Miami's Most Unusual Neighborhood: Stiltsville

By Giselle Mueller of Mandarin Oriental, Miami
April 11, 2012 | Miami, United States
Miami's Most Unusual Neighborhood: Stiltsville
Zoe Jessica, Flickr

Everyone’s heard of Margaritaville. But have you heard of Stiltsville?

Unlike Jimmy Buffett’s fantasy, Stiltsville is a real place! It’s a collection of eclectic houses with a pretty colorful history (mixed with a little urban legend to be sure).

The houses stand on stilts in the middle of Biscayne Bay, about a mile off the shore of Key Biscayne. They were built during the 20s and 30s, first by guys who sold bait and beer to passing fishermen and then as boat clubs and social clubs.

In those decades, when alcohol and gambling were illegal on land, Stiltsville was the place where everyone went to party. In more recent decades, Stiltsville has hosted movie and photo shoots, and still plenty of wild parties.

There used to be 27 buildings; but hurricanes and the general ravage of time have whittled them down to seven. In 1985, Stiltsville became part of Biscayne National Park — the park that protects Biscayne Bay and a smattering of keys within it. The owners of the Stiltsville houses were allowed to lease their buildings from the government (for something like $1 per year, I heard).

The arrangement became a bit contentious. No repairs were allowed to be done on the houses. Yet I heard about a big party that went on one night, and the floor in this house actually gave way and the revelers fell through (don’t worry — no one got hurt). Word was that everyone from partygoers to surrounding Stiltsville neighbors rallied to fix the floor overnight in order for the repairs to go undetected!

An agreement was ultimately reached to preserve and rehabilitate the remaining Stiltsville houses. For now, the buildings are closed, but they’re still fun to check out from the water. If you haven’t seen it already, check out my video on Ocean Force Adventures — they’re a great private boat tour operation that will take you to see Stiltsville, and other highlights of Miami’s waters.