In many ways, charming Coconut Grove exemplifies South Florida's young and carefree life style.
The Grove, as it has been called for most of this century, is considered the headquarters for Miami's young, upscale and trendy professionals.
The area, about 10 minutes by car south of downtown Miami alongside Biscayne Bay, abounds in fashionable shops and entertainment spots.
This village-like community, now known for its somewhat artsy and freewheeling atmosphere, also has a proud history. The area was known as the Little Hunting Grounds by the Indians who camped here before white settlers arrived during the 1840s.
That preceded the development of Miami. A settler named Colee planted coconut palms along the shore and an 1845 map designates the spot "Old Cocoanut Grove."
The trees were distinctive landmarks because they are not indigenous to South Florida.
A Cheerful Backdrop
Palm trees are still very much a part of the Grove's atmosphere. By night they form a cheerfully lit backdrop to popular nightclubs, restaurants and bistros. During the day they shade strollers who enjoy browsing among the cluster of shops.
The stores occupy single-story, pastel buildings along several narrow, uncrowded streets. There are also delightful outdoor cafes with palm- or umbrella-shaded tables, ideal for a break from a shopping stroll.
The most interesting shops are on Fuller Street and Commodore Plaza.
A stroll can begin on Fuller Street at the Pink Palm (No. 3015), a good source of souvenirs, including a selection of pink flamingo earrings ($11) and T-shirts ($13 for adult sizes, $11 for kids). Other colorful T-shirts and casual cotton tops have matching shorts ($14 to $22).
Relief From the Sun
The Grove Bookworm (3025 Fuller St.), the center of Coconut Grove's intellectual life, has a cool atmosphere and relief from the hot Florida sun.
The shop has a complete list of current titles and a huge collection of books on art, photography, dance, theater and local history. Some of the secondhand art books have irresistibly low prices.
Lemonade (No. 3055) offers a cheerful collection of casual clothes, including stretchy cotton separates that wear well in warm climates and wash well for easy travel. Pastel tops and trousers sell for about $20 each.
Complement new togs with new shoes from Shoe Alley (No. 3065), with its fabulous and reasonably priced Italian loafers and moccasins ($45 and up) in the standard black/beige/tan, plus pastel colors. Best of all are the shop's sandals ($50 to $80), a wide variety of attractive, lightweight and multicolored summer shoes.
A Real Find
Complot (No. 3092a) is a real find for women who like to dress differently. This is the only American outlet for Julia Holgado, a Spanish designer living and working in Costa Rica. The styles combine traditional Spanish influences with the latest in fads.
For example, stunning bolero jackets ($65) are worn with marvelously detailed baggy pants ($65). The fun-tier skirts ($50), with flounces in flamingo pink and other bright colors, are suitable for flamenco or disco dancing.
You find complete costumes at Complot, with Holgado's stylish straw and felt hats ($20 to $30) and footwear, including snakeskin boots ($180) and sandals ($38).
Varanda (No. 3094) is a boutique specializing in Brazilian fashion imports. Silk and leather rule the racks in this shop. There are modish leather mini outfits ($200 and up) in red or black, lacy silk blouses ($45 and up) and loosely flowing ensembles ($100 and up).
Take Shape (No. 3098) supplies Coconut Grove's fitness-conscious population with a stylish variety of jogging and dance attire with Capezio, Gilda Marx and other top labels at regular retail rates. The shop stocks everything from tennis shoes to tutus, with a selection for toddlers and teens.
Commodore Plaza has a shopping arcade (No. 3112) with several intriguing shops. Nostalgia by Anna is a lacy bower of mostly white antique clothing. The pristine petticoats ($40 and up), camisoles ($25 and up) and nighties ($60 and up) that hang prettily from the rafters can be worn as attractive day attire.
Nostalgia's walls are covered with Victorian dresses ($200 and up), silky scarfs ($30 and up) and satin or lace gloves that are works of fashion art from the past.
Also in the arcade is Coco, ad the opposite end of the style spectrum with super-hip fashions from French, English and Italian designers. This expensive little outlet has the latest spandex tank top for $106 and a stone-washed denim mini-dress with jacket for $330. The bathing suit collection offers an abundant selection of skimpy suits for about $150.
Furniture and Accessories
Ted Stahl (No. 3120) is an interior decorator with a large, homelike showroom of furniture and home accessories. The collection offers a great selection of affordable gift items to suit all environments. Serving trays made of enameled papier-mache are decorated like sectioned limes, oranges or lemons; they come with matching coasters ($20 a set).