By Bonnie Gross

For visitors to Redlands in Florida, the history and subtropical climate combine to create memorable experiences you won’t find anywhere else.

Visitors to Miami expect a big urban city with a sophisticated South Beach style. And all that can be found, in abundance.

Few may realize that on the city’s southern outskirts is a rural enclave where you can pick strawberries, see groves of exotic tropical fruit trees, taste wine made from guavas and tour spectacular orchid greenhouses and gardens. 

The rural area is called the Redland, named for its red soil. 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, Florida, 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, such as koi farmers, banana growers and herb farmers. A Redland resident has created a map of a Redland driving tour that takes you through all the highlights.

These Redland stops are arranged from north to south.

1. 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 are dense, rich and gooey and people go to extraordinary lengths to buy them. Because Knaus Berry Farm is closed on Sundays, there’s 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. (Knaus berry is open for only the winter season. Last day is in April 19. First day for is around Nov.

Here are Redland strawberry farms that offers milkshakes, fruit and other products, such as jams and jellies:

Burr's Berry Farm traces its history to pioneers who came to the region at the turn of the 20th Century. Charles Raymond Burr became known as “TheStrawberry 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.

Burr's Berry Farm
12741 SW 216th St., Miami

Phil’s Berry Farm 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.

Phil's Berry Farm
13955 SW 248th St. Homestead

With 20,000 likes on Facebook, Knaus Berry Farm and Bakery is both famous and beloved. 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.

Knaus Berry Farm and Bakery
15980 SW 248th St. (Coconut Palm Drive), Homestead

2. A historic village under a canopy of tropical trees

Cauley Square Historic Railroad Village 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. 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.  
  • 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

3. A park devoted to exotic fruits

The Redland is all about growing things and so is this county park. At Fruit and Space Park, you can see edible foods that don’t grow anywhere else in the United States — from 75 kinds of bananas to things you’ve probably never heard of, like black sapote, eggfruit and marula. The visitor center has fruits for sampling and guided tours are included in the $8 admission. 

Fruit and Spice Park
24801 South West 187th Ave.

4. 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 with such items as antique Burmese temple gongs and 200-year-old Buddha statues from Thailand. In his back yard is a fern-rimmed pond with an alligator named Wally and South American pacu fish. You expect Tarzan to come swinging through the trees.

His garden tour engages all the senses: Screams of colorful parrots in cages, the fragrance of rare varieties of blooming orchids, the  taste of edible orchids or a sweet wine made from lemongrass and a scorpion that Fuchs invites you to try. 

R.F. Orchids
28100 SW 182nd Ave., Miami.

5. 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.  These are wines without grapes, instead made with tropical fruits such as mango, guava, avocado, lychee, and passion fruit. For more details, here’s a story from Vi a story from Visit Florida about Schnebly Redland's Winery.

Schnebly Redland’s Winery
30205 SW 217th Ave., Homestead

6. Exotic fruit, fresh vegetables -- and even emu

Stopping at Robert Is Here, a funky Florida fruit stand 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.

But there’s more to Robert Is Here than the flowers, fruit stand and milk shakes. Out back there are caged parrots and a large pen with a variety of animals, ranging from donkeys to emus to goats and geese. For hot days, there's a water playground for kids, too.

There’s a real Robert, and he IS there every day-- and has been for a very long time.

At age 6, Robert Moehling’s parents set him up to sell cucumbers on that corner. First day, nobody bought them. His dad figured nobody saw the little boy, so he made a sign: Robert Is Here. From that day on, Robert was in business, eventually bringing his whole family into the company.

Robert Is Here
19200 SW 344th St.
Florida City

Note: Some Redland spots are open only in winter, so check hours and days open ahead.