Miami beyond South Beach: Suburban areas have much to surprise visitors

Posted October 1, 2015


Miami Beach and the Miami area tend to elicit images of beaches flaunting more people than shore (and people flaunting more tanning lotion than clothes) mixed with the bright lights of LIV, Mansion and Space blurring out the blaze of the night sky.

There’s the young, the eccentric, the devastatingly beautiful, the DSM-5 mad. It’s not exactly an advertisement for tranquility or silence, and it certainly doesn’t lure family vacationers over the way some of its Florida counterparts do.

But there are, however, some flashes of green untainted by the grey of pollution or the rainbow of overcrowding. They hide quietly in the subtler streets of Coral Gables, Pinecrest and Coconut Grove, whispering of fresh water, painted horizons, exotic plants and delectable treats. Miami Beach may flourish as a siren’s call to an explorer at sea, but these are Miami’s true secret treasures.

Deering Estate, for one, marks 460 acres of Old Cutler Road and has the ability to draw one into an earlier, isolated time – a simpler one. It served as home to Charles Deering’s two estates, which overlook Biscayne Bay and are flocked by a variety of ecosystems on either side. Richmond Cottage, the oldest of the two buildings, was home to Samuel Richmond and his wife for four years before they made it an inn in 1900.

Back then, it would have cost a meager $1 to stay inside the cozy walls and catch a glimpse of the ibises roaming around the backyard or sit by the marble fireplace.

When Charles Deering purchased the place in 1916, he added another, larger, more meticulous structure next door that adopted the Mediterranean revival style. The façade is coated in limestone to create a vintage feel, and flashes of nature spring through the architecture, from the seahorses, monkeys and snakes that mount the Doric columns, to the seashells and hard coral that float on the ceiling.

“You can tell how much Charles was obsessed with nature. He was a huge conservanationist and he worked so hard to preserve the nature surrounding the properly,” said Anna Guzman, a tour guide for the park.

Deering was also an aficionado of art and books, collecting more than $60 million worth of art and a diverse array of first edition novels. It is said that at one point, the checker-tiled room that is now used for wedding receptions was so overrun by artwork that you couldn’t put a finger between two paintings. Sadly, the works, some of which were by Renoir, Rembrandt and El Greco, have gone to museums, but the walls are still coated in art – though these embracing local artists, many with serene, impressionistic styles.

Outside, beyond the bay, lays a view of Chicken Key (named so because the Native Americans that at one time occupied the land named the ibises chickens), where you can take one of the monthly canoeing trips to and enjoy a campfire and smores. The park also houses a burial mound, a fossil site, a mangrove trail, a hardwood hammock and an area of endangered pine rocklands.

“I fell in love with this place because of the natural areas. This is the perfect place that you can expose people to all different types of ecosystems through canoeing and hiking and bike rides,” said Ellios Holna, the group sales manager. “I didn’t know how much history we had here … like did you know we have a saber-toothed cat jawbone and a wooly mammoth bone?”

A short 10-minute drive to the north on Old Cutler Road stands Matheson Hammock Park, which offers its own particular beauty. The park is a family favorite for picnics and swimming, a hot spot for photographers and a perfect romantic day-trip for couples. Visitors can drive in to the man-made beach and marina or opt for walking through the alluring swamp flooded with wildlife such as mangroves.

“This has to be my favorite place in Miami so far,” said Valentina Rojas, a tourist from Venezuela. “There is something so serene about it. I love how I can come here and just sit under a palm tree and look at a beautiful view and not have to worry about anything.”

The view Rojas is referring to is the downtown Miami skyline that can be seen from Biscayne Bay, which glitters in the morning and night and gives a flash of the metropolitan part of Miami.

The beach features shallow waters that entice all ages to swim, and Biscayne Bay, which only adds to the ambiance, offers kayaking classes. The neighboring marina gives access to the bay and there’s also Red Fish Grill, a restaurant on the shore that serves delicious fresh catches for dinner and sandwiches for lunch as only a waterside restaurant can.

Down the street, Fairchild Botanical Garden features its own intoxicating views and rich, diverse wildlife. The garden was opened in 1938 through the work of David Fairchild and has evolved into a hodgepodge of flowering trees, butterflies, plants and animals, as if an extension from “Malifecent’s” enchanted forest.

The garden is one of the few botanical gardens in the U.S. and draws people from all over the world to relax or study nature or observe the many iguanas that have laid claim to the place.

“It’s all about the plants and the people … You’re just happy here,” said Mary Rivenbark, whose been working at the information desk for 12 years.

One can enjoy a sandwich at the café with the backdrop of the exotic butterfly garden, watching species from as far as Africa sway around their new home. If visitors prefer water to wings, the lakeside café will quell your both your stomach’s appetite, and your visual one.

Many events throughout the year add a new level of amusement to the garden. The mango festival, one of its most popular attractions, draws thousands of people from all over the world to taste, buy, or go to luncheons that have different chefs from all over Miami.

Other events include the yearly ramble, a huge tea party where people bring in items to sell and the proceeds go to the park, as well as the Gala in the Garden, the Edible Garden Festival and the Butterfly Days.

“For me, this place has always been about getting away from the craziness of Miami and just connecting with my true roots,” said Eric Sanders, a long-time member of the park. “I come here every Sunday to do yoga. Everyone here is just so warm and welcoming, it definitely adds to the experience.”

The beauty of all of these places is that you can easily do them all in one day. That being said, there’s another local finery that is known for its charming ambiance and distinct flavors – the Pinecrest Wayside Market, and it’s only a five-minute drive away. The tiny market and juice bar is renown for its smoothies and shakes – banana freeze, key lime, papaya, mango mania, and of course, the all-time favorite: strawberry.

The owner, a jovial man named Eli Tako emphasizes Miami’s lack of a true intimate, informal environment.

“We are really old fashioned here. We use index cards instead of computers, and we will know customers by name and sometimes let them just buy something when we’re closed or pay for it later. We try to make it different than places like Publix or Whole Foods,” Tako said.

The market is lined with rows of freshly plucked fruits and vegetables, which are what make their smoothies so unique and delicious – they’re all natural.

“We get people from South America who tell us they love it and this place reminds them of home, and we think that’s important, bringing people together with good food and good times.”

Of course, there are plenty of other places to see and smell and taste and enjoy in the quiet but lively suburbs of the city. Pinecrest Gardens, which used to house Parrot Jungle, is a beautiful garden that hosts jazz festivals, art shows, tours, horticulture series’ and the most popular attraction – the Green market on Sundays. Come eat organic veggies and savor rare fruits amidst the view of the blossoming garden lit up by the Florida Sunshine.

Ultimately, there are more shades to Miami than what is present on the aerial view shots of “CSI: Miami.” There is serenity, variety and culture, all which will leave one feeling replenished rather than depleted once they make it back to Miami International Airport. Recharged and relaxed – but still very, very tan.

If You Go

Deering Estate

  • Address: 16701 SW 72nd Ave., Miami, Fla. 33157
  • Phone: 305-235-1668
  • Hours: Everyday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Prices: General admission is $12 for adults and $7 for children ages four to 14
  • Website:

Fairchild Tropical Garden

  • Address: 10901 Old Cutler Road, Coral Gables, Fla. 33156
  • Phone: 305-667-1651
  • Hours: Mondays through Fridays: 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays: 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
  • Prices: Adults: $25, Seniors: $18, Children: $12
  • Website:

Matheson Hammock Park

  • Address: 9610 Old Cutler Road, Miami, Fla. 33156
  • Phone: 305-665-5475
  • Hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Parking: There are free parking spots outside, but there is a 15-minute park to get to the park from there. There is also parking inside, which costs $5 on weekdays and $7 on weekends. Only cash is accepted
  • Red Fish Grill hours: Fridays through Sundays from 5-10 p.m. and Tuesdays through Thursdays from 6-10 p.m.
  • Picnic Shelter Rate: $192.60. Fits 75 people

Pinecrest Wayside Market

  • Address: 10070 SW 57th Ave., Miami, Fla. 33156
  • Phone: 305-661-6717
  • Hours: Monday to Saturday 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Pinecrest Gardens

  • Address: 11000 Red Road, Pinecrest, Fla. 33156
  • Phone: 305-669-6990
  • Hours: Monday to Friday 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. during fall and winter, Monday to Friday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. during spring and summer