There’s more to Miami than South Beach, shopping and celebrity sightings. While it is still relatively young compared to other U.S. cities — Miami celebrated its 120th birthday last year — there are some gems with a storied history that have withstood the test of time.
In fact, there are more than 150 historic sites and districts here, including six National Historic Landmarks. While you’re making your way across the Magic City, add these spots to your itinerary.
Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, Coconut Grove
Few buildings in Miami surpass the century mark, but Vizcaya Museum and Gardens is one of them. The National Historic Landmark was first constructed as the winter residence of millionaire James Deering, who bought the land from Mary Brickell in 1912.
Legend has it that Deering set out to build a mammoth estate close to and visible from the water, and once completed, it sprawled across 180 acres. To get materials here, Deering even built a railroad track.
After Deering died in 1925, his nieces took over the estate and began selling it off bit by bit. By the 1950s, Vizcaya had turned into an art museum and was the site of the Vizcaya Heist in the 1970s, when a trio of jewel thieves raided the museum.
Vizcaya has also served as the locale for stately visits, movies and music videos. Once you catch sight of the breathtaking views of the beautiful open-air courtyards, lush gardens and Biscayne Bay, you’ll understand why rapper Pitbull and others have chosen to shoot here.
By the way, if you’re planning a fairytale wedding, put this at the top of your list.
Freedom Tower, Downtown Miami
Built in 1925, architects Leonard Schultze and S. Fullerton Weaver created the tower with elements inspired by the Giralda in Seville, Spain. The Freedom Tower, recognized by the National Register of Historic Places, has had many incarnations, from newspaper headquarters to even appearing as the backdrop for an episode of Miami Vice.
While it was originally built to serve as home for what was then The Miami Times, the building is more well known for the role it played as the “Ellis Island of the South” in the 1960s, when the federal government used the facility to process exiles fleeing Cuba.
These days, the Freedom Tower houses The Cuban Exile Experience & Cultural Legacy Gallery and other exhibition halls, showcasing works by famous artists such as Salvador Dalí, Francisco de Goya and Leonardo da Vinci. Tours are free and open to the public.
The Biltmore, Coral Gables
This iconic Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star luxury hotel, designated as a National Historic Landmark, houses myriad tales within its walls — some even say the hotel is haunted by the spirit of mobster Thomas Walsh.
Also designed by Schultze and Weaver, The Biltmore offers a blend of Italian, Spanish and Arabic architecture. As the story goes, George Merrick decided to build a “great hotel” to serve the glamorous crowds. Spanish royalty, Ginger Rogers, Judy Garland, Bing Crosby, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and mobster Al Capone have all traipsed through here.
At one point, the hotel also served as a war hospital during World War II and as a VA hospital.
The Biltmore has since been restored back to its full glory, reopening its doors in 1987 as the high-end hotel it once was, complete with fine dining at Four-Star Palme d’Or and amenities like a 750,000-gallon pool and a beautiful, Donald Ross-designed golf course.
Joe’s Stone Crab, Miami Beach
Founded in 1913 by a Hungarian couple before Miami Beach was even a city, Joe’s Stone Crab has become a first stop for visitors and a go-to for locals and stone crab devotees from all over the world. The likes of Will Rogers, Amelia Earhart, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and A-list pop icons have all dined here.
Every year, come October 15, crowds flock to the restaurant when it reopens for the season. The lines here are as legendary as the restaurant and food itself. You’ll want to come early to get a table since you can’t make reservations (though a hat tip to the maître d’ might get you in).
But the wait is worth it. Once you take your first nibble of succulent Florida Keys stone crab bathed in a classic mustard sauce, it’s love at first bite.
The service is also spot on. The family-owned restaurant treats diners like one of its own.
Cape Florida Lighthouse, Key Biscayne
Whether a beachgoer or history buff, you’ll want to head to Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, located at the southern end of Key Biscayne, not far from Four-Star The Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne, Miami. Here you’ll find the famed, 1825-erected lighthouse, the oldest-standing structure in Miami-Dade County.
The island once served as a secret meeting spot for runaway slaves and was designated a National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Site in 2004.
Free guided tours of the 95-foot lighthouse are available. Prepare to break a sweat as you climb, but the views of the city, bay and beach from the top are your reward.
Refuel afterward with lunch at Lighthouse Café.