Experience Miami’s Coral Gables Like a Local
by Authentic Florida guest blogger, Laura Albritton, a freelance writer and author of Miami for Families.
Experience charming Coral Gables, a Miami community and the perfect authentic Florida adventure loaded with historical gems such as the Biltmore Hotel, Venetian Pool, DeSoto Plaza, Miracle Mile and the Coral Gables Museum…
Miami may be a busy metropolis, but if you know where to look, you can still find enchanting neighborhoods that brim with history and charm. Coral Gables is an incorporated city within greater Miami, with an impressive architectural heritage and lush, tropical greenery.
Coral Gables Biltmore Hotel & Pool
The Coral Gables Venetian Pool, sculpted from a coral rock quarry
Visitors should be sure to see famous attractions like the Biltmore Hotel, the Venetian Pool, and Fairchild Tropical Gardens. In case you also enjoy getting “off-the-beaten path,” I’d love to share with you some insider’s tips about one of Miami’s prettiest destinations.
From acres upon acres of untamed pine scrubland, pioneer George Merrick created a Spanish-style town in the 1920s, inspired by the City Beautiful philosophy. He named his creation “Coral Gables,” after the coral rock home built by his parents. This graceful, historic bungalow still stands on Coral Way. The Merrick house is currently under renovation and closed for tours (as of Spring 2016), but you can still drive over to take a look. It’s worth parking at the parking lot to rear of the property so you can appreciate the garden and snap a few photos of the elegant canopy of oak trees lining the street.
George Merrick House, photo, Zickie Allgrove
Now you will want to head north on Granada Boulevard for a drive past houses and mansions, many of them constructed in a Mediterranean style with red tile roofs, considered a signature of Coral Gables. Where Granada intersects DeSoto Boulevard is another photogenic spot, called DeSoto Plaza, with its distinctive pillar and fountain; you may glimpse the Biltmore Hotel’s distinctive tower in the distance. Continue on for a few blocks until you reach a real piece of old Miami: Burger Bob’s.
DeSoto Plaza, photo, Zickie Allgrove
Overlooking the beautiful Granada Golf Course at 2001 Granada Boulevard, Burger Bob’s recalls a simpler time. Inside, you’ll notice an old-fashioned lunch counter, along with plenty of tables and a number of regulars. Burger Bob’s serves classics like chicken salad sandwiches and home-made chili. On the other hand, you may want to order breakfast, which is served until closing time at 3 p.m. In that case, you can’t go wrong with their yummy pancakes, waffles, or my particular favorite, scrambled eggs, grits, sausage, and toast. The prices are right, and the golf course view can’t be beat. This hidden, diner-like restaurant always reminds me that once upon a time, Coral Gables and Miami were sleepy, mid-sized Florida towns. (Be sure to bring cash, because Burger Bob’s does not take credit cards.)
Burger Bob’s, Granda Golf Course, photo, Zickie Allgrove
After your meal, you can head over to downtown Coral Gables. Just one block off Miracle Mile, you will find Aragon Avenue and the Coral Gables Museum. The building once housed as the city’s police and fire station. Walk around the exterior and get a look at the handsome, art deco carved statues. The museum’s thoughtful exhibitions detail the city’s heritage, including its architecture and George Merrick himself. It’s also worth popping in the gift shop with its collection of jewelry, gifts, and books.
Coral Gables Museum, photo, Zickie Allgrove
Speaking of books, steps away from the Coral Gables Museum you will find Books & Books, Miami’s most famous bookstore, housed in a Spanish style building with a courtyard. Whether you’re in search of a guidebook, novel, or biography, this local institution has a fresh, well-curated selection.
Miami’s most famous bookstore, Books & Books, photo, Laura Albritton
For a genuinely indulgent treat, stroll a bit further and stop in Peterbrooke Chocolatier, where hand-dipped, chocolate-covered Nutter Butters conjure up the flavors of childhood, while dark-chocolate covered potato chips deliver an addictive salty-sweet combination. For special holidays, you’ll find adorable molded chocolates, like teddy bears for Valentine’s Day and turkeys for Thanksgiving.
Coral Gables Miracle Mile, photo Laura Albritton
Now it’s time to wander one block south to Miracle Mile, a historic shopping strip with boutiques, bridal stores, jewelers, restaurants, cafes, and bars. Shutterbugs will want to stop in the tempting Leica Store; if you need a chic swimsuit for the beach, check out fashionable shop Curves N’ Waves. At the very western end of Miracle Mile at Lejeune Road, you’ll spot the grand Coral Gables City Hall and a larger-than-life statue of founder George Merrick himself.
Coral Gables’s historic shopping strip, Miracle Mile, photo, Laura Albritton
Another one of Merrick’s ambitious dreams was the University of Miami, and in fact, he donated land and buildings in Coral Gables to the fledging institution. After driving about 10 minutes from Miracle Mile, you will reach the entrance of the university at Stanford Drive, with its graceful alley of Royal Palms. Here you can take a look at the campus and explore UM’s Lowe Art Museum. This accessibly-sized museum features changing exhibitions and a permanent collection with works from ancient Greece, Africa, and Asia, along with stunning medieval and baroque European pieces.
University of Miami’s Lowe Art Museum, photo, Laura Albritton
My final “insider” recommendation for Coral Gables is to see what’s playing at the Actor’s Playhouse in the historic Miracle Theater, back on Miracle Mile. This art deco gem of a theater has been renovated and stages musicals like West Side Story and a broad range of plays. It’s a good idea to look on their website in advance, and if the evening show sounds appealing; if so, you can buy tickets online. Consider also making reservations for a pre-theater dinner at one of the nearby restaurants, such as the Caribbean-fusion Ortanique on the Mile or Bulla Gastropub, a happening place with a fresh take on Spanish cuisine. Enjoying some theater and savoring a wonderful meal allows you to feel like a real local, and to round out a delightful exploration of Coral Gables history, culture, and cuisine.
Coral Gables historic Miracle Theatre, photo, Phillip Pessar, Flickr
For more tips on traveling to Miami, be sure to check out Laura Albritton’s guidebook Miami for Families. Also be sure to visit Laura’s joint website with her husband, Zickie Allgrove, Island Runaways.
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For more, read: George Merrick, Son of the South Wind