Exploring Florida’s Gold Coast

Take a break from winter’s chill: this month’s 110-mile Historic Highways route runs from north to south along Florida’s east coast. We begin in the resort community of Palm Beach, then visit Delray Beach, Boca Raton, and Fort Lauderdale, once a haven for college students on spring break, and now a yachting center. We continue to Miami Beach, Miami, Key Biscayne, and end in Coral Gables. Dubbed the "Gold Coast," this region was established as a winter playground in the 1920s. Today, the Florida cities attract sun-worshippers from all over the world, as well as those drawn to the vibrant cultural life and restored historical areas. Southern Florida offers the active traveler abundant white sand beaches and water sports, golf, tennis, and natural habitats for bird-watching and canoeing.

PALM BEACH

Palm Beach was named for its palm trees, planted in 1878 when a Spanish cargo ship carrying them ran aground on the beach. The American architect Addison Mizner arrived in 1918. He designed many of the Spanish-Moorish homes along Ocean Boulevard, including Mar-A-Lago, built in 1923 for cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post. The Norton Museum of Art has extensive holdings of European, American, and Chinese pieces. Take Route 1 south 18 miles to Delray Beach.

The Henry Morrison Flagler Museum, (561) 655-2833. The Norton Museum of Art, (561) 832-5196. The Breakers, (561) 655-6611.

DELRAY BEACH

Settlers from Michigan and Japan established Defray Beach in the 1920s. George Morikami, a farmer and one of the earliest settlers, acquired 200 acres of land that he willed to the county to create the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens. It includes a theater, galleries, tea house, nature trail, and bonsai garden. Military miniatures covering two thousand years of history are on view at the Cornell Museum of Art and History. The dates for the Delray Beach Community Center Antiques show are February 13 and 14. Continue on Route 1 south eight miles to Boca Raton.

Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens, (561) 495-0233. Cornell Museum of Art and History, (561) 243-7922. Antique Show and Sale, (561) 243-2233.

BOCA RATON

Legend has it that this inlet of jagged rocks was named "mouth of the rat" by Spanish pirates. In 1925, Addison Mizner designed the city plan for Boca Raton. Two of his surviving 1920s buildings are the lavish pink Boca Raton Resort Hotel and Club and the city’s administration building. Historic houses open to the public include the 1920 Old Schoolhouse, the 1937 Pioneer House, and the 1923 Historic Butler House, built from plans from Woman’s Home Companion magazine. Visit the International Museum of Cartoon Art, started by Mort Walker, the creator of Beetle Bailey. The Old Floresta Historic District along Cardinal Avenue has many small Spanish Colonial-style homes. Spanish River Park and Gumbo Limbo Nature Center are two places to take in native plants and birds. Take Route 1 south 20 miles to Fort Lauderdale.

Boca Raton Resort Hotel and Club, (800) 327-0101. Old Schoolhouse and Pioneer House, (305) 427-1050. Historic Butler House, (305) 429-0378. International Museum of Cartoon Art, (561) 391-2200. Spanish River Park, (561) 393-7815. Gumbo Limbo Nature Center, (561) 338-1473.

FORT LAUDERDALE

Named for several forts that protected settlers from Seminole attacks, Fort Lauderdale became a south Florida resort town in the 1920s. The Museum of Art features North and South American art and Dutch and Flemish paintings. The 1920 Bonnet House is the 35-acre estate of painter and art collector Frederick Clay Bartlett, whose furnishings, studio, and tropical plants are on view. The Fort Lauderdale Historical Society Museum has collections of local artifacts, Seminole and Colonial settlers’ clothing, toys, and a scale model of a fort. Stranahan House, built for trader Frank Stranahan in 1901, is a good example of Florida frontier design. The 1907 King-Cromartie House, a replica of an 1899 schoolhouse, and a Discovery museum complex are all housed in the 1905 New River Inn. Hugh Taylor Birch State Recreation Area is home to such endangered species as the gopher tortoise and golden leather fern. The Riverside Hotel, the oldest in Fort Lauderdale, has large guest rooms with Jacobean-style oak furnishings. Cont inue on Route 1 south to 195 east, about 30 miles to Miami Beach.

Museum of Art, (954) 525-5500. Bonnet House, (954) 563-5393. Fort Lauderdale Historical Society Museum, (954) 463-4431. Stranahan House, (954) 524-4736. King–Cromartie House, (954) 462-4116. Hugh Taylor Birch State Recreation Area, (954) 564-4521. Riverside Hotel, (954) 467-0671.

MIAMI BEACH

In 1920, 1,600 acres of mangrove swamp east of Miami were drained and developed into Miami Beach. During the 1980s, more than 800 pastel-hued structures in the Art Deco district, in the heart of South Beach, were restored and renovated, revitalizing the city. Today, the area boasts art galleries, clubs, and restaurants, along with the Miami City Ballet and the New World Symphony at the Lincoln Theater. The Wolfsonian–FLU Foundation Gallery offers rotating exhibits of American and European art produced between 1885 and 1945. The Holocaust Memorial has five main areas of sculptures and captioned photographs. Simply named The Hotel, a recently restored 1939 structure with 52 rooms, has been decorated by fashion designer Todd Oldbam with inlaid terrazzo floors, lush fabrics, and playful lighting fixtures. Adventurous divers might try the underwater Wreck Trek site in north Miami Beach, with two shipwrecks, the Patricia and Miss Karline.

Continue on Route AlA to 41 to 95 south about seven miles to Miami.

Miami City Ballet, (305) 532-7713. New World Symphony, (305) 673-3331. Wolfsonian-FIU Foundation Gallery, (305) 531-1001. The Holocaust Memorial, (305) 538-1663. The Hotel, (305) 531-2222.

MIAMI

Miami was incorporated in 1896. Today, the city is a melting pot of cultures with ethnically mixed neighborhoods such as Lithe Havana, Little Haiti, and Coconut Grove. The Art Deco Historic District runs from Ocean Drive to Lenox Avenue in nearby Miami Beach. Rare antiquities and decorative arts are on view in more than 70 rooms at the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens. The Historical Museum of Southern Florida, in the Metro-Dade Cultural Center, interprets 10,000 years of Florida’s history from prehistoric Indian artifacts to 1830s Audubon prints. The Gold Coast Railroad Museum collections include Henry Flagler’s locomotive, a circa 1950 California Zephyr, and a Pullman car. In a 1930 Art Deco building, the Bass Museum of Art exhibits European paintings, and sculpture and decorative arts. From March 3 to 12, Miami celebrates Carnaval in Little Havana with food, concerts, and dancing events. Take Route 95 south to Route 913 southeast ten miles to Key Biscayne.

Vizeaya Museuni and Gardens, (305) 579-2813. Historical Museum of Southern Florida, (305) 375-1492. Gold Coast Railroad Museum, (305) 253-0063. Bass Museum of Art, (305) 673-7530. Carnaval Miami, (305) 644-8888.

KEY BISCAYNE

Linked by the William Powell Bridge, Key Biscayne and Virginia Key are two islands where visitors can catch a great view of downtown Miami. The area is popular with bikers, skaters, and watersports enthusiasts. The Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Recreation Area offers 494 acres to explore. Visitors may climb to the top of the 1845 brick Cape Florida Lighthouse. The 37-acre Miami Seaquarium is home to many rescued manatees, sharks, and sea lions. On the ocean, the Sonesta Beach Resort Key Biscayne offers 300 rooms. Backtrack about eight miles on Route 913 to Route 1 south to Coral Gables, a total of about 13 miles.

The Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Recreation Area, (305) 361-5811. Miami Seaquarium, (305) 361-5705. Sonesta Beach Resort Key Biscayne, (305) 365-2340.

CORAL GABLES

Similar to Palm Beach and Boca Raton, Coral Gables is a planned community of residential and commercial buildings with a Mediterranean flavor. George Merrick established the city from his 3,000 acres of citrus and avocado groves. His boyhood home, Coral Gables Merrick House and Gardens, is open and has been restored with family furnishings and artwork. The Lowe Art Museum displays antiquities and European and American sculpture. Don’t miss the Venetian Pool, a large rock quarry turned into a springfed swimming pool, where Johnny Weismuller and Esther Williams both swam. The Fairchild Tropical Garden is an 83-acre botanical garden with a conservatory, rainforest, and sunken garden. Built in 1926, the historic 279-room Biltmore Hotel is a great place to end a Florida journey.

Coral Gables Merrick House and Gardens, (305) 460-5361. The Lowe Art Museum, (305) 284-3603. Venetian Pool, (305) 460-5356. City Hall, (305) 446-6800. The Fairchild Tropical Garden, (305) 667-1651. Biltmore Hotel, (800) 727-1926.

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