Miami is known for its beaches and party scene, but did you know that Miami also caters to history buffs? Miami has been attracting visitors for centuries, so it’s no surprise that the city has such a rich and diverse past. Below you’ll find the top five historic places to visit in Miami.
Ancient Spanish Monastery
One of the best historic places to visit in Miami, actually comes from the country of Spain. What is now known as the Ancient Spanish Monastery was once the Monastery of St. Bernard de Clairvaux. It was built in northern Spain from 1133 to 1141 AD and was the home of monks for almost 700 years. When war raged in the 1830s, the cloisters were seized and converted into a granary and stable.
Then, in 1925 a man by the name of William Randolph Hearst purchased the buildings. He had them taken apart stone by stone, packed in about 11,000 numbered wooden crates, and shipped to the US. Unfortunately, due to financial difficulties, the crates ended up being sold at an auction and remained in a warehouse in New York for 26 years.
In 1952, one year after Hearst’s death, two entrepreneurs purchased the stones to create a tourist attraction. After 19 months and about $1.5 million dollars (today that would be about $20 million dollars!), the monastery was put back together. In 1953 the monastery was called “the biggest jigsaw puzzle in history” by Time magazine.
In 1964, the cloisters were purchased by Colonel Robert Pentland, Jr, a philanthropist who gave them to the Bishop of Florida. Nowadays, the monastery is an active church with services on Sundays and throughout the week. There are often weddings and other private events as well, so it’s a good idea to call ahead to make sure they’re open.
Admission is $10 for adults. The monastery is closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park
The area of Cape Florida was named by Ponce de Leon when he arrived in 1513. Since then, the area has seen war, been a transition point for runaway slaves, and become a state park.
The park is also home to the Cape Florida lighthouse, one of the best lighthouses on the east coast. It was completed in 1825, but damaged during the Second Seminole War. It was rebuilt in 1846 and visitors can now climb to the top of the lighthouse.
The park was established in 1967 and named after Bill Baggs, who had fought to preserve the land from development. There is over a mile of shoreline, which has actually been voted as one of the best beaches in the US. There are also hiking and biking trails, picnic areas, and a canoe/kayak launch.
In 2004, Cape Florida was designated a National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom site. It was here that runaway slaves and Black Seminoles met with sea captains that would take them to the British Bahamas, where they could live as free men.
Admission is $8 per vehicle to enter. The park is open from 8 a.m. until sundown, 365 days a year.
The iconic Biltmore Hotel in Miami is a National Historic Landmark. Completed in 1926, it took less than one year to build the 400+ room hotel along with a country club, golf course, and enormous swimming pool. In fact, it is the largest hotel pool in the continental US!
Many athletes, musicians, movie stars, politicians, and even gangsters frequently stayed at the Biltmore to enjoy fashion shows, galas, and aquatic shows. Some of the celebrities that frequented the hotel were: Ginger Rogers, Judy Garland, Bing Crosby, Johnny Weissmuller, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Al Capone.
When World War II started, however, the party ended. The hotel was seized by the government and converted into a military hospital. The ceilings were covered, the windows were sealed, and the floors were overlaid with linoleum. Even after the war was over, it remained a hospital for veterans until 1968.
The city of Coral Gables was eventually able to get the property back, but the building still remained empty for almost ten years. There was even talk of tearing it down!
Then in 1983, restoration began. In a way, all of the coverings from its days as a hospital helped to preserve much of the beauty inside the hotel. Still, it took nearly 4 years and $55 million to restore the hotel. Nowadays, everything is as it once was, with only slight modifications.
If you’d like to learn more about the Biltmore and its history, the hotel offers free tours every Sunday at 1:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m.
South Florida has one of the highest populations of Holocaust survivors in the United States. Therefore, it made sense to build a monument in Miami commemorating the six million Jews who were killed by the Nazis.
The main sculpture of the memorial is an almost 4-story tall outstretched arm tattooed with a number from Auschwitz. The arm reaches to the sky for help, with thin and emaciated bodies clinging to it. Surrounding the arm is a circular black granite wall with the names of people who died during the Holocaust.
Surrounding the main sculpture at the Holocaust Memorial is a reflecting pool that is lined with the history of the events that occurred in Europe in the 1930s and 40s. Some of the photos and sculptures can be difficult to see, so keep that in mind if you’re visiting with small children.
Admission is free, although you will have to pay for street parking. The memorial is open from 9:30 a.m. until sundown, 365 days a year.
Vizcaya Museum & Gardens
Going to see Vizcaya Gardens is a must when you’re in town. It’s one of the most historic places to visit in Miami and it is absolutely stunning!
Originally, the property was 180 acres and construction began in 1912. It was the lavish home of business man James Deering. The property consisted of a villa, formal gardens, recreational amenities, and a village services compound. The villa and gardens were influenced by Italian Renaissance architecture.
Vizcaya also had many modern features, with the latest technology of the time. The villa had generators and a water filtration system, two elevators (not currently for public use), and the first telephone system in Miami-Dade County.
Today, only 50 acres remain, but visitors can still explore the villa and surrounding gardens. Everything has been beautifully restored and its grandeur can truly be appreciated.
Admission is $25 for adults and $10 for children ages 6 to 12. Because the property is not considered ADA friendly, visitors in wheelchairs only pay $10. Admission is free for military with ID (active or veteran). Vizcaya is open Thursday through Monday from 9:30 a.m. with last admission at 4:30 p.m. Visitors can remain on the first floor of the Main House until 5:00 p.m. and the gardens until 5:30 p.m.
The city of Miami has many stories to tell. By visiting these five historic places, you’ll start to learn more of its rich history and culture. The city might be considered paradise, but it is also a city of creators and dreamers.
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Bio: Vicky Sosa is a Florida-based blogger traveling around the world with her stuffed monkey Buddy. Her website Buddy The Traveling Monkey provides useful travel tips, inspiration, and destination guides. Although she writes about her travels all over the world, she loves to focus on Florida and show how much more there is to the state than the typical tourist attractions. You can follow Vicky and Buddy’s adventures on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.