48 Hours: ‘City Beautiful’ Coral Gables gives visitors much to experience

Posted October 10, 2016


Nicknamed the “City Beautiful,” Coral Gables is one of South Florida’s oldest and most historic areas. Designed with Mediterranean influences, the city, incorporated in 1925, features lush, tree-lined avenues, mighty, opulent buildings, winding roadways, and lots of green space. George Merrick, founder of Coral Gables, set out to create one of South Florida’s most beautiful and expansive cities, offering everything from museums and playhouses to dining destinations and outdoor hangouts.

Today, Coral Gables remains one of South Florida’s most sought-after destinations. It’s home to the first art museum in South Florida, along with Venetian Pool, Actors’ Playhouse, the University of Miami and the iconic Biltmore Hotel. The city also boasts the flagship store of South Florida’s beloved bookseller, Books & Books, which features hundreds of author events throughout the year. As for dining, hundreds of eateries offer a range of cuisine and experiences, from fine dining to New American and fast-casual.


1. 12 p.m., Visit the Lowe Art Museum

What began in three small classrooms in 1950 quickly grew into South Florida’s first official art museum. Founded in 1952, the Lowe Art Museum at the University of Miami features more than 17,000 objects, with collections of Renaissance and Baroque pieces, plus American, Native American and Asian art. The free-standing museum is used as a teaching resource for the university but encourages locals and tourists to explore its grounds as well. While you’re at it, stop by the university bookstore to pick up some Canes gear


It’s never too late for an eggs benedict (Photo by Clarissa Buch).

2. 3 p.m., Shop and dine at the Shops at Merrick Park

Every city needs a shopping center. But instead of the traditional strip malls found in most South Florida neighborhoods, Coral Gables boasts an open-air retail destination. The Shops at Merrick Park feature high-end brands from around the world, including Burberry, Gucci, Jimmy Choo and Tiffany & Co. There are fitness spots too, such as the indoor boutique cycling studio SoulCycle and the full-service gym Equinox. Chef-driven eateries like Brasserie Central and 320 Gastrolounge, as well as popular chains such as Yard House and Teavana, round out the culinary offerings. The luxury center is Coral Gables’ go-to spot for a workout, a new outfit and a quick meal, all in one place. Plan to spend the better part of the day here, dividing your time evenly between the mall’s retail offerings and an evening bite. If you fancy tapas-style dining, try the newly-opened 320 Gastrolounge, which offers live music on Friday and Saturday nights. The only downside is this is one of the area’s most expensive destinations.

3. 9 p.m., See a movie at Coral Gables Art Cinema

One of Miami’s newest movie spaces, the Coral Gables Art Cinema is the city’s destination for independent and international films, classic movies and film festivals. Though the space has only one screen, the theater offers a bevy of flicks that often change nightly. The seating is comfortable, the screen is large, the sound is crisp and the design is swank, so many local moviegoers consider this theater before other conventional or mainstream options. This weekend, a special flick on the Beatles’ touring adventures will be screening.


4. 9 a.m., Go for a morning swim at the Venetian

Created in 1923 from a coral rock quarry, Venetian Pool draws thousands of tourists each year to its 820,000-gallon aqua-blue swimming hole. Its grottos and waterfalls, which reflect Mediterranean influence, were designed by real-estate developer George Merrick. Inside the pool, spring water is pumped in from an underground aquifer, making the water clear as day. The pool area, which is open to the public, also features two historic lookout towers. Mornings are less crowded at the Venetian, making it an optimal time to visit the site.

5. 12 p.m., Read and eat at Books & Books

Contrary to the popular belief that “print is dead,” Books & Books brings paperback to life. As the Gables’ resident bookstore, founded in 1982, the independent shop is the city’s main spot for literature, offering everything from new releases to classics, along with a myriad of author events. The shop hosts a different happening nearly every day, bringing authors from near and far to present their works, discuss timely topics and chat about all things literary. There’s also a café inside the store, offering farm-to-table eats for hungry readers, along with monthly gatherings for philosophy buffs and poetry aficionados. Whether you’re in the mood to browse, catch a glimpse of your favorite writer or have a bite to eat, Books & Books covers it.

6. 3 p.m., Walk or Bike the Old Cutler Trail


Spend the evening having dinner on Miracle Mile (Photo by Clarissa Buch).

Journey under canopies of large, lush trees and through some of the most historic green areas of Coral Gables. The trail, which is mostly shaded, is perfect for an afternoon bike ride or early-evening jog. Begin at the northern end of Old Cutler, located at the intersection of Old Cutler Road, Sunset Road and LeJeune Road in Coral Gables, and travel south to its end, which then connects to the 2.7-mile Biscayne Trail. The course stretches 11 miles, journeying beyond the Gables’ city limit.

7. 6 p.m., Eat on Miracle Mile

Cool down with an ice-cold beer and a few plates of food along Miracle Mile. Downtown Coral Gables features dozens of restaurants offering a range of cuisines and ambiances, from gourmet to casual. Snag craft cocktails at Copper 29; pizza, pasta and wine at Cibo; or Caribbean fusion at the local mainstay Ortanique on the Mile.

8. 8 p.m., See a play at Actors’ Playhouse

Actors’ Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre produces both main-stage and children’s theater, along with educational activities and community service events. Founded in 1988, the company spent its first seven years of existence in a converted Kendall movie theater. In 1995, the playhouse partnered with the City of Coral Gables to renovate the historic Miracle Theatre. The art deco space was transformed into the company’s new home thanks to an $8 million renovation. With plays year-round, Actors’ Playhouse offers a diverse and extensive lineup of everything from intense dramas to musical theater and comedies.


Have brunch at the iconic Biltmore (Photo by Clarissa Buch).


9. 11 a.m., Have brunch and roam the Biltmore

The Biltmore is a Coral Gables icon. The 1926 landmark dates back to the days of Prohibition-era glamor, exuding luxury and opulence. In the early 1920s and 1930s, the Biltmore was frequented by celebrities, socialites, royalty and even President Franklin D. Roosevelt. But glitz and glamor aside, the building has a spooky past thanks to the murder of gangster Thomas “Fatty” Walsh and the temporary re-purposing of the Biltmore as a military hospital during World War II. Despite its rumored ghosts, the hotel is still one of the most sought-after destinations in South Florida. Every Sunday, the lavish courtyard hosts one of the finest brunches in town. But if creepy stories are more your thing, the Biltmore also offers walking tours that touch on its mysterious past.

If You Go

  1. Admission is $12.50 for adults and $8 for students; 1301 Stanford Dr., Miami; 305-284-3535; www6.miami.edu/lowe/.
  2. Expect to spend about $50 to $70 on dinner; 358 San Lorenzo Ave., Coral Gables; shopsatmerrickpark.com.
  3.  Tickets cost $10.75 for adults and $10 for students with an ID. 260 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables; 786-385-9689; gablescinema.com.
  4. Admission is $12 for adults and $7 for children; 2701 De Soto Blvd., Coral Gables; 305-460-5306; venetianpool.com.
  5. Plates, which range from soups and salads to sandwiches and pasta, cost an average of $10. 265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables; 305-442-4408; www.booksandbooks.com/
  6. miamidade.gov/parksmasterplan/library/OCT.pdf.
  7. Prices range from $10 to $20 for an entrée. shopcoralgables.com
  8. Tickets start at $30; 80 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables; 305-444-9293; actorsplayhouse.org.
  9. Brunch is priced at $85 per person and $42 for children. 1200 Anastasia Ave., Coral Gables; 855-311-6903; http://www.biltmorehotel.com.