Near the southern end of the Miami metropolitan area, Cutler Bay was incorporated in 2005. Thirteen years earlier, the area had been completely devastated by Hurricane Andrew, which made landfall here.
The population has more than doubled since then, and in 2011 the city opened a stellar performing arts center, a cultural touchstone for South Miami-Dade County.
Cutler Bay borders Biscayne National Park, and the Black Point Marina is a springboard for adventures in this watery paradise.
You’re also a few short minutes from regional attractions like Zoo Miami, and the Charles Deering Estate.
So, here’s my look at the best things to do in Cutler Bay.
1. Biscayne National Park
The Jetty at Black Point Marina in Cutler Bay is one of just two locations at the Biscayne National Park that can be visited without a boat.
In fact 95% of the park’s 173,000 acres are water, making it the largest marine sanctuary in the National Park Service.
This is a true wonderland, with colorful tropical reefs, verdant islands, glimmering aquamarine waters and thousands of years of human history.
For an intro, I’d make the short drive south to the Dante Fascell Visitor Center. Right on the bayfront, this is the place to get a handle on the breadth of experiences available in the park.
From the Homestead Marina or Black Point Marina you can set off on ranger-led boat tours, or snorkeling, paddling, and sailing expeditions that will live long in the memory.
2. Charles Deering Estate
In the second decade of the 20th century, the wealthy Chicago industrialist Charles Deering (1852-1927) bought hundreds of waterfront acres at what is now Cutler Bay and Miami.
To go with the existing late Richmond Cottage, he built an ornate Spanish Revival mansion on the site in 1922. Both buildings can be seen on guided or self-guided tours.
I found the grounds as beautiful as the residences themselves. Deering was an environmentalist, and helped preserve what may be the country’s largest virgin tropical coastal hammock.
The coastal views are stunning, and there are ample walking and seating areas where you can enjoy the breeze from the bay. I came in early spring, and was fortunate to see a group of manatees in the shallow waters.
3. Zoo Miami
The only tropical zoo in the continental United States is right on the western edge of Cutler Bay. Relocated here in the early 1980s, Zoo Miami is on the grounds of the former Naval Air Station Richmond.
This enormous attraction covers more than 700 acres and has 2,500 animals in over 100 exhibits. By my experience you’ll need at least half a day to do Zoo Miami justice.
These exhibits are set in five main zones: Florida: Mission Everglades, Asia, Africa, Amazon and Beyond, and Australia.
You’ll see tigers, jaguars, koalas, crocodiles, orangutans, Asian elephants, giraffes, giant anteaters, and many more.
The Conservation Action Center also made a big impression on me, with interactive exhibits highlighting concerns like environmental threats and invasive species.
With four miles of walkways there’s a lot of ground to cover on foot. So it might be worth catching the tourist tram, or even renting a four-wheel Safari Cycle to get around.
4. Dennis C. Moss Cultural Arts Center
Still the most striking building in the city, this performing arts center opened its doors in 2011. The Dennis C. Moss Cultural Arts Center was designed by firm behind Miami’s Kaseya Center, and houses a 960-seat mainstage theater.
The building is endowed with sculpture by Miami artist Robert Chambers, who also produced a remarkable kinetic light wall for the project.
As well as the main stage, there’s a lab theater, black box theater, and an outdoor performance space on the lawn
This is all a state-of-the-art venue for ballet, a wide spectrum of concerts, opera, Broadway, children’s entertainment, contemporary dance, and much more besides.
5. Southland Mall
The large enclosed mall along South Dixie Highway has a history going way back to 1960. The Southland Mall is still the go-to local mall, and was about to be part of a $1 billion reinvention when I wrote his list.
I came not long before the work started, and was pleased with what I found. There were almost no empty storefronts, and a roster of stores that included JCPenney, Macy’s, Kay Jewelers, Victoria’s Secret, and Foot Locker, to name a few.
There’s a wide choice of fast casual dining options, from Olive Garden to Buffalo Wild Wings, as well as a 16-screen Regal multiplex.
6. Burr’s Berry Farm
Going back three generations, The Berry Farm is the area’s biggest agritourism attraction, “bringing a piece of the country to Miami.”
In season there’s an awesome variety of family-friendly activities here. You’ve got U-Pick strawberries, hayrides, sunflower fields, and a farmers’ market chocked full of wholesome produce and specialty foods.
My kids adored this place, and ran wild for most of an afternoon over the haystacks, obstacle course and lumber playground, which has a canopy.
There’s a big choice of food, from tacos to BBQ to burgers. Our favorite was the ice cream serving delicious milkshakes in flavors from cappuccino to key lime pie.
7. Larry and Penny Thompson Park
Next to Zoo Miami, the Larry and Penny Thompson Park has almost 300 acres of undisturbed natural South Florida landscapes.
After the zoo, this was a peaceful haven for me. There’s a lake, pines, saw palmettos, seasonal wildflowers, and a beautiful assortment of fruit trees.
There’s a beach at the lake, and you can swim here and take picnics on the shore. The park is named for Larry Thompson (1911-1973) and his wife Penny Thompson (1917-1975).
Larry is remembered as a reporter and humor columnist at The Miami Herald. You can see his Remington typewriter from 1941 at the campground Office.
Penny was a pioneering aviator flying in the WWII Civil Air Patrol, and later organizing the World’s First All-Woman Air Show in Miami in 1947.
Camping amenities include more than 200 individual campsites and RV slots with full water and electrical hookups.
8. Fruit & Spice Park
A short drive west of Cutler Bay, this unique outdoor botanical garden grows hundreds of varieties of fruits, herbs, vegetables, and spices from tropical regions all over the world.
The conditions in this part of Florida exist nowhere else in the continental United States. So you simply cannot find an attraction like this without crossing an ocean.
Guided tram tours take place three times daily, at 11 AM, 1:30 PM and 3 PM. My tip is to be here for the 3 o’clock tasting tour.
I tried an avocado, and got my first taste of starfruit. The guide also gave me plenty of helpful info for identifying ripe and edible fruit.
If you come here on a self-guided visit, it’s a good idea to pack a pocket knife. You’re free to try any fruit that has recently fallen. There’s a helpful page on the website telling you what will be ripe when you visit.
9. Black Creek Trail
For almost nine miles, this mostly paved trail weaves through Cutlery Bay next to the Black Creek Canal.
You can use the Black Creek Trail to get all the way from Larry & Penny Thompson Park to Biscayne Bay. If you’re only planning a short walk, I’d head for Black Point, where you can walk all the way to the end of the jetty.
The view is marvelous late in the day when you can look back at the sunset. There’s always a good chance of seeing dolphins, alligators and manatees in these waters.
For a longer trip, the Black Creek Trail connects with several other paths. One of these is the celebrated Old Cutler Trail running to Coral Gables under a canopy of mature banyans and live oaks.
10. Black Point Ocean Grill
Near where the Black Creek Canal enters Biscayne Bay, you’ll find the Black Point Marina. This is a stepping stone for expeditions in Biscayne National Park, but is also well worth a visit in its own right.
The main reason to come is for the Black Point Ocean Grill, a seafood restaurant with a lovely waterside location.
Having visited in the last few months, I can vouch for the Mahi Mahi tacos and the conch fritters. The location is half the fun too, and you can watch the boats go by, and maybe spot dolphins or manatees in Black Creek.
11. Coral Castle
An ode to unrequited love, the Coral Castle is a remarkable sculptural ensemble carved by the Latvian-American eccentric, Edward Leedskalnin (1887-1951).
Almost thirty years in the making, the Coral Castle consists of more than 1,100 tons of hand Coral Rock.
There’s an air of mystery around this strange monument, and its large-scale forms, created by one man without the use of modern tools.
I opted for a self-guided tour, using the audio stands. Two elements that amazed me were the stone rocking chairs and the revolving stone gate. This weighs nine tons, but you can turn it with your pinky.
12. Homestead Bayfront Park
Miami-Dade County operates this space next to Biscayne National Park’s HQ and visitor center. Just across the canal, Homestead Bayfront Park is a small piece of tropical paradise. I adore the tidal atoll pool here, which is ringed with a narrow palm lined beach.
The waters are clear and shallow, and ideal for swimming. There are lifeguards supervising the beach seven days a week. A few years ago the lifeguards were given stylish new stands.
Tucked in along the waterway is the Homestead Marina, another launchpad for Biscayne National Park, and featuring La Playa Grill Seafood Bar.
13. Gold Coast Railroad Museum
Next to Zoo Miami is a railroad museum with three miles of tracks that were left over from the old Naval Air Station Richmond.
In the fleet at the Gold Coast Railroad Museum are two steam locomotives, seven diesel-electric locomotives and a rich array of other rolling stock.
The undoubted headline for me is the Ferdinand Magellan railcar. Built in 1929, this was the presidential railcar from 1943 to 1958.
One of the iconic images of American 20th-century history—Truman holding up the incorrect “Dewey Defeats Truman” headline—was taken in front of this very car.
There’s also a model railroad, an exhibit about Naval Air Station Richmond, narrow-gauge railroad rides, and a masses of railroad memorabilia to pore over.
14. Coral Reef Park, Palmetto Bay
I never get tired of this lovely public park, a few minutes from Cutler Bay. Coral Reef Park is crossed by a picturesque canal, which has a constant flow of boaters and paddlers.
A footbridge takes you to the park’s east side, which is the setting for the Palmetto Bay Farmers’ Market on Saturdays.
On the west side, the park has facilities for a host of sports, from baseball to soccer, and also has exercise stations and a covered playground.
This is a fantastic place to come for a picnic, even if the ducks by the canal can be a little pushy with food.
15. Redland Market Village
Family-owned and operated since 1987, Redland Market Village is a sprawling indoor and outdoor market complex off South Dixie Highway.
At the core of the operation is a giant farmers’ market with everything from seasonal fresh produce to seafood.
To go with that there’s a vast two-day flea market, with international food trucks, and a wealth of antiques, electronics, jewelry, furniture, tools, and toys. I’ve spent many happy hours searching for bargains at the flea market.
The farmers’ market takes place from 11 AM until 6 PM on Thursdays and Fridays, and from 7 AM until 6 PM on weekends. The flea market is open on Saturdays and Sundays.