North of Doral and west of Hialeah, this city of more than 20,000 is on the very western edge of the Miami Metropolitan Area.
Until the 1960s the landscape in this part of Dade County was rural, with horse farms along the Okeechobee Road corridor.
Over the next 30 years Hialeah Gardens developed into a densely populated bedroom community. Transport arteries, including Okeechobee Road and the Palmetto Expressway, place the city within a 30-minute drive of downtown Miami.
Although Hialeah Garden is mostly residential, I’m amazed at how much you can do in the area. The Everglades are right there for airboat tours, while sprawling parks and modern lifestyle centers are a few minutes away
1. Westland Gardens Park
The community park for Hialeah Gardens, Westland Gardens Park encompasses the city’s public library. I really appreciate the mix of amenities here, from botanical plantings to sports facilities and even an Olympic-size heated pool.
That pool is matched with a fantastic splash pad, which tends to be open during school breaks. Added to that are three baseball diamonds, a dry playground, and racquetball courts.
My personal high is the five acres on the east side that have been set aside for a botanical garden. With neat formal landscaping, this plot has more than 45,000 plants from 500 species, and is totally free to visit.
2. Assault Brigade 2506 Museum
On my last visit to the area, this captivating museum had just opened next to Westland Gardens Park. Brigade 2506 was the CIA-sponsored group of Cuban exiles that took part in the Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1961.
As you may know, this was a human and geopolitical catastrophe, with more than 100 deaths, and 1,113 fighters were captured by Castro’s forces.
The Assault Brigade 2506 Museum is a 5,300-square-foot attraction paying tribute to those who took part in the operation. On show is a B-26 Bomber that was involved in the preparation.
There’s also an M41 Bulldog Tank, of the kind that took part in the landings. Inside are more than 800 photographs, as well as replica weapons and dozens of artifacts from the invasion.
3. Amelia Earhart Park
I recently discovered that the aviator Amelia Earhart took off on her final flight from an airport near Hialeah Gardens in 1937.
The park named in her honor is a little way north and west of the site of the long redeveloped Miami Municipal Airport.
At more than 500 acres, Amelia Earhart Park is large by municipal park standards. With so much to see and do, it’s the kind of place that can occupy more than just an hour or two.
Featuring a creek, five lakes, and a number of trails for bikers, walkers, and runners, Amelia Earhart Park is a favorite destination for those looking to stretch their legs.
Lastly, I’ll talk about the extraordinary watersports complex on the park’s main lake a little later in my article.
4. Miami Watersports Complex
On Peregrine Falcon Lake at Amelia Earhart Park is one of the largest cable wakeboard parks in the country. The two full-sized cables at the Miami Watersports Complex are ready for wakeboarding of course, but also waterskiing, wakeskating, and kneeboarding.
Expert boarders can test their skills on rails and kickers, while, newbies like me can book a ‘Get Up Guarantee’ package. This involves one-on-one coaching, full equipment, and your own private cable.
The other big attraction at the complex is the massive floating Aquapark, covering 10,000 square feet. Watched by lifeguards, this has more than 30 challenging elements, and is great for tiring out teenagers.
5. Westland Mall
Open for more than 50 years, this enclosed mall was in great shape when I stopped by recently.
The best part is the food court, which is comfortable and spacious, and has a big choice of counter-serve eateries on both sides, along with a domino corner.
The mall’s anchors are JCPenney and Macy’s, and there are scores of familiar retailers. At the last count I saw Aéropostale, Kay Jewelers, Foot Locker, H&M, G by Guess, and Pandora, to name just a handful.
Don’t forget to login for free Wi-Fi, while there’s a great children’s play area with a Little Free Library.
6. Mack’s Fish Camp
Hialeah Gardens is about as far west as you can get in Greater Miami before you hit the Southern Everglades. A short trip along U.S. Route 27 and you’ll reach Mack’s Fish Camp.
Here experienced gladesmen offer informative airboat rides around these world-renowned wetlands. I took a private eco-tour with my partner and spent an hour zooming through the sawgrass.
It was just the two of us and our guide. We must have seen dozens of bird species, as well as turtles and, of course, a lot of alligators. The trip was peppered with interesting anecdotes, on everything from wildlife encounters to day-to-day life in the ‘Glades.
7. Golden Eagle Park
Right next to Hialeah Gardens Elementary there’s an excellent little park with what may be the best playground in the area.
Laid with soft mulch, and with a mass of slides and climbable elements, this spans the entire width of the park. Parents can keep an eye on their kids from the benches on the edge, neatly situated under the trees.
A peculiar feature on the east side of Golden Eagle Park is a large grassy mound. I haven’t been able to work out exactly what this little hill is for. Still, I do know that my kids have a blast rolling down it.
8. CityPlace Doral
Hialeah Gardens’ southern neighbor was booming when I wrote this list. In a decade, the population had almost doubled to 80,000.
At the same time, futuristic mixed-use developments were sprouting all over the city. The most impressive of these is CityPlace Doral, a dazzling dining, shopping and entertainment district.
The dining roster runs from cute little cafes with outdoor tables to exclusive white tablecloth restaurants. For entertainment you’ve got live comedy, upscale bowling at Kings Dining & Entertainment, or a high-end movie experience at the CMX CinéBistro.
9. Curtiss Mansion
A short drive along U.S. Route 27, there’s a restored mansion that was built for the developer and aviator Glenn Curtiss (1878-1930).
Curtiss was an intriguing figure, remembered for making the first long-distance flight in the United States, from Albany to New York (1910). Later his company produced aircraft for the U.S. Army and Navy.
His Pueblo Revival mansion in Miami Springs was completed in 1925 and later had a variety of owners, before becoming derelict at the end of the 20th century.
Spanning decades, a long-term restoration was finally completed in 2012, and the building is now used for events by the City of Miami Springs.
If, like me, you’re gripped by the history of the building and the story of Glen Curtiss you can book a guided tour. Led by knowledgeable docents, these take place on Saturdays and last an hour.
10. Trump National Doral
I think it’s fitting that one of the first things to be developed around Hialeah Gardens was a golf course.
The name of the neighboring city of Doral is a portmanteau of Doris and Alfred Kastel. In the 1950s they purchased thousands of acres in western Dade County, and soon opened Doral Country Club.
For more than 40 years the Blue Monster course here hosted the Doral Open, a PGA Tour event. The resort was bought by the Trump Organization in 2012, and today boasts 72 holes of golf.
For aficionados of the sport the Blue Monster is a bucket list course. A round culminates with signature par-4 18th, counted among the Top 100 Holes in the World by GOLF Magazine.
11. Joe Sherron Park
This small neighborhood park is set among residential streets with a few local businesses at the north end. Joe Sherron Park is mainly for passive recreation, and shines most of all as a place to bring little ones.
There are two play areas here, the larger of which is under the canopy of tall trees. The entire facility is fenced, which should give peace of mind for parents.
Elsewhere, a paved trail winds around the edge, which is useful if you want to get a few steps in. This space is also a favored location for picnics, birthdays, family reunions, baby showers and the like, with a set of three pavilions on the west side of the park.
12. K1 Speed Miami
Next door in Medley there’s an indoor karting center with indoor tracks accommodating beginners and experts.
Behind the wheel at K1 Speed Miami, I was unprepared for just how fast these electric karts can be. With 20bhp, you can get up to 45 MPH, while the noiseless karts feel like they’re glued to the track on corners.
Another thing going for this facility is how you can just show up and drive. An Arrive & Drive pass gives you one, two or three 12-lap races.
There’s plenty of seating by both tracks, and the Paddock Lounge has a full bar and a menu of simple bites.
13. Miami Motocross Park
Another of the advantages of being on the edge of the metropolitan area is attractions like this. Backdropped by the Everglades, Miami Motocross is an off-road motorbike racing facility.
There’s a season of competitive racing here, but what impressed me is how anyone can come and use the track. On Wednesdays and weekends you can rent a bike for two or six hours, and cut loose.
There are bikes for all skill levels, and if you need some coaching you can take a two-hour lesson. As well as the main MX track there’s a peewee track just for kids. First-timers will be amazed how skilled those younger riders are.
14. Hialeah Park Casino
This racetrack-turned-casino in Hialeah has been around for over a century. In that time, Hialeah Park has hosted international heads of state, world-famous entertainment icons, and scores of business magnates.
Opened in 1922 by Glenn Curtiss, the track was renowned for its grand architecture, lush grounds, a busy schedule of thoroughbred stakes races, and a huge flock of flamingos inhabiting the infield lake.
Thoroughbred racing ended at Hialeah Park in 2001. Still, the flamingos remain, and are more abundant than ever. The infield has even been designated a sanctuary by the National Audubon Sanctuary.
In its most current form, the casino portion of the facility opened in 2013. This is furnished with more than 850 slots, as well as more than 30 poker tables, and the Champions Simulcast Center for live horse racing.
15. Santa’s Enchanted Forest
From early November to early January, the ‘World’s Largest Holiday Theme Park’ is open a couple of minutes from Hialeah Gardens.
Going back more than 40 years, Santa’s Enchanted Forest features more than 100 rides, games, shows, and other attractions.
There’s a slew of classic carnival rides, from bumper cars to a merry-go-round, and a Ferris wheel. For shows you’ve got a magic show, acrobats, and stuntmen on horseback and motorcycles.
This is a Christmas-themed attraction after all, so kids will be looking forward to a visit with Santa, who is at the park every night.