Vizcaya Museum and Gardens is the current name for Villa Vizcaya, the former waterfront estate of business magnate James Deering. Thanks to riches from the Deering McCormick-International Harvester industrial agriculture enterprises, Deering was able to build, in 1916, a sprawling Italian-Renaissance style villa. It comprised a huge main mansion, as well as extensive Renaissance-style gardens, a landscape of native woodlands, and several smaller outbuildings done in a similar style.
Deering used Vizcaya as his winter estate from the year it was built until 1925. During that period, he also decorated the interiors in jaw-dropping luxurious, historically accurate styles, also amassing a large collection of art and antiquities along the way. After he died, two of Deering’s nieces everything and began donating and selling off large parts of the estate when its maintenance costs became prohibitive.
In 1952, Miami-Dade County acquired the villa and the gardens, and Deering’s family donated the furnishings and art objects. The following year, the county began operating the property as the Dade County Art Museum, and managed to acquire the rest of the property by the mid-1950s.
Since then, it has operated as a large historical museum specializing in preserving the buildings and Deering’s vast collections. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1994. Since 1998, it has been operated by the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens Trust, and boasts accreditation from the American Association of Museums. It also remains open to the public daily except on Tuesdays, Christmas, and Thanksgiving.
The main activity for visitors is to tour the beautifully maintained buildings and grounds. Most of the interiors and art collections are open and visible to the public, and you can visit them on your own, with an audio guide, or taking a guided tour. Deering’s 1917 pipe organ is also played daily from 4 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Vizcaya is a popular destination for group travel and school trips, as well as for photo shoots and special events. These do not, however, typically affect public admission. Admission is free for children and $15 for adults, though discounts are available for seniors, students with ID, visitors using wheelchairs, and Miami-Dade County residents.
Vizcaya is adjacent to Coconut Grove, just north of Coral Gables, and directly south of Brickell and downtown. It sits just south of where I-95 ends and becomes US-1, and in good traffic, can be reached with a reasonable cab fare from South Beach or downtown. There is plenty of free parking for cars, and the Vizcaya station of the Metro-Rail is across US-1, and offers access to the estate by a safe pedestrian bridge.
Vizcaya offers a number of special events for the public. Twice a month on Wednesday and Thursday nights from January through April, you can take a moonlight tour from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. The museum also offers occasional film screenings, live music, in-depth explanatory talks, and even the occasional commission by young area contemporary artists.