It was 1965, and I had a newly printed Driver’s License. We were living in Delaware, and my parents desperately wanted to see family and friends in Miami, so they organized a caravan of 3 cars full of family to drive from Delaware to Miami Beach for a week’s vacation.

Vacation in Miami Beach? In 1965? In the summer, no less? Who in their right mind would drive on Route 1 from Philadelphia to Miami in the hot, humid months of summer? Remember, we had to use maps to navigate state and local roads; there was no I-95 yet. And no air conditioning in our family cars, either. And no MacDonald’s or KFC. All I remember were the Stuckey’s restaurants along the way, but their appearance just when you needed one was largely a gamble.

Why do I remember that particular trip? Well, because I got to drive. I was only 16 but my Dad let me take a turn at the wheel of our vastly overburdened and underpowered Ford Falcon economy car. And drove it I did, taking my turns at the wheel with all the gusto and alacrity that I would years later display as a racing track instructor for Porsche and Ferrari and… Wait, I digress.

On that trip we all piled out of our cars and stayed in the Sea Deck motel, 1530 Collins Avenue, because each room had cooking facility, so we could save money by making many of our meals. Hey, we are Cuban immigrants, we understand value. The Sea Deck is still there, but now it’s the Aqua Hotel. Every time I go to the Beach I have to drive by and look at it. Why do I remember this trip to Miami Beach? Because it was our first of many. We would return to Miami countless times. In fact I was there just last week. And I’ll be back to Miami next month.

Some years after my first drive to Miami, I took my bride, Sharon, on our honeymoon from Philadelphia to Miami Beach. Now, remember that when we were married Miami Beach was, ahem, well, I’ll pass on that and let someone else describe the South Beach scene in the 70’s. People laughed at us. South Beach was so gauche, so déclassé. For our honeymoon we stayed at a large but cheap hotel, the Sovereign (it has since been torn down), which was adjacent to and south of the smack daddy of hotels – The Fontainebleau – scene of one James Bond movie. We couldn’t afford the Fontainebleau, but we would sneak on the beach from the Sovereign to the Fontainebleau and hang out, pretending we were 20-something neuveau riche. We saved our money for one extravagant meal, at Les Violins. And we used a public bus for a long ride one night way up the Beach to a popular night club, The Castaways.

So, what’s the attraction to Miami? Well, Miami is not Florida. I’ll take Miami. You can keep Florida. Miami is unique. I’ve traveled to many parts of this country and to several other nations in 3 continents, and I keep coming back to Miami, Miami Beach – and to Coral Gables – which is easily the most beautiful neighborhood in the world.

My Mom still lives in Coral Gables. My Dad, who recently passed, saved all his money and paid cash for their house in 1987. I love it there. I have never seen so many beautiful homes, thousands of them, where people from all walks of life live next to each other same neighborhood and zip code, 33134, as mega-millionaires. Even the University of Miami sits right in the middle of it. Don’t try that in 90210.

Currently we live in a beautiful New England village in upstate New York. But I visit my mother frequently on Granada Boulevard, Coral Gables. To me, Coral Gables has many of the same home town, village attributes as I love about Pittsford, NY. In Coral Gables I love getting up early in the morning and jogging around the public golf course (2.25 miles once around). When our kids were little we would take them swimming to the Venetian Pool; I would try to describe the pool to my friends in New York, but can’t do it justice. You can play tennis on clay courts in the sunshine. And the Biltmore Hotel? Oh, my. In fact, I love the area so much that I just opened an office in the business district of Coral Gables.

Life is good, but…

Life is grand – in Coral Gables*

*Okay, the Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce owes me for this one! LOL

Remember these?

This Miami Story was contributed by Luis Martinez, founder of

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