15 Best Things to Do in Coral Gables (FL)

Written by Bart Meeuwesen
Updated on
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A few miles west of downtown Miami, the affluent Coral Gables has been dubbed The City Beautiful. I’m not about to disagree, as this is one of the most gorgeous cities in America. 

For this you can thank the real estate developer George E. Merrick (1886-1942). In the 1920s he designed Coral Gables from scratch.

Almost every building is in the Mediterranean Revival style of that time, and constructed from pale local limestone known as coral rock.

The streets are lined with mature banyan trees and live oaks, and there are heaps of cultural and botanical attractions to keep you occupied for days.

1. Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden

Fairchild Tropical Botanical GardenSource: S.Borisov / shutterstock
Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden

You can combine a visit to this stunning botanical garden with the adjoining Matheson Hammock Park, which I’ll talk about below.

The Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden was established in 1938 by Robert H. Montgomery (1872–1953), businessman and amateur plant-collector. He named the garden for his friend, the esteemed plant explorer David Fairchild (1869–1954). 

Fairchild collected many of the thousands of specimens that you can see at the garden, among them an extraordinary African baobab tree.

This is the kind of place that deserves hours of exploration. But if you only have time for a short visit, I recommend the two-ace stand of tropical rainforest, and the sensational butterfly house.

Called Wings of the Tropics, this 25,000-square-foot enclosure has butterflies from four different continents flying freely and pausing at special feeding stations.

2. Venetian Pool

Venetian Pool, Coral GablesSource: Marco Borghini / shutterstock
Venetian Pool, Coral Gables

The most beautiful swimming pool in the world awaits you in Coral Gables. Having seen the Venetian Pool with my own eyes, I find it hard to disagree with that statement. 

This amazing aquatic facility opened in 1924, filling the former quarry that yielded a lot of the coral rock for Coral Gables’ development.

The pool was designed by the city architect, Phineas Paist, and has Italian Renaissance architecture inspired by Venetian townhouses. 

Holding 820,000 gallons, this is a freshwater pool, refilled daily by springwater from an underground aquifer. On the margins of the pool are beautiful little grottos and waterfalls.

3. Coral Gables Museum

<yoastmark class=Source: meunierd / shutterstock

Coral Gables local history museum is housed in the city’s old Police and Fire Station, built from coral rock.

This landmark was completed in 1936, and was designed by Phineas Pais, one of the city’s original architects. 

So for me it’s a fitting place to get to know the story of this unique city. Exhibits here deal with topics like architecture, urban design, planning, and historic preservation.

I enjoyed seeing George Merrick’s vision laid out in detail, and adored the art exhibition for Jesús Rafael Soto and Carlos Cruz-Diez. 

In that same vein, the museum offers guided bike and walking tours, shining a light on Coral Gables’ unique cityscape. 

4. Old Cutler Trail

Old Cutler TrailSource: Buganvilla / shutterstock
Old Cutler Trail

Coral Gables is at the northeast end of an off-grid plan road winding along the South Florida coastline through some of the most beautiful neighborhoods in the Miami area. 

The Old Cutler Road was plotted in the late 19th century, and some 11 miles are traced by a paved multi-use trail. 

This path connects several places in my article, like Fairchild Tropical Garden and Matheson Hammock Park. 

Best of all for me were the majestic banyans and ficus trees, dating back centuries, and creating bumps in the path with their roots. 

At its south end, the Cutler Trail connects to the popular Biscayne Trail, which adds another three miles to its length.

5. Miracle Mile

This half-mile commercial avenue was the central thread in Merrick’s plan for Coral Gables’ downtown.

In fact, in the 1920s every commercial business in the district was located within a two-block walk of the Miracle Mile.

More than a century later, this artery is still Coral Gables’ hub for dining, commerce, entertainment, and even local governance.

One of several buildings to check out is the Colonnade Building (1926) at 133-169, with a blend of Baroque and Spanish Colonial architecture. 

In the 2010s the Miracle Mile was given a new streetscape, with widened sidewalks and additional greenery provided by a central row of palms.

6. Coral Gables Art Cinema

Coral Gables Art CinemaSource: gablescinema.com
Coral Gables Art Cinema

Opposite Books & Books and the Coral Gables Museum there’s a spot for true aficionados of the silver screen. 

The Coral Gables Art Cinema is a boutique theater, seating 141 and specializing in independent, international, and classic movies.

This spot opened in 2010, and has a 28’x12’ screen, 4K digital projection, reel-to-reel 35mm, and 3D capability. 

Best of all, this is the only place in South Florida with 70mm projectors, and you can catch regular screenings of epic Hollywood releases in this format. Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer (2023) was showing when I was in town.

7. Matheson Hammock Park

Matheson Hammock ParkSource: SchnepfDesign / shutterstock
Matheson Hammock Park

Local families have visited this one-of-a-kind bayside park for generations. Matheson Hammock Park was founded in 1930 and shines for its man-made atoll pool.

Fringed by a palm-lined sandy beach on its north side, this saltwater pool rises and falls with the tide on Biscayne Bay. If you want to paddle or swim without dealing with the waves, it’s a fabulous place to be.

The waters are safe and warm, and there’s a restaurant and snack bar in an historic coral rock building raised by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.

On breezier days you can enjoy the spectacle of kite-boarders showing off their skills, while there’s also a sailing and boating school located in the park.

8. The Shops at Merrick Park

The Shops at Merrick ParkSource: Fotoluminate LLC / shutterstock
The Shops At Merrick Park

With brands like Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and Boss, the Shops at Merrick Park is my go-to for something special. 

Opened in 2002, this is a classic lifestyle center, on two levels, with landscaping, water features and ample shade.

If you’d like to refuel, there’s also a choice of 11 sit-down restaurants, serving seafood, steak, pub grub or French-style crepes.

In the same vein, the Landmark at Merrick Park movie theater is suitably high-end. Specifically, you’ve got a full bar, cozy leather recliners, laser projection, outsize screens and Dolby 7.1 sound. 

9. Coral Gables City Hall

I’ve saved an entry for one of the key components in Merrick’s plan for Coral Gables, at the west end of Miracle Mile. Indeed, the City Hall is easily one of the most beautiful civic buildings in the United States.

Three stories tall and still the local administrative seat, this building was designed by Phineas Paist in the city’s typical Mediterranean Revival style. 

The most distinctive elements are the three-stage clock tower, as well as the stately Corinthian colonnade wrapping around the second story on the north side. 

If you get the chance to go inside, make sure to check out the mural by Denman Fink (1880-1956), depicting the four seasons.

10. Lowe Art Museum

Lowe Art MuseumSource: 8ABL / Wikimedia
Lowe Art Museum

The University of Miami’s art museum has important collections, containing nearly 20,000 items.

This was the first art museum in South Florida when it opened in 1952, and continues to be one of the state’s largest and most visited art destinations. 

The Lowe Art Museum’s holdings span 5,000 years and numerous artistic movements. So, you see Italian Baroque painting, 19th-century American Art, Greco-Roman Antiquities, or French Impressionism.

The temporary exhibitions are usually for contemporary art. There was a cool selection of works from the Berkowitz Contemporary Foundation’s collection when I stopped by. I was also spellbound by Sandra Ramos’s kaleidoscopic Entropydoscopes.

11. Coral Gables Merrick House

Coral Gables Merrick HouseSource: James Kirkikis / shutterstock
Coral Gables Merrick House

At 907 Coral Way, you can visit the childhood home of the man who planned and built Coral Gables. 

George E. Merrick moved to this address with his father, Solomon, in 1899. At that time, there was a simple wooden cottage here, and this was enlarged in 1903 and then in 1910.

The Merrick House was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, and has been restored to its 1920s appearance. I’ve been here recently, and was surprised at how intimate everything was.

The 14 rooms are decorated with Merrick family art, furniture and personal possessions, and I came away with a clear idea of George as a person.

The grounds were also a treat, featuring a heritage garden, lily pond, and beautiful old grotto. 

Tours take place on Saturdays and Sundays, and are led by knowledgeable and enthusiastic docents.

12. Actors’ Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre

Actor’s PlayhouseSource: Phillip Pessar / Flickr
Actors’ Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre

One of the many fine buildings on the Miracle Mile is a Streamline Moderne theater that opened its doors in 1948. 

After closing as a cinema, the Miracle Theatre began a new chapter in 1995, becoming the stage for the Actors’ Playhouse. 

This nonprofit professional organization has produced hundreds of mainstage and children’s theatre productions, earning dozens Carbonell Awards for artistic excellence.

There are up to six mainstage shows each season, with an assortment of Broadway musicals, comedies, and dramas.

I got tickets for the recent one-woman show, Defending the Cavewoman, and it was a riot.

13. Books & Books

Books & BooksSource: booksandbooks.com
Books & Books

At 265 Aragon Ave, I could visit an old-fashioned bookstore like this one and not emerge for hours.

Founded in 1982, Books & Books is one of the best independent bookstores in the country. 

This is a favorite destination for those looking to pick up a good beach read, or just browse its eclectic collection of classic and contemporary books in a variety of genres.

The store’s high reputation comes from its excellent range for fields like architecture, art and photography. So of course, it’s a perfect match for Coral Gables. 

The store has an onsite café and offers a variety of community activities and programs. These might be guest speakers, poetry readings, book launches, or ‘meet the author’ functions.

14. Biltmore Hotel

If you don’t mind a splurge, my advice is to stay at this opulent hotel, listed as a National Historic Landmark.

The Biltmore Hotel was Florida’s tallest building when it opened in 1926. The showpiece, soaring over Anastasia Ave, is the 315 ft tower, which borrowed its design from La Giralda in Seville.

In its heyday this was Florida’s hottest destination, with fashion shows and aquatic galas in its sprawling pool. The guestlist back then included FDR, Judy Garland, and Al Capone.

Then came WWII, bringing 40 years in the wilderness, before the resort finally reopened in its original splendor in 1987.

You’ve probably seen this Jazz Age icon in movies and TV shows like Bad Boys and Miami Vice. Among the amenities are an 18-hole Donald Ross golf course and the largest hotel pool on the Atlantic coast.

15. Deering Estate

Deering EstateSource: Felix Mizioznikov / shutterstock
Deering Estate

My tip for a day out is the Florida residence of the Chicago industrialist Charles Deering (1852-1927), on more than 400 acres of Miami coast. 

Deering was a forward-thinking environmentalist, conservationist, and art lover, so there are many facets to this place. 

You can tour his Mediterranean Revival mansion, built in 1922, as well as the smaller Richmond Cottage (1900). 

Meanwhile the grounds are sublime, and feature the largest stand of old-growth tropical hardwood hammock in the continental United States. 

The estate’s two residences are open for self-guided audio tours, while an expert naturalist conducts a daily guided tour of the grounds. 

Something I’ll remember for a long time was the sight of a group manatees munching on seagrass in the shallows.

15 Best Things to Do in Coral Gables (FL):

  • Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden
  • Venetian Pool
  • Coral Gables Museum
  • Old Cutler Trail
  • Miracle Mile
  • Coral Gables Art Cinema
  • Matheson Hammock Park
  • The Shops at Merrick Park
  • Coral Gables City Hall
  • Lowe Art Museum
  • Coral Gables Merrick House
  • Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre
  • Books & Books
  • Biltmore Hotel
  • Deering Estate