In South Dade, Pinecrest is an upmarket suburban village incorporated in 1996. This happened at a time of sharp growth, just a few years after Hurricane Andrew, which caused widespread damage in 1992.
You would never know it today. The first thing I have to mention about Pinecrest is the sumptuous tropical vegetation everywhere. You could visit a different botanical garden for every day of the week around here.
Even the village’s community park is a botanical garden, as well as being a pulsating hotbed of culture, live entertainment, and community events.
Miami Zoo, officially the only subtropical zoological garden in the continental United States, is an easy drive from Pinecrest. Meanwhile, the village’s affluent status is reflected in the premium shopping along US 1, at the Dadeland Mall and The Falls.
1. Pinecrest Gardens
Let me tell you, Pinecrest Gardens is no ordinary public park. Instead, I’d call it a botanical wonder that packs culture, live entertainment and tons of events.
Going back to the 1930s, this paradisiacal landscape was originally Parrot Jungle, an early Miami tourist attraction.
First off, there are 14 acres of botanical gardens to venture through, Planted among native hardwood hammock and bald cypress slough, are dry succulent gardens, orchids, and all kinds of specimen plants.
Younger kids will have a blast at the splash pad, and can meet friendly animals like miniature donkeys at the petting zoo.
Pinecrest Gardens hosts the village’s big annual events like the Art & Design Fair in January. You’ve also got art exhibitions, theater, live music, and the acclaimed weekly farmers’ market, which I’ll cover later in this list.
2. Matheson Hammock Park
Adjacent to the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden is a gorgeous coastal park containing a large patch of coastal hardwood hammock and mangroves.
To me, the main reason to come to Matheson Hammock park is for the manmade atoll pool on the eastern tip.
This was built in the 1930s and replenished each day by the tides. There’s a shallow swimming area here, hemmed by a palm-shaded sandy beach.
If you’ve ever wanted to try the sport of kiteboarding, this park is the place to come. The coastline on this part of Biscayne Bay has perfect conditions, and there’s a kiteboarding school based in the park.
3. Zoo Miami
A short drive from Pinecrest is one of the best zoos I’ve visited. The most impressive thing about Zoo Miami is the environment. At many exhibits in particular Amazon and Beyond, you almost feel like you’re encountering animals in the wild.
Visiting this zoo is an active experience, with some four miles of trails winding through 750 acres of tropical terrain. If you want to see everything in a couple of hours, it’s a good idea to rent a bike.
On your journey, there are more than 400 species to see, from western lowland gorillas to koalas. There’s a lot of natural shade everywhere, and kids adore the splash pad, so don’t forget to bring swimwear for them.
4. Old Cutler Trail
Many of the attractions on my list are on or near an historic road running parallel to Biscayne Bay. The Old Cutler Road predates the grid plan, and harks back to a rural wagon trail along a raised seam of limestone.
Starting at the turn of the century, wealthy residents built their homes along the Old Cutler Road. These included International Harvester exec Charles Deering (1852-1927) and the co-founder of PricewaterhouseCoopers, Robert Hiester Montgomery (1872-1953).
You can ride a bike next to the trail for 11 miles, on a mix of paved path, sidewalk and on-street bike lanes. The journey is a treat, passing magnificent residences under a canopy of banyans and live oaks.
5. Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden
The plant explorer and botanist, David Fairchild (1869-1954) made an incalculable contribution to American agriculture. In the course of his career, he introduced many thousands of crops to the United States, from soybeans to nectarines.
In 1938, Fairchild’s contemporaries honored him naming this marvelous 83-acre botanical garden after him. The collections at the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden abound with flowering trees, vines, cycads, and palms.
In this awesome tropical oasis, look out for the cannonball tree, planted when the garden opened and one of just a few in the country.
My family was amazed by Wings of the Tropics, with more than 40 butterflies fluttering among tropical vegetation.
Throughout the year, the garden hosts a variety of live events, including mango, chocolate, and orchid festivals that draw visitors from all over the country.
6. R Hardy Matheson County Preserve
There’s more than 800 acres of public land, acting as a buffer between Pinecrest and Biscayne Bay.
Snapper Creek flows into the bay at this spot, and along the shores are compelling reminders of habitation by the Tequesta Native Americans, dating back hundreds of years.
There’s a rich assortment of ecosystems in the preserve, with pine rockland,hardwood hammock, mangrove and the estuarine environment of the bay.
In my eyes, the best thing to do is to walk the trail next to Snapper Creek early in the day. At the end you’ll come out on a jetty with a majestic view of the ocean as the sun comes up.
7. Deering Estate
South Florida has long been a playground for the rich and famous, but South Dade has a certain mystique.
At the bayfront Deering Estate, which was developed by a Chicago Industrialist in the 1920s, you can see how the well-heeled lived in the early 20th century.
You can tour the stately Mediterranean Revival house and the Richmond Cottage, which was built in 1900, before Charles Deering moved to the property.
As well as being a patron of the arts, Deering was a dedicated conservationist. The 450-acre estate boasts eight native ecosystems, including a rare old-growth tropical hardwood hammock.
So, my favorite way to spend time at the Deering Estate is out in nature, on a bird walk or kayaking past a herd of manatees.
8. Montgomery Botanical Center
I’ll never tire of exploring the botanical wonders around Pinecrest. If you’re up for seeing more, you can head to this garden on the edge of the R Hardy Matheson County Preserve.
The Montgomery Botanical Center was founded in 1959 in memory of Robert Hiester Montgomery, who co-founded the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden.
The garden is on his estate and boasts an exceptional array of palms (400 taxa) and cycads (202 taxa). These can be admired at the Coconut Grove Palmetum, the South Palmetum, and the Lowland Palmetum.
There’s also a research section at the center, with laboratories, a botanical library, a herbarium, and nurseries.
9. Dadeland Mall
Almost all of Pinecrest’s commerce is concentrated along US 1, along the village’s western line. This is where you’ll come across one of the largest luxury malls in Greater Miami.
The Dadeland Mall dates back to 1962, and has upwards of 160 tenants. If you’re shopping for something out of the ordinary, I’d look no further than this place.
The directory is a who’s who of premium fashion. To illustrate, there’s Boss, Rolex, Guess, Michael Kors, Ann Taylor, and Saks Fifth Avenue.
All the same, there’s shopping for a wider range of budgets, with the likes of Zara, Mango, Macy’s, JCPenney and Foot Locker.
I haven’t even talked about the thriving food court, which is one of the best things about this place. With full occupancy, this has something for all comers, whether you’re up for Chick-fil-A, or Lebanese, Cakun, pan-Asian, Latin American food.
10. Pinecrest Farmers’ Market
One of the top events at Pinecrest Gardens is a stellar weekly farmers’ market. Three times in the last decade this has been recognized as the best in the Miami area by the Miami New Times.
The market takes place on Sundays from 9 AM until 2 PM and features local produce, arts, crafts, and prepared food items.
For a snapshot, I saw fresh-baked bread, artisanal cheeses, jewelry, flowers, houseplants, candles, and handcrafted ceramics last time I was here. There was also an irresistible fragrance coming from an Argentinian churrascaria.
I love the location too, as there’s a lot of natural shade, which makes things easier on hot days.
11. The Falls
Another of the big shopping destinations along the US-1 corridor is an upscale lifestyle center that opened in 1980.
As far as I can tell, The Falls is as popular as ever. With ponds, waterfalls, shaded walkways it’s a lovely place to do some shopping, even at the height of summer.
Brand-wise, we’re talking Sephora, Abercrombie & Fitch, Apple, L’Occitane, Hollister, Aéropostale, Francesca’s and Soma.
Sweetgreen, Shake Shack, P.F.Chang’s, and Haagen-Dazs are just a few of the dining options. Meanwhile the 12-screen Regal UA Falls adds another dimension to this place.
12. Coral Pine Park
This small neighborhood park is designed for active recreation. The main activities at Coral Pine Park are racquet sports, with five lighted tennis courts and four lighted pickleball courts.
Complementing these facilities is the Coral Pine Park Tennis Center, which even contains a pro shop. The park has a lovely, hushed setting, wrapped in peaceful suburban streets.
A portion of this space is protected as a pineland preserve, and the trees throughout the park provide a thick canopy for shade. It all adds up to a nice escape for a picnic, while there’s also a children’s playground.
13. Evelyn Greer Park
Conveniently located along US 1, this ten-acre park is full of recreation amenities and was named for Pinecrest’s first mayor. There are fields for soccer, baseball and softball, as well as batting cages and open multipurpose spaces.
If you’re out for some exercise, Evelyn Greer Park is ringed with a walking/jogging track, which has adult workout stations on the way. There’s a covered playground for kids, while the gazebo has a free Wi-Fi spot.
This park hosts a range of youth and adult programs all year, and also hosts events like the PineToberfest Beer Festival in late summer.
14. Pinecrest Bakery
As the name tells you this burgeoning chain of 24-hour Cuban-American bakeries was born in Pinecrest.
The first Pinecrest Bakery opened here in 2012, and when I wrote this article there were close to 30 locations around the Miami area.
There was clearly a hole in the market, because the brand has quickly become a Miami staple. Head here for Cuban delicacies like empanadas, pastelitos, croquetas, and tequeños.
You can also get classic Cuban-style sandwiches, hot off the grill, as well as 60+ cakes and desserts, and whole traditional Cuban family meals. Naturally, the Havana-style cortadito is my essential breakfast accompaniment.
15. PineToberfest Beer Festival
I’m not going too far when I say that there’s some kind of public event every weekend in Pinecrest. Many of these take place at Pinecrest Gardens, but PineToberfest is a little different.
As you may work out from the name, this is a Bavarian-themed beer festival. The village’s Parks and Recreation Department and local Exit One Taproom come together to offer more than 40 beers from across Miami-Dade County.
Happening at Evelyn Greer Park in late September/early October, PineToberfest is ideal for dipping into the region’s beer scene. There’s a VIP area, live music, food, games, and a lot of people dressed up in dirndls and lederhosen.