There is an old saying- that you should write what you know. I’d take it one step further and say write what you live. The place I call home in Miami is in the neighborhood of Brickell, specifically on Brickell Key, the small island that is juts out onto the calm waters of shimmering Biscayne Bay. It’s an area that often gets overlooked on a vacationer’s itinerary, but you could spend an entire glorious day in my enclave with a myriad of activities to feed your soul as well as your belly.
Before I dive into a morning to evening circuit, a little history first. Brickell, bordered by the Miami River to the north, Biscayne Bay to the East, the Rickenbacker Causeway to the south and Interstate 95 to the west, is actually one of Miami’s oldest neighborhoods. The very earliest inhabitants were the Tequesta Indians but very little is actually known about them. There was a discovery of a burial mound of the tribe, but it was destroyed with construction of one of first Miami hotels, Henry Flagler’s Royal Palm Hotel.
But the Tequesta Indians were long gone by the time the first settlers showed up and one of those settlers was the Brickell family from who the neighborhood gets its name. William and Mary Brickell and their children came to the Miami River in 1871 setting up a trade post for business with the Miccosukee and Seminole Indians. The Brickells were real estate tycoons and their fortunes soared when Henry Flagler’s railroad reached Miami in 1896. The Brickells worked with Mr Flagler to give him land when the railroad arrived suddenly found their wealth swelled when their real estate holdings became extremely valuable.
The Brickells created a residential haven. In between the years of 1910 and 1919, they laid out a subdivision of broad avenues and beautiful landscaping. By around 1920, huge ornate mansions lined Brickell Bay Drive and Brickell Avenue and the area became famously known as Millionaires Row. This golden era continued for many years and was considered the playground of the wealthy. As mid-20th century rolled around, the land for the mansions began to be developed for high density residential and commercial uses. By the 1970’s Brickell became the financial hub of Miami with institutions, many rooted in Latin America, establishing themselves in the area.
Today, you’ll find yourself in the midst of fun, frenetic action juxtaposed with harmonious serenity all thoroughout Brickell. So since there is something for everyone, let’s get you exploring Brickell from the top of the morning.
Vizcaya Museum and Gardens
You’ll actually start your exploration of Brickell just a tad outside of it! Grab an Uber and head for the tranquility of this famous estate just minutes away. Miami is boisterous, hyper, and hectic, so this sprawling Italianate complex, the former home of John Deering, will be a welcomed reprieve from all the hullabaloo.
Arrive just as the gates open at 9:30 and you’ll find yourself in a world of chock-full of zen you won’t feel guilty about skipping out on your morning yoga session. In the early 1900’s, Midwest businessman John Deering did what any retiree would do even today-head south to sunny Florida. After purchasing the land located at 3251 South Miami Avenue from Mary Brickell, he turned his estate into an Italian Renaissance painting complete with the decorative urns, spiraling balustrades and intricate grottos. His visits to Italy inspired him to have his southern mansion designed elaborately with room upon room crammed to the hilt with art, antiques, ceramics, and furnishings all from the boot of Europe. The 50-acre estate has one of the most lush gardens in the world, ideal for strolling in the cooler morning hours. You’ll see evidence of “modern” technology, as Deering had dumbwaiters, rotary dial phones ( the estate was the first to have a telephone system in Miami-Dade)and old doorbells installed throughout the property.
You might even recognize exterior shots of Vizcaya from the movies- Ace Ventura Pet Detective with Jim Carrey; Any Given Sunday with Cameron Diaz and Al Pacino; and Money Pit with Tom Hanks and Shelley Long, all used the estate in scenes. One of the longest running daytime soap operas, Days of Our Lives, also took advantage of Vizcaya’s charms.
After a visit to both the mansion and a complete circuit around the gardens, head to the sweet cafe for a well deserved break and a little nosh before you call your Uber and head back into the heart of Brickell. Depending on where you are coming from in Brickell, you could forgo the Ubers entirely and walk from central Brickell to the estate and back again. The pretty Brickell sidewalks are lined with swaying tree leaves providing cool shade from the rising temperatures. But if you need a set of wheels to get you to Vizcaya and back, there will still be plenty of cardiovascular opportunities this day, so settle in the back seat and have a nice chat with your friendly driver.
Puroast Coffee and Brickell City Center
Now that your spirit is on an even keel from such a peaceful morning, it’s ok to put it into a little overdrive now. But before we chat about spending time in retail therapy, you need a caffeine jolt to wake you out of your sedate state. And we know just the place, Puroast Coffee at 632 S. Miami Avenue, a 10-minute Uber drive from Vizcaya.
We are definitely not in Starbucks any more said Dorothy to Toto-Puroast is the antithesis to the ubiquitous chain. In fact, Puroast is the complete opposite to most coffee houses in Miami. They are either the bland chains or trying so hard to be hip that it really does hurt. This welcome addition to Brickell is just the sort of place that the cast of Friends could call their second home. Rachel, Monica, and Joey and the gang would be at ease here in something very much akin to their beloved fictional Central Perk coffee hang out( but don’t worry, there is no Phoebe here screeching the Smelly Cat tune).
Their coffee story actually begins in Venezuela where the owners learned the art of proper roasting. The education led them to develop beans that were smooth, less bitter, and had far less acid. Their first customers were natural food stores, co-ops, and gourmet shops and then the brick and mortar store in Brickell was born.
Sit among the pretty plants, soothing lighting, and rows of their aromatic packaged goods while being served by a down to earth, apron-wearing staff most eager to make you happy. Get a jolt of caffeine with no upset to your tummy and you’ll be fortified to go around the corner to the Brickell City Center, located at 701 S. Miami Avenue.
It seems odd to recommend a mall when there are so many outdoor activities to enjoy in year-round sublime Miami weather. But that’s just the thing, this mall is one of the most cleverly designed shopping meccas in the country. The mall is constructed to be both inside and outside, bringing in the sunny elements when needed, and shielding you from any harsh turns our fickle climate can foist on us without warning. That’s due to its unique LEED certified Climate Ribbon Design. The first thing you will notice when you step foot into this 4.9 million square foot mixed use development is the soaring and mesmerizing blend of science and art by use of an elevated trellis that connects the project’s three city blocks and acts as an environmental management system. All that means for you is that the entire complex is built with sustainability as it’s first goal while providing one of the most aesthetically pleasing shopping pilgrimages in America.
Most of the project is devoted to dazzling shops, but it’s the wide breezeways and uncluttered feel that is really the draw. Shopping is so much more pleasant when you don’t feel jostled for space and no matter where you roam throughout the four floors of retail heaven, you’ll almost feel like you have the place to yourself.
A few notables that standout include Santa Maria Novella, an apothecary-like Italian den of beauty and home products straight from Florence, Italy. You won’t need directions to this stunning shop, just follow your nose to this heady atelier and spend time browsing like the Italian royalty that you are.
Le Roy Rene comes from that other beloved European country, France. This little gem is packed to the gills with French sweet treats with the familiar macaron in stock, but try something different for a change. The brand is famous for its calissons- diamond shaped cookies with royal icing. Full disclosure- I live in Paris during the summer months and in my neighborhood right near my apartment is where I first became familiar with Le Roy Rene-and that’s how I got addicted to my weekly calissons habit. So when they were brought to this Miami location, my French soul was soothed.
Since Miami is all about art and creativity, transport yourself into colors, shapes and just pure visual ecstasy at Avant Gallery. Magnificent works await you that showcase up and comers as well as well established geniuses. Who knows-you might just find that perfect Miami memory inside a gilded frame.
Casa Tua Cucina
The midday meal is within steps at Casa Tua Cucina. You’ll pass through Saks Fifth Avenue and if you can pull yourself away from all the tempting merchandise, you’ll be rewarded with the filling lunch you deserve.
Just like the Brickell City Center isn’t just any old mall, Casa Tua Cucina isn’t just any old food court. Created with your favorite nonna in mind, the food offerings at the 10 different stations are reminiscent of what grandma lovingly prepared. Walk up and down the black and white tiled corridors and select from one station ( or two or three!) of enticing high quality food offerings accompanied by a perfect pairing of Italian wine. Maybe it’s Risotto al fungi today or Beef Carpaccio. Or how about a Selezion di Salumi e Formaggi – a platter of succulent thinly sliced meats and creamy cheeses. And be sure on your way out to take home some exquisitely packaged goodies such as crisp chocolate-dunked biscotti or cloth-wrapped amaretti cookies.
Don’t worry that you might not cover every inch of Brickell City Center as you’ll be coming back here for some pre-dinner fun in another part of the complex. But that’s all hush-hush right now because now you are off for a water adventure.
Great White Catamaran Sunset Cruise
Leave the center and walk east on 8th Street to Brickell Bay Drive. On the the corner you will see the Four Ambassador complex to your right. Walk through to the docking area and there you will see your late afternoon activity- a sunset cruise on the Great White Catamaran. In the summer, the cruise departs at 6:30pm, in our high season of winter it departs at 5:30pm, so plan accordingly.
You’ll be treated to our azure waters when you board this comfortable vessel and cruise past all of our major sites- the Art Deco district on South Beach, Millionaires Row, Monument Island and so much more. So sit back, relax, and let the expert guide share Miami history beyond just Brickell.
Dinner and Drinks- La Mar at the Mandarin Oriental and Sugar for cocktails
Depending on what time your sunset cruise will end, either have dinner first then cocktails or the reverse. In any event, you are going to crown your day with two of the most coveted spots in Brickell. I’ll start with drinks first.
After embarking from sailing, return to the Brickell City Center but trade your shopping bags for a cool elixir instead. The pride and joy of the complex is the rooftop lounge on top of East, the coolest hotel in town. Appropriately named Sugar, because your complete experience at this venue is nothing short of sweet. Let the technologically advanced elevator whisk you to the top of the building then step out into paradise. If you arrive before 10pm, it will be less crowded ( that’s the way I enjoy my favorite bar in town). Feeling more like Bali than Brickell, sit among the hand-carved shellacked wooden tables set into a bevy of romantic nooks that cover most of the bar area. Or march right up to the four-sided huge central bar and have a chat with one of the charming mixologists. But whatever you do, be sure to cradle your caipirinha while posing at the edges of Sugar for a breathtaking view of Brickell and Biscayne Bay.
Leave before the incoming hoards tumble out of the elevators as you are going down now the way you came and over to Brickell Key.
Make your crossing from the East Hotel and head well… east! You’ll walk across the bridge to the island of my residence. Ahead of you is your dinner destination at La Mar, nestled inside the spectacular Mandarin Oriental Hotel, and one of the best Peruvian restaurants in Miami by gastronomic maestro Gaston Acurio.
You’ll ask to be seated on their sprawling terrace so that you may gaze at the twinkling Miami skyline all night long. Start with Gaston’s signature chilled ceviche-there isn’t just one to choose from, but a whole slew. Then how about Anticucho de Pulpo-grilled octopus with pesto potato cream, Peruvian aioli, crispy capers and garlic. It’s on to the star of the meal and will it be Arroz con Mariscos; a cascade of seafood with ahi amarillo sauce, or a classic Lomo Saltado. Finish off the repast with Lucuma +Chocolate; a decadent mix of Peruvian chocolate mousse and lucuma, the superfood fruit of South America. Lucuma is a yellow-fleshed custard-like nutrient packed sweet that looks similar to an avocado but with smooth skin. The memorable fine finish is topped with caramelized quinoa and sesame for crunch. And don’t forget to order a stream of pisco sours and then you’ll be Peruvian through and through- well, at least for tonight.
As you enjoy the last licks of cacao, look below to the Bay Walk path and you’ll see all the late night joggers burning off the day’s calorie consumption. If you return to La Mar again, try the Sunday brunch and that is when you might just spot a petite silver-haired ponytailed runner bopping by your table. Be sure to say hello because that’s me out for my daily sweat session. Let me know my recommendation of La Mar is spot-on.
But this night, don’t worry about your figure or concern yourself with every macronutrient. Just relax and feel the gentle breeze cover your skin with thin mists of salty dew. Between the sounds of very mellow waves and all the lively, but pleasantly subdued merriment from the other satisfied guests, raise your third glass of pisco sour to a day well spent in Brickell.
But wait……did you know that Brickell is very close by to one of our award-winning food tours? Join us for our famous Little Havana Food and Cultural Tour, just located minutes west of Brickell. We offer master storytellers who will regale you with insider tales of this incredible neighborhood. Explore both Brickell and Little Havana and you will have immersed yourself in the very best that Miami has to offer.
By Robyn Webb