A serene retreat from South Beach’s bloat

|      Shivani Vora      |

SOUTH Beach features art deco architecture, shopping, packed beaches, crawling traffic and eager revelers

Miami’s South Beach may be the ultimate fun-in-the-sun and see-and-be-seen destination. In fact, with its crowds that can get unwieldy, South Beach can feel like a 24/7 party.

Located due east of Miami city proper between Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, the neighborhood encompasses the southernmost 2.5 square miles of Miami Beach.

The powdery sand beach here is undoubtedly picturesque, but the throngs that fill it by day mean that snagging a prime spot is something of a blood sport.

And, yes, the notable art deco architecture and string of designer shops and celebrity restaurants are other reasons to come, but remember that traffic crawls, reservations are hard to come by, and the tourists and locals who hang out here are often looking to revel into the early-morning hours.

People cross Ocean Drive in South Beach
The Violetas boutique store in Coral Gables, Florida

Location: From Dade Boulevard to the southern tip of the Miami Beach peninsula.

Coral Gables offers Mediterranean Revival buildings, shopping, a botanic garden and a freshwater pool

Centrally set in Miami-Dade County, the city of Coral Gables may not have an oceanside locale or art deco allure, but it more than makes up for that with its own proud aesthetic, as well as its history, serenity and first-class shopping.

George Merrick, who founded the city in 1925, was inspired by the City Beautiful Movement, an architectural philosophy that favored grandeur; he also had a love for Spanish architecture.

Both influences are visible in Coral Gables’ wide avenues lined with emerald-green oak, hardwood and mahogany trees, Mediterranean-style homes, intricately carved fountains with artistic water shows, and abundance of green spaces, such as Balboa Plaza and Alhambra Plaza.

Close to a dozen buildings in Coral Gables are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including City Hall and the Biltmore Hotel, which opened in 1926 and unveiled a USD30 million facelift in December. Set amid 150 acres of tropical landscape, it has one of the largest pools in the country, an 18-hole golf course, and a sprawling lobby that once hosted glamorous personalities including Ginger Rogers and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

Venetian Pool, also on the National Register of Historic Places, was created from a coral rock quarry in 1923. Its 820,000 gallons of water come from underground wells, making it the largest freshwater pool in the United States. The pool is surrounded by palm trees and has two waterfalls, caves and grottoes, and a Venetian-style bridge.

The 83-acre Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, established in 1938, is visual and olfactory pleasure, with a tropical rain forest, sunken garden and butterfly garden, among other exhibits. Although free guided tram or walking tours are available, you’ll want to save time to wander the trails that wind around the 11 lakes.

Buzzy eateries are in short supply in Coral Cables, but the new Fiola Miami could be a game-changer. The sleek restaurant, owned by famed chef Fabio Trabocchi, has already established itself as a favorite of Miamians who come for the crudo, whole wild Mediterranean fish, and killer list of wines and cocktails.

Location: Central Miami-Dade County, southwest of downtown Miami. coralgables.com. – Text and Photos by The Washington Post