Coral Gables and Coconut Grove are two old-fashioned neighbourhoods that contribute to the rich tapestry of districts that make-up the City of Miami. They were once two separate towns and each has an interesting history and has retained its own distinct character and charm that today blends modern day amenities with the architectural elegance and cultural heritage of their past.
Coral Gables was created in the 1920s by George Merrick and represents one of the first ever planned communities in America. Merrick was inspired by Mediterranean architecture and wanted to replicate the pretty towns and cities of Spain and Italy by creating an area characterised by low-rise buildings, plazas, fountains, boulevards, waterways and lush landscaping. This vision makes the area stand out from the rest of Miami and in many ways its design distinguishes it from most American towns (although it has to be said that it has little in common with the pretty old towns and villages of Europe). Merrick’s vision has been preserved to this day and Coral Gables retains its original character, which makes it a pleasant place to shop and dine. The area’s name comes from Merrick’s childhood home, a gabled coral mansion on Coral Way that has been restored and is open to the public. The area has a number of other interesting buildings and parks. The City Hall is an impressive building, three stories tall, built of local limestone and coral rock, with a stuccoed exterior, tile roof, central 3-stage clock tower and Corinthian colonnades. This was the centre piece of Merrick’s city plan and it is now listed on the US National Register of Historic Places. The Biltmore Hotel is another interesting building; it was built in 1926, at the height of the Florida land boom by George Merrick and the hotel magnate John McEntee Bowman. Nearby is the pretty Venetian Pool. The pool was originally an abandoned quarry until Merrick incorporated it in his Coral Gables design and created an Italian inspired swimming pool. Just south of Coral Gables on Old Cutler Road is the Matheson Hammock Park. This is a lovely area which offers a nature trail through native trees and vegetation, along with a man-made atoll pool, which is flushed naturally with the tidal action of nearby Biscayne Bay.
The City of Coral Gables website is a wealth of information about the area and what’s on. Click here for more information: http://www.coralgables.com/
East of Coral Gables is Coconut Grove. This is Miami’s oldest neighbourhood that was established in the 1800s. Many of the original settlers came from the Bahamas; they were originally brought here to work at the Peacock Inn and settled in Coconut Grove’s Village West. The area also attracted an eclectic group of scientists, writers and other intellectuals who were drawn to the town by its reputation as a dynamic and independent-minded community. Nowadays it is known for its tree-lined streets and distinctive architecture including old houses made of Coral Rock, large gracious mansion houses, small shotgun cottages and historic churches. “The Grove”, as it is fondly known to the locals, has managed to maintain its village feel with small streets shaded by lush, old-growth trees and foliage. Its history and character have been preserved at places like The Barnacle, home of early settler Ralph Munroe, which dates back to 1891 and is one of the few places where you can still see the dense tropical hardwood hammock that used to cover much of coastal Miami. Another gem is the palatial Vizcaya Museum & Gardens, a magnificent Renaissance-style bay-front villa housing a priceless collection of 15th through 19th-century decorative arts, as well as 10 acres of formal gardens and fountains. Vizcaya was the winter residence of industrialist James Deering and is now designated as a National Historic Landmark and open to the public.
Coconut Grove is a hub for cultural events, festivals and has a fantastic weekly farmer’s market which specialises in organic produce. There is always something happening here and the best place to go to find out what’s going on is The Coconut Grove website. Click here to go to its site: http://coconutgrove.com/