On a recent trip to Miami, FL my family and I visited the exquisite Vizcaya Museum & Gardens in Coconut Grove. Vizcaya is an Italian-style villa located on the Biscayne Bay, and the former estate of International businessman James Deering. A National Historic Landmark, it was built between the years 1914-916. When one thinks of Miami, the first things that come to mind are the beach, ocean and nightlife – not a tour of an early 20th century home and gardens. But Vizcaya was one of the most interesting and unique things we did the entire trip, and one I would highly recommend to anyone visiting Miami.
The Man and History Behind Vizcaya
James Deering was a wealthy Chicago businessman, a vice president of International Harvester. He wanted to create a winter home that would incorporate the Renaissance and Baroque European styles he so loved, as well as the art and furnishings he collected on his travels. His idea was to build an estate that would resemble a Tuscan villa. He wanted it to look and feel as if it had been around for centuries, with different eras incorporated into and around the design of the home. With the help of three designers he built Vizcaya.
The house took two years to complete, and the gardens were not finished until 1921. During construction it is believed a whopping 10% of Miami’s population worked at Vizcaya. What now covers 50 acres, used to comprise 180 acres, much like a Tuscan farm. It is said the surrounding gardens are one of the best examples of Italian garden design and architecture in the United States, using only plants adaptable to Miami’s subtropical climate. Though meant to look old and historical, Vizcaya was built with all the modern conveniences of the 20th century, such as central heat, elevators and a phone system. It was a place of many social gatherings and lavish parties.
Walking around Vizcaya
Walking through the home and outside and around the gardens is a treat. From the moment you drive up through the tropical wooded forest, you feel as if you’ve been let in on a secret. Approaching the villa on the main path, you know you’re about to enter another world, another era. To be honest I wasn’t sure if this was something I should be bringing my kids to. I never came across Vizcaya in the articles I read on “Miami with Kids” (maybe once). But I was intrigued, and decided to go for it.
As we neared the main house of Vizcaya, I spotted other children – even strollers – and felt a twinge of relief. I wasn’t the only crazy mama lugging her girls around to see what I wanted to see. The girls loved it though. They really did. They enjoyed seeing all the old bedrooms with their fancy old beds, the organ room with its huge organ, the secret stairways that led to the third floor, the dumbwaiters which they had never seen before, the old elevators, the old telephone room. The Courtyard, the central room in the house, is big and glorious and fun to walk through as well. Every which way you turn there are sculptures, tapestries, works of art. The details are everywhere.
One of our favorite parts of Vizacaya was walking around outside. Located on Biscayne Bay in its own tranquil oasis, the views of the water are beautiful. Deering apparently created his own channel with a large stone barge – one that not only served as a breakwater for smaller boats, but as a social gathering place for parties. It’s an unusual site and a sign of the grandness of the estate. Then there are the exquisite and famed Gardens – formal in nature but adventurous to walk through. There are fountains, waterfalls, pools, terraces, bridges, a maze. All surrounded by the native woodlands, adding to the intrigue and allure.
Vizcaya with Kids
While I wouldn’t say Vizcaya is the ultimate place to take the kids, it is most definately a worthwhile visit. The older the kids are, the better. The house will be difficult with toddlers, as you can’t touch anything. But outside, the gardens are a wonderful place to let them run around and explore. I saw all ages at Vizcaya. It’s a place not to be missed, and one I would imagine where the parents who are like me, and decide to take their kids anyways. Like I mentioned, I saw a number of strollers. Just know that some of the terrain outside is uneven and may be difficult at times for strollers. Bottom line: if you’re visiting Miami with your family, Vizcaya is a must-see. It’s one of the great estates in the area, and in the country.
Need to Know
Vizcaya Museum & Gardens is located at 3251 South Miami Avenue, Miami, FL 33129. Tel: 305-250-9133
Hours: Open 9:30-4:30. CLOSED TUESDAYS.
Admission: Adults, $18, Children 6-12, $6, Children 5 and under free.
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