Recently, one of Koncept Events’ favorite tour providers treated the KE team to a new perspective on Miami. The Miami: A Magic City tour, takes you through five Miami neighborhoods: Coral Gables, Coconut Grove, Little Havana, South Beach and Downtown. It’s important to note that each of these neighborhoods easily stand on its own for a full tour, so this SUPER tour gives just a taste of the rich history of the area.
On our private bus (which by the way was equipped with power outlets AT EACH SEAT!), the first piece of trivia we learned was that Miami is a city built by women. The two powerhouses behind the development of one of the most recognizable cities in the world were Julia Tuttle and Mary Brickell, both of whom have namesakes throughout the city. #LADYBOSSES.
As the tour progresses, you get the story of the origins of Miami and each of its neighborhoods. We won’t give it all away, but there are plenty of oranges AND panthers involved.
Our first stop was at the iconic Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables. The hotel was built by a young developer by the name of George Merrick (shoppers, does that name ring a bell?) in the mid-1920s. In the months after it opened, the thriving hotel was THE place to be and be seen, mostly due to its spectacular pool, which was at the time the largest in the continental United States. But not long after it opened, the hotel was hit with some really bad luck by the names of hurricanes, damage, bankruptcy and a gambling bust. You’ll get all the details, and a couple of ghost stories, when you take the tour yourself, but to keep a long blog short, the hotel was eventually turned into a government hospital during World War II, sadly with many of its amazing features being covered and forgotten about. After ups and downs, the hotel was happily restored to its glory in the 1990s and voila, is one of the most elegant hotels in South Florida today.
One of the main attractions in Coral Gables is the Venetian Pool, an 820,000 gallon, coral rock pool that is fed with spring water from the underground aquifer that runs under South Florida. Yeah, you read that right. The Venetian Pool, which was another brainchild of George Merrick, is the only swimming pool to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and between The Biltmore and the Venetian Pool, we were pretty sure we went right back to 1925.
We moved next into The Gables’ (locals’ lingo) neighbor, Coconut Grove. I think everyone from the tour had been into Coconut Grove at one point. The town is the epitome of “quaint” with just a few blocks of restaurants and shops and several waterfront restaurants. But where we had never been when visiting The Grove (more locals’ lingo) were small pockets of houses showcasing extraordinary, world-influenced architecture. In a matter of minutes, you go from France to Cape Town to Germany and East Asia. Each street making you feel as if you have gone completely across the world. And we thought Miami had a rich culture before this tour!
As a bonus, the aviation history of Miami was one of the most interesting parts of the day. The Miami City Hall, located in Coconut Grove, is the former International Pan American Airport, and within the building its history plays out. The entrance floor is a map of PAN AM destinations, county commissioners sit at their seats behind the ticket counter and images from some of the most famous aviation names in history who came through the doors are framed on walls. Looking at you Amelia Earhart!
After a morning of blowing our mind with unknown facts, it was time for lunch. Luckily, by noon, we found ourselves on Calle Ocho. If you have ever been on the Cuban Heritage tour, or maybe you read about our experience last year, you’ll be familiar with Little Havana and all of its glory – Domino Park, the stars on the Latin Walk of Fame, the Cuban cigar, Azucar Ice Cream Shop and the food. Oh, the food. So no one on the bus complained at all as we stopped at El Exquisito for some exquisito Cuban fare. After sharing a post-meal cafecito, we took a stroll down the street and into Cubaocho. This unbelievable venue is an art gallery meets museum meets artist showcase meets bar. They were closed on the day we visited, so we couldn’t try their famous rum drinks, but the owner was more than happy to let us come in and gawk at the amazingness that is Cubaocho.
All tuckered out from our walk and our meal, the last part of the tour took us across the causeway to South Beach, because no Miami tour would be complete without a visit to this (insert your favorite South Beach descriptive verbs here) neighborhood. We passed by the very first hotel ever built on Miami Beach, now home to one of the most popular restaurants in the city, and got a brief review of the Art Deco design. Then, as we took a slow cruise down a perpetually bustling Ocean Drive, the words of Julia Tuttle, who so many years ago had a vision for what Miami would be, were read out loud. Decades before Miami became an international destination, she spoke of its greatness and how it would be a thriving city unmatched anywhere in the world, where hundreds of thousands of people would live and visit. That Julia Tuttle had incredible foresight, didn’t she?
As someone who has lived in Miami for nearly a decade, I was shocked at how much of a tourist I felt like in my own city, but in the best way possible, and I am pretty excited at the new hidden spots to where I’ll be taking my next out-of-town visitor. If you are bringing your next corporate group to Miami, let our team at Koncept Events set up your custom tour. We are ready to show you the Miami Magic! Give us a call at 800.510.5268!