Whether you’re traveling over your children’s spring break, summer vacation or winter holidays, you’ll find great weather in South Florida — which explains why Miami is such a hot spot for families year round. Long before the original Disneyland opened its gates, vacationing kids were flocking to Parrot Jungle, Monkey Jungle and the Miami Seaquarium, and even today, pastimes abound to keep even the shortest attention span focused.
Of course, not every family craves three days straight of dawn-till-dark activities, so you may want to pick your favorite two out of our three planned days and substitute a low-key day at your hotel for the third.
Where to Stay
Miami Beach is the ideal spot to ensconce your family. Less grittily urban and more resort-like than mainland Miami, it appeals to a range of ages and demographics. Our top choice is the Loews Miami Beach Hotel, whose list of amenities is enough to make you want to revert to childhood yourself. Loews’ program was developed in partnership with Parenting Magazine. The keystone of the program is the Family Concierge, who contacts each family prior to arrival with a list of local and in-hotel family activities concurrent with its stay. There are also supervised programs for the kids, a lending library of games, special menus, kid-friendly tours, welcome gifts for children under 10, cribs, rollaway beds and child-proofing kits (all free of charge). It’s not cheap, but kids stay free.
Another option is the Doubletree Grand Hotel Biscayne Bay, which, though it lacks a beach, has a beautiful view of Biscayne Bay and is only about a 15- or 20-minute cab ride from South Beach. Doubletree’s family assets include children’s menus, rental cribs, a kids’ splash pool and an on-site playground.
Day One: A Day of Education, Culture and Fun
Though this first day will acquaint you and your kids with some of Miami’s rich cultural heritage, as well as a bit of science and history, there’s enough sugar to help the medicine go down and keep kids’ eyelids in the open position.
We’ve given you more museums and attractions here than you’ll probably want to visit in a single day, so you can either pick and choose based on what has appeal, or add a second day of attractions from this list (in conjunction with some serious sun, sand and swim time at your hotel) in substitution for one of the other days listed below.
Start your day at Bayside Marketplace. There are plenty of shops and souvenir stands here for all members of the family. (Kids will particularly enjoy Art By God, a shop devoted to artifacts of natural stone, especially fossils, or Glowstar, which specializes solely in glow-in-the-dark merchandise). Continue to Miamarina at Bayside for a boat tour around Biscayne Bay (for information on boat tours around Biscayne Bay, see day one of Seniors in Motion: Three Days in Miami).
From Bayside Marketplace walk two blocks north to visit what is perhaps Miami’s most famous historical landmark, Freedom Tower (located at 600 Biscayne Boulevard). It is a great place to expose your kids to the Cuban heritage that is so much a part of life in Miami. (For information on Freedom Tower, see day three of Seniors in Motion: Three Days in Miami.)
This makes a great segue into taking the family to visit Miami’s Little Havana, and since it’s probably getting close to lunch time, drive yourself to Versailles Restaurant (3555 Southwest 8th Street) in the heart of little Havana. Then take some time to simply stroll the streets of this bit of the Latin Caribbean superimposed on a major American city. Take in the scents, the music, the art and the personality of the people and their neighborhood before returning to your car. (For information on Little Havana and Versailles Restaurant see day three of Seniors in Motion: Three Days in Miami.)
On your way back to the hotel, visit the Miami Science Museum, where there are complete science and natural history museums, a museum devoted entirely to local birds of prey, and a terrific planetarium and laser show (where Mom and Pop can sit in the dark and secretly snooze off their Versailles lunch).
If you’re looking for dinner at a family-friendly restaurant, try Big Pink in the Miami Beach area. It offers great burgers and pizzas served in fun surroundings at affordable prices.
The following are alternative choices in the theme park and museum modes which can be substituted for any stop on our Day One schedule, or put together with some laid-back time at your hotel as an alternate for Day Two or Day Three.
- Jungle Island: Start with a 22-acre rainforest filled with streams, waterfalls and more than a thousand different species of exotic tropical birds, plants and animals. Add to that a petting zoo, trained bird show and wildlife habitat, and the animal lovers in your family will be a happy camper.
- Miami Seaquarium: Though there are many aquatic theme parks more modern and in better shape than this 1955 pioneer, it’s still worth a visit for their dolphin, sea lion and killer whale shows. Kids can also get face to face with the endangered manatee or watch specialists feeding 200-pound sharks.
- Miami Children’s Museum: With exhibits targeted to children from toddlers on up, this museum has interactive experiences cultural, technological, artistic and natural, meant to enrich kids without slighting them the fun factor.