A tall city with a small footprint, Aventura is an urban forest of high-rise condos by the Intracoastal Waterway.
Aventura was incorporated in 1995, but the city’s history goes back to a purchase by the developer Donald Soffer in the 1950s. Craning my neck to see Aventura’s skyline I’m amazed to think this was empty swampland until then.
First came the Turnberry Resort, now the JW Marriott Miami Turnberry Resort & Spa, and world-renowned for its championship golf facility.
Then in the 1980s the Aventura Mall opened its doors. A byword for exclusive fashion, this is the largest mall in Florida.
1. Aventura Mall
Source: Felix Mizioznikov / shutterstock
Aventura is synonymous with the largest mall in Florida, which is one of the three largest in the country. With more than 300 retailers and 50+ dining options, Aventura Mall is somewhere I think everyone should experience at least once.
A portion of the brands here are at the highest end of the luxury market. We’re talking Fendi, Hermes, Gucci, Chanel, and Louis Vuitton. It’s a real who’s who of fashion, straight from the runway.
The air of exclusivity is also reflected in a museum’s worth of contemporary sculpture, arranged throughout the mall. The most striking is the outdoor slide tower designed by Carsten Höller, and actually rideable in the cooler months.
You’ll still find a lot of more familiar mid-market stores, including five department chains, the likes of Zara, H&M, Apple, Sepora, Nike, and Adidas.
On weekends, the upper and lower levels are home to the largest indoor market in South Florida. The Aventura Market has a multitude of vendors for fresh produce, exotic specialty foods, fashion accessories, home decor and more.
2. JW Marriott Miami Turnberry Resort
In the same vein as the Aventura Mall, I don’t think you can talk about Aventura without mentioning this expansive luxury resort.
Taking up about a half of Aventura’s acreage, the JW Marriott Miami Turnberry Resort & Spa predates the city.
This resort opened as “Turnberry” way back in 1967, on what was 750+ acres of swamp, and was rebranded as a Marriott destination in 2017.
There’s a wide array of facilities in romantic tropical grounds. To sum up, you’ve got 685 rooms, five restaurants, a high-end spa, and a waterpark.
The two 18-hole championship golf courses are the stuff of legend, and have hosted a long list of PGA and LPGA events.
3. Tidal Cove Waterpark
A showpiece at the JW Marriott Miami Turnberry Resort & Spa, Tidal Cove Waterpark is a world-class family attraction.
In a tropical landscape there’s a 60-foot tower at Tidal Cove, with seven waterslides. For high-speed thrills, Aqua Drop is a freefall drop, while Boomerango is a group raft ride with sudden drops.
If you want to work on your bodyboarding skills there’s a FlowRider Triple machine. Alternatively, you may want to do as little as possible. In which case I’d grab a ring and let the current take you down the Lazy River.
This ride meanders past palms and ferns, and you can rent one of the luxury private cabanas on the sides.
4. Aventura Arts and Cultural Center
The year 2010 was a landmark for Aventura as it heralded the opening of this modern performing arts center.
By any standards I think the Aventura Arts and Cultural Center is an impressive facility. In a beautiful waterfront setting, there’s a 330-seat auditorium, a monumental glass-paneled lobby, and a plaza with a promenade.
On the calendar is a crowd-pleasing menu of shows. You’ve got classical soloists, Broadway musicals, rock and pop tribute acts, children’s entertainment, and much more besides.
Look out for the Miami International Piano Festival, with multiple performances by celebrated pianists throughout the season.
5. Aventura Circle
With its jumble of high-rise condos, resorts and commercial developments, public space is at a premium in Aventura.
My favorite spot that is free to visit is the paved path that winds for more than three miles around the JW Marriott Miami Turnberry Resort & Spa at Aventura Circle.
Tracking Country Club Drive, this is the Don Soffer Exercise Trail, in a uniquely tranquil part of the city.
The trail has invigorating views over the course and its many lakes. You’ll see ducks, wading birds, and iguanas, and there are plenty of chilled water fountains on the trail.
6. AME Spa and Wellness Aventura
With a whole team of practitioners, the spa at the JW Marriott Miami Turnberry Resort is the place to go for full-service pampering.
On three floors, this facility offers a full menu of spa and beauty treatments and rituals. There’s also a state-of-the-art, 3,600-square-foot fitness center.
For a sense of what’s available you’ve got a wide array of facials, massages, manicures, wraps, scrubs, and plenty of non-traditional treatments.
One of the signature experiences is the Turnberry Detoxifying Treatment, combining exfoliation, a hydrating wrap, and high-performance massage. Look out for special spa events, from yoga sessions to guided meditation.
7. Visit the Beach
Aventura is just inland from the Atlantic shoreline. Still there’s a long sequence of public access points a few minutes from the city.
Call it a cliché, but watching the sun come up over the Atlantic is the perfect way to start the day.
For amenities, my recommendation is South City Beach Park in Hallandale Beach. This was given a total renovation in the 2010s, and has full-service concessions at Cafe Cita at the Beach.
There’s also a pavilion for outdoor events, as well as picnic areas, volleyball courts, bocce courts, and a playground for wee ones.
Head south from there and you’ll find access points throughout Golden Beach and Sunny Isles Beach.
8. Greynolds Park
Covering nearly 250 acres, the land that now makes up Greynolds Parks was once a commercial limestone quarry.
After its usefulness waned, it was donated to the county in 1933, and then developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Now you’ll enter a wonderful natural site featuring native habitats like hardwood and coastal mangrove forests.
There are a variety of well-marked trails to explore on foot or by bike, and I remember encountering a lot of iguanas and raccoons on my walk.
Meanwhile, the Oleta River runs along the park’s eastern border, and you can rent canoes and kayaks from the boathouse.
9. St. Bernard de Clairvaux Monastery
Close by in North Miami Beach is surely the most unusual historic site in all of Florida. Originally built for a monastery in Spain some 900 years ago, these Romanesque cloisters were purchased by American newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst in the 1930s.
The complex was disassembled, shipped to Florida, and reassembled in the 1960s on the site where it now rests. Made up of more than 35,000 pieces, the cloisters are now open to the public as part of an Episcopal church.
I had a truly surreal experience wandering through a piece of Medieval European architecture, transplanted among tropical gardens.
Take your time to study the finely sculpted capitals and reliefs, and Keep your phone ready for awesome photo opportunities.
10. Haulover Park
A couple of miles down the coast, Haulover Park has 1.5 miles of perfect Atlantic shoreline. One of many things to love about this place is that the shoreline has been left undeveloped.
Framing the beach and its flawless white sands is little more than native coastal vegetation, and an array of park amenities.
I should point out that the northernmost third of the beach at Haulover Park is clothing optional. In fact, this is officially the largest public nudist friendly beach in the country, attracting more than a million visitors each year.
This stretch of coastline is also exposed to the breezes blowing off Biscayne Bay. There’s a large grassy area behind the beach, which may well be the best place in Florida to fly a kite.
11. Oleta River State Park
A couple of miles south of Aventura is more than 1,000 acres of nature in the very heart of a sprawling urban area.
At Oleta River State Park you can hike or ride 15 miles of trail through lush tropical tropical landscapes. On the water are mangrove tunnels waiting to be discovered on a kayaking trip.
You can rent mountain bikes, kayaks, canoes and paddle boards from the Oleta River Outdoor Center, and then see what you can discover.
The center also organizes guided tours, if you’ve ever wanted to kayak under a full moon, or hear an expert explain South Florida’s intricate ecosystems.
A place I’ll always return to at this park is the sandy cove on Biscayne Bay, a true slice of paradise.
12. Gulfstream Park
In keeping with the upscale ambience around Aventura, South Florida’s premier horse racing venue is on the northern edge of the city.
Gulfstream Park hosts more than 60 graded thoroughbred races each year, three of which are Grade I races.
The big milestones in the calendar are the Florida Derby, run around late March, and the Pegasus World Cup in late January.
First opened in 1939, the track has changed a lot over time. One of the biggest additions came in the 2000s, when Vegas-style slots and table games were added.
Now the grand clubhouse is an anchor for a 500,000-square-foot mixed-use development, which I’ll cover in more detail below.
One strange sight that always catches my attention at Gulfstream Park is a massive statue in the parking lot. Pegasus and Dragon are colossal steel and bronze figures, 100 feet tall. This is claimed to be the third-tallest statue in the United States.
13. The Village at Gulfstream Park
In 2010 an opulent mixed-use development opened on the Gulfstream Park property.
Radiating west of the historic clubhouse, The Village at Gulfstream Park has the same Mediterranean Revival architecture.
In this distinguished setting are fashion boutiques, art galleries, restaurants, one-off specialty stores, deluxe health & beauty services and designer housewares.
I’ve had some fun nights here—Strike 10 Bowling is a kind of entertainment center for adults, with bowling, an arcade, billiards, mini-bowling and a bar with live music.
PlugIN Karaoke is an East Asian-style karaoke experience, where you can entertain friends and family in luxury private lounges.
14. Founders Park
Dedicated to the people behind Aventura’s incorporation in 1995, this public park is open to both city residents and visitors.
There’s a variety of amenities and activity options at Founders Park. You’ve got athletic fields, outdoor trails with built-in exercise stations, tennis courts, picnic areas, and a playground.
For families like mine, the main draw is the excellent splash pad, helping keep little ones cool and entertained in spring and summer.
Across Hidden Bay Drive, the park’s southern portion features a scenic bay walk, with benches and tropical landscape overlooking a large sweep of the Intracoastal Waterway.
During the pandemic the park was closed to non-residents, but when I was here you could get in for a small fee.
15. AMC Aventura 24
The movie theater at the Aventura Mall is a little less swanky than you might expect given the setting. That’s no bad thing, and there are plenty of cool touches, like a Coca-Cola Freestyle machine.
AMC Aventura is a massive facility, and all of the auditoriums are spacious, with stadium seating throughout.
If there’s a new release famous for its special effects, it’s well worth seeing it at the Dolby Cinema at AMC, or the IMAX with Laser at AMC screens here.
From my experience, the other thing going for these screens is that they have luxury recliners, which aren’t available at the rest of this location.