Visiting Homestead and The Redlands With a Dog, Florida – USA
If you are most familiar with travelling in Europe and large North American cities, you could be forgiven for thinking that a Miami suburb that is a major agricultural area would have little to offer visitors.
In the case of Homestead and The Redlands, you would be wrong.
As with almost all North American destinations, a car is in order. Nothing is within walking distance so you will have to drive to visit. This is something the bipeds find very difficult to adapt to. In Ottawa, almost everything worth seeing falls within a 1 hour walk radius. This “driving to see” creates a disjointed effect for us. We have experienced it before – we mentioned it in our post about Austin – and I am certain we will come across it again.
Because we love to walk, having to take a car everywhere is a minus for us, not a plus. We hate the downtime travelling on (usually boring) major roads and highways. But for Homestead (and the Redlands), travelling side streets proved to be lovely as our destination is nestled between Biscayne National Park to the east and Everglades National Park to the west. You will encounter amazing trees, birds and wildlife as you travel your route. We were lucky enough to watch king fisher birds drop from telephone lines and catch their dinner.
Homestead is the second oldest city in the Miami-Dade County; it’s been around since 1913. The name “Homestead” originates from when the Florida East Coast Railway extension to Key West was being built. The rail line passed through an area opened up for homesteading, and as the construction camp at the end of the line did not have a particular name, construction materials and supplies for the workers were consigned to “Homestead Country,” shortened to “Homestead” by the engineers who mapped the area. A little trivia I find both clever and fascinating.
Redland, on the other hand – sometimes pluralized to The Redlands – originated in anticipation of Henry Flagler‘s railroad when pioneer homesteaders in the early 1900s developed a way of working the difficult soil, a process called scarifying or plow-breaking. This revolutionary method of agriculture allowed the homesteaders to develop the land into the “winter greenery basket of America” and the “garden capital of the world.” It is no small irony that a place that has to import all of its top soil is so lush that it is the source for plants for places like Disney World and all the Vegas hotels.
Many farms, original clapboard homes of early settlers, u-pick’em fields, and coral rock walls dot the landscape. The area is dominated by red clay – the source of the name “Redland” – that sits on top of a massive layer of oolite rock. All of it is nourished with pure water from the Biscayne Aquifer. The clay is removed and replaced with rich dark soil, creating “basins” for fruit trees such as leechee, logan, mango, avocado and so many more.
Since 2002, both Homestead and Redland have experienced a building and housing boom due to the scarcity of develop-able land elsewhere in Miami-Dade County. Some are referring to the area as the new “New Hamptons” since there are many people from the northern states buying property and moving into the area. Most large “McMansion’s” must be built on a minimum of 5 acres (20,000 m2) of land, a regulation put into place to thwart mass development. So far, that approach has worked perfectly in maintaining the essence of the area. We are glad for that; we are certain that otherwise, the area would quickly loose its charm and its function and designation as a Wild Bird Sanctuary. Although I have yet to spot them (after three visits), I would like to think that the peacocks that live abundantly and freely within the many groves are safe from human over-development.
Homestead and the Redlands are often confused with one another. I know we certainly had trouble figuring out where one ended and the next began. So forgive us, Dear Reader, if we lump them together.
There is much to do in the area. You can discover acres of incredible tropical fruits and vegetables, stunning orchids and bonsai trees; encounter wild alligators and hang out with un-caged monkeys; visit the wonder that is coral castle; and taste exotic fruit wines and luscious milk shakes. You can also visit Cauley Square, one of our favourite little stops.
The Square is, sadly, a little run down and in need of a face-lift, but this nostalgic village offers a glimpse of Old South Florida at its best. You are first greeted by a two story flat-iron building with Spanish inspired architecture. Its thick stucco walls faced with coral rock and pine beams show that the millionaire tomato farmer, William Cauley, who had the structure built, had more money than good taste. From what we heard, the building (that now houses a non-canine friendly Aviary) has a long history of booze and women; yet, it has a sense of permanence that we found refreshing. The building is thick, imposing and lacking in grace. It is there and means to stay. The bipeds felt it had the same aura as a fort rather than a home, almost as if daring the hurricanes that often ravage the area to take it on.
What drew us to visit Cauley Square were the original clapboard homes that have been lovingly turned into quaint cottages which now offer a mini labyrinth of antique and novelty shops, boutiques and eateries. All of them welcomed me without hesitation. All of them are Dog Friendly!
The trees in this area are thick overhead. The shade is cool, the breeze pleasant and fragrant. Butterflies dotted the air like moving flowers. The garden paths invited us to take our time, slow down and casually stroll. It is the perfect setting for a private gathering. Without knowing why, the bipeds were whispering.
I saw many people show up with their dogs, taking advantage of this space to go for a little walk … and stop at the Latin Corner for an ice cream. The Victorian-style Tea Room Restaurant had wonderful topiary in the front and a group of Red Hat Ladies partying indoors. The Village Chalet, where we stopped for lunch thanks to its delicious menu and the canine friendly patio, was tucked away like a little discovery just waiting to be found. The children’s gallery welcomed us with open arms, happy to tell us about the artists both very young and older, the work of all adorning the walls. Each of these places were also great examples of how pioneers built their homes and survived hurricanes, floods and the Depression. Rebuilding over and over again. Renewing. Surviving. It is all rather inspirational.
Mom kept me on a leash most of the time. Not because there is any traffic or because I might fall into something; nor because of the many cats found in Caley Square. Nope. I was on-leash because of the large and friendly raccoons roaming about. She wanted to make sure I wouldn’t give chase!
Another place we enjoyed while in The Redlands is Schebly Winery. We had been there before and returned again. Small dogs are now permitted in arms, on laps, and in bags. I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that our dear friend Kiki had a hand it that change. One more place where the socialized dog is welcome!
The wine at Schebly is not made from grape varieties. Rather, it is made from different types of exotic fruit. Mom can’t drink (her tummy is sensitive that way) but Dad had a taster series. It was fun watching him: avocado wine? Not so much. But the passion fruit? Oh yes, that was a winner. Our favourite was the Hurricane 3. Our friend George seemed to enjoy their new beer. Quaffing beverages aside, what really makes the place special is the garden. You can bring your own picnic lunch, buy a bottle of wine or some beer, and sit in an amazingly beautiful landscaped garden and enjoy the Florida sun, a waterfall, and a little bridge over a pond filled with … *gasp* … Piraña! Not to worry though, they are a vegans. Phewwwww.
Mom and Dad sat in the shade, surrounded by good friends and this luscious space. It was wonderful and relaxing. We recommend it as a must stop for anyone in the area. You will want to bring home some wine. Trust me. They make unique and appreciated gifts for friends and family back home.
There are two places that warrant their own blog post and I invite you to read them: the Orchid Nursery (that post coming up) and Coral Castle. But here, in this post, I will add two little eateries. Because, as you know Dear Reader, a place is dog friendly only if you can dine with your canine!
There is in Homestead a pharmacy that is also a diner. It is one of the most bizarre experiences you will ever have. The food is very good. Unfortunately we can’t recall the name of the pharmacy-diner and we had not our camera with us. We mention this stop because, although not officially dog friendly, they seemed ok as long as the small dogs remained out of site. Miu Miu sat on Kiki’s lap under the table and I sat in my sling bag, snoozing next to Mom. No one seemed bothered. I assure you this place is an unusual experience. It is very strange to be eating a burger and sweet potato fries while other customers come in and pick-up their prescriptions, buy pharmaceuticals or … senior toilet seat handles and hemorrhoid ring pillows! If you can, do stop, if even just for a milkshake.
The other place we liked to go – for breakfast or lunch – was the Redlands Grill. The patio outside was not in some beautiful garden – it just overlooks the main road and the parking lot – but the food is good, the prices very reasonable, and (insert big smile!) it is super dog friendly. The Grill even offers a dog hitch for those traveling solo to secure their pets while nipping inside for a bathroom break. (No dogs allowed inside.) The patio is covered, providing plenty of shade. The staff will bring as many cool bowls of water as your dog might require. For those of you traveling with your canine companions, this is a perfect place to eat.
Secretly, I am hoping we go back to Homestead and the Redlands so I can finally go to the Monkey Jungle where the humans (and maybe me!) are caged and the monkeys run wild! Mom also would like to go to the Bonsai Nursery. We have visited there three times and there are still things left for us to discover.
So the next time you drive past what seems like an unremarkable area with just homes and farms, stop a moment and check it out. You never know what gems might lie hidden within.
Have you ever driven past an area that seemed to have little to offer only to be shown the opposite was true?