Todd DeFeo

Finding culture in the Magic City

Hotel Breakwater South Beach Hotel Breakwater South Beach is located on Ocean Drive on South Beach. (Photo by Todd DeFeo)
Miami City Hall

Miami City Hall is located in the former Pan American Terminal Building on Dinner Key, which was built in 1934. (Photo by Todd DeFeo)

MIAMI — Miami is an interesting city. It’s so widely known for its glitz and glamor and its unique Cuban culture, but beneath the surface, there is so much to see and do.

When most people think of Miami, they picture the neon-clad buildings along South Beach and scantily clad people enjoying the sand and sun. That is certainly a part of the Miami lifestyle, but there is more.

What about the history and museums? Yes, they exist.

For people who aren’t huge beach goers, that probably won’t be found on South Beach. For those people, here are five places in Miami that are must see destinations.

Gold Coast Railroad Museum

NASA locomotive No. 2

Former NASA locomotive No. 2 now pulls trains at the Golf Coast Railroad Museum in Miami. (Photo by Todd DeFeo)

Occupying the former Naval Air Station Richmond (NASR) and founded in 1956, the museum is one of several Official State Railroad Museums in Florida.

One of the most valuable items in the museum’s collection is the Ferdinand Magellan. The former Pullman Co. observation car was built in 1929 and served as Presidential Rail Car from 1943 until 1958.

St. Bernard de Clairvaux Church

Ancient Spanish Monastery in Miami

St. Bernard de Clairvaux Church was built in Sacramenia, Spain, in the 12th century and shipped to the United States in the 20th century. (Photo by Todd DeFeo)

Originally built in the Spanish town of Sacramenia in Segovia in the 12th century and named Santa María la Real, William Randolph Hearst purchased the structure in 1925 and planned to move it to his Hearst Castle in San Simeon.

The structure was subsequently dismantled and shipped to the United States. However, as a result of an outbreak of hoof and mouth disease in Segovia, the 11,000 crates containing the historic monastery building were quarantined in New York.

Because of Hearst’s financial difficulties, the building remained in storage in New York. Raymond Moss and William Edgemon purchased the building in 1952, a year after Hearst died.

Vizcaya Museum & Gardens

Villa Vizcaya

Villa Vizcaya in Miami

Businessman James Deering built Villa Vizcaya between 1914 and 1922. He used the house as his winter residence until his death in 1925.

Today, Miami-Dade County owns the residence, which is located in the Coconut Grove neighborhood. In addition to touring the 34-room house, visitors can also tour the 10-acre gardens on the property. The residence has been featured in several films, including Bad Boys II.

Wings Over Miami

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Located at the Kendall-Tamiami Executive Airport and about 13 miles southwest of the central Miami business district, this museum features a nice collection of historic aircraft.

The centerpiece of the museum’s collection is a 1992 Grumman F-14D. This particular example was one of the last active F-14s to serve with the Navy before it was officially retired in September 2006.

Other aircraft on display include a 1943 North American AT6D, a 1942 Ryan PT-22 Recruit and a 1972 Nanchang CJ-6A.

One other noteworthy aircraft is a 1943 Consolidated PBY-5.

Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park

Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park

Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park in Miami

Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, occupying the southern portion of the island of Key Biscayne, is home to Cape Florida Light, said to be the oldest standing structure in the Miami area (except for St. Bernard de Clairvaux Church, of course).

The historic lighthouse was originally built in 1825 and reconstructed in 1846, according to Florida State Parks, which today owns the structure. The state park also features plenty of beach space for anyone who wants to dip his or her toe in the water, but avoid the city’s other hectic beaches.

Eat Here

Miami is inextricably linked to Cuban cuisine, and certainly no trip to Miami would be complete without a visit to Little Havana. For starters, head over to Versailles Restaurant, which has been delighting customers with its authentic Cuban fare since 1971.

For dinner, try Yardbird Southern Table & Bar. While Miami is in the southern United States, it isn’t Southern, but one bite of Yardbird’s fried chicken will make anyone confused geographically.

About Todd DeFeo
Todd DeFeo loves to travel anywhere, anytime, taking pictures and notes. An award-winning reporter, Todd revels in the experience and the fact that every place has a story to tell. He is owner of The DeFeo Groupe and also edits Express Telegraph and Railfanning.org.