Explore Miami’s historic and cultural spaces

Explore Miami’s historic and cultural spaces

By Life@TheU

Explore Miami’s historic and cultural spaces

By Life@TheU
Whether you’re new to the area or have lived here your entire life, you can dive into its history and architecture and discover something new or enjoy a favorite sightseeing pastime.

“We have been lured to think that the more exotic the places we visit, the more we are going to learn,” said Jaime Correa, Knight Professor in community building and associate professor in practice at the School of Architecture. “But, visiting the commonplace and seeing what we know with brand new eyes are both the foundation for a new experience of the world around us and, as a consequence, for the development of greater knowledge of our communities and ourselves."

You don’t have to travel across the world to experience beautiful architecture and enriching history. While famed for its beaches and opportunities for outdoor activities, South Florida is home to historically significant structures and attractions, including one of the oldest buildings in the Western Hemisphere. Whether you’re new to the Miami area or have lived here your entire life, dive into the history, starting with distinctive architecture, geography, and historic parks. You can plan a weekend or afternoon adventure of exploration and discover something new—solo or with a friend. To continue our series on South Florida activities, Life@TheU rounded up a list of sites worth checking out. 

Click the geolocation icon on the bottom left of the map to see the site closest to you. 

Dive into Miami’s History.

The Ancient Spanish Monastery
Hidden in modern-day North Miami Beach, The Ancient Spanish Monastery transports us back in time. It was completed in 1141 A.D., making its cloister the oldest structure in the Western Hemisphere. But it changed hands many times after that. This Florida Heritage site—which was originally located in Sacramenia, a municipality of Segovia in northern Spain—is an enclave of European architecture and culture that has endured a long and interesting history to become the South Florida monument we know and love today.

Art Deco Historic District
The Art Deco Historic District in Miami Beach is the first 20th-century neighborhood to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, with 800 buildings of architectural interest, the bulk of which were constructed between 1923 and 1943. The Miami Design Preservation League organizes tours of the city's landmark buildings and outdoor areas. You can also Visit the Art Deco Museum  to better understand the architectural and cultural heritage of Miami Beach.

Barnacle Historic State Park
Nestled amid massive shade trees, the historic state park transports visitors to the late 1800s. The Barnacle is the oldest house in Miami-Dade County that is still standing in its original spot, on the shores of Biscayne Bay in Coconut Grove. Ralph Middleton Munroe, a merchant and a pioneer of Coconut Grove, lived there. The park, which appears much as it did in Munroe’s day, has replicas of two of his sailboats: Egret and the Flying Proa.

Cauley Square Historic Railroad Village
This spot  transports visitors back to the turn of the century, when Henry Flagler constructed his East Coast Railway through Miami and the Florida Keys. While the railway was used to transport produce from his fields, William Cauley also constructed a two-story factory, packinghouse, and office on a 10-acre plot. His property grew into a tiny community that housed both Cauley's and the railroad's staff. The quaint pine cottages now lodge an eclectic mix of restaurants, galleries, and New Age stores. Cauley Square is located in Goulds off US Highway 1 in a shady oasis. The park's winding brick streets, banyan trees, and water fountains contrast sharply with Miami's urban mega malls.

Charles Deering Estate
The historic estate needs to be remembered when it comes to enjoying Miami's great outdoors. The home of Charles Deeringa Chicago industrialist, preservationist, and environmentalistis both a museum and an ecological treasure listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and it is a preserved representation of Miami in the 1920s. Located in the Cutler neighborhood of Palmetto Bay, the grounds have the highest intact coastal tropical hardwood hammock in the continental United States. Visitors can participate in activities, including canoe tours, bird-watching, moonlit kayaking, boat tours of Biscayne Bay, camping, hiking nature trails, and taking part in eco-tours.

Dade Heritage Trust: Florida Story Tours
Established in 1972, the Dade Heritage Trust is the largest restoration agency in Miami-Dade County. Its mission is to use restoration, education, and activism to protect the county's architectural, natural, and cultural heritage. The Florida Stories tours take visitors on a journey through time, both past and present. The tours include photos and audio that help introduce participants to many of Florida's cities and towns. Read more about the free app and download links for self-guided tours of Downtown Miami.

Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden
Located in Coral Gables, this spot is one of the country's premier botanic gardens, with 83 acres of green, vivid tropical gardens, rainforests, and coastal habitat. It was established in 1938 by renowned plant explorer David Grandison Fairchild with the aim of spreading the joy and beauty of tropical gardening. Today, the garden's collection contains more than 3,400 species, including tropical fruit, orchids, butterflies, and native and exotic plants, providing scientists with a living laboratory and the ability for all to learn something new. Fairchild is also the keeper of the National Palm Collection, which has the largest palm collection in the United States. Plan your visit and reserve your ticket

Historic Overtown
A place that should not be missed, Historic Overtown is one of the most important, if not the most important, Black heritage sites in Miami, as well as one of the city's oldest neighborhoods. Once known as the "Broadway of the South," it was a haven for famous nightclubs and iconic artists. Specialty shops, boutiques, and soul food restaurants represent the area's rich culture, which includes elements from the South and the islands. Join Girl Trek Overtown on a 45-minute walking tour of the area every third Saturday of the month.

The Kampong
Located on Biscayne Bay in Coconut Grove, this garden is home to a diverse collection of tropical fruit cultivars and flowering plants. The former estate of David Fairchild, The Kampong is named after the Malay or Javanese term for a settlement or cluster of buildings. Fairchild was a famous botanical explorer who travelled across Southeast Asia and other tropical regions gathering exotic plants that he introduced to the world. The garden is part of the National Tropical Botanical Garden, a network of five botanical gardens, preserves, and research facilities encompassing nearly 2,000 acres with locations in Hawaii and Florida. Visitors can book a self-guided tour of the garden. 

Vizcaya Museum & Gardens
Named after one of Spain's most beautiful shores, Vizcaya Museum & Gardens encapsulates European extravagance in an American setting. This opulent villa, which was built in 1916 as a winter retreat for James Deering, pays homage to the Italian Renaissance. The museum is surrounded by lush, formal gardens and houses a large collection of original furnishings and artwork. Visitors can book tickets to explore 10 acres of spectacular Italianate gardens and the first floor of the main house. 

Explore cultural hubs

Little Havana
Little Havana is Miami's vivid center of Hispanic culture. The neighborhood is teeming with cafes, bars, venues, and markets that offer a home and a voice to people from all walks of life. This slice of the "motherland" founded by Cuban exiles in the 1960s hums with activity, especially along Calle Ocho, the heart of Cuban life and culture in South Florida.

Miami Design District
The Miami Design District is a district dedicated to cutting-edge fashion, design, architecture, and dining. An urban master plan developed by award-winning master planners Duany Plater-Zyberk codified the vision for a revitalized Design District. The Miami Design District exemplifies a singular commitment to the unification of design, fashion, art, and architecture, as well as a desire to foster a neighborhood filled with creative experiences.

The Underline
From the Miami River to the Dadeland South Metrorail Station, The Underline will transform 120 acres of Miami-Dade County-owned land below the existing Metrorail guideway into a multimodal urban trail. The half-mile Brickell Backyard segment of The Underline, which runs from the Miami River to SW 13th Street next to the Brickell station, was completed in February 2021. Explore Brickell Backyard’s urban biking and walking paths; a flex basketball and soccer court; an outdoor gym; nature and butterfly gardens; and gathering spaces to eat, play, discover, and relax.

Wynwood Arts District
In only a few years, Wynwood, a former warehouse district, has emerged as South Florida's arts epicenter. The neighborhood's early pioneers embraced the murals, street art, and graffiti, resulting in colorful spaces teeming with outdoor art. There are now more than 70 galleries and museums, as well as hundreds of new restaurants and bars. Join Wynwood Art Walk for one of its daily tours of the neighborhood. 

Want more fresh air and fun in the sun? Peruse our list of parks and trails for biking, hiking, and much more. Know a spot that’s missing from the list? Let us know by sending a message to lifeattheu@miami.edu or @LifeAtTheU on Instagram. 

Protect yourself and others from COVID-19 by following CDC and state-issued guidelines. Before you visit, plan ahead and check online for updated hours of operation and policies. Learn more at coronavirus.miami.edu.