By Jodi Mailander Farrell
Stately and elegant, the historic Biltmore Hotel casts a long shadow over Coral Gables. But there is so much more to George Merrick’s carefully-planned City Beautiful and its funkier neighboring village, Coconut Grove. Two of the most distinct neighborhoods in Miami-Dade County also claim some of its most unique, affordable hotels:
Mayfair Hotel & Spa
Designed by noted Miami architect Ken Treister back in the 1980s (the city’s most decadent decade – so far), the Mayfair is all about extravagance and a sense of place. Its Art Nouveau curves and use of metal make it resemble a giant Parisian metro sign, but the interior is all about the sub-tropics.
Brass-and-glass elevators connect three floors overlooking an interior courtyard filled with orchids and ferns. Brazilian ipe wood doors line hallways fitted with weathered copper fixtures and stained glass windows. The 170 rectangular rooms have flat-screen TVs and tiny private terraces with Japanese tubs. The on-site Pan-Asian restaurant is divine. There’s also a rooftop pool, although you’ll spend most of your time walking around the surrounding shops, cafes and bars, because this treasure is smack in the middle of the Grove action. From $139 a night.
3000 Florida Ave., Coconut Grove; 305-441-0000 or 800-433-4555.
Hotel St. Michel
This tidy, historic (1926) boutique hotel with Old World charm is in the heart of upscale Coral Gables. Its 27 rooms are decorated smartly with European paintings and antiques – mirrored armoires, chintz bedspreads – and service is downright civilized, delivering complimentary breakfast, a daily fruit basket and the morning newspaper. The downstairs restaurant is known for romantic dinners and lazy Sunday brunches. Within walking distance of Miracle Mile shops and restaurants, as well as Miami’s best independent bookstore, Books & Books. From $185 a night.
162 Alcazar Ave., Coral Gables; 305-444-1666.
Sonesta Bayfront Hotel
With panoramic views of Biscayne Bay, Dinner Key Marina and the Miami skyline, the Sonesta is the Grove choice for in-the-know business travelers and families, especially for extended stays because the suites come with fully-equipped kitchens. When a crew of Beijing scientists came to town to set up The Dinosaurs of China exhibit at the nearby Miami Museum of Science, this is where they camped out and cooked meals for each other. The 22-story hotel has 225 small, modern guest rooms, plus one- and two-bedroom suites with private balconies. An eighth-floor pool overlooking the bay adjoins a restaurant known for its Peruvian cuisine. Down below, the streets of Coconut Grove bustle with shoppers by day and clubbers by night. From $111 per night.
2889 McFarlane Rd., Coconut Grove; 305-529-2828.
The Westin Colonnade
A historic marble-tiled rotunda and marble columns topped with Tropical Corinthian capitals make this a majestic choice in the center of tony Coral Gables. Everything about this hotel is formal, from the fountain under the domed ceiling in the lobby to the landscaped rooftop terrace. Rooms are no-nonsense, with desks and 250 thread count sheets. There’s also an outdoor heated pool. It’s adjacent to the shops and restaurants along Miracle Mile; you can also hop aboard the city’s free trolley to get to the nearby outdoor mall, The Village of Merrick Park. From $139 a night.
180 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables; 305-441-2600.
Grove Isle Hotel and Spa
For total indulgence, splurge for a room on this 20-acre private island, with its own 49-room boutique hotel hidden off Bayshore Drive in the north end of Coconut Grove. It’s totally secluded and very romantic. Rooms are oh-so-tastefully decorated in tropical prints, with canopied beds and British Colonial furniture. Balconies offer panoramic views of Biscayne Bay and downtown Miami. The place has its own marina and highly-rated restaurant, where you can book a table on a wood-plank platform that stretches out past the shoreline. The hotel has been known to offer special "Miami Spice" summer rates that run as low as $200 a night for a limited number of mid-week room rentals; typical rates start at $368 a night.
4 Grove Isle Dr., Coconut Grove; 800-884-7683.
Holiday Inn Coral Gables-University of Miami
Sure, it’s on U.S. 1 and you’ll have to drive to get to the core shopping-and-eating zones of the Gables and Coconut Grove, but this well-kept, 155-room hotel is reasonably priced and right across the street from the University of Miami, making it a favorite among students’ parents and visiting teams. It has its own outdoor pool. Don’t have a car? The Metrorail station across the street can be used to get to downtown Miami, Dadeland Mall and the Shops at Sunset Place. From $118 a night.
1350 S. Dixie Hwy., Coral Gables; 305-667-5611.