Fun with kids in Miami
If you’re looking to combine some sightseeing with your beach vacation, then Miami Beach may be an ideal destination for your family. The beaches rival those on many Caribbean islands— wide with fine, sugar-white sand— and the Atlantic Ocean takes on the blue and green hues of the tropics. Outdated landmark hotels have been renovated and expanded to meet today’s resort needs or replaced by ultra-modern high-rise condominiums. Magnificent homes carry multi-million dollar price tags along the Intracoastal Waterway, one more breathtaking than the other. Miami is a mosaic of cultures, sites and sounds, a lively blend of Cuban, Caribbean, South American, Jewish and European cultures.
Back in the 1930s and 40s, more than 800 Art Deco structures were built on the southern tip of Miami Beach. Today, the historically designated Art Deco District represents the largest collection of Art Deco architecture in the world. Displaying pastel colors, neon lights and sleek, geometric lines, the Art Deco district, known as South Beach, serves as the backdrop for one of the world’s most eccentric and trendy neighborhoods. Buildings once in disrepair have been restored and converted into restaurants, hotels, clubs and boutiques. For families and others who prefer to avoid crowds, it’s worth a trip in the morning while the partiers sleep and when you can clearly observe the wonderful architecture and actually get a seat in one of the many outdoor cafes on Ocean Drive. A glorious beach and oceanfront park are directly across the street.
Settled in 1873, early Coconut Grove was built by West Indian craftsmen from the Bahamas. You can readily see their influence in the many Caribbean style houses, tropical landscaping and neighborhood street names. As the area gained recognition by the upper class, many Northerners built their winter residences here. In the 1950’s, Coconut Grove began to attract artists from the U.S. and Europe and the Grove soon had an international reputation as an artists’ colony. Under a dense canopy of lush trees, the area is noted for its whimsical homes, busy marinas and many cafes, art galleries, restaurants, antique shops and fashion boutiques.
Vizcaya Museum and Gardens
A tour of Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, the winter home of International Harvester vice president James Deering, provides a fascinating glimpse into the lifestyle of the super-wealthy in the early 1900s. Built between 1914 and 1916, Vizcaya was designed in the style of Italian Renaissance villas Deering had visited, then adapted to the subtropical climate of South Florida. Now a National Historic Landmark, the villa features more than 10 acres of formal gardens, terraces and fountains overlooking Biscayne Bay and 34 rooms of 15th through 19th century antique furnishings and decorative arts. Virtually all the decorative elements including furniture, lighting fixtures, doors and fireplaces were purchased by Deering on shopping expeditions to Europe. Adults and older children will be amazed at the opulent lifestyle and architecture of bygone days.
Notable Side Trips
Everglades National Park
The Everglades, the only subtropical wilderness preserve in North America, lies just west of Miami Beach. The “river of grass” is made up of vast expanses of sawgrass prairie and hardwood hammocks, providing a sanctuary, as well as breeding and feeding ground for many species of birds. The great egret, snowy egret, great blue heron, roseate spoonbill, anhinga, endangered wood stork, bald eagle, and 170 species of birds have been observed here. The habitat provides shelter for many threatened and endangered animals and is the only place in the world where crocodiles and alligators coexist. In fact, because of its great variety of plant and animal life, the Everglades has been designated a World Heritage Site, an International Biosphere Reserve and a Wetland of International Importance.
You can learn about the area’s rich diversity and threatened future at the Everglades National Park main Visitors Center at the park entrance. Exhibits, brochures, ranger program and activity schedules and information on boat tours and canoe rentals are available. The Anhinga Trail at the Royal Palm Visitor Center winds through a saw grass marsh and is less than a half mile long, 30 minutes round trip. It is a wonderful trail for both children and adults to easily see a good variety of Everglades wildlife. Those with patience and a keen eye can see even more if they look carefully for the fish, alligators, turtles, and birds hidden in the water, sawgrass, and trees. The dry season, November to March, is the best time to visit to avoid the hordes of mosquitoes that make outdoor activities more difficult April to November. Many ranger programs are no longer offered during wet season.
Key Biscayne, a few miles east of downtown Miami across the Rickenbacker Causeway, is a quiet, secluded community and natural refuge encompassing only two square miles in all. Technically, one of the first islands in the Florida keys archipelago, much of the marsh, mangrove forests, dunes and beachfront have been preserved as parkland. The beach at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, located on the southern tip of Key Biscayne, is consistently ranked among the top ten beaches in the United States. The park offers biking and hiking trails and free tours of the restored 1825 lighthouse, the oldest standing structure in Miami.
Crandon Beach in Crandon Park also lays claim to being named one of the best beaches in America for kids. With multiple sandbars offshore, the water remains shallow for a long distance and there are no riptides. Turtle walks are held annually in August or September when sea turtles hatchlings are released back into the sea. Guided canoe trips, kayak and snorkel trips, bike and beach tours can be arranged through the Eco Adventures Tour office at Crandon Park, 305-365-3018. Key Biscayne is also home to the famous Biltmore Hotel of the 1920s and is within five minutes of the Miami Seaquarium and close proximity to all the attractions of Miami Beach.
- Miami Zoo, naturalistic settings and lush, tropical gardens over three miles of walkways.
- Frost Museum of Science, opening summer 2016.
- Miami Seaquarium features marine life shows, exhibits and attractions in a landscaped park overlooking Biscayne Bay.
- Monkey Jungle, now in its 3rd generation of family ownership, home to 30 species of primates, most running free in a 30 acre preserve.
- Jungle Island, located along the MacArthur Causeway connecting downtown Miami and South Beach, part zoo, part tropical garden with playground, wildlife shows, reptiles, monkeys, birds, petting barn, and private beach on Biscayne Bay.
Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce
1920 Meridian Ave.
Miami, FL 33129
305.673.7400, tourist hotline
Key Biscayne Chamber of Commerce
88 West McIntyre St., Suite 100
Key Biscayne, FL 33149
Vicaya Museum & Gardens
3251 South Miami Ave.
Miami, FL 33129
Everglades National Park
40001 State Rd. 9336
Homestead, FL 33034-6733
Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park
1200 S. Crandon Blvd.
Key Biscayne, FL 33149