Beach days, street art and waterparks — Yes, Miami is a family-friendly vacation
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Living in downtown Miami with twins, we had to redefine what it meant to have family fun on weekends in the Magic City. We found that the city offers limitless entertainment options for the whole family.
Family fun on the cheap in Miami
Let’s begin with fun that’s free.
South Pointe Park Miami Beach
Nestled at the edge of South Beach in the exclusive SoFi (South of Fifth) neighborhood, South Pointe Park is a favorite of locals with children. A children’s playground with a fun splash pad (a favorite of my twins) and well-manicured lawn space for a picnic come with striking views of downtown Miami and Fisher Island, the private island neighborhood of Miami with the highest per capita income in the United States.
There’s a promenade along the water for scenic stroller-pushing, bicycling or skating. At the end of the promenade, a walkway leads to South Point Pier, where you’ll see fishermen and miles of sandy beach.
At South Point Park your only cost will be for parking if you’re not staying in a South Beach hotel. The family will have a blast for almost nothing out of pocket.
Home to the country’s largest concentration of street art, the former warehouse district of Wynwood is now one of America’s top 14 hippest neighborhoods, according to TripAdvisor.
Go early to avoid the long waiting times for what some say is Miami’s best coffee shop, Panther Coffee, and then follow your nose on a short five-minute stroll to The Salty Donut, where small-batch, artisanal doughnuts await you. Now you are ready to spend half the day strolling past the famed Wynwood Walls. The open-air space of mural-covered walls is free and the kids will be mesmerized by the dynamic colors and images. There are Instagram-worthy opportunities all over Wynwood.
If exploring massive street art doesn’t capture the attention of your youngsters, wander to Fun Dimension Miami, a family entertainment center offering laser tag, bumper cars, video games, and an outdoor bungee dome. For a once-in-a-lifetime experience, visit Unicorn Factory, where everything is littered with glitter and sensory overload takes over with decorated exhibits that transport you into a world of fantasy. Selfies and Instagrammable stories are highly encouraged.
After hanging out in Wynwood for a few hours, sit down for lunch or an early dinner in the patio section at Wynwood Kitchen and Bar. Take in the Wynwood Walls from your seat while enjoying small plates at this artsy, kid-friendly, foodie hot spot.
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Robert Is Here
Locals often make the trek down to Homestead, a 45-minute drive from the City of Miami, to visit Florida’s most famous fruit stand, Robert Is Here. It serves up what are arguably the best fresh fruit milkshakes in Florida, sells farm-picked produce and includes a super-fun (and free) petting zoo. Your kids will enjoy feeding the goats, donkeys, chickens and other animals.
Pick up produce native to South Florida and buy a few made-to-order fresh fruit milkshakes for the entire family. If the kids still haven’t had enough animal interaction, head 20 minutes north of Robert Is Here to the impressive Zoo Miami.
Educational fun in Miami
If the beach becomes mundane, here are some fun learning activities for kids (and adults).
Miami Children’s Museum
The Miami Children’s Museum never disappoints. Nestled off the causeway between downtown Miami and South Beach, it offers exhibits like a sketch aquarium and the castle of dreams. Kids can act like grown-ups at the kid-sized replica of a Publix supermarket where they ring up groceries and do their food shopping. Or they can don firefighting gear and drive a simulated fire truck.
The 900-gallon saltwater tank at the Ocean Odyssey exhibit has three different underwater environments that are unique to South Florida. The World Music Studio, an outdoor playground and indoor slide are also popular attractions. Tickets are $22 per person for general admission ($15 for Florida residents) and children under 1 year old get in for free.
Many credit issuers such as Citi, U.S. Bank, Capital One and Chase offer bonus points for expenses coded under the merchant category “entertainment.” Museums, concerts, ticket websites and amusement parks typically code as entertainment. These cards offer the best return on entertainment spending.
Sawgrass Recreation Park
If visiting the Everglades is on your must-do list, head to Sawgrass Recreation Park. Technically it’s not in Miami; it’s 25 minutes west of Fort Lauderdale International Airport. There your family can spot alligators on a 30-minute airboat ride.
You can see more Everglades wildlife — leopards, birds and two black Florida panthers — at the on-site animal park. You can even hold a baby alligator if you dare. All animals at the park are rescue animals and the park rehabilitates these creatures to return to their natural habitats.
If you’re in need of a little retail therapy after the airboat ride and animal sightings, Sawgrass Mills Mall, the 11th-largest shopping mall in the United States, is only a 15-minute drive from the park.
Splurges in Miami
If cost is no object, these activities will please the entire family.
Tidal Cove at JW Marriott Turnberry Isle Resort
The newly rebranded JW Marriott Miami Turnberry Resort and Spa is located behind the largest mall in Florida, Aventura Mall. Tidal Cove, a world-class water park with all the slides and rides you could ever want was built within the grounds of the hotel. The JW Marriott Turnberry Isle has an incredible kids’ program, beach access and six pools in addition to being centrally located in the city of Aventura, just 15 minutes north of Miami Beach and south of Fort Lauderdale Beach.
The hotel’s upscale $35 million water park has an enormous 60-foot tower, seven slides, a lazy river and a surf simulator. Admission to Tidal Cove at the JW Marriott Miami Turnberry Resort and Spa costs $105 per person on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and $75 Monday through Thursday. Guests of the hotel receive complimentary access to the water park. Nightly rates starting at $350 during low season.
Outdoor dining at Smith & Wollensky in Miami Beach
At the edge of South Pointe Park with its incredible splash pad and views of the skyline and cruise ships passing through the Port of Miami is Smith & Wollensky, the southernmost restaurant on Miami Beach and a local favorite. It has an amazing outdoor seating area to gaze at the passing boats and people-watch. I recommend an early sunset dinner with the family. It has a kids’ menu if your child doesn’t go for juicy steaks, fresh seafood or lobster mac ‘n’ cheese. Request outdoor seating as the relaxed ambiance and sea views make dining at Smith & Wollensky a splurge-worthy outing.
Go on a boat tour
If you always wondered where Miami’s rich and famous live, board a large cruise boat and take in the opulent mansions on Miami Beach’s “Millionaire’s Row.” Since Miami is a waterfront city, many of its luxury sights are best seen on the water instead of land. The 90-minute tour operated by Island Queen Cruises departs from the popular Bayside Marketplace Marina in downtown Miami. You’ll go to sea on ships featuring an air-conditioned indoor lower level along with an upper deck where you can take in the fresh ocean breeze.
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Prefer a bucket-list splurge experience? Rent a private sailboat with Sailing Adventures Miami, winner of a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence, and take in Biscayne Bay. You’ll see the Miami skyline from the water (and probably dolphins in the water), along with those multimillion-dollar, waterfront homes. This boat is just for your family, plus a local Miami expert and experienced sailing captain.
Restaurants kids will love
As a self-proclaimed foodie, my favorite credit card for eating out is the American Express® Gold Card that earns 4x points on dining worldwide. Dining out in Miami with a family of four can be expensive but it’s also lucrative thanks to points-earning cards like the Amex Gold.
A favorite brunch spot from longtime Miami restaurateur Mark Soyka, this aesthetically gorgeous restaurant built inside a historic coral rock house is surrounded by lush backyard gardens, a Japanese-style pond and a romantic ambiance that’s hard to find in Miami. At night it’s the perfect date spot but on Sundays there may not be a better spot to brunch with the kids than Café Roval.
Warm and cozy on the inside but with an expansive, charming outdoor seating area that’s great for families with young kids. You and the kids can admire the Japanese pond and lovely gardens while you wait for your meal to arrive.
Ironside Kitchen Pizza & Coffee Co.
Tucked away in Miami’s historic Upper Eastside neighborhood, Ironside serves up authentic Neapolitan pizzas. A pizza maker certified by Italy’s pizza polizia oversees pie creation.
The pizza is made from the finest “00” flour from Mulino San Felice and tomatoes from San Marzano in Italy. You’ll find large families with small children sharing a coal-fired pizza and succulent pasta in the relaxing outdoor space. The children can run around with no side-eye from kid-less patrons as there’s enough room for everyone.
From the owners of the celebrated South Beach southern-food restaurant, Yardbird Southern Table & Bar, comes this casual Coral Gables eatery that makes everything from scratch, including some of the tastiest fried chicken in South Florida. It is inundated with families on weekends.
Adults on a health kick can order the Superfood Kale Salad which comes with crispy or grilled chicken breast. If you’re uninhibited by a diet, request the Yardbird sandwich, served on a toasted potato bun with pickles and mayo.
For kids, the jumbo tenders are hand-breaded and enormous. They can choose between fries or watermelon as their side. If you have multiple children, order the tenders combo.
Jaxson’s Ice Cream Parlor
Located in Dania Beach, approximately 20 minutes from Miami and seven minutes from Fort Lauderdale International Airport, Jaxson’s is an iconic ice cream parlor that has been serving cold treats in South Florida since 1956. Show up on a hot summer day and the lines are insanely long.
Brave the line (to be fair, it moves fast) and be rewarded with a heaping concoction. The Jaxson’s Jr. Sampler — three jumbo scoops topped with whipped cream, a cherry and your choice of three syrups or toppings is a fan-favorite. The traditional hot fudge sundae is always a hit. If the line is unbearable, find a table in the outside area (behind the small horse carousel) and you’ll get your order in quicker.
Miami is a global hub for art, business, luxury and night life. You can add family-friendly to that list. The city offers family vacations with loads of activities and entertainment options for families with kids of all ages.
It has heaps of points hotels and you are bound to find cheap airfare year-round from your hometown into one of South Florida’s international airports. Whether you’re enjoying an unhurried beach day or learning about local wildlife at one of Miami’s museums, the Magic City is memorable.
Featured photo by MargaretW/Getty Images.
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