Vizcaya Museum & Gardens

Top choice Historic Building

in Coconut Grove
Photo by Clinton Blackburn
Photo by Clinton Blackburn

If you want to see something that is 'very Miami', this is it – lush, big, over the top, a patchwork of all that a rich US businessman might want to show off to his friends. Which is essentially what industrialist James Deering did in 1916, starting a Miami tradition of making a ton of money and building ridiculously grandiose digs. He employed 1000 people (then 10% of the local population) and stuffed his home with Renaissance furniture, tapestries, paintings and decorative arts.

The mansion is a classic of Miami's Mediterranean Revival stye. The largest room in the house is the informal living room, sometimes dubbed 'the Renaissance Hall' for its works dating from the 14th to the 17th centuries. The music room is intriguing for its beautiful wall canvases, which come from Northern Italy, while the banquet hall evokes all the grandeur of imperial dining rooms of Europe, with its regal furnishings.

On the south side of the house stretch a series of lovely gardens that are just as impressive as the interior of Vizcaya. Modeled on formal Italian gardens of the 17th and 18th centuries, these manicured spaces form a counterpoint to the wild mangroves beyond. Sculptures, fountains and vine-draped surfaces give an antiquarian look to the grounds, and an elevated terrace (the Garden Mound) provides a fine vantage point over the greenery.

The on-site Vizcaya Cafe has light snacks and coffee to keep energy levels up while perusing the lavish collections.