As visitors check off the items on their Miami “must do” list, it is easy to find the road less traveled, even in the midst of some of the city’s most popular destinations. Deep in the heart of bustling Coconut Grove, the Barnacle Historic State Park houses the oldest home in its original location in Miami, designed and built by Commodore Ralph Middleton Munroe, one of Miami’s early pioneers. Here in this peaceful spot overlooking Biscayne Bay, one can imagine life in South Florida’s nascent days, before any roads had been built.
Just south of Coconut Grove, Coral Gables is also home to the Venetian Pool, an 820,000-gallon (3.1 million liters) swimming pool built in 1923 from a coral rock quarry. Considered one of the world’s most unique and breathtaking municipal swimming pools, the pool is spring-fed and the beautiful coral rock keeps the water cool even in the summer sun, and the two waterfalls and cave-like grottos make the experience more fun. Completing the Venetian vibe are the loggias, porticos, palm trees and Signature Bridge, along with two historic lookout towers with a view to “the City Beautiful.”
While Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden is known around the world, the lesser known, 600-acre (24 hectares) state park, Matheson Hammock, has been attracting local naturalists and outdoorsmen for years. With its well-marked nature trials and lovely island-pool lagoon Matheson Hammock is a great, un-crowded destination for families and nature-lovers alike. Red Fish Grill, a truly magical out-of-the-way restaurant located at the far end of the park, is housed in the original Matheson Hammock beach pavilion, hewn from coral rock cut and quarried onsite. With its tucked away location, intimate atmosphere and breathtaking beach views, locals consider Red Fish Grill one of the most romantic restaurants in Miami.
Located midway between downtown Miami and South Beach, Jungle Island offers unusual immersion programs such as the Lemur Experience, which brings small groups of guests in the park’s Lemur Nursery, where rare red-ruffed and black-and-white ruffed lemurs are growing up and developing. Their VIP Safari offers guests a privately guided, 90-minute behind-the-scenes tour of the Jungle that brings guests closer than ever to some of the world’s most rare and fascinating animals, with personal interactions from lemurs to the only tame Cassowary on the planet.
In North Miami Beach, just off of the busy highways, the leafy and peaceful Ancient Spanish Monastery, originally built in Segovia in the 11th century, was brought over and reconstructed stone-by-stone, is a great out-of-the-way find. The monastery, which occasionally offers moonlight concerts, has been used in many television shows and Hollywood films, such as the recent film “Rock of Ages,” which features the Chapel in Catherine Zeta-Jones’ big dance number “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.”
In the southern part of the county, near Everglades and Biscayne national parks are three of Greater Miami’s quirkiest attractions. Monkey Jungle, where the people are caged and the monkeys are free, is a fun alternative to mega theme parks. It is one of the few protected habitats for endangered primates in the United States and the only one that the general public can explore. The iconic attraction recently introduced the behind- the-scenes Amazonian Rainforest Adventure Tour, which lets guests hand feed squirrel monkeys and Black Capped Capuchin monkeys. Everglades Alligator Farm offers thrilling airboat rides, as well as alligator, snake, and wildlife shows. The farm, rather than processing alligators, collects their eggs to sell to other alligator farms around the state. The truly offbeat Coral Castle — featured on U.S. television’s “That’s Incredible” and other shows as a marvel of architectural engineering – still mystifies travelers with the conundrum of how one small man could move and carve tons of coral rock without machines.
The unusual Dezer Collection Museum and Pavilion is a car lovers’ paradise, featuring more than 1,000 of the most unique and eclectic vehicles in the world. Guests can trace the evolution of the automobile through exhibits showcasing American classics from all eras, rare European classics, military cars, electric cars, micro-cars, bicycles, classic motorcycles, and more. For a lower tech experience, try the Miccosoukee Indian Village, where guided tours take guests through the past, present and future of the tribe through craft demonstrations, a museum and alligator wrestling, while airboat rides through the River of Grass.
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