Coral Gables

Coral Gables covers twelve square miles of boulevards and leafy streets, lined with both Spanish and Italian style architecture. In 1912 George Merrick designed plazas, fountains and aged-stucco fronted buildings and named most of the streets after Spanish explorers, cities and provinces. If you look closely at ground level, you can see the street names beside each intersection on whitewashed concrete cornerstones. Development came to a halt with the 1926 hurricane and the Great Depression but despite this Coral Gables has never lost it looks. Surprisingly it is a separate city to Miami unlike Coconut Grove which is a district of Miami.

This is a driving tour, feel free to stop at anytime to explore. From downtown Miami, cross the Miami River on the 41 to Brickell Avenue and drive south until you reach Coral Avenue (SW 13 Street), turn right here. Follow this under I-95 and it becomes SW 3rd Avenue. After another mile at Five Points Intersection turn slightly right on to SW 22nd Avenue. Here you can see the avenue segmented by an arch of banyan trees, which is the start of Miracle Mile.

This area is best explored on foot. The Miracle Mile, a name given to hype up the area, is actually only half a mile long but once you walk down one side of the shops cross over and walk back onthe otherside then you have completed the mile - this is from 37th Avenue to 42nd Avenue. At 133 - 169 Miracle Mile you will find the Colonnade Building, the original sales office owned by George Merrick. Its superb rotonda has an ornamental frieze and a Spanish tile roof 75 feet above the street level. At the west end of Miracle Mile is Coral Gables City Hall - an ornate Spanish Renaissance structure, opened in 1928. It has a three tier tower with a clock and a 500 pound bell. Back in the car now, drive on SW 24th Street (Coral Way) towards Granada Golf Course. One block on you will find Coral Gables Merrick House and Gardens. This is the Merrick family home where George Merrick grew up. It has been restored to its 1920s appearance.

Turn left at Granada Boulevard to the DeSoto Plaza and Fountain. Park the car close by and walk to the Fountain to get a better view. This is a classic column on a pedestal with water flowing from the mouths of four sculpted faces - the west face has closed eyes to symbolise the end of the day. Head east on DeSoto Boulevard and past the Venetian Pool, fashioned from a coral rock quarry in 1923 and is worth visiting whether you swim or not. Return to your car and drive back to the fountain and back on to DeSoto Boulevard heading south west to The Biltmore Hotel. It is a 26 storey replica of the Giralda Tower in Seville, completed in 1926. Notice the resemblance to the Freedom Tower in downtown Miami. It has an outstanding golf course designed in 1925 by Donald Ross.

From the hotel turn right on to Anastasia Avenue and go south on Granada Boulevard, over the bridge on Coral Gables Waterway, which connects the hotel to Biscayne Bay. In its heyday, guests would be transported by Venetian gondolas along the waterway to the beach. Turn right on Ponce de Leon Boulevard. You will see the Metrorail running between this road and the South Dixie Highway. On your right is the University of Miami campus, turn right on to Stanford Avenue to the Lowe Art Museum. From Stanford Avenue cross both roads - Ponce and Dixie Highway, passing under the Metrorail. Take the first right in to Maynada Street as far as SW 72nd Street and turn right here - this becomes Sunset Drive.

Park and explore this area on foot - the east end of the road is mainly fine homes and lined with mature trees. To the west is a shopping mall and smaller stores. If you carried on west beyond the end of Sunset Drive you would reach southern Miami, which is mainly a residential area. Drive south on Red Road all the way down to SW 112th Street to Pinecrest Gardens and explore. Then head about half a mile further south and turn left at Old Cutter Road which curves north along the uplands of the coastal ridge. You will find Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden. On to the final stop of the tour now, head towards Matheson Hammock Park - Dade County's oldest and most scenic park - it can be found at 9610 Old Cutter Road. This is a 100 acre upland and mangrove swamp, the most popular feature is a bathing pool where the tide flushes the saltwater through four gates.

This is the end of the Coral Gables tour - head back north on Old Cutter Road until Cartagena Plaza and then take Le Jeune Road to the US1 and return to downtown Miami.