Doing UM Family Weekend in style: Planning a weekend in Coconut Grove

Posted September 25, 2014


MIAMI— There comes a weekend in early autumn that’s just a little different from the others; frat houses are a bit quieter, bars are emptier and Coral Gables and the surrounding areas just get a little classier.

That’s because the folks who are shelling out $60,000 per year for their kids to receive a University of Miami education come to town to see exactly where their money is going.

UM Family Weekend, taking place Oct. 10-12 this year, brings parents from all over the country and other parts of the world to Coral Gables.

One way for families to create an enjoyable trip is to stay in Coconut Grove, a colorful yet laid-back neighborhood nestled between Coral Gables and downtown Miami, but still close to UM.

Visiting parents often choose to stay in Coconut Grove because of the high quality, although few, hotels in the area. The Mutiny Hotel, The Sonesta Bayfront Hotel, The Mayfair Hotel and The Ritz-Carlton are all located within a few blocks of each other. While these hotels are of similar, high level quality, many families opt to stay at the Sonesta due to the special UM rate they offer; the ambiance and convenience are an added bonus.

“I choose to stay in the Sonesta because of its great location,” said Beth Driks, mother of a UM student, Sarah Driks. “You can walk to all the restaurants and you’re not confined to eating in the hotel’s dining option every meal.”

Parents who might otherwise stay in Miami Beach or Brickell prefer Coconut Grove because of its proximity to UM’s campus. The 10-minute drive (with moderate traffic) separates parents from students is one of the closest options in the city that still has nearby attractions, unlike the Holiday Inn across from campus or other hotels to the south at Dadeland.

Wherever in Coconut Grove the family decides to stay, after hotel check in, visitors should park the car in the hotel garage or parking lot and forget about retrieving it all weekend, save for the football game on Saturday.

Navigating the traffic and parking of Coconut Grove is an unnecessary hassle and expense; visitors are highly encouraged to walk to and from destinations within the village. On most October evenings, strolls along the water are far more preferable to driving up and down side streets to look for a vacant meter or space in a parking garage.

For Friday night dinner, most families, by request of the UM student, will head to Monty’s, a favorite among students, locals and visitors alike. Spanning far along Bayshore Drive, the outdoor restaurant attracts hundreds of patrons each evening, and it’s hard to tell whether the guests keep coming back for the breathtaking view of the sunset over Biscayne Bay, or the fresh seafood and cheap happy hour deals, including half off specialty liquor drinks and discounted beer and wine.

“I like going to Monty’s with my parents,” said student Sarah Driks. “When they visit, we usually walk there from our hotel for dinner and drinks. There’s always people I know and it’s fun to introduce my parents to all of my friends in a fun setting like that. I will definitely be bringing my mom and dad to Monty’s next moth for Family Weekend.”

A quieter dinner alternative is Chart House, Monty’s upscale neighbor. Perfect for a family meal, the restaurant’s dining room overlooks Biscayne Bay and Dinner Key Marina. While dining on a wide range of food options, including prime rib, fresh seafood and a massive salad bar, guests can watch ships sail in and out of the harbor. The atmosphere is a bit swankier than the laid back vibe that encompasses most of Coconut Grove, so this is a spot recommended for more intimate gatherings.

In the same area, tucked behind a large marina stooge building is Scotty’s Landing, which mixes the laid-back vibe of Monty’s with the sit-down, traditional serving style of Chart House. The food is not over-the-top, but the seafood is fresh and the drink specials are noteworthy.

“I went a while back for dinner with my friend’s family and we had such a great time,” junior Seanna Sicher said. “They had a band playing Jimmy Buffett and we were all dancing together doing stupid moves like the mashed potato. A ton of people got up and joined is too! It was super family-friendly and a fantastic experience!”

Another noteworthy restaurant in Coconut Grove is Bice Bistro, a casual Italian restaurant located in the center of Coco Walk shopping center. Ideal for a relaxing meal (perhaps after a long day at Sun Life Stadium on game day), the eatery has indoor dining as well as al fresco, where diners can people watch or enjoy the live entertainment acts under an awning and web of twinkling string lights.

Originating in Milan, the family-run business adds Italian flavor to the culture repertoire of Coconut Grove. The pasta is made with a machine imported from Italy, and the simple, Venetian-style plates are meant to evoke the essence of Italy in Miami.

After a long Saturday spent tailgaiting and cheering for the Hurricanes, visitors will be able to seek solace at one of the many restaurants that serve Sunday brunch. At around 11 a.m. Sunday, Coconut Grove, particularly Commodore Plaza, becomes inundated with stylishly dressed locals and visitors.

Right in the center of the action is GreenStreet Café, a glamorous European-style restaurant that has been a staple in Miami social life for more than 20 years. Celebrity sightings are not uncommon here, especially since the small outdoor tables extend all the way out to almost the street. While locals rave over the brunch menu, the wait time to actually eat sometimes deters patrons.

For those who want the same atmosphere, but less of a crowd, Lulu is right across the street and has a similar ambiance.

“Lulu is less crazy than GreenStreet,” hostess Maggie Rivers said. “We get a lot of people that first tried GreenStreet, but didn’t want to wait three hours for a table. I also feel like Sunday brunch at Lulu is like a community gathering. We get a lot of regulars here and the staff seems to know most of the customers.”

Over on McFarlane Road is a quaint restaurant where Sunday brunch is less of a social event. Attracting a generally older crowd than the other brunch spots, the Peacock Garden Café separates guests from the bustling outside world. The bright, cheery décor, foliage-covered patio dining area and comfort food favorites like the Pecan Waffles with homemade compote are not as chic as the other popular brunch spots, but the experience is no less enjoyable.

Exploring the shops around Coconut Grove is the best way to walk off a hearty brunch, or even to sober up after one too many Bloody Marys.

Many tourists gravitate toward Coco Walk, located in the center of Coconut Grove. Mainstream retailers including Victoria’s Secret, Gap, White House Black Market and Maui Nix are situated alongside high-end boutiques throughout the four-story, open-air shopping plaza.

The best option is to skip the familiar shops and check out the stores unique to this spot, such as Bindi, an upscale women’s clothing store that boasts a “Bohemian Chic” style, and Coco Cigars, where perusing the wide selection of cigars, humidors, lighters and cutters is a cultural experience within itself.

Miami is hot, even in the middle of October. Escape the heat during the day of shopping with a quick stop at Romeo & Juliet Ice Cream, a gelato kiosk on the ground floor of Coco Walk. The shop workers are pleasant and always willing to let customers sample the different flavors of gelato. Most shops don’t allow food in them, though, so the courtyard is a great place to take a seat and unwind with a cool treat after a long weekend in Coconut Grove.

If You Go


The Mutiny Hotel
2951 South Bayshore Dr.
Miami, Fla. 33133

The Sonesta Bayfront Hotel
2889 McFarlane Road
Miami, Fla. 33133

The Mayfair Hotel
3000 Florida Ave.
Coconut Grove, Fla. 33133

The Ritz-Carlton
3300 SW 27th Ave.
Coconut Grove, Fla. 33133


2550 S. Bayshore Dr.
Coconut Grove, Fla. 33133

Chart House
51 Charthouse Dr.
Coconut Grove, Fla. 33133

Scotty’s Landing
3381 Pan American Dr.
Coconut Grove, Fla. 3313

Bice Bistro
3015 Grand Ave. #120
Miami, Fla. 33133

GreenStreet Café
3468 Main Hwy.
Coconut Grove, Fla. 33133

3105 Commodore Plaza
Miami, Fla. 33133

Peacock Garden Café
2889 McFarlane Road
Coconut Grove, Fla. 33133

Romeo & Juliet Ice Cream
3015 Grand Ave.
Coconut Grove, Fla. 33133


3015 Grand Ave.
Miami, Fla. 33133

Coco Cigars
3015 Grand Ave.
Miami, Fla. 33133 #208

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