Coral Gables neighborhood guide

Get to know Coral Gables with our guide to the area's best local restaurants and bars, arts, entertainment and things to do

© Alys Tomlinson
Venetian Pool in Coral Gables, Miami

There is substance behind the boast of this self-ordained “City Beautiful.” Coral Gables residents enjoy a peachy habitat of terracotta roofs, jewel-like colors and (mostly) lush vegetation. Once a tiny Miami suburb, founded in 1925 as one of the country's first planned communities, the city is now a spotless home for more than 175 multinational companies and a score of consulates and trade offices. 

A smattering of upscale commercial galleries, theatres and restaurants all contribute to the air of affluence. But for visitors, the main draw is the picturesque appeal of its Mediterranean Revival architecture, reflected in such landmarks as the Venetian Pool and the Biltmore Hotel.

In 1973, Coral Gables became one of the first cities in Florida to adopt a Historic Preservation Ordinance. Since then, most of the district's buildings have been designated as landmarks and are protected. The current civic zeal for preserving Coral Gables' bucolic character can, in fact, border on the obsessive. A hefty list of official “dos and don'ts” applies to everything from replacing windows to how many guests can park their cars in front of a home for a dinner party without the host having to rent an off-duty police officer to supervise. Even the size of real estate “For Sale” signs is regulated. 

Miracle Mile
Coral Way is the major east-west street through the Gables. The section that runs down the central business district, from SW 37th to 42nd Avenues (Douglas to Le Jeune), is known as the Miracle Mile—somewhat exaggeratedly, given that it's actually no more than half a mile long. Once a bustling shopping zone full of local boutiques, nowadays it's just another Disneyfied US neighborhood with all the requisite chains: Barnes & Noble, Starbucks, Einstein Bros Bagels et al. At least the very good Actors' Playhouse (280 Miracle Mile) maintains some semblance of the creative Gables days of old. 

A number of interesting spots have also survived in the streets immediately north of Miracle Mile. One is the old John M Stabile building at 265 Aragon Avenue, now the home of Books & Books, Miami's finest independent bookstore. Across the street stands the Old Fire House & Police Station (285 Aragon Avenue, at Salzedo Street), now part of the Coral Gables Museum (305 603 8067). Across Alhambra Circle is the tiny Hotel Place St Michel (162 Alcazar Avenue), which has been an ultra-quaint local attraction for fans of bijou design since 1979.

Coral Way
Some of the Gables' most interesting residences lie on Coral Way, between Le Jeune (SW 42nd Avenue) and Granada Boulevard. The eastern end of this stretch is marked by City Hall (405 Biltmore Way, at S Le Jeune Road), a stately edifice encircled by 12 majestic columns and topped off with a three-tiered clock tower. 

Heading west beneath the massive banyan trees, Coral Way intersects with three other roads at Balboa Plaza, a typical example of a Gables plaza, featuring fountains, cisterns, gates and pergolas. South-west down De Soto Boulevard is the Venetian Pool, while sticking with Coral Way brings you to one of the oldest houses in the area, Merrick House, which is usually open to visitors.

Restaurants and bars in Coral Gables

El Chalan

Miami’s best food is often found in strip malls, and this budget Peruvian caff is a case in point. The aesthetics are cheap: bright, unflattering lights, laminated menus and photographs of the food. But the home cooking is top notch. The ceviche is fresh and tangy, the lomo saltado is present and correct, and the medley of traditional Peruvian cuisine is simple and comforting (aji de gallina, boneless chicken in a creamy sauce; tripe stew in yellow mint sauce). If you can’t afford the elegant Francesco’s, this is a great intro to Peruvian cuisine.  

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Actors' Playhouse

A prime location on Miracle Mile makes this a great destination for theatergoers, who can enjoy a meal and shopping before the show. This non-profit theater presents a full season of staged productions for adults, a children’s theater series, educational programing, acting classes and a wide array of community services.

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Cibo Wine Bar

A wine list numbering more than 200 varietals combines with an extensive menu of rustic Italian fare to create one amazing culinary experience. A daily happy hour (4-7pm) features half-price drinks. While the quality of the menu makes it worth the trek to Coral Gables, a second location—opening in South Beach in spring 2014—will make things easier.

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Things to do in Coral Gables

Venetian Pool

Critics' pick

Possibly the most beautiful swimming pool in the world, even if it is jammed on hot days. It combines an impossibly idyllic setting (tropical foliage, waterfalls, Italian architectural touches) with freshwater, replenished nightly in summer months from a subterranean aquifer. Once a quarry, it was built in the 1920s as an exotic locale for swimming and entertainment; back in the day, there were gondolas and orchestras; movie stars such as Esther Williams and Johnny Weissmuller of Tarzan fame serenaded poolside dancers. These days you might catch the filming of aqua aerobics classes for television. Everyone wants a piece of the pool. Luckily for Joe Public, it's open to the masses seven days a week, but it is perhaps best enjoyed when not overrun with toddlers and boom-box blasts (avoid weekends).

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Vizcaya Museum & Gardens

Critics' pick

Incongruous, unlikely and bizarre, Vizcaya is also an utter delight. An Italian Renaissance-style villa and gardens set on Biscayne Bay, it was built by F Burrall Hoffman, Diego Suarez and Paul Chalfin for Chicagoan industrialist and committed Europhile James Deering from 1914 to 1916. And a wildly extravagant spot it is too. Not only architecturally: the place is crammed with European antiques and works of decorative art spanning the 16th to the 19th centuries. All the furnishings at Vizcaya are just as they were in Deering’s time, including early versions of such amenities as a telephone switchboard, a central vacuum-cleaning system, elevators and fire sprinklers. The East Loggia looks out on to the bay, the exit guarded by a vast telescope. Off to the south stretch Vizcaya’s idyllic gardens, with fountains, pools, greenery, a casino and a maze. Strolling here on a quiet summer’s day can be magical (not surprisingly, it’s a popular spot for weddings). Another bonus is the café, which offers above-average lunches and, on Sundays, tea for two ($16) from 1pm to 4pm.

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Lowe Art Museum

The only museum in the area with a notable collection of Egyptian, Greek and Roman antiquities, the Lowe also features the Kress Collection of Renaissance and baroque art, plus galleries of pre-Colombian, Asian, African, Native American, European and American work. The European collection includes pieces by Monet and Gauguin; the south-west Indian art collection contains textiles, baskets and other utilitarian objects; and the Art of Asia gallery has objects from China, Korea, Japan and South Asia.

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Cultural highlights in Coral Gables

Coral Gables Museum

The Coral Gables Museum lives up to its name by providing a useful overview of the district's culture and history, with a special emphasis on architecture and town planning. It's more diverting than it sounds—recent exhibitions have looked at pioneer life in Miami and the Florida land boom of the '20s, while a season dedicated to Coral Gables's sister cities around the world branched out into exhibits on Italy and Colombia. Appropriately, the museum is partly housed in the Old Fire House & Police Station, an imposing old building whose blend of Depression-era architecture and Mediterranean Revival influences speaks to the area's colorful history.

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Americas Collection

Modern and contemporary paintings, especially landscapes and portraits, are typical offerings at this long-running Coral Gables gallery. It also features art by well-known Latin American artists.

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ArtSpace/Virginia Miller Galleries

Since opening her gallery in 1974, Virginia Miller has reflected the trends and showed daring installation work, photography and murals. These days the gallery showcases figurative and abstract painters from the US and Latin America. Miller also brokers masterworks from international markets.

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Hotels in Coral Gables

Biltmore Hotel

Critics' pick

A majestic monument to the Gables of the Florida boom years, the Biltmore boasts a 300ft bell tower modeled after the Giralda in Seville, as well as the largest pool in the US. It’s worth checking in for the history alone. The lobby has a hand-painted vaulted ceiling, and French and Spanish furniture, along with large wooden aviaries containing songbirds. Marble floors, oriental rugs and soaring columns add to the grandeur. Upstairs, Egyptian cotton duvets and plump feather beds add comfort to the period drama. To top it off, there’s a world-class golf course, spa, wine club and sumptuous Sunday brunches. The only drawback is the lonely location.

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Hotel Place St Michel

This hotel, built in 1926 and refurbished in 1995, is a tiny, European-style gem in the heart of Coral Gables. Fresh flowers and fans adorn the cosy lobby. The distinctive rooms have wood floors, dark panelled walls, lovely antique furniture and a fruit basket. Room rates include continental breakfast.

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Westin Colonnade Hotel

Coral Gables oozes history, and despite the Westin sheen, the Colonnade Hotel is no different. Once the offices of Gables’ founder George Merrick, this stately building later housed the Florida National Bank. So it makes sense that the hotel now caters to a business clientele. But there’s still romance: the immense entrance is a two-story rotunda with Corinthian columns, crystal chandeliers, marble floors and a fountain. Rooms are equally plush.

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Music and nightlife in Coral Gables

Club Aqua

This “clothing optional” bath house and private men’s club features free poolside buffets, safe sex shows and an occasional porn actors doing what they do best, live and uncensored. There’s a gym too, but that’s not why anybody’s here.

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Club Azúcar

A welcome change from sceney South Beach, Club Azúcar is a Latin stronghold where men dance together the old-fashioned way and Hispanic drag queens bitch and sing en español. 

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GableStage

Critics' pick

Offering an eclectic season of contemporary drama and comedy, with the occasional classic mixed in, GableStage productions are hand-picked by artistic director Joe Adler, who travels regularly to London and New York in search of the latest hits. This house is Miami’s most reliable by far, turning out shows with solid production values and excellent acting.

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Shopping in Coral Gables

Village of Merrick Park

This upscale mall is anchored by department stores Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom. Three open-air stories boast over 100 shops and boutiques, including the likes of Burberry, Gucci, Adolfo Domínguez, Jimmy Choo, Diane von Furstenberg and Agent Provocateur. Jewelery brands include Tiffany and Tourneau.

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Books & Books

Critics' pick

Heaven for book-lovers, Books & Books is a superb independent, well-stocked with bestsellers but also lots of small publishers. Its wooden-floored rooms include one devoted to antiquarian rarities and another to kids’ books. There’s a café, as well as regular discussion groups and author readings.

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Dadeland Mall

This supermall fronts Florida’s largest Macy’s. Among the other 200-odd stores are Saks Fifth Avenue and a two-story Louis Vuitton. Dadeland is also one of the only malls easily accessible on Miami’s Metrorail system.

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Popular restaurants in Coral Gables

El Chalan

Miami’s best food is often found in strip malls, and this budget Peruvian caff is a case in point. The aesthetics are cheap: bright, unflattering lights, laminated menus and photographs of the food. But the home cooking is top notch. The ceviche is fresh and tangy, the lomo saltado is present and correct, and the medley of traditional Peruvian cuisine is simple and comforting (aji de gallina, boneless chicken in a creamy sauce; tripe stew in yellow mint sauce). If you can’t afford the elegant Francesco’s, this is a great intro to Peruvian cuisine.  

Read more
Coral Gables

Books & Books

Critics' pick

Heaven for book-lovers, Books & Books is a superb independent, well-stocked with bestsellers but also lots of small publishers. Its wooden-floored rooms include one devoted to antiquarian rarities and another to kids’ books. There’s a café, as well as regular discussion groups and author readings.

Read more
Coral Gables

Eating House

Twenty-something chef Giorgio Rapicavoli puts a fun twist on upscale dining at Eating House with eccentric dishes like pumpkin pie waffle and Cap’n Crunch pancakes—both of which can be washed down with a sublime Tang mimosa.

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Ortanique on the Mile

Named after a rare tropical fruit (an ortanique is a hybrid orange native to Jamaica—apparently), this restaurant serves creative Caribbean cooking. The focus here is on cuisine, not scene, and the food, by top chef Cindy Hutson, is outstanding. Dishes such as jerked double pork chop with guava rum sauce and tropical fruit flambé are a blissful orgy of flavor.

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Popular bars in Coral Gables

John Martin's Irish Pub

Do a little jig: this landmark pub is the Irish heart of Miami, with plenty of boozing and bonhomie. There’s Irish cabaret on Saturday nights and a Celtic-tinged open-mic night on Sunday. A happy hour with a free buffet draws in the Gables prissies hoping to score a rough Irish lad. Instead, they usually find the male version of themselves.

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Cibo Wine Bar

A wine list numbering more than 200 varietals combines with an extensive menu of rustic Italian fare to create one amazing culinary experience. A daily happy hour (4-7pm) features half-price drinks. While the quality of the menu makes it worth the trek to Coral Gables, a second location—opening in South Beach in spring 2014—will make things easier.

Read more
Coral Gables

Duffy's Tavern

On the far west side of the Gables, this humble pub is a favorite hangout with University of Miami football players past and present (the place prides itself on its jock-friendliness). UM supporters—some of the most powerful city fathers—are also known to be frequent habitués. The result is a mix of old Anglo establishment types and the newer Latin versions. When they’re not knocking back brewskis, patrons are munching burgers and beer-battered fries.

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