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.
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.
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.
Coral Gables restaurants and bars
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. Rapicavoli’s take on eggs Benedict skews swanky thanks to a black truffle topping while the French toast speaks to the city’s Latin influences, subbing in Cuban bread for brioche and guava and Iron Beer for maple syrup.Read more
Multicourse dining has found its way to daytime service at Brasserie Central. Brunch here is a leisurely experience best enjoyed in the outdoor patio, beginning with a bucket of sparkling wine and a carafe of OJ for the table, then sauntering on with generous portions of classic bistro fare like Lyonnaise salad with frisee bacon lardon and a soft-poached egg, and steak frites—hanger steak with shallot sauce and crispy French fries. The ile flotttante, one of six dessert options available, is an airy meringue atop creme anglaise and the perfect French ending.Read more
In Spanish, “piripi” refers to the elation one feels when tipsy—or perhaps after a deliciously decadent meal at Moroccan-Basque chef Najat Kaanache’s new restaurant. Instead of a broad tapas menu, dishes are divided by category and range from “piripikoteos” or small bites to “solid and liquid salads,” such as gazpacho, to heartier fare, including slow-cooked octopus and oversized prawns cooked a la plancha with sliced garlic.Read more
Things to do in Coral Gables
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).Read more
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 from 1pm to 4pm.Read more
Offering an eclectic season of contemporary drama and comedy, with the occasional classic mixed in, GableStage productions are hand selected by veteran artistic director Joe Adler, who travels regularly to London and New York in search of the latest hits. Adler also turns to local talent, taking a chance on experimental pieces and progressive plays by South Florida artists. One of Miami’s most stalwart houses turns out shows with solid production values and excellent acting.Read more
Hotels in Coral Gables
A majestic monument to the Gables of the Florida boom years, the Biltmore boasts a 300-foot bell tower modeled after the Giralda in Seville, as well as one of the largest pools in the U.S. 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—think flowing Champagne, oysters and more. The only drawback is the lonely location, but isolation bodes well for a peaceful vacation.Read more
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.Read more
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.Read more
Music and nightlife in Coral Gables
Owner Craig DeWald is serious about vino—he traded a job in corporate America to open his own wine bar—but his approach is wholly playful, as revealed by Uvaggio’s menu. Pick from full-bodied whites in the “Large and In Charge” section, spring for a “Sweety Pie” dessert wine or sample a variety during Saturday’s afternoon tastings. While food comes second, it’s certainly not an afterthought, evidenced by dishes such as handmade gnocchi and roasted cauliflower, which enhance the oenophile experience.Read more
Wine angels do exist! And you’ll find them at Cibo, retrieving your chosen bottle from a floor-to-ceiling cellar while suspended via harness. Navigating the 3,000-bottle wall (which includes plenty of Italian and California labels) is no small feat. Feeling fancy? Opt for a taste of the 28 boutique wines dispensed by the innovative Enomatic system, which allows for single pours from high-end bottles while preserving taste and freshness.Read more
Azucar is as sweet as its name suggests. This is the premier gay Latin nightclub in Miami, offering a welcome break from the glitz and sleaze of South Beach and an intro to the Little Havana area. It’s dragtastic with plenty of fun, fabuloso nights. Come on, who doesn’t want to check out Priscilla La Reina del Desierto, where the ladies bitch, sing, and perform en Español? Cabaret nights keep things intimate and clean for your more reserved pals. And Azucar has amateur drag war nights in which young queens can strut and drop like the future stars they are. For those with a hankering for muscles, Magic Mike-type meatheads will also titillate and tempt as you clutch your dirt-cheap drink in sweaty, trembling hand.Read more
Shopping in Coral Gables
Owner Tiffany Dominguez started selling her handmade jewelry at craft markets before taking her business digital. These days, locals can shop her collections of necklaces, rings, bracelets and earrings at the Coral Gables showroom she’s dubbed The Jewelry Box. It truly does feel like a special coffret inside—filled with all of the latest pieces she’s designed and girly displays so perfectly arranged you think you’re browsing real-life Pinterest boards. More than just pretty packaging and feminine displays, what really makes Taudrey is the brand’s ability to appeal to women of all ages. Which is thanks to, in part, the variety of pieces that can be customized, engraved and bundled to celebrate a particular occasion, fit a certain style or grow an existing collection. Need help deciding on a piece? Someone from the Taudsquad (the ladies behind the whole operation) will gladly help.Read more
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
After more than 70 years in business, Coral Gables’ oldest fine-jewelry store continues to be one of the most trusted places to shop for diamond rings, wedding bands and gemstone pieces. While the men who regularly turn up to buy new trinkets for their wives or girlfriends are always pleasantly surprised to find a wide selection of Rolexes and other Swiss-made watches. Customers are welcomed to create a wish list for their loved ones, a sort of personal registry that lets your loved ones know your favorite pieces in the store. Though there’s no substitute for browsing at Jae’s—trying on jewelry, learning about the designs and spending time with the Hornik family, who continue to helm the business after so many years.Read more