One of the first-ever planned communities, Coral Gables, also known as "The City Beautiful, was initially designed and developed by George Merrick during the 1920s. Merrick envisioned a compact business center, just several miles from the heart of Miami, surrounded by houses done in the Mediterranean Revival Style, positioned on expansive streets where leafy shade and fruit trees also prospered. In many ways, thanks to strict zoning laws, Coral Gables is much the same way nearly a century later, and its land and housing values have stayed, perhaps unsurprisingly, steady even in economic downturns.
The center of Coral Gables downtown is anchored by Miracle Mile, which is populated by art galleries, bridal boutiques and upscale dining establishments that speak to many different influences (ranging from traditional Italian to Venezuelan-French to Russian-Cuban). The Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre is one of the more highly regarded companies and venues in the city. Miracle Mile is also host to all kinds of social events throughout the year, including monthly art walks, Taste of the Gables, Annual Oktoberfest and Carnaval on the Mile.
Off the Mile, Books & Books, an independent bookstore started by visionary Mitchell Kaplan, is the epicenter of cultural life; nearly every author who comes through Miami, from unheard-of to best-selling, reads at this store (or at one of the nearby churches, if truly a superstar). Coral Gables Art Cinema plays small- and big-budget art films; meanwhile, cutting-edge theater fans may find exactly what they're looking for at the New Theatre.
If you can't find what you're looking for among the collection of cool shops in Coral Gables proper, head a couple of miles toward U.S. 1, where two outdoor malls, The Shops at Sunset Place and the Village at Merrick Park, boast more retail and dining selections. Given that the Gables is home to University of Miami, and Sunset Place has both movie screens and arcades, that mall tends toward the younger demographic; Merrick Park, with an anchor of Nordstrom and a location next to The Collection, an exotic car group, appeals to a more settled crowd.
Both settled—on 150 acres of lush tropics—and historic (since 1926), The Biltmore Hotel is the grand dame of Miami landmark lodgings. Indeed it's a National Historic Landmark, complete with celebrity guests of old (Ginger Rogers, Judy Garland, Al Capone and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor) and rumored ghosts (during World War II, it was a hospital) Stay here and swim at the fabulous pool, where Johnny Weissmuller broke Olympic records before swinging from trees for Hollywood. Or visit the Venetian Pool, a series of Italianate limestone caves and grottoes fed solely by spring water and so picturesque that it's often the site of catalog and magazine shoots.© NileGuide