Category Archives: USA

The Everglades National Park, Florida, USA

Florida’s Everglades have been a source of mystery and folk tales for centuries. Its thick mangrove forests, impenetrable hammock vegetation and the dense sawgrass marsh has prevented all but the most determined individuals from exploring the Everglades and has helped create its mysterious reputation. Sailors would regularly tell tales of seeing mermaids in the more easily navigated waters surrounding the Everglades, there are stories of swamp spirits and numerous tales about the “keepers of the Everglades” (the alligators). Some say the Everglades are haunted by apes, whilst others claim that there are still skunk apes living in the Everglades today. There are modern myths too about a “Lost City” where Al Capone allegedly produced moonshine in the 1930s, others about spirits who have saved flights by diverting them away from disaster and secret hide-outs for lost children and gangs.

This watery world is also a rare and beautiful one. It is one of America’s unsung wild places and home to many endangered and rarely seen species such as American crocodile, Florida panther and West Indian manatee. It is one of the world’s globally important wetlands, listed alongside other famous places such as The Okavango Delta in Botswana and the Pantanal in Brazil and for this reason it is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an International Biosphere Reserve. It is a fascinating place; beautiful, mysterious and ancient. A haven for nature lovers and anyone who enjoys walking, sailing, fishing or bird-watching.

The Everglades system reaches from central Florida, near Orlando, all the way south to Florida Bay. It is actually a complex system of interdependent ecosystems that include sawgrass marshes, cypress swamps, tropical hardwood hammocks, pine rockland, the estuarine mangrove forests of the Ten Thousand Islands and the marine environment of Florida Bay. The area is defined by two distinct seasons, the wet season that brings flooding and the dry season which brings drought. These two seasons have a dramatic effect on the park’s appearance and the lives of the different species that live or visit the area throughout the year.

The National park protects around one fifth of the whole ecosystem and visitors can explore the different habitats, rent kayaks, take boat tours and join ranger led activities. A guided Eco Tour is another way to get close and see the Everglades and there are numerous companies that offer Kayak, boat, canoe or airboat trips. Although airboats are not allowed within the National Park boundaries.

There are 3 ways to access the Park by car and the entrances are found at Homestead, Shark Valley and the Gulf Coast. Each area offers the visitor a slightly different perspective on the Everglades ecosystem.

The main entrance at Homestead connects the Royal Palm Area with the Flamingo Area in the bay. From the main visitors centre near the entrance is a 38 mile road that winds its way through the different ecosystems to the Florida Bay. The park has done a fantastic job at creating a variety of short walks and trails that give the visitor access to otherwise impenetrable habitats and provide a rare glimpse of this watery and extremely fragile environment. Highlights include the Anhinga Trail which offers the best opportunity to see alligators, turtles and wading birds close up and the Gumbo Limbo Trail that lets you experience the sensation of Hammock Vegetation Floridawalking through dense tropical hardwood hammock. At the Pinelands Trail you can explore the subtropical pine forests that are maintained by fire and at Pa-hay-okee there is a boardwalk and observation platform with a panoramic view of the famous sawgrass marshes (or River of Grass as it is popularly known). There are other trails too that explore mangrove, lake and pond habitats. For those wanting to get out onto the water there are numerous canoeing trails. At the Flamingo centre you can pick up maps about the different canoe trails and longer overnight hiking and kayaking trails. At Flamingo’s harbour there is the opportunity to rent kayaks or join a boat.

The Shark Valley entrance is located in Miami. Here there is a 65ft observation tower which offers a panoramic view of the Everglades, as well as excellent opportunities to watch alligators, turtles, wading birds and snail kites. There are also cycling trails, bikes to rent and a guided Tram tour.

The Gulf Coast Entrance is located in Everglades City. This is the parks western saltwater gateway and visitors can join boat tours that go around the coastal mangroves. It is here that one can launch a trip to explore the Wilderness Waterway that connects Everglades City to Flamengo, or the Ten Thousand Islands – a mosaic of mangrove isles.

Tip: Take plenty of water, insect repellent and a picnic or barbecue. The food options are extremely limited within the park, however there are plenty of designated camping and picnicking facilities within the National Park.

Links to useful resources:

For more information about the park and the activities offered in and around its boundaries click here: http://www.nps.gov/ever/index.htm

For boat rentals and tours within the park see: http://www.evergladesnationalparkboattoursflamingo.com/

If you want to go hiking or canoeing click here to access downloadable maps and information: http://www.nps.gov/ever/planyourvisit/trailguides.htm

For those interested in getting out into the marine environment head for John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park on Key Lago. Here you can go diving, snorkelling, canoeing or take a glass-bottom boat tour: http://pennekamppark.com/

Note: Airboat rides are not permitted within the National Park itself. However, boats and canoes are welcome and trips can be arranged in the park.  For information about accessing longer hikes and over-night canoeing trails that requiring camping in the park talk to the rangers at the visitor centres.
Sea of Grass - the Everglades

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Wynwood, Miami – street art, graffiti and cool bars

If you are the slightest bit interested in street art then Wynwood is probably high on your list of places to go. The district is a constantly changing landscape of street paintings, murals and graffiti by local and internationally renowned street artists and crews. Even if you don’t know much about the street art movement and can’t tell your Shepard Fairey from your Banksy or Aub’s Crew, Wynwood is well worth a visit. It is visually exciting and the sheer number of works is impressive. The area lies just north of downtown Miami and is roughly contained within NE 36 Street to the north, NW 20th Street to the south and NE 1 Street to the east. A good place to start exploring is around NW 2nd Ave and NW 23st, gradually work your way out around the neighbouring streets and then circle back so you end up at the Wynwood Walls for the grand finale.

These days the area has a plethora of galleries specialising in modern and contemporary art too and an ever changing scene of cafes, bars and restaurants, with new venues popping up all the time. But it wasn’t always this way for just over a decade ago Wynwood was synonymous with poverty, empty warehouses and crime. The regeneration of the area, which started in the 2000’s, was given an enormous boost by the developer Tony Goldman, whose name is associated with the successful revitalization of a number of US inner city areas such as New York’s SoHo neighbourhood. Goldman bought up land in the neighbourhood and invested in a vision to create an art mecca out of the graffiti and street murals that dominated the area. He invited and sponsored renowned and emerging street artists to come and decorate the walls of the neighbourhood. This acted as a catalyst for more works and the neighbouring streets saw an incredible increase in murals, paintings and graffiti. This continues today and the art on view creates an ever changing visual landscape of colour and form.

One of Goldman’s first projects was the Wynwood Walls. He worked with Jeffrey Deitch to co-curate works from key street artists from around the world on a six building complex and unlike the rest of the neighbourhood, the Wynwood Walls is commissioned, spotlighted, and protected by security guards. The works on display change each year and since its inception, the Wynwood Walls program has seen over 50 artists representing 16 countries and has covered over 80,000 square feet of walls. The Wynwood Walls are located at 2520 NW 2nd Avenue and if you are exploring the area’s art we recommend you keep this for your last stop.

If you are in Miami on the second Saturday of the month check out the “ArtWalk” in Wynwood. This takes place throughout the streets of Wynwood, but is centred around NW 2nd Ave NW 23st. From around 6pm onwards the art galleries and studios open their doors to the public for viewing. There are food trucks, stalls and pop-up bars giving the neighbourhood a festival like atmosphere as people flock to the area to socialize, check-out new street art, browse the galleries and enjoy the neighbourhoods bars and restaurants.

Whether you are just admiring the art or seeking some serious pieces to buy, it’s thirsty work and Wynwood has an ever growing selection of cool bars and restaurants. If it’s a caffeine fix you need then check out Panther coffee. For pizza and Italian style cooking head to Joey’s. Joey’s is an institution in Wynwood as it was the first restaurant to open when the regeneration of the area took hold over a decade ago. For live music try Bardot and for a real mix try Wood Tavern where hipsters, art-walk crawlers and collectors all mingle.

Click here to read our other posts about 6 other neighbourhoods in Miami (scroll to the bottom of the post to access all links).

Below are links to some of the places we enjoyed whilst wandering around Wynwood.   If you have some suggestions or know of the latest Wynwood hidden gem then please feel free to add them via the comments section below.

If you are looking for a specific artist then this map will help you to find their latest works: http://www.wynwoodmap.com/

For all art related goings on in Miami http://artofmiami.com/ is probably the best site around.

A good site for general information about the area is  http://www.wynwoodmiami.com/  and for more information about the Wynwood Walls visit:  http://www.thewynwoodwalls.com/

Panther coffee: 2390 NW 2nd Ave, Miami, FL 33127 http://www.panthercoffee.com/

Joey’s: 2506 NW 2nd Avenue, Miami. http://www.joeyswynwood.com/

Bardot: 3456 N Miami Avenue, Miami  http://www.bardotmiami.com/

Wood Tavern: 2531 NW 2nd Avenue, Miami  http://woodtavernmiami.com/

Street Art Miami style

Cantina La Veinte, fine Mexican dining in Miami

Art Deco meets Mexican folk art at this waterfront restaurant on Brickell. Cantina La Veinte opened in the summer of 2014 and is one of the first restaurants in Miami to offer fine Mexican dining. The menu focuses on authentic Mexican dishes and regional specialities that are rarely found outside of Mexico itself.

The restaurant was designed by the renowned Mexican architect company Niz and Chauvel and fuses art-deco inspired design with colourful Mexican folk art. The restaurant is spread over two floors. Upstairs has a sleek 1920s glamour feel to it, the dark interior is lit up with touches of gold, frosted glass and splashes of colour from traditional folk art and textiles. Downstairs is open on two sides and looks out onto the waterfront and Brickell Park. The blue-gray decor and tiled floor gives the space a light and airy feel and whilst it lacks the visual impact of room upstairs it has a much more laid-back feel to it and is the perfect place for large groups and private parties.

Whilst the decor is impressive, it is the food that really captures the attention. The menu is elaborate, offering a wide range of dishes that focus on regional meat and seafood specialities. There is a whole section dedicated to stuffed chillies and whilst there is a taco section the main event is the big plates to share with specialities such as Huachinangos al gusto, Langostinos al nojo de ajo and Albondigas al chipotle. This food has little in common with the standard Mexican fare that has been exported across the across the world and is as plentiful in Miami as in most big cities. The focus here genuinely seems to be on the ingredients, many of which are brought in directly from Mexico. The end result is food that speaks for itself and keeps people coming back again and again. There is also a formidable drinks list that includes over 200 varieties of tequila and 100 kinds of mezcal which are mixed into a seemingly endless selection of cocktails. If that sounds overwhelming, then one can’t go wrong with a classic margarita and Cantina’s margaritas are some of the best you will taste outside of Mexico. In fact the drinks are also causing quite a stir and are rapidly gaining the reputation as being some of the best in town making the restaurant’s stunning black onyx bar a destination in its own right. So far, Cantina La Veinte, seems to be carving out a niche for itself in the ever changing Miami gastronomic scene, its ability to offer consistently good food and pretty good service too is making it the destination of choice for Miami’s demanding clientele.

In fact the restaurant’s success in Miami is paving the way for its expansion. Cantina La Veinte Miami is the first restaurant outside of Mexico, there are three in Mexico City, and it is rumoured that the group has plans for openings in New York and Vegas. Let’s hope they put London in their sights soon.

Mexican Fine Dining at Cantina La Veinte
Cantina La Veinte is located at the Icon 495 Brickell Ave, Miami, FL 33131
http://lano20.com.mx/

Click here to read our other posts about 6 other neighbourhoods in Miami (scroll to the bottom of the Miami post to access all links).

Footnotes and credits: This is an independent review. The writer has always dined as a regular guest and paid for their meal.

South Beach, Miami, USA – the ultimate adult’s playground

When one thinks of Miami it is usually South Beach that comes to mind with its sun drenched beaches, turquoise sea and green palm trees gently swaying in the breeze. South Beach is only a tiny part of Miami and Miami Beach yet it packs a lot into its 2.5 square miles (6.5 square kilometres). There are art deco buildings, fashionable restaurants, galleries, hip bars, trendy stores and amazing fitness centres. It is the ultimate adult’s playground and whether you are after a bit of R&R, a taste of hedonism or wish to take care of your body and soul, this is the place to indulge all your passions and vices.

It was the Florida land boom of the 1920s that created South Beach and the Art Deco District around Ocean Drive, which soon become the destination of choice for the rich and famous. The area has the

Ocean Drive at sunrise
Ocean Drive at sunrise

largest concentration of art deco architecture in the world and there are around 800 preserved buildings still standing today. A stroll along Ocean Drive is one of the best ways to see these pretty buildings and soak up the Miami vibe. If you want to know more about the district visit the Art Deco Welcome Center, which has a wealth of information and runs a programme of talks and lectures or join one of the guided walking tours run by The Miami Design Preservation League.

To the north of Ocean Drive is Espanola Way. This pretty street was created around the same time but was modelled on the typical Mediterranean villages found in France and Spain. It has retained its bohemian charm and has a selection of more independent style cafes and restaurants. Nearby is the famous Lincoln Road, where you can eat, drink and shop to your heart’s content and on Sundays there is a market which draws a crowd from all over town. Lincoln Road has something for everyone and in the western blocks we discovered the beautiful Brazilian fashion brand Osklen and a quirky little Argentinean cafe and bistro called Panizza. The Argentinean pastries at Panizza are divine and make it great place to start the morning, try their medialunas with a strong Argentinean coffee to kick start your day. The excellent Epicure is also close by; this is one of Miami’s best food shops and has a fantastic gourmet deli and cafe. Segafredo’s is another South Beach institution that does great coffee and cocktails. It has some of the comfiest sofas on the mall, which makes it the perfect place to chill-out and watch the world go by. If you want to get away from the crowds, chains and attitude of Lincoln Road, and don’t want to go all the way to Wynwood, then try the streets around Sunset Harbour Drive, Purdy Ave and Bay Road. Here are a cluster of independently minded shops, cafes and restaurants; and the Green Monkey wellness studios. Green Monkey offers yoga, pilates, martial arts and mediation, basically everything you need to get yourself into balance and help you lead a positive life.

If shopping is high on your list of things to do then Collins Avenue and Washington Avenue offer block after block of shops. Barney’s Coop, the super cool extension of the famous Barney’s Store in New York, is at 832 Collins Avenue. This is a great place to stock up on the latest trends. If it’s culture you are after then there is the Bass Museum of Art at 2100 Collins Ave; The Wolfsonian on Washington and if you are craving a bit of nature there is the pretty Botanical Garden is at 2000 Convention Center Drive.

One of the best things about South Beach is it is quite easy to get around on foot, which is unusual for the USA. Although if you are here for a while it is definitely worth renting a car for a couple of days so you can explore other parts of the city. Increasingly the newest and coolest bars, clubs and restaurants are away from the tourist honey spots on South Beach in neighbourhoods such as the ever trendier Brickell and super cool Wynwood. Click here for the full feature on Miami and links to information on the other neighbourhoods and for what’s going on check out: http://www.southbeachmagazine.com

Click here to read our other posts about 6 other neighbourhoods in Miami (scroll to the bottom of the Miami post to access all links).

Below are links to the places mentioned in this post. If you have a place you love on South Beach why not tell us by using the comments section below

Espanola Way: http://myespanolaway.com/index.html
Barney’s Miami: http://www.barneys.com/
Panizza: http://www.panizzabistro.com/
Osklen: www.osklen.com
Segrfredo Cafe: http://www.segafredocafe.com/
Green Monkey: http://www.greenmonkey.com/
Lincoln Road: http://lincolnroadmall.com/
Directory of the shops, bars and restaurants on Lincoln Road, Washington Avenue & Collins Avenue: http://www.lincolnroadmall.info/
Bass Museum of Art: http://www.bassmuseum.org/
The Wolfsonian: http://www.wolfsonian.org/
Miami Beach Botanical Gardens: http://mbgarden.org/

Sunrise South of Fifth, Miami Beach, USA
South Point Park at Sunrise, South Beach Miami, Fl

Street Art and Graffiti on the walls of Wynwood in Miami, USA

Wynwood is a neighbourhood in Miami and a mecca for street art and contemporary art galleries.  It is home to the famous Wynwood Walls, a permanent outdoor mural exhibit that features work by some of the world’s most famous street artists such as Shepard Fairey, Retna and Os Gemos.  In the surrounding streets are hundreds more murals and graffiti art works which together makes the area one of the biggest street art districts in the world.

Click here for access to the full post on Miami and here for the full post on Wynwood.

Zuma Miami – amazing food with a cool view

Zuma specialises in contemporary Japanese food and nowadays it is an internationally recognised brand that is found in some of the world’s hottest locations including London, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Dubai, Bangkok and New York. Zuma has made its name by being the best. The food is outstanding, the service impeccable, the wine selection superb and the locations always jaw-droppingly gorgeous.

Zuma is the brainchild of Chef Rainer Becker and Arjun Waney. Becker, who originally hails from Germany, fell in love with Japanese food whilst living and studying in Tokyo. His menu is based on authentic Japanese dishes to which he adds his own modern twists. He opened the first restaurant in 2002 in London and has gone on to create a unique experience that has kept Zuma at the forefront of trends for over 10 years.

What is particularly commendable is that as it has expanded it has managed to keep its high standards. This is an achievement in itself, particularly in places like Miami where many brilliant restaurants fail. The market in Miami is tough, the transient crowds are unpredictable, the seasonal high and low periods extremely challenging and the customers fickle and fussy. Yet Becker has succeeded where so many others have failed and his restaurant is full every night.

Zuma Miami is located in the Epic Hotel on Brickell overlooking the Miami River. Walk quickly through the vacuous, marble lobby that seems to be the unimaginative design choice of hotels these days and enter the world of Zuma. The interior is sleek, the zen inspired design is by the famous Tokyo designers Nori Yoshi Muramatsu, who integrate natural local products and textures with the very distinct look and feel of the Zuma brand. The Miami restaurant is a large space of calming neutral tones, the pale pistachio green chairs add a hint of colour against the sandy flecked marble, blond wood and gleaming steel. But it is the view that will hold your attention (until the food arrives anyway), for the terrace and main restaurant have an enviable views across the water.

The menu is similar at all locations, with local twists added in to differentiate each restaurant and here in Miami the seafood is the jewel in the crown. Although those vegetable-centric folk who pilgrimage to Zuma for the finest ingredients from the vegetable and tofu world will not be disappointed either, Zuma continues to serve up its fantastic vegetable focused selection of dishes even in Miami. The ingredients are, of course, top quality and the dishes are so beautifully presented that they appear like edible works of art.

Zuma is incredibly popular and if you want to eat here it is best to book well in advance. The good news is that Miami isn’t like London, so you don’t need to plan three months ahead to get a table. That said it is best to plan ahead. It is also worth mentioning that Zuma attracts a well-heeled crowd and enforces a smart casual dress code.

Zuma – 270 Biscayne Blvd Way, Miami, FL 33131 (located inside the Epic Hotel)
http://zumarestaurant.com/

Click here to read our other posts about 6 other neighbourhoods in Miami (scroll to the bottom of the Miami post to access all links).

Footnotes and credits: This is an independent review. The writer has always dined as a regular guest and paid for their meal. Photography has been sourced from the website and via Google images.

Zuma entrance

Brickell, Little Havana and Downtown Miami, USA

Not so long ago Downtown Miami was a rather gritty and unglamorous place, made up of distinctly contrasting areas: the old chaotic business and retail district centred around Flagler Street, the modern financial district with its ostentatious skyscrapers, the abandoned streets of midtown, and the traditional Cuban neighbourhood of Little Havana. These days it is a thriving area that smoothly integrates a mixture of commerce, culture and residential communities. This change has brought with it a diverse assortment of bars, restaurants and cafes and these days some of the best dining in Miami can be found around the area. Restaurants with internationally prestigious reputations such as Zuma and Cipriani are here, along with stars from the Southern states like The Capital Grill and Trulucks and Miami’s own celebrities such as il Gabbiano.

The Brickell area is instantly recognisable by its contemporary skyscrapers that create a glittering display along the waterfront. At its centre is Brickell Village and the low-rise complex of shops and restaurants of Mary Brickell Village. This area is surprisingly green and stands out as an oasis in a jungle of designer glass and concrete. At night and weekends it becomes a destination for dining and socialising and on Sundays it is buzzing with people who come to wander around the stalls at the weekly market. As the number of residential buildings has increased the developers have incorporate waterside walkways and tree lined paths to link areas. This makes it Miami River Walksurprisingly pleasant to walk around, particularly along the waterfronts where excellent cafes and restaurants have sprung up. One such path goes from Brickell Point via the Miami Circle towards Brickell Park and on past Brickell Key. Along this stretch is the superb Cantina La Viente. This Mexican restaurant is always busy and has the best margaritas in town. Next door is cafe LavNo20, which is known for its delicious breakfasts and lunches. Alternatively, going northwards from Miami Point across the Brickell Avenue Bridge, the path follows the water eventually arriving at Museum Park.

To the North of Brickell is the Downtown business district. Inland it is still the chaotic historic commercial centre it always has been, but the area near the water has transformed into a cultural hub with pleasant landscaped parks and museums. Bayfront Park is a refreshingly green space with an open air retail space at its top end. A little further along is the American Airlines Arena, a major music venue and home to the Miami Heat NBA team. Continuing on north is the beautifully landscaped Museum Park with the stunning Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM). The PAMM is a modern and contemporary art museum dedicated to collecting and exhibiting international art from the 20th and 21st century. The building was designed by Herzog & de Meuron and is as impressive as it is beautiful, providing the perfect space to showcase the museum’s growing collections. Close by is the Adrienne Arsht Center of Performing Arts which presents a diverse selection of over 300 performances each year. These performances are organised as series that include Broadway in Miami, Jazz Roots, the Masterworks Season, Miami Made Festival, and the Summer Season, among others.

West of Brickell, spreading out from Calle Ocho is Little Havana. This is the area the original Cuban immigrants made home and it continues to be the heart of the Cuban community and a thriving business district. If you want to experience a bit of Cuban culture then explore the streets around SW 8th Street where you will find shops selling hand rolled cigars, Cuban goods and a diverse selection of traditional restaurants and bars. The Cuban Memorial Plaza is on Azucar MiamiSW 13th Avenue and Máximo Gómez Park (Domino Park) on 15th Avenue. The area is famous for its authentic Cuban Coffee and this strong, sweet caffeine fix can be tried at any of the cafes or take-away windows in the area. Opposite Domino Park on SW 8th is Azucar. This Miami institution is one of the best ice cream parlours in town. Further west is the famous Cuban restaurant Versailles and there is no better place to try traditional Cuban food. Versailles has the reputation of being a Cuban institution and it has been serving the community and tourists alike since 1971. It prides itself on being the gathering place and unofficial town square for Miami’s Cuban exiles.

Click here to read our other posts about 6 other neighbourhoods in Miami (scroll to the bottom of the Miami post to access all links).
Click here to read the post about the restaurant Zuma
Click here to read the review of Cantina La Veinte. One of the best Mexican restaurants in Miami.

Below are links to the key places mentioned in the post above.  If you have found somewhere you loved in these neighbourhoods feel free to tell everyone about it in the comments section.

Cultural highlights:
Adrienne Arsht Center of Performing Arts: http://www.arshtcenter.org
Perez Art Museum Miami: http://www.pamm.org
AmericanAirlines Arena: http://www.aaarena.com
Gusman Center for Performing Arts: http://www.olympiatheater.org/

Restaurants:
Zuma Miami: http://zumarestaurant.com/zuma-landing/miami/en/welcome
Cantina La Vienta – http://www.lano20.com.mx
Cafe LaNo20 – https://www.facebook.com/la20miami
Cipriani Miami: http://www.cipriani.com/en/services/restaurants/cipriani-downtown-miami
Il Gabbiano: http://www.ilgabbianomia.com
Trulucks: http://trulucks.com/
The Capital Grill: http://www.thecapitalgrille.com

Tastes of Cuba:
Enjoy an ice cream at Azucar the heart of the Cuban community. http://www.azucaricecream.com
Try a traditional Cuban Coffee or meal at Versailles Restaurant. http://www.versaillesrestaurant.com

Coral Gables and Coconut Grove, Miami, USA

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/

Click here to read our other posts about 6 other neighbourhoods in Miami (scroll to the bottom of the Miami post to access all links). Or

Click here to access the full feature on Miami

Key Biscayne, Miami, Florida

Key Biscayne is a lovely island neighbourhood located south of Miami Beach and east of Miami.  It is linked to the mainline by the Rickenbacker Causeway. The area is actually an island barrier, 7 miles long and 2 miles wide.   It is beautifully green and lush with dazzling beaches.

This oasis of green and calm has been retained over the years because there are two major parks within the islands boundaries, Crandon Park to the north and Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park to the south and as a result development has been successfully restricted.

The Cape Florida State Park a real gem and home to the 95-foot tall Cape Florida Lighthouse which is the oldest standing structure in Miami-Dade County.  The park’s beach has the reputation of being one of the best in the United States and is regularly featured in America’s list of its top 10 beaches.  As well as the beach and the lighthouse, the park has cycling and walking trails, fishing concessions, picnic areas and No Name Harbour.  No Name Harbour was once a hideaway cove for pirates, smugglers and wreckers.  It is incredibly picturesque and now home to one of Miami’s hidden gems: The Boater’s Grill restaurant.  This restaurant has an enviable location overlooking the pretty harbour and is well-known for its fresh seafood and Cuban food, as well as its idyllic setting.  Alternatively you can grill your own catch at one of the designated barbeque pits in the picnic area.  At the northern end of the island is Crandon Park, this too has miles of golden sandy beaches and is a hub for all kinds of sports activities.  Here you can play tennis, golf, windsurf, jet ski, sail or join a snorkelling or diving trip.  On neighbouring Hobbie Island is Miami’s only dog friendly beach:  Hobbie beach.  Whilst next door on Virginia Key is Miami’s smallest beach, the historic Virginia Key Beach, which is listed on America’s National Register of Historic Places because of its designation as a “coloured-only” beach from 1945 – 1947.  On Virginia Key you will also find Miami Seaquarium.  Between Virginia Key and Crandon Park is the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Biscayne Nature Centre where you can learn about the fascinating ecosystem of this island barrier and see baby sea turtles released into the wild.  Nearby and just off the Rickenbacker Causeway is the Rusty Pelican, this restaurant is well known locally for its modern American cooking, it’s waterfront dining and amazing view of the Miami mainland.

Hidden Gem:  Nahuen – This small cafe and deli is the go to place for Patagonian delicacies.  Set in an quiet corner of The Square mall this  little shop has an outstanding selection of Argentinian wines, a delicious bakery, superb coffee and renowned butchers.

Click here for more information about Nahuen:  http://nahuen.com/

If you have discovered a special place on Key Biscayne and would like to share it with others please tell us about it in the comments section.

Click here to read our other posts about 6 other neighbourhoods in Miami (scroll to the bottom of the Miami post to access all links).

Key Biscayne
Sunset over Key Biscayne

Beatriz Milhazes – Jardim Botânico exhibition in Miami

Beatriz Milhazes is a Brazilian artist known for her vibrantly colourful art that incorporates Brazilian cultural imagery and modernist painting.  The Jardim Botânico exhibition, at the PAMM in Miami, looks at the last 25 years of her work through a retrospective of her paintings, screenprints and collages.  The exhibition traces her career from the mid-1990s to present day, exploring her use of bold colours, the layering of geometric and decorative forms, and use of motifs from a broad range of movements such as Modernismo, colonial baroque architecture, Opt art and Tropicalismo.  Milhazes references Matisse as an inspiration; particularly his Cut-Outs period and anyone who has seen the recent Matisse The Cut-outs exhibition in New York or London will see links to his work.

Milhazes fuses modernist styles of painting with the emblems of her cultural heritage. Her abstract compositions are typically layered with imagery, particularly floral designs and ornate circular medallions. Colour is central to Milhazes work, the compositions explode like fireworks on the canvas.  Milhazes work is unique in this way and unusual for a Brazilian artist, as Brazil does not have a strong tradition of painting, and especially not painting with colour.

Jardim Botânico, the title of the exhibition, refers to the area of Rio de Janeiro where Milhazes lives and works.  The area is famous for its beautiful botanical garden, a constant inspiration for Milhazes, along with architecture, folklore, music, decorative art and culture.  Milhazes merges global and local influences into her work and says of herself:  “I am an abstract painter and I speak an international language, but my interest is in things and behaviours that can only be found in Brazil.  This can mean the delirium of colours and forms at the Carnival in Rio, the melancholy bossas of Antônio Carlos Jobim, or the wave-shaped patterned promenades the landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx designed for the Copacabana beach.”

These influences and inspirations occur as regular motifs in her paintings and collages.  In this exhibition for example there is Santo Antônio, Albuquerque (1994) where the motifs of lace, roses, and pearl are dominant, reflecting images from the colonial baroque period. Whilst in O selvagem (1999) one sees influences of Pop-art in use with flowers, hearts and flowing lines. In Flores e Árvores (2012-3) the works are more linear and delicate, creating optical effects that recall the work of several Latin American masters of geometric abstraction from the 1960s and 70s.  There are also several new pieces on display, these have been created specifically for this exhibition and are perfect for the space at PAMM.  It is as if the gallery where designed specifically with Beatriz Milhazes and her work in-mind.

The Jardim Botânico exhibition is currently showing at the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) in Miami until 11th January 2015.  For more information visit www.pamm.org or click here.

Image Credits:  The image is from the PAMM website.