This is not your hipster South Beach part of Miami.
This is where people grow luscious fruits, bake delicious pies and rolls, nurture spectacular orchids and end the day with a tasty locally made craft beer or guava wine.
This is the Redland, a rural enclave on Miami’s southern outskirts named for its red soil. (And, no, it is not the Redlands plural. ) It is full of history and is home to long-time residents who are working to preserve its rustic charm.
For visitors to the Redland, the history and subtropical climate combine to create memorable experiences you won’t find anywhere else. The Redland is the region surrounding the main entrance to Everglades National Park, so it’s easy to combine a stop in the Redland with a visit to the park, or to the Florida Keys, which are just a half hour south on US 1.
Here are a half-dozen ways to experience the Redland. Most visitors will pick one or two stops while enjoying the scenes along the country lanes. Driving through the Redland, you’ll see fruits and vegetables in the fields, ornamental plant and palm tree farms and family-owned businesses like koi farmers, banana growers and herb farmers.
Special event: Jan 14-15, 2017. The Redland Heritage Festival at Fruit and Spice Park.
The festival features local arts and crafts, historical exhibits, a large selection of tropical plants and out-of-the-ordinary food. Children’s activities include a petting zoo, and pony rides. Admission: $8 (children 11 and under are free). Details.
These Redland stops are arranged from north to south.
Berry farms and world-famous cinnamon rolls
The Redland is the last agricultural region in Miami-Dade and has its own brand: “Redland Raised.” Farms in the Redland are family owned, and some of the most popular are the strawberry farms. You can find several you-pick-it strawberry farms, but even if you don’t want to pick fruit, you might like this: Somehow over the years, the strawberry farms started competing in creating delicious fresh-fruit milkshakes.
One strawberry farm has achieved fame in a different category: Cinnamon rolls. The Knaus family has operated a farm and bakery in the Redland for 50 years. When the storefront farm stand opens for the season in late October, folks start lining up.
The cinnamon rolls (90 cents each) are dense, rich and gooey and people go to extraordinary lengths to buy them. Because Knaus Berry Farm is closed on Sundays, there is always a long line on Saturdays. On the busiest Saturdays, people will line up 150 deep and wait 60 to 90 minutes to buy those rolls. (There is a separate line for milkshakes and produce and it is far shorter.) To avoid the wait, visit Monday to Friday.
The folks who run the farm look Amish, with bonnets, long beards and plain cotton clothes. They’re not; they’re members of the German-origin Church of the Brethren, often called Dunkers because they believe in full-immersion baptism. Knaus Berry sells a variety of baked items, including pecan rolls, guava pies, key lime pies, cheesecake, brownies and cookies. Here’s a full Florida Rambler story on Knaus Berry Farm.
Knaus Berry Farm and Bakery
15980 SW 248th Street (Coconut Palm Drive)
Open November through mid-April, 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., closed Sunday
Other Redland strawberry farms offers milkshakes, fruit and other products, such as jams and jellies, and are open on Sundays.
Burr’s Berry Farm: The Burr farm traces its history to pioneers who came to the region at the turn of the 20th Century. Charles Raymond Burr became known as “The Strawberry King” when he started growing the berries in 1960. He died in 2001, but today you can walk among the vertical fields of hydroponic strawberries on a farm operated by his descendants.
12741 SW 216th St, Miami
Open December to early May, 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Phil’s Berry Farm: Phil’s touts on its website that a key attraction is its lack of long lines. That’s understandable – it’s on the same street at the Knaus Berry Farm. Phil’s is also open year-round and instead of cinnamon rolls, its specialty is monkey bread.
13955 SW 248th Street
Friday to Monday, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
A historic village under a canopy of tropical trees
Cauley Square grew up around the railroad depot in 1903. The historic buildings and homes are now filled with shops, galleries and restaurants, all clustered under a canopy of tropical trees. It’s a popular wedding venue. The shopping is not extensive; but Cauley Square is worth a short visit for these highlights:
- The Tea Room restaurant consists of a series of rooms each decorated to achieve maximum preciousness; it’s known for its spiced tea enjoyed hot or cold and lunch sandwiches and salads.
- The Aviary Bird Shop has an enormous choice of parrots, canaries, parakeets and other birds. With birds screeching and jabbering, it’s a raucous atmosphere that will delight children and animal lovers.
- The Latin Corner is a colorful little yellow hut under the trees that serves Cuban coffee, sandwiches, and juices enjoyed at open-air tables.
Cauley Square Historic Village
22400 Old Dixie Highway, Goulds
Open Tuesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday noon to 5 p.m.
A park devoted to exotic fruits
The Redland is all about growing things and so is this county park. At Fruit and Spice Park, you can see edible foods that don’t grow anywhere else in the United States – from 75 kinds of bananas and 160 types of mango to things you’ve probably never heard of, like black sapote, eggfruit and marula.
Visitors are surprised that you don’t just look at the fruit: There are always samples to try, starting in the visitor center and continuing on the guided tram tours. On the tours, stops are frequent, allowing you to walk among the trees and sometimes pluck fruit. If you like learning about plants, you’ll find this tour quite interesting. And every time you visit, you’ll find different exotic fruit ripening and blossoming.
Guided tours are conducted every day at 11 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3 p.m.
Park admission: $8 per adult, $2 per child 6 to 11, and children under 6 are free. Picnic facilities are available and there is a good restaurant in the complex.
The park is open seven days a week, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Fruit and Spice Park
24801 South West 187th Ave.
Stunning orchids everywhere
Orchids love the climate in south Miami-Dade and the Redland is home several orchid growers. R. F. Orchids is a magnet for visitors because of its captivating gardens and its award-winning blooms. (It has won more than 1,000 American Orchid Society awards in 30 years.) Here, orchids grow in the trees, in the ground, around fountains and peeking out of every crevice.
The best part: Robert Fuchs, the president of R.F. Orchids, leads free tours through the gardens that surround his adjoining private residence on weekends at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Fuchs is himself “Redland Raised.” His great-grandfather bought this land in Florida in 1912. Fuchs was a middle-school art teacher who raised orchids on weekends until he started winning international awards for his orchids in the 1980s.
With a sense of humor that must have served him well as a teacher, Fuchs sprinkles his talk with anecdotes of Redland history, including a fascinating story about his personal experiences during Hurricane Andrew in 1992, which devastated his property.
Today, his is the oldest South Florida orchid firm and he has decorated his orchid gardens like a tropical fantasy. In his backyard there is a fern-rimmed pond with an alligator named Wally and South American pacu fish. You expect Tarzan to come swinging through the trees. A Florida Rambler story on the tours at R.F. Orchids.
28100 SW 182nd Avenue, Miami.
Open Tuesday to Sunday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Garden tours 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, weather permitting.
Wines Florida-style – without the grapes
One of the biggest draws for visitors to the Redland is Miami-Dade’s first commercial winery, a place with sumptuous tropical landscaping, waterfalls and live music on weekends. It’s a great setting for relaxing after a day of sightseeing in the Redland.
Schnebly Redland’s Winery makes wines without grapes, instead using tropical fruits such as mango, guava, avocado, lychee, and passion fruit.
One wine expert ranked the avocado wine among the most interesting Florida-made wines he has tasted. Stephen Brown writes about it in Naples Illustrated:
“AvoVino is highly aromatic, with avocado peel being the most notable smell. When you first taste it, you are immediately presented with something different: it’s off-dry, no real sweetness to it, with medium body. There is a slight mineral taste which is countered nicely the acidity, making for a pretty balanced wine.”
Brown also liked the lychee dessert wine.
The craft beers here are well-regarded, too. Big Rod Coconut Ale gets the good reviews, and there are a variety of other interesting options.
Schnebly Redland’s Winery
30205 SW 217th Ave.
Exotic fruit, fresh vegetables and even emu
Stopping at Robert Is Here, a funky Florida fruit just outside Everglades National Park, is a 50-year tradition for park visitors. The classic thing to do is have a mouth-puckering key lime shake. But the choice of fresh-fruit shakes is vast and includes such unusual options as a canistel mango shake, a blacksapote banana shake or one made with sapodilla and pineapple.
The milk shakes are made to order with fresh fruit, and, at busy times, you’ll stand in line, place your order and wait for your number to be called.
And that’s fine. Because you’ll want to soak up the ambiance of this fruit stand, not to mention the samples of free exotic fruits scattered throughout — from the scary looking Monstera Deliciosa (looks like a pale green banana with lizard-like scales) to lychees and persimmon and kumquat. Here’s a Florida Rambler story on Robert is Here.
Robert Is Here
19200 SW 344th St.
Hours: 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. Closed in September and October.
Note: Some Redland spots are open only in winter, so check hours and days open ahead.
Everglades National Park, of course, is a key destination. Here’s a Florida Rambler guide filled with useful visitor tips. We advise that there’s an excellent visitor’s center and if you want to see wildlife, take the Anhinga Trail, which is four miles beyond the visitor’s center. Beyond that, there are many excellent places to hike and paddle, as well as a great boat tour on Florida Bay at the end of the road in Flamingo.
Lodging when touring the Redland
There is camping in Everglades National Park, of course.
I hear good things about the inexpensive Everglades International Hostel.
A long-time local businessman bought the Hotel Redland in downtown Homestead and has turned the 1904 hotel into a bed and breakfast with a good home-cooking restaurant in it. I’ve stayed there and found it to be a friendly place. There are a few rough edges, but it is clean, quiet and full of local character.
Other things to do in the Redland area:
- Biscayne National Park is close and there is an interesting and scenic boat tour to Boca Chita on weekends. The Convoy Point visitor center has some good exhibits and is beautifully situated on the water. Here’s a Florida Rambler report on visiting Biscayne National Park.
- I’ve never visited Coral Castle Museum, but it has quite the story and visitors like it.
- The Homestead Speedway, where NASCAR and other cars race, is located here.