Arts + Culture


Florida Travel: It Isn’t All Peace and Quiet in Coral Gables

This upscale enclave has its invigorating, brash touch of Miami as well

People say that the best way to experience a place is to see it with a local, so when my niece invited me to Miami for the weekend, I happily took her up on the offer. Miami has a certain reputation for glitz and drugs—a legacy from its 1980s smuggling trade—but the city has quiet corners, too, places where it’s possible to take in another side. Over pastelitos and cafés Cubanos on the morning of my visit, my niece (who is 6 months pregnant) suggested we skip the ritz of more obvious venues and head to the quiet, upscale neighborhood of Coral Gables instead.

Incorporated in 1925, Coral Gables is one of the most historic areas in South Florida. Its own city, technically apart from Miami though geographically indistinguishable, Coral Gables is home to the famed Biltmore Hotel as well as the University of Miami. Its residences, many of them dating to the 1920s, are some of the most sought-after addresses in the area.

At the suggestion of one of my niece’s friends, we began the day in a place that was new to both of us—Pinewood Cemetery. Set in the middle of residential Coral Gables, the cemetery is a little slice of Old Florida, a resting place for many of the original settlers and pioneers. My niece, whose maternal lineage is Cuban, remarked on the names on the headstones—Addison, Roberts, Fletcher.

“We think of Miami as being Latin,” she said, “but I forget that the original people here weren’t from the Caribbean or South America.”

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A light breeze blew through the tops of Australian pines as we walked through the quiet cemetery, its grounds planted with cocoplums, saw palmetto and cabbage palms. The roots of a banyan tree had grown around an old headstone in an eerie embrace, and we passed a sad little marker for Baby Boy Wilson who was born on Christmas Day, 1924, but made it only one day into the new year. The cemetery was somber and still. Stillness, in Miami? Yes.

From there we drove to the Venetian Pool, a gem of 1920s architecture still used as a public swimming pool. The pool’s 820,000 gallons are fed from an underground aquifer that drains and refills daily. My niece and I spread our towels on a strip of sand and spent a lazy 2 hours chatting, reading and napping while the pool’s waterfalls cascaded lightly and coconut trees gently swayed.

Late in the afternoon, tanned pink by the sun, we showered at home and changed before returning again to Coral Gables. In the gray twilight of evening, we strolled the streets of its downtown district, browsing boutiques and peeking into the windows of shops. My niece took me to the expansive, literary dream world of Books & Books, where its dark-stained wood shelves held row upon row of tomes. It was enough to restore my faith in the entire publishing industry.

From there we set out for Giralda Avenue, where many of Coral Gables’ international restaurants are arrayed. The choices ranged from around the globe—Vietnamese, Peruvian, Mediterranean, Italian, and a hip Americana joint called The Local that offered dishes like kale salad and artisanal beef jerky. My niece perused the menu, rubbed her round belly and declared, “I’ve had such a craving for beef jerky lately.”

The restaurant turned out to be just the right choice, very cool and on-trend. We squeezed into a booth in the back, and suddenly we were surrounded by noise: laughter, loud talking, silverware clinking, shouts from the bartender every time he placed an order on the bar. It was pure Miami—hectic, brash, invigorating. So Coral Gables isn’t all peace and quiet. But why would we want it to be?

If you go … 

Pinewood Cemetery is a surprisingly peaceful corner of Old Florida in the middle of residential Coral Gables. Many of the area’s first settlers are buried here. Erwin Road, Coral Gables

The Venetian Pool has variable hours depending on the time of year. Check the website to plan a visit. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for children age 3 to 12. Children under 3 are not admitted. Lounge chairs are available for rent at $5 a piece, but they fill up later in the day. 2701 De Soto Blvd., Coral Gables, (305) 460-5306, coralgables.com

The flagship Coral Gables store of Books & Books is a playground for book lovers. When you’ve finished browsing its shelves, stop for a cocktail or a bite to eat in its outdoor café. 265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables, (305) 442-4408, booksandbooks.com