When you think of Miami, kid-friendly activities are probably not the first thing to come to mind. Personally, I always envision late-night club hopping, barely-there string bikinis and plenty of shots to go around. Don’t hate…I’m from New Jersey, and until recently my only Miami points of reference came from TV and movies. But last week, I spent the day exploring Miami with my two-year-old, five-year-old, husband and my brothers-in-law, and we found plenty of family fun. Don’t get me wrong, there were lots of string bikinis too, but I actually can’t wait to return to Miami with my kids, because one day just wasn’t enough.
Here are some things you should know if you’re visiting Miami with kids:
How to get around.
If you’re not staying in the city, you’re going to want to rent a car. South Florida covers a lot of land, and it’s not easy or cheap to get around without your own wheels. Car rental options are however plentiful and affordable.
Once you’ve reached the city, there’s a lot to be seen on foot. We recommend parking in South Beach and walking. Parking can be pricey, so if you can find a private lot with daily rates, go for it. If not, you’ll have to find a metered spot either on the street or in a lot. Be sure to read any posted signs regarding rules and regulations. Parking officers are everywhere and they are quick to ticket for any infraction. If you park on Collins or Ocean, it’s pretty much a straight shot to the beach, restaurants and most other attractions.
If your travels take you up to North Beach or you find your crew is losing steam for on-foot explorations, the city offers a free trolley that runs every 15 minutes from 6a.m. to midnight Monday through Saturday and 8a.m. to midnight on Sundays. There is a South Beach Loop, a Middle Beach Loop and a North Beach Loop. There’s also the Collins Express route, which runs every 20 minutes and takes passengers up and down Miami’s main tourist thoroughfare.
Bicycle rentals are also cheap and readily available, but Miami is HOT so it may not be the best option if you have small kids. Uber and Lyft cars are everywhere, but traffic is heavy so it could get expensive.
Of course, if you’re in Miami, you probably want to check out the beach. It’s free, beautiful and well-maintained and can be accessed from just about any stretch of shore between South Beach and North Beach. We recommend heading up to 13th Street from Collins or Ocean. Just before you reach the beach, there’s an awesome playground for kids. Umbrella and chair rentals are available, but if cost is an issue bring along some beach towels.
Ocean Drive faces the beach and is the best spot for people watching in South Beach. It’s also lined with restaurants, bars and gift shops, so it’s the perfect place to be when everyone is getting hangry or needs to cool off in some air conditioning. Don’t miss the famous Sugar Factory. It’s costly, but they throw in lots of extras for kids, they run great food and drink specials during the day and it’s just plain fun to sit outside, eat and drink candy-based creations.
About midway between South Beach and North Beach, you’ll stumble upon Collins Park. You’ll know you’re there when you walk into the giant rainbow rock tower known as Miami Mountain. Miami Mountain is a stunning permanent art installation by Ugo Rondinone, that makes the park worth at least a quick visit, especially if you have little kids that are obsessed with building and stacking. My five-year-old who was growing weary on our long-sweaty walk, was completely invigorated by the sight of the five massive boulders stacked up as high as the sky.
There are more restaurants and eateries than you can count in Miami. There’s everything from upscale dining venues to fast-food chains. But one thing you shouldn’t miss is a quick stop at a Cuban bakery or deli for a coffee and an authentic pastry. Look for the hole-in-the-wall spot that doesn’t even have a sign outside, and you’re sure to find something tasty.
Miami is absolutely brimming with the arts, so if your kids are into museums, dance, theater shows, etc. there’s plenty to take in. Miami City Ballet which is led by Latina Lourdes Lopez, runs shows from January through April and October through December. The recently opened Faena Forum is also making it’s mark in the city not just because of the stunning architecture of its building, but also because of the innovative shows it hosts. Within the city, you’ll also find the Miami Children’s Museum, Gold Coast Railroad Museum and the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science.
As should be expected, South Florida is brimming with nature preserves, zoos and aquariums, but there are actually several to be found within the city of Miami itself. Safari Edventure is an educational safari-like experience geared towards children. Zoo Miami is the largest and oldest zoo in Florida and the only sub-tropical zoo in America. And at Shark Valley, which is part of Everglades National Park, you can learn about the local eco-system and spend some time walking, hiking or biking.
Don’t freak out over half-naked people.
You’re bound to see more skin than you’re used to— your kids will too — just be prepared and don’t make a big deal about it.
Don’t forget sunscreen.
It’s hot and the sun is strong. At certain times of the day there will be shade but regardless, apply sunscreen before you head out and reapply as necessary.
Bring water bottles.
If you don’t, someone will get dehydrated and cranky. You can bring them filled or fill them at a water fountain near one of the beach showers.
Use a stroller or baby carrier.
A compact, lightweight stroller or lightweight baby/toddler carrier is essential. Miami is full of people and you want to keep your baby as safe as possible. Even if you have a toddler who is walking, you should be prepared, because they will get tired in the heat.