Culture + Style

A Creepy Ode to Heartbreak and Other Unexpected Miami Must-Sees

Jilted by his sweetheart the day before their wedding, a man spent his life creating Coral Castle, a monstrous shrine dedicated to her. (Photo: Alamy)

Undiscovered by many, Miami’s culture extends beyond Ocean Drive and the boozy beach antics of SoBe. While it seems most tourists’ sights are set on the neon-lit nightclubs and bars of Miami Beach, a vibrant, history- and culture-filled world exists below that glossy surface. Dig deeper into the city to discover its unexpected must-sees.

A Peculiar Way to Say, “I Love You”

While TV has brought to life such memorable Miami characters as crime scene investigator Horatio Caine and serial killer Dexter Morgan, the city has been home to real-life characters too. One colorful eccentric was Latvian immigrant Ed Leedskalnin. Jilted by his sweetheart the day before their wedding, he spent his life creating a monstrous shrine dedicated to her. Today this shrine is known as the Coral Castle Museum.

Leedskalnin carved 1,100 tons of rock and other materials into larger-than-life objects, including a nine-ton door moves with the touch of a finger and chairs scaled for giants. To this day, no one knows how exactly Ed carved the intricate Coral Castle works. For a nifty Facebook profile pic, strike a pose in the Celestial Court, a popular Miami site.

Explore Where Hundreds Sought Freedom

Art Deco
Miami’s Freedom Town is today a vibrant art museum. (Photo: Alamy)

With its Mediterranean Revival-Art Deco design, Freedom Tower once served as a welcome center for Cuban refugees and is now a popular Miami site to visit. Located on the campus of Miami-Dade College, today it houses the MDC Museum of Art + Design (MOAD), celebrating emerging artists.

Appreciate the Art Deco Funkiness

Art Deco
Miami’s Art Deco architecture is on the National Register of Historic Places. (Photo: Alamy)

Miami embraces its Art Deco heritage, which is readily apparent in the 29 brightly painted lifeguard stations that stretch from Miami’s South Pointe Park up to 85th Street.

Keep an eye open for other Art Deco icons that define the city, including colorful parking meters, funky-shaped park benches and bubble gum-pink police cars. If you head to 17th Avenue and Coral Way, you can see the last remaining Art Deco gas station. Based on the eclectic vision of Miami architect Russell Pancoast, the working station features arched windows and 1920s-era columns.

Dip Your Toes in the Venetian Pool

Venetian Pool
Cool off in the only swimming pool on the National Registry of Historic Places. (Photo: Alamy)

In nearby Coral Gables, you’ll find the Venetian Pool, the centerpiece for city developer George Merrick’s vision of a Mediterranean town. Built from a coral rock quarry, this is the only swimming pool on the National Registry of Historic Places. The pool is refilled each day with 820,000 gallons of spring-fed water. You can swim under waterfalls and into cave-like grottos to experience a part of Miami’s rich history.

Photograph the Flora at Exotic Gardens

Everyone knows about Miami’s Cuban influence, but there is also a strong Japanese culture as well. You can take a guided tour through Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens, in what was once an experimental farm community for Japanese immigrants. You may catch a traditional tea ceremony, although in true Miami fashion, there’s no set schedule.

Also representative of Asian influence, Miami Beach Botanical Garden was built along the canal that was the brainchild of Quaker farmer-turned-land developer John Collins as a way to transport alligator pears, or avocados as we know them today, to market.