure in Coral Gables and was built more than 90 years ago. Located in on Coral Way, the Merrick House is also one of the few structures from that time period that has survived the hurricanes that plague the area.
The Biltmore Hotel, built in the 1920’s, is one of the city’s most notable landmarks. Restored and reopened in 1987, the Biltmore became a luxury golf and spa resort with historic features, highly acclaimed restaurants, and state-of-the-art facilities. With its 150 acres of tropical landscapes and a world-famous golf course, this hotel is the ideal place to stay when visiting Coral Gables.
However, its steep rates, at around $400 a night depending on the season, drive many tourists to other more affordable accommodations. If this is the case one should not be deterred from looking up promotional rates, commonly offered on the hotel website, or at least going to the Biltmore to have lunch, book a spa treatment, or play a round of golf.
The Venetian Pool, included in the National Register of Historic Places, is located just minutes away from the Biltmore Hotel. Built in 1923 from a coral rock quarry, this 820,000-gallon swimming pool is fed with coral spring water and surrounded by two waterfalls, coral caves, and grottos. Open every day except for Mondays with activities such as swimming, snorkeling, and scuba, the Venetian Pool is a great way to spend the day, whether trying to relax or have fun with friends and kids.
“I took my kids to the Venetian Pool the last time I stayed in Coral Gables and they loved it,” said Tanya Serure, a 29-year-old mother of three, who visited the city’s landmark last year. “They couldn’t get enough of the waterfalls and cave.”
Restaurants, museums, pools, and festivals are just come of the activities Coral Gables has to offer. One could book a guided excursion into South Florida’s tropical terrain or learn about the area’s flora and fauna at the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. Located off Old Cutler Road, this 83-acre natural preserve has something for everyone and offers guided walking tours, tram tours, and special seasonal events.
With numerous parks, museums, and attractions meant for the whole family, Coral Gables is the right destination for a fun family trip. Jungle Island, Miami Sea Aquarium, Miami Museum of Science and Planetarium, Zoo Miami, and Monkey Jungle, all in or near the Coral Gables area and no more than 30 minutes away, are just some of the few family activities available throughout the city.
However, one of South Florida’s most coveted attractions are its beaches, which have gained international fame through their warm water, white sand, and beautiful weather. With plenty of beaches to choose from, including Crandon Park and South Beach, Coral Gables’ well-situated location is enough to cross this activity off any tourist’s checklist.
For those looking to enjoy the beach, but are not willing to endure the 10-minute car ride to Key Biscayne or the 20-minute drive to South Beach, Matheson Hammock County Park is located within Coral Gables, on Biscayne Bay.
Popular among locals and lacking much of the crowd of the more publicized beach areas, Matheson County Park features a 45-minute nature trail, a marina, a man-made atoll pool, quiet beaches, and shallow waters frequented by kite surfers. The Redfish Grill, the park’s gourmet restaurant, the Castle Harbor Sailing School, and its offshore fishing charters provide tourists and locals with plenty of entertainment.
Although famous for its culture, Coral Gables is also known for its shopping and nightlife. Miracle Mile in the historic center of the city and the Village of Merrick Park, just 5 minutes apart from each other, are Coral Gables’ most prominent retail districts.
Known for its bridal shops, Miracle Mile is the historic Coral Gables downtown and has become a district of restaurants, retail shops, bookstores, hotels, and residents.
The Village of Merrick Park, on the other hand, is a more modern, upscale shopping center that includes retail giants like Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Coach, and Burberry. It has become one of South Florida’s premier upscale shopping destinations and a popular spot for dining and entertainment.
“Coral Gables is one of my favorite places to be outdoors, walk around, and shop,” said Liora Cain, a 28-year-old Mexican tourist who frequents Coral Gables. “I especially enjoy the shops at Merrick Park because they have the stores I like to shop at, but if you are looking for a good meal and a nice place to walk around, you can never go wrong on Miracle Mile.”
When the sun begins to set one can plan to take in a show at one of the theaters or listen to a Mozart or modern concerto performed by UM students at the Frost School of Music. Then head over to any number of bars and restaurants for live bands and drink specials.
Whether planning a family vacation or simply trying to get away, Coral Gables has become a top tourist destination. Just a five-minute drive from the nearest airport, it offers easy access to the I-95, the Florida Turnpike, and Miami’s expressway system, allowing one to explore not only all Coral Gables has to offer, but all South Florida has to offer.
IF YOU GO
Miami International Airport
Address: 2100 NW 42nd Ave., Miami, Fla. 33142.
Address: 1200 Anastasia Ave., Coral Gables, Fla. 33134.
Rate: $450 for standard room (including tax).
Courtyard Miami Coral Gables
Address: 2051 S. LeJeune Road, Coral Gables, Fla. 33134.
Rate: $200 for standard room (including tax).
Address: Village of Merrick Park, 358 San Lorenzo Ave., Coral Gables, Fla. 33146.
Average entrée: $15.
Address: 201 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables, Fla. 33134.
Average entrée: $25.
Address: 223 Valencia Ave., Coral Gables, Fla. 33134.
Average entrée: $20.
Matheson Hammock Park
Address: 9610 Old Cutler Road, Coral Gables, Fla. 33156.
Address: Miracle Mile, Coral Gables, Fla. 33143.
Village of Merrick Park
Address: 358 San Lorenzo Ave., Coral Gables, Fla. 33146.
Travel tip: Food, transportation and entertainment can be expensive in these areas.
POPULAR PLACES NEAR CORAL GABLES
Although Coral Gables has plenty to offer, tourists can still enjoy its surrounding areas while visiting, including South Miami, Coconut Grove, Key Biscayne, and even South Beach. Only minutes away from Coral Gables with even more landmarks, beaches, and nightlife, these surrounding areas provide even more reasons to visit this vibrant city.
“The Vizcaya Museum and Gardens is one on Miami’s few historical landmarks that predates the rail road, and has special significance to the area,” said Isadora Shawn, a 65-year-old former docent for Vizcaya. “It is not just another museum, it gives visitors a full experience, stimulating all their senses.”
The Vizcaya Museum and Gardens was created in the 1920’s to look like an Italian villa that had stood for over 400 years. Sprawling over ten acres of serene gardens, which include themed sections, fountains, and a pool, Vizcaya provides visitors with a breathtaking view of Biscayne Bay and an idyllic location for a picnic or stroll.
“The estate has many unique attractions, which open the door to a different century, including its maze garden, silver vaults, and hidden doors,” said Shawn.
“Vizcaya is a porthole into another time, it allows visitors to peer into a Gatsbyesque lifestyle at the turn of the century, while getting a feel for the eccentric nature of James Deering, who built the house complete with secret doors and hidden passageways.”
If in the mood for a nice day by the beach, Crandon Park is located in Key Biscayne, just seven miles from the Gables, and offers calm waters, soft sand, and a two-mile stretch of beach. Filled with picnic tables and grills, Crandon Park is great for a fun family cookout, as opposed to South Beach with its not so family-friendly environment.
Bill Baggs Cape Florida State, also located in Key Biscayne, just a mile from Crandon Park, features a lighthouse and allows for a relaxing or active day at the beach, giving visitors the opportunity to rent bicycles, kayaks, beach chairs and umbrellas.
If Miracle Mile and Merrick Park aren’t enough to satiate one’s need to shop, one could visit the Red-Sunset district, an outdoor shopping center similar to Merrick Park that also offers a movie theater, bowling alley, and different variety of stores, restaurants, and price ranges, including American Apparel and Panera Bread.
With UM students filling up Cocowalk, Coconut Grove’s outdoors shopping center, every Tuesday and Thursday night, there are plenty of places to go and people to see. With a marina, a movie theater, plenty of shops, restaurants, and bars, walking around, and for some barhopping, the Coconut Grove area is the perfect way to spend an evening.
Monty’s Raw Bar, a seafood restaurant with an infamous Friday happy hour overlooking the water, is a staple and a necessary stop in the Coconut Grove experience.
However, the night doesn’t end there.
Mr. Moe’s Restaurant and Bar, Tavern at the Grove, and Barracuda Raw Bar and Grill are all favorites for students and residents in the area.
For those not so into the college bar scene, the notorious South Beach with its upscale clubs and nightlife scene is only a 20-minute car ride from the Gables area. With clubs like LIV, Wall, and Mynt and bars like Hyde and FDR, South Beach is the ideal place to be for a night out resembling that of a celebrity’s.