Sunny Isles Beach: A Timeless Enchantment Unveiled

3 min readMay 3, 2024


Sunny Isles Beach, Florida, with its sugar-white sand and towering condominiums reaching for the sky, boasts a history as rich and captivating as the turquoise waters lapping at its shores. Dive deeper and discover the fascinating story of how this barrier island transformed from a tranquil haven for indigenous people to a luxurious playground for the modern elite.

The Enduring Legacy of the Tequesta (Pre-1900s):

Long before the echoes of construction and the thrum of tourism, Sunny Isles Beach was the domain of the Tequesta tribe. These resourceful Native Americans thrived for millennia on the bountiful barrier islands, including the very land that would become Sunny Isles Beach. Their sustainable way of life, deeply intertwined with the natural environment, laid the groundwork for a future paradise. Imagine skilled fishermen navigating the turquoise waters in their canoes, their laughter echoing across the waves, a testament to the island’s inherent beauty.

A Visionary’s Dream: Harvey Baker Graves and the “Venice of America” (1920s):

Fast forward to the roaring twenties, a time of audacious dreams and boundless optimism. Enter Harvey Baker Graves, a visionary investor who purchased a vast tract of land exceeding 2 square miles. His ambitious plan? To create a premier tourist destination unlike any other. He christened it “Sunny Isles: The Venice of America,” inspired by the romantic canals and waterways that defined the Italian city.

Graves envisioned a network of intricate canals weaving through the island, a captivating labyrinth dotted with luxurious hotels and charming residences. Imagine gondolas gliding gracefully through the waterways, carrying visitors on a romantic journey through this Floridian Venice. However, translating this grand vision into reality proved challenging. Financial constraints and logistical hurdles hampered progress. Furthermore, the Great Depression delivered a devastating blow, forcing Graves to significantly scale back his plans. While the dream of a real-life Venice faded, it laid the groundwork for Sunny Isles Beach’s future development.

The Haulover Bridge: A Gateway to Opportunity (1925):

A pivotal moment arrived in 1925 with the completion of the Haulover Bridge. This vital connection between Sunny Isles Beach and the bustling metropolis of Miami Beach opened up a world of possibilities for developers. Accessibility to a larger market and a burgeoning tourism industry shifted the focus away from intricate canals towards beachfront properties. Hotels and resorts began to rise along the shoreline, beckoning vacationers seeking sun, sand, and the carefree vibes of Florida.

Motel Row: A Hubbub of Activity and the Allure of Mid-Century Modern (1950s-1970s):

The 1950s and 1960s witnessed a tourism boom in Sunny Isles Beach. To cater to the influx of visitors, a vibrant stretch of beachfront property became known as “Motel Row.” These weren’t your average roadside motels. Featuring eye-catching designs and vibrant neon signs, they embodied the spirit of mid-century modern architecture. Imagine a kaleidoscope of colors against the backdrop of the azure sky, each motel a testament to the era’s innovative spirit. Some, like America’s first two-story motel, the Ocean Palm, boasted cutting-edge features, attracting visitors seeking a trendy and comfortable beachfront experience.

Even celebrities like The Beatles were drawn to the unique charm of Motel Row, solidifying Sunny Isles Beach’s place on the map as a trendy vacation destination. Imagine the excitement as iconic figures graced the shores of Sunny Isles Beach, adding to the allure of this vibrant beachfront community.

Economic Downturn and a Shift in Focus (1970s):

However, the tides of tourism began to shift in the 1970s. The economic downturn led to a decline in visitor numbers, impacting Sunny Isles Beach’s economy. Many motels struggled to stay




Co-founder of Cays Realty, Miami Real Estate company serving in South East Florida offering residential and commercial services in Miami.