From ancient temples to engineering wonders that look straight out of this planet, Miami is full of hidden gems to discover (or rediscover!) that you simply won’t believe are hiding in plain sight in the Greater Miami area. So if international travel is a no-go for you once again this year — or even if it isn’t– get on exploring our beautiful city and go on the hunt for these 7 surreal places that will have you traveling to other magical worlds without even leaving the 305!
1. The Ancient Spanish Monastery
Built back in the 12th century in the Spanish province of Segovia, the Monastery of Bernard de Clairvaux, or as it’s known nowadays the Ancient Spanish Monastery, is actually one of the oldest buildings in the Western World. This Medieval gem arrived in the States broken up in more than 11,000 crates after the U.S. magnate William Randolph Hearst purchased it for himself and decided to bring it halfway across the world. But after he went bankrupt the crates went up for auction and were purchased by two Ohio businessmen who finally decided to rebuild the structure in Miami.
Nowadays, The Ancient Spanish Monastery is home to the Church of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, an active and growing congregation in the Episcopal Diocese of South Florida. The monastery is also a very popular spot for weddings and photoshoots, and judging by its historic and incredibly Instagrammable halls we’re not at all surprised.
Where: 16711 West Dixie Highway, North Miami Beach, FL 33160.
Hours: Mon-Sat 10 am-4:30 pm; Sun 11 am-4:30 pm
2. McKee Botanical Gardens
Filled with lush greens, this magical oasis in Vero Beach is home to some whimsical creations and botanical wonders that will make you feel like you’ve wandered into a fantastic fairytale land. Weave your way through McKee Botanical gardens and discover natural wonders like giant mushrooms that look straight out of Wonderland as well as other curious man-made structures the Grand Central Stickwork Sculpture by artists Patrick and Sam Daugherty in the Royal Palm Grove area or their astonishing fairy-like kitchen sculpture!
Where: 350 US-1, Vero Beach, FL 32962.
Hours: Tue-Sat, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sun, 12-5 p.m.
3. Coral Castle
This curious “castle” is popularly known as the “Taj Mahal” of Homestead and is located just 30 miles south of Miami. This eerie sculpture entirely made out of coral was created by Latvian immigrant Edward Leedskalnin between 1920 and 1940 as a tribute to his fiancée Agnes who broke off their engagement a day before their wedding. Leedskalnin was so heartbroken by her rejection that he spent the next 30 years sculpting this massive coral and limestone structure in Agnes’ honor. The most curious fact about the Coral Castle is that nobody really knows how Leedskalnin managed to quarry, transport, and transform the 1,100 tons of coral rock that make up this spectacular homage to unrequited love all by himself. There are plenty of theories to go around one wackier than the other ranging all the way from reverse magnetism to black magic!
Where: 28655 S Dixie Hwy, Homestead, FL 33033.
Hours: Thurs-Sun, 9 a.m.-6 p.m.
4. The Venetian Pool
Considered one of the world’s most beautiful swimming pools, the Venetian Pool was by real-estate magnate George Merrick as part of his exotic vision for the city of Coral Gables. Merrick repurposed an abandoned coral rock quarry and turned it into the extraordinary oasis that it is today featuring a swimming palace fit with coral bridges, underwater tunnels, towers with barrel-tile roofs and streaming waterfalls. There’s even an enchanting grotto that pool-goers can access by swimming underwater in order to cool off in this fabulous place straight out of the Little Mermaid!
Where: 2701 De Soto Blvd, Coral Gables, FL 33134.
Hours: Mon-Fri, 11 a.m.-6:30 p.m.; Sat-Sun, 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
5. Morikami Japanese Gardens & Museum
Did you know South Florida holds a century-old connection with Japan? Tucked away in Delray Beach, the Morikami Museum & Gardens was once home to a colony of young Japanese farmers seeking to revolutionize Florida’s agricultural techniques. Nowadays, the enchanting 16-acre estate is home to hundreds of unique species of Japanese flora, winding paths, and carefully designed gardens that will make you feel you’ve been transported to Japan in one fell swoop!
Where: 4000 Morikami Park Rd, Delray Beach, FL 33446.
Hours: Tues – Sun, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
6. The Historic Curtiss Mansion
This Pueblo Revival Manor was built by aviation pioneer Glenn Hammond Curtiss back in the 1920s and is nowadays one of the most popular places for weddings and other special events. But the house, which has been restored multiple times throughout the decades, is also open for historic visits that will take you back to the times of the Spanish missions in Santa Fe, New Mexico!
Where: 500 Deer Run, Miami Springs, FL 33166
Hours: The house is open for historic tours on Sundays from 10 to 11 a.m.
If you drive out to the tip of Key Biscayne and look out onto the bay you’ll see six, peculiar buildings suspended on stilts and floating in the middle of the water. That’s Stiltsville, or at least what remains of it. These fishermen’s huts are what remains of what was once a large community of bars and social clubs from the 1930s to 1960s. These shacks were built by fishermen during the prohibition era as secret casinos and special to escape the police’s attention.
At its height, Stiltsville was rife with gambling dens and bars including the Bikini Club, a grounded yacht that offered free drinks to any woman clad in a two-piece swimsuit and provided a deck for nude sunbathing. But the extensive damage done by hurricanes and the closure of the Bikini Club turned Stiltsville into a ghost town, a mere reflection of what it once used to be. The remaining houses are still functioning however, and can be accessed by navigating the shallows of Biscayne Bay by boat or kayak.
Featured image: Shutterstock