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Trip Report Miami trip report

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Was able to spend four days sightseeing within Miami and Miami Beach proper. The original itinerary proposed is found at:

http://www.fodors.com/community/united-states/possible-itineraries-for-miami-key-west-st-augustine-tallahassee.cfm

It turned out that I was able to do almost everything while relying on public transportation or walking, and I was able to stick pretty closely to the proposed itinerary.

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One day
-Miami Cultural Center (Miami Art Museum, Historical Museum of Southern Florida)
-Lowe Art Museum

Wound up reversing this, given that I was meeting an old school friend who had a car and wanted to go to the Florida Marlins game with me. The Lowe Art Museum opens at 10 AM and I was there at opening time. It's easy to reach via Metrorail, about three or four blocks from the University stop. For my taste, this was the best art museum in the Miami and Miami Beach area. It's not large, but has some choice stuff, including some worthy name-brand paintings by Goya, El Greco, Gainsborough, Gaugin, Monet, Stella, Lichtenstein, and a truly apropos Duane Hansen sculpture of a weary and beat-up looking Miami Dolphin lineman. There's also some decent no-name Italian Medieval and Renaissance paintings; Greek and Roman sculpture; ethnic pre-Columbian, African, Asian, Native American, and Oceanic pieces; and some choice contemporary glass and ceramic items (including Chihuly for the former and Picasso for the latter). Really, really worth seeing.

Met my friend from school at the Miami Art Museum, which is right by the Government Center Metrorail stop. It's dedicated to contemporary paintings, sculpture, and installations, okay in quality and low in name recognition.

The next door Historical Museum of Southern Florida is not bad, containing a broad collection of Florida maps, historic based paintings of which only a few are artistically compelling as well (by Thomas Hart Benton, N.C. Wyeth), prehistoric Native artifacts, information about the Seminoles, and exhibits on early industry (sponging, wrecking, etc.).

The Marlins are in their last year playing at what was once called Dolphin Stadium, an arena still used by that football team. It's all but impossible to get here via public transportation, so I was glad to hook up with my chum with a car to go here. You can see the new stadium being built not far from the Overtown Metrorail stop on the old Orange Bowl site. It will have a retractable roof and all reports suggest it will be an improvement over where the team plays now. Still, it's always great to see a ball game.

Another day (Sunday)
-Coral Gables Congregational Church
-Venetian Pool
-Merrick House and Gardens
-Biltmore Hotel Tour

Was able to go here (Coral Gables) by taking the Metrorail to Vizcaya, then the #24 bus. Note also that this bus originates from the bus center downtown near the Government Center Metrorail stop. Wound up changing this a bit here, as noted below.

Turned out the Merrick House is one of those attractions that's open on scheduled hours (Wednesday and Sunday afternoons only), or if they feel like it. They didn't feel like it the day I went, and if their website is any indication, they're closed more than they're open on days they're supposed to be available. You can still see much of the first floor through the windows, and it looks like it would be an interesting place to tour. The so-called gardens are scrubby.

The Venetian Pool is a large outdoor swimming pool carved out of an old coral limestone quarry, a lovely example of old Florida style well-worn wood and tile. If you want to just go in and look around (as opposed to swim), they'll graciously let you in for a dollar. Nice enough to see, and you can't beat the price.

The Coral Gables Congregational Church is a nice enough place to see from the outside (has a mission style bell tower and a nice piece of ornamentation over the main church entrance), but the inside is blah and the haughty pastor was confrontational and unfriendly towards the idea of a tourist wandering around trying to see the church's inside. A walk-by is all it's worth, if that.

Decided to take the #24 bus further along to check out the Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum on the Florida International University campus. In short, a striking new building but a tiny and eminently miss-able clutch of art. Except for a Rubens canvas, there's no reason to come here.

Took the #24 bus back to catch the Biltmore Hotel tour, which only happens Sundays at 1:30, 2:30, or 3:30. The building itself is impressive inside and out, with two large ballrooms, an ornate lobby, a huge swimming pool, and nice architectural detail on the outside. The tour was enjoyable and reasonably informative. This was the best reason to come to this fancy and rather snooty part of Miami.

The Miracle Mile is a miracle half-mile actually, with plenty of fancy shops and eateries of varying kinds, kind of like Las Olas Boulevard in Ft. Lauderdale. Fun to walk through.

Spent the very late afternoon and early evening back on South Beach doing the architecture walk suggested by the $3 visitor center brochure. There are a load and half of lovely Art Deco style hotels, many with warm pastel colored outside walls and a few with architecturally significant lobbies or pools. Saw everything from about 19th Street and southward, including the Lincoln Mall pedestrian strip and the Spanish Village shopping area along Espanola Way. This all was a top highlight of the trip -- a real must.

Yet another day
-Barnacle Historic State Park
-Vizcaya Museum and Gardens
-Miami Science Museum

This went exactly as planned. The Barnacle can be reached by taking Metrorail to the Coconut Grove stop, then the #249 bus (Coconut Grove Circulator, runs weekdays only) to the main downtown shopping district here. This is an old and somewhat low-key wooden house, one of the first built in the area, with understated furnishings and effects. There are a few out-buildings on the property, and the whole sits on what may be the last scrub hammock lot and mangrove shore in the general area. The house tour was enthusiastic and very informative, well worth doing.

Taking the #249 bus back to the Coconut Grove stop, then Metrorail to the Vizcaya stop easily affords access to the other two attractions. The Vizcaya Museum Museum and Gardens is the big fancy mansion museum in the city, and a must. It's quite ornate, Gilded Age but adapted to use some local building materials. The tour guide was a trainee -- oh well, you have to start somewhere, I guess -- he did his best. There's a lot of wonderful furnishings, a riot of fancy and ornate detailing, a pipe organ, and much else. The gardens are partly undergoing restoration, but much is complete here too -- lots of fountains, pools, a couple grottoes, loads of trees and plants, and a place clearly well-liked for wedding photos, as there were a couple such shoots going on.

The Miami Science Museum is across the street from here. It's primarily a kid's attraction. There are animals, birds, reptiles, and insects in cages or terrariums, photos of earth from space, a big stuffed bear, and some alternative energy vehicles, among other things. Not bad, but much cooler if you're 14 and under, I'd guess.

And another day (South Beach)
-Holocaust Memorial
-Bass Museum of Art
-Sanford Ziff Jewish Museum
-Wolfsonian
-World Erotic Art Museum

Given changes in open hours, this was rearranged a bit. Started at the Sanford Ziff Museum, which opens at 10 AM. This is not a bad museum of its kind and fairly compact, focusing on local Jewish history in particular and containing a good bit on Jewish customs/rituals and holidays. There were two compelling temporary exhibits, one on Leo Frank (an Atlanta Jew convicted in the 1920s of a crime he didn't commit and later lynched with the blessing of local politicos, law enforcement, and newspaper types when his sentence was reduced by the governor), the other on illustrations to Isaac Bashevis Singer's books. Not bad, and the building this is housed in consists of two attractive decommissioned temples.

The Wolfsonian doesn't open until 12 noon and contains the collection of an eccentric with a penchant for propaganda art, commercial art, and decorative arts of the 19th and 20th centuries. Not a large museum, and a little uneven in its holdings. Not bad, though.

The Bass Museum of Art now doesn't open until 12 noon. It's an even smaller museum than the other two, with a large painting by Bol, a Rembrandt etching, a collaborative canvas by Botticelli and Ghirlandaio, and some other reasonably interesting pieces that are now "attributed to" a famous painter. Okay for what it is.

The Miami Beach Botanical Garden is a modest sized place with plenty of exotic palms and tropical plants in an outdoor setting. Certainly enjoyable, if not an extensive place.

The next-door Holocaust Memorial is a wrenching but effective spot, searing and almost depressing, not sugar coating things at all. It consists mainly of two outdoor galleries telling the story of Hitler's atrocities against Jews and other supposed undesirables in brief but pithy terms. One of the two wings exhaustively lists names of known Jews who perished in concentration camps and elsewhere. The centerpiece is a huge sculpture of a large outstretched hand embellished with suffering figures. Brooding piped-in music mirrors the sadness of this place. Still, very effective, and telling a story that needs to be documented.

Will post something about food experiences here under a separate subject heading later.

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