My spouse and I visited the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens on a Sunday morning in early July 2016. Villa Vizcaya is open Wednesdays through Mondays from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm (closed on Tuesdays, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day). The property is located in the Coconut Grove area of Miami, approximately 9 miles from South Beach. It takes approximately 20 minutes to reach Vizcaya by car, cab, or Uber. (We used Uber, and it cost about $15 each way, but
you can also take one of the hop-on/hop-off sightseeing buses because they also stop here.) Adult entry costs $18, although sometimes $1 or $2 off discounts are available through various associations (such as AAA) or coupons. Vizcaya offers a 90-minute audio tour for an additional $5, or a docent-led 45-minute tour for an additional $5. (On the day that we visited, guided tours were available at three times in the late morning and early afternoon.) On-site parking is complimentary, and overflow parking is available across the street at the Miami Science Museum.
Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, which is located on Biscayne Bay, is an Italianate mansion that once belonged to James Deering (of International Harvester tractor fame). The beautifully maintained 38,000 square foot, 54-room mansion (only 34 of those rooms are open to the public) was built in the 1910s. Acres of serene European-style gardens with fountains and statues surround the house. The ornamental breakwater that sits in the bay is carved from Florida limestone in the shape of an oversize Venetian barge studded with decorative sculpture. Although you cannot walk on the breakwater today, Deering’s guests were ferried over by gondola. The architect designed the house so that guests approached it from the sea, so the east facade and loggia on Biscayne Bay is the most elaborate one because it opens onto a wide terrace that descends toward the water. The west facade, which visitors now use to enter the house, is simple and contrasts with Vizcaya’s elaborate interiors. The north facade features a swimming pool that emerges from vaulted arches at the lower level of the house. The south facade opens onto the formal gardens with enclosed verandahs on the first and second floors. The showpiece of the house is its center courtyard, which was originally open to the sides and sky; however, the courtyard is now enclosed with glass to create an atrium/tropical greenhouse. On the first floor, several reception rooms, the library, the music room, and the dining room surround the courtyard. The second floor contains Deering’s personal suite of rooms, guest bedrooms, a breakfast room, and the kitchen. Curving stairwells on the north and south sides of the house lead to additional bedrooms on the third floor. Vizcaya permits no indoor photography.
Villa Vizcaya, despite its Baroque appearance, was a modern house, including the latest technology of the period, such as generators and a water filtration system. Vizcaya, constructed of concrete, was also equipped with heating and ventilation, two elevators, a dumbwaiter, a central vacuuming system, and an automated laundry room.
The landscaper modeled Vizcaya’s elaborate European-inspired gardens after popular gardens from 17th and 18th century Italy and France; the overall landscape design resembles as a series of rooms. Low hedges arranged in a geometric pattern dominate the central space. Vizcaya’s various gardens include the Secret Garden, Theater Garden, Maze Garden, and the Fountain Garden. Be sure not to miss the various fountains, as well as the orchid garden next to the house. The Garden Mound, an artificial hill that blocks the view from the house, creates long perspectives on its sides. The gardens and the house’s position on the water are often the site of personal photoshoots (such as engagement shots and quinceaneras), as we noticed on the day that we visited. Vizcaya is also available to rent for private events such as weddings.
We spent about two hours at Vizcaya, but you could easily spend the entire day, pausing for a mid-visit break at the on-site café in the museum’s basement. We arrived just as the museum opened, which we found advantageous because the house was not yet crowded and we could make our way easily from room to room and read the posted informational placards. As crowds increase throughout the day, you might move along more slowly. It appeared that most of the first floor of the house, some of the gardens, and both of the restrooms are handicap-accessible. The air-conditioning (certainly not from Deering’s day!) worked well, even though we visited on a hot and humid day.
We have visited family in South Florida many times over the years, so we have wanted to visit Vizcaya for some time, and we are glad that we finally reached our goal! It is a worthwhile diversion from shopping, dining, and the beach.