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Traveling Through Time Along Old Cutler Road

October 09, 2008 By Doug in Miami: Local News  | 38 Comments

Bustling South Beach has its charms—compact walkability and near-instant access to just about anything you could desire—but the price for its convenience is a lot of traffic, cement, testosterone, and and a cacophony of noises.  Thus, natives and extended vacationers alike learn to appreciate the value of a day in the country!

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Miami’s fast-paced image as Manhattan with palm trees has become its most dominant impression.  But who knew that mere blocks behind buzzing US 1, you could discover a banyan-shaded vision of the Magic City the way it used to be?  Here are some must-see pit-stops where you can enjoy your day to the fullest.

Judging from recent trends, one might assume that it’s necessary to flock to North Carolina to accomplish this feat—but take heart: if you want to go searching for your heart’s desire, you can find it right in your own back yard—by taking a journey down Old Cutler Road…

GETTING THERE

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The 95 fizzles out just south of downtown and becomes the no-less harrowing US 1.  Impatient soccer moms whiz around you in their SUVs; strip malls, billboards, and office buildings define the perimeter.  However, if you hang a left at LeJeune Road and continue for a few blocks, you’ll begin to feel like you’re in Jurassic Park in no time.  There’s a traffic circle up ahead; once you arrive, you’ll know you’ve made it to the Old Cutler Zone.

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The meandering two-lane highway traverses what could easily pass as for the South American jungle; with a little imagination, the enthusiastic squirrels pass for branch-hopping howler monkeys.  Overhead, banyans canopy the roadways, shading a journey past secluded estates with high, vine-covered stucco walls, behind which lurk the homes of drug lords, exiled dictators…and Madonna; ever-flowering bougainvillea, bromeliads, and other myriad tropical delights pique your senses as this serene back-road draws you along its route, which leisurely winds its way southward along the coastal ridge.

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Built between 1916 and 1919, it was originally known as the Ingraham Highway (and sections still are),  uniting the communities of Miami, Coconut Grove, Cutler and Homestead, before coming to its end in the Everglades.  The advent of US 1 was undoubtedly a welcome event, as it succeeded in diverting the masses away, ensuring that this route would remain a veritable time-capsule into what life was once like in Miami.  Here’s a bird’s eye view!

Although it could well be said in this instance that the journey is the destination, there are nonetheless some memorable points of interest along the way.  Here are but a few of them:

COCOPLUM CIRCLE

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Possibly one of the most picturesque views along this route,  Cocoplum Circle is located just beyond a stunning palm-shaded canal.  Boats rest along its edges, moored to docks behind grand estates.  It’s a great spot to hang out for a few minutes and take in the beauty; perhaps you’ll even spy a manatee.  This locale has not escaped the notice of the celebrity set: Sylvester Stallone’s estate is one of the many which abut this postcard perfect waterway.  Madonna’s one time home is just a stone’s throw away.

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This verdant roundabout marks the convergence of a few of Miami’s most beautiful drives: Sunset Drive, Cocoplum Lane, LeJeune Road and Old Cutler.  After your scenic moment, continue around the circle until you see the sign for Old Cutler Road.

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Once you’ve gotten your fill, hop back in the car and continue along your journey along the enchanted drive.  Two miles later you’ll find yourself at the entrance of one of Miami’s favorite leisure destinations…

MATHESON HAMMOCK PARK

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The uninitiated might imagine this to be a spot where you can relax on a rope sling, but in South Florida, the term “hammock” also refers to an area of high ground in a somewhat marshy or swampy surrounding.  And that describes Matheson Hammock (9610 Old Cutler Road, Miami, 305-665-5475), Miami’s oldest park, quite aptly.  As you enter the park, there is a beautiful grassy meadow off to the right, complete with a scenic pond with belly flopping iguanas, some mangroves, palms, and a few hardwood trees.  To the left are mangroves that line the canals which surround the edge of Biscayne Bay.  Continue along the road for about half a mile and you’ll come to the park office, where you’ll be charged a $4 per car admission fee.  However, if you go after 4:30 pm, you can get in free.

There isn’t much tree cover at this point, only a convergence of mangroves, which tend to be rather short and squatty, and not very shady (unlike everything else in this town).  Follow the loop around and you’ll pass through various parking lots.  Off to the left, there is usually a hoarde of local fishermen, casting their reels off into Biscayne Bay.  Beyond them is a dazzling view of the skyline of Miami.  Notwithstanding, the feature this park is most famous for is its coconut palmed lagoon.

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Leave your Gilligan fantasies at home, though; this one is a little murkier and full of kids! Behind it is the Redfish Grill, a popular local restaurant.

Surrounding all of this are nature paths, providing ample views of the native flora and fauna.  Some of those closest to the water’s edge are often impassable, however, due to the mud and abundance of garbage strewn about in several directions.  Before you lose all hope in humanity, however, keep in mind that much of this is no doubt the handywork of some picnic-raiding raccoons.

For me, ironically enough, the best part of this park was the free part—the meadow near the entrance where the iguanas roam.  You may also encounter some frisky blue crabs…

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A stone shelter makes an intriguing landmark; its accessible roof provides an opportunity to survey the surroundings.

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This is an ideal place for a picnic, as the many tables and shelters attest.  And just beyond them, through the trees, you can spy the next stop on the itinerary:

FAIRCHILD TROPICAL BOTANIC GARDEN

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Fairchild Tropical Garden (10901 Old Cutler Road, Miami, FL ,305-667-1651) recently rated by Miami Herald as the “top Florida wonder”, is the largest tropical botanical garden in the United States, and is one of Miami’s most scenic attractions—and home to the only outdoor tropical rainforest in the continental US. Its beauty is unparalleled anywhere else in Florida, and quite possibly, the country. 

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First established in 1936 by plant enthusiasts David Fairchild and Robert H. Montgomery, the Gardens first opened their doors to the public in 1938.
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If tackling this 83-acre paradise on foot in the blazing Florida sun seems too daunting a task, there is a free tram which will take you on a full tour of the exquisite surroundings. 

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While there, be sure to sample its new butterfly garden, guided walking tours, greenhouse, and varied eco-environments.  In addition, there are classes, tropical-plant themed festivals, and the garden also functions as one of the leading centers in palm research and conservation.

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While the normal admission is $20 per regular adult, $15 for seniors, and $10 for children 6-17, the first Wednesday of every month you can set your own admission price!

THE CHARLES DEERING ESTATE

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Meander further along Old Cutler a few more miles and you can experience what it was like to live the good life in the early 20th century. 

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The Charles Deering Estate may not attract the crowds of its more popular rival, Vizcaya—but that works in its favor.  Here you’ll find a dazzling three-story stone mansion that looks like it was brought over stone by stone from the South Of England.  It sits alongside a less flashy wooden cottage with a screened in porch, overlooking a group of islands off in the bay.  The 444-acre grounds can be toured in groups or individually, and it’s very much a hands-on affair. 

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A whimsical well-manicured garden greets you when you first walk through the gate. 

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Various paths take you through a variety of eco-systems; there is an elevated wooden trail that leads through a mangrove swamp on one side.

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On the far side of the estate is another nature walk through what very may well be the last remaining hardwood tropical hammock in the contiguous US. 

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When I visited, I had the good fortune of spotting some manatees frolicking near the dock.  They splashed and cavorted for some time, unnoticed by a nearby group of schoolkids.

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Charles Deering was a Maine native born in 1852, who, like the rest of us, fell in love with Florida and made it his home.  Millionaire businessman, philanthropist and art collector, his attention to detail is still evident in the architecture and décor today.

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Though a tour of the grounds will make you feel as though you’d been transported back to its heyday between 1916 and 1927, the estate was actually devastated by Hurricane Andrew in 1992.  Most of what you see today was tediously rebuilt, and was only completed in the year 2000.

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For a very reasonable $7 general admission, you can tour the homes and grounds, take a butterfly hike, and commune with ghosties galore.  For an additional fee, you can travel by canoe out to nearby Chicken Key. 

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The estate also functions as a small conference center for groups who appreciate Deering’s own pastimes: botany, history, nature conservation, fine arts, rare books, and wine—making this feel a world away from the madcap pace of Miami.

CONCLUSION

After you finish at the Deering Estate, you have the option of returning to civilization via the 1, or back-trekking up Old Cutler Road.  If you do opt for the latter, be sure to follow it past Cocoplum Circle this time, and into the city of Coconut Grove, where you can shop the shops at Mayfair or visit the Coco-Walk, an elaborate outdoor mall.  You’ll also find some unforgettable bistros and can take a stroll to the nearby marina—just in time for sunset!

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Miami is a wonderful mix of old and new, of spectacles both man-made and natural, and there is perhaps no better way to take it all into perspective than this peaceful tour of Old Cutler.

 

Related Categories: 101 Attractions, City Tour Miami: Local News,

Douglas Eames is a freelance writer, homespun philosopher and budget bon vivant who divides his time between Southern California and South Beach.

See more articles by Doug.

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38 Comments on

"Traveling Through Time Along Old Cutler Road"

Maria de los Angeles says:

Great article of my favorite spots in Miami, Doug!  You are so right—Miami Beach is a concrete jungle compared to this part of Miami, which is why I so appreciate living here again now.  I can never get tired of Old Cutler!

I just want to add that David Fairchild was also a plant explorer and botanist who introduced thousands of plant species to the US when he worked for the US Department of Agriculture.  His friend, Col. Robert Montgomery, was an accountant/attorney with a passion for plants.  Montgomery founded the garden in honor of Fairchild, with his guidance.

Posted on 10/10/2008 at 3:14 PM

Doug says:

Thanks, Maria! I’m glad you liked it.  I didn’t realize that David Fairchild and Col. Montgomery’s botanical contributions extended beyond Fairchild Gardens! Good to know.

Posted on 10/10/2008 at 5:15 PM

Matt Meltzer says:

One thing you forgot, Doug…

Back when I was at UM, we used to call Old Cutler the Tad Foote Expressway, after the former UM president who tended to like to sip an adult beverage as he cruised down this particular stretch of highway.

Point is, it is the best route to take home from the Grove if you’re a little tipsy. It has the least cops and it’s hard to speed and get yourself in trouble like on US-1.

Posted on 10/10/2008 at 6:10 PM

Doug says:

Ah….good for drunk people, bad for pussycats!

Posted on 10/10/2008 at 7:22 PM

Maria de los Angeles says:

I remember going to a party at the Foote mansion on Old Cutler—some official school of arts & sciences function or something!

Doug, don’t forget, we should trek the west side of the Matheson Hammock trail one of the days when you’re in Miami!  I think it extends past School House Road to the Snapper Creek canal.  There is also a civil war cemetery we can explore.  I can’t do this alone!  Too creepy!

Posted on 10/10/2008 at 7:49 PM

Doug says:

Civil War cemetery…I’m there!! See you soon!

Posted on 10/10/2008 at 9:13 PM

Trish | eMailOurMilitary says:

Just stopping by to let our local blogging community know we’re here on the scene.

Honor, Duty, eMail is local (Miami Lakes) and we’re doing great things for the guys and gals serving our country.

eMail Our Military is a non-partisan, charitable organization supporting U.S. military service members through morale boosting email correspondence, letters and care packages. Troop supporters can take part in a number of support projects ranging from sending eMail to a service member on a one-on-one basis to year round support projects.

We’d love the support of our local community!

P.S. Miami beach 411 needs a military section and staff writer.

=)

Posted on 10/14/2008 at 12:02 AM

Matt Meltzer says:

As a former Marine, I appreciate what you guys do and think it is fantastic.

That being said, aside from remiscences about doing basic training here during WW2, and the occasional question from a Coastie, what exactly would you promose for a military section on this site?

Posted on 10/14/2008 at 12:13 AM

Micky says:

Beautiful article about one of my favorite roads. I must make a correction, though. Stallone and Madonna had their estates on the road just north of Viscaya (I think it’s called Brickell, an extention of the other Brikell). Go east on the road just north of Viscaya. The first estate on your right was Stallone’s. Then continue north on that road, past Arst’s 2 estates, and Madonna’s house was the one with the pretty stone wall with the sawtooth cap. It has royal palms lining the driveway. I often passed her during her morning runs out to Rickenbacker causeway. She was one of the better runners out there.

Posted on 10/14/2008 at 8:50 AM

Maria de los Angeles says:

Remember the story about the estate being purchased by a dog?

It is interesting to note that James Deering (half-brother to Charles) built Vizcaya.  For me, Bayshore Drive is an extension of Old Cutler.  Lots of famous homes in between—including the Kampong.

Posted on 10/14/2008 at 9:19 AM

Bobbi says:

Love it… beautiful description of one of the best rides in America or anywhere…down Old Cutler Road. From beginning to end you covered it all… especially Matheson Hammock..  Thank you. Overseas Highway to Key West, PCH up through Malibu.. only rides that can compare. But, on a hot summer day, hidden under the shade of the Banyon Trees, making that curve and hanging left, around the circle… down Old Culter. Perfect. Thank you for taking us on a great ride..  smile

Posted on 10/28/2008 at 12:18 AM

Doug says:

Thanks, Bobbi! Glad you liked the tour! I also enjoyed reading your blog.

Posted on 10/28/2008 at 8:32 AM

Domi42 says:

Nice blog. I travel when possible and manage to visit the Caribbean last year to charlisangels exotic vacations resort. The resort is a beautiful all inclusive beach front with European and Russian escort.

Posted on 12/23/2008 at 9:03 PM

Paul says:

I love Cutler road, got lost and wound up on it and drove 10 miles an hour for hours with my wife.

Posted on 12/24/2008 at 12:53 AM

zara says:

I would loveeeeeee to move to Miami, great pictures!

Posted on 12/25/2008 at 2:21 AM

Matt Meltzer says:

That was YOU driving that slow up and down Old Cutler? I was the guy behind you laying on my horn.

Scenic as the drive is please do remember that some of use use it to actually get places we need to go, sometimes somewhat quickly. Please show some consideration and drive the speed limit.

Posted on 12/25/2008 at 4:08 PM

restdevgroup.com says:

Hi Matt, I was exaggerating on the speed limit and I understand your frustration completely.

Posted on 12/25/2008 at 4:17 PM

timjoe says:

thanks to doug for the heads up on old cutler road and matheson hammock park…janet and i motorscootered there on a hot day, jan 7, and loved it!...to our delight, the admission collector at matheson waved us through free of charge, so we rode through the whole park, took photos, had a bite, etc…it was fun.

Posted on 01/11/2009 at 12:54 PM

Doug says:

Hi timjoe, glad you had a good time down there! Those January days can be real scorchers, heh heh!

Posted on 01/11/2009 at 1:01 PM

Cleide Vieira says:

Hello Douglas. In 2004 I was in Miami. I went to a shopping center on Old Cutler Ridge where he had a shop selling miniatures of motorbikes, cars etc.. They had the goods Franklin Mint.  I’ll go to Miami next May and wanted to return to that store but can not find this shopping center on the map and do not know the name of the store, you help me?

Posted on 03/06/2011 at 2:32 PM

Doug says:

There is a hobby store at 20453 Old Cutler Road.  Maybe that is the one you’re looking for?

Posted on 03/06/2011 at 4:07 PM

Cleide Vieira says:

Hi Doug. Thanks for the reply. I do not know if this address is the one I seek, but the number seems to be. I remember it was not a very big mall and just south of Old Cutler. I live in Sao Paulo, Brazil and go on vacation to Miami in May, so I’m looking for places where I want to go through the internet. A hug and thanks. Cleide

Posted on 03/06/2011 at 5:06 PM

Gus says:

Hi, Cleide. I live near the area you’re asking about. There are only a few shopping centers, down at the end of Old Cutler Road. Do you remember any other stores that were nearby?

For miniatures of motorbikes, cars and toys, you might also visit the Swap Shop in Fort Lauderdale.

Posted on 03/06/2011 at 5:35 PM

Doug says:

Hi Cleide, the place I found is called Hollywood Station and they sell models.  I see their phone number is listed as (305) 278-1669.  You might call them to see if they’re the same people, and if their address is still current.  Good luck!

Posted on 03/06/2011 at 5:59 PM

Bobbi Schwartz says:

wish there was one like this for the Overseas Highway, thought there probably is
but have to say the best part of going down to the Keys in the old days was driving
down US1 past all the little stores (pre-Andrew) with words written on them like “Sea Grape Jelly Sold Here” or “Fresh Key Lime Pie”  Like who even makes Sea Grape Jelly anymore?

Oddly when I am in the Upper Keys it sometimes feels like Old Miami down in the Deep South West part years ago…   

Then again is any ride like the one down to Matheson Hammock??  I’ve lived in many places, there is no place like home and no place like Krome or Old Cutler Road…

Posted on 03/06/2011 at 7:12 PM

Doug says:

I would have loved to have known the pre-Hurricane Andrew Miami! You’re right, you don’t see too much seagrape jelly around these days…

Posted on 03/06/2011 at 7:40 PM

bobbistorm says:

Well, it looked a lot like parts of Key Largo, small buildings, old Florida colors and fringed with poinciana or frangipangi blossoms, you could drive up and park though usually you just drove South…  after Andrew the buildings were modern, fixed up, generic… then again I was little and don’t remember much except the landmarks you’d count the miles by

Sea Grape Trees supposedly only have grapes if you are within 3 miles of the water… they don’t handle hurricanes well but they grow back fast..like Wild Florida Orchids.

Also those duck ponds near Perrine that rarely had a lot of water but tons of ducks..

Thanks….good memories.

I may post the pic of Matheson sometime if you don’t mind… great pic, hard to find good pics and harder to explain it to someone.

Oddly, I was thinking of the lake and the picnic area last night… the stone covered picnic area made for a great place for parties.

Posted on 03/06/2011 at 8:33 PM

bobbi says:

ps my cousin and i would drive out through bayshore drive through the Grove, out Main Highway and when you swung out onto Ingraham/Old Cutler you were like FREE….

Posted on 03/06/2011 at 8:38 PM

Maria de los Angeles says:

Bobbi, thanks for sharing your memories. The drive down to the Keys may not be pre-Andrew, but is it ever an escape still from the craziness of Miami, especially if you go down Card Sound and stop at Alabama Jack’s.

Posted on 03/06/2011 at 10:22 PM

Cleide Vieira says:

Hi Gus, good morning. Thanks for the info. I want to find miniatures Harley Davidson and coincidentally I’ll stay in Lauderdsale by the Sea,  close this new address you gave me. Thank you. A hug

Posted on 03/07/2011 at 7:02 AM

Gus says:

Your welcome. Give yourself a few hours at the Sawp Shop. There’s tons of cheap stuff for sale, plus rides and a circus for kids.

Back to the original topic, what’s down at the end of Old Cutler Road, did you know about the Petersen’s Harley Davidson store in Cutler Bay. The address is 19825 South Dixie Highway. They might also have what you’re looking for.

Posted on 03/07/2011 at 7:14 AM

Cleide Vieira says:

Hi Gus. Harley dealers has a few models, but are quite expensive, so I’m looking replicas made by Franklin Mint. In 2004 I went to that store on Old Cutler Road, who did not know if it still exists because not found on the Internet, and they had a very comfortable price replicas by Franklin Mint. Anyway I will pass on the Swap Shop, which is very close to the hotel where I’ll stay (Oakland x A1A ) I’ve seen their website and know the place at Sunrise Blv, but never had the curiosity to enter, thinking it was just a park for children. Very grateful for the tips. Hug Cleide

Posted on 03/07/2011 at 10:32 AM

Cleide Vieira says:

Hi Doug. You were very kind to allow me to insert the subject “motorcycles” in his blog about the beautiful Old Cutler Road. A hug Cleide

Posted on 03/07/2011 at 10:36 AM

jose says:

@Maria de los angeles , where is the cemetery you are talking about? I am very familiar with the area and have never seen! Have you been there??

Posted on 10/30/2012 at 12:23 AM

Ludger Funke says:

Hi, my Name is Ludger and I am writing from Germany. My wife and I know Old Cutlery very well and like it very much. We explore it going by bike in the direction south. But going north right to Cape Florida is a nice ride by bike too. We’ll be back to Miami in February and intend to cycle to Key West. Does anybody have an idea if there is a suitable bike lane further South? Are there maps for cyclists?

Posted on 01/06/2013 at 12:01 PM

Gus says:

Hi Lugar, biking to Key West would be an amazing journey, and by the sound of this article, it looks like there is a pretty safe bike path for most of the way:

Currently I know of only two pinch points between Key Largo and Key West.

At mile marker 39, the south end of the Bahia Honda bridge, a very short stretch has no shoulder. Further south, about mile marker 4, the paved shoulder runs out for about three tenths of a mile in front of the Boca Chica Naval Air Station.

The combined length of both shoulderless segments is less than four tenths of a mile. Not bad for a segment of 103 miles

http://www.floridabicycle.org/fbalibrary/stories/sfodyssey2.html

Please let us know decide to make the ride.

Posted on 01/06/2013 at 1:47 PM

Matt Meltzer says:

There’s a shoulder on the Overseas Highway, but not much in the way of a designated bike lane. It’s not the most dangerous ride in the world, but it’s not exactly bike friendly either. I’ve had friends who’ve come down here and are surprised it’s not a super popular ride among locals. But we know better. You can do it but be VERY aware of the surroundings and assume nobody is ever going to yeild to you.

Posted on 01/06/2013 at 3:17 PM

Redlands Man says:

Wow, could you be more rude, inaccurate, and insular to suggest “returning to civilization” after the Deering Estate? Believe me, there’s plenty going on further south, i.e., the real Miami-Dade, and not your Miami Beach/Coral Gables plastic bubble.

Posted on 11/01/2013 at 11:16 AM

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