When most people think of visiting Miami, they think of Spring breakers and South Beach nightclubs. But when we decided to spend the entire summer there, I took it upon myself to do a little digging and found that there are a ton of fun things to do with kids that are off the beaten, “touristy” path. In no particular order, here are my top 5:
1. Key Biscayne
Just a short drive outside of Miami, our trip to Key Biscayne was a fun and surprisingly educational day trip. At Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, you’ll find the perfect mixture of beach and wilderness, and if you pay attention there is much to be learned about the local flora and fauna of this particular ecosystem. Bill Baggs offers an array of activities ranging from bicycling (bike rentals are $9/hr) to kayaking. Or you can just have a relaxing beach day wading in the warm Atlantic and catching glimpses of exotic birds and the huge wild iguanas.
– If you’re opting for a beach day, pick a spot near the historic light house. This is an ideal place for swimming, sunbathing, and iguana-spotting. You can also climb up to the top of the lighthouse if you’re looking for extra adventure.
-Bring cash for parking ($8)
-Bring your own snacks. There are two places to purchase food in the park, the Lighthouse Cafe in particular is easily accessible from the lighthouse (this is also where the bathrooms are located, fyi) but the food there is “meh” at best. One bonus is that you can grab a drink there as alcoholic beverages are not allowed on the beach.
-Bring your own shade. We brought a pop up beach tent with us and it was an absolute lifesaver.
Days in which we visited the museum were among my favorite days of the whole summer. I’ve got 2 words for you: Air Conditioning. Especially in the heat and humidity of a Miami summer, these indoor museums that allowed the kids to run around and explore indoors were heaven sent.There are several museums in the area to choose from, including Miami Children’s Museum which is especially great if your kids are very young. But I found that my family’s favorite is The Philip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science. The dads and I are all big science nerds and I found that the museum’s exhibits had just the right amount of activity to keep both my 6 and 12 year old occupied. Plus, it’s free for active military and their families (up to 5 guests) so we went twice!
– Go early. For the Frost Museum in particular, the crowds are much lighter earlier in the day. Also, the planetarium shows tend to sell out on weekends so you’ll want to go early enough to make sure you get a ticket (included with your ticket, but only guaranteed as long as seats are available). But for all museums in general, allow yourself enough time to really enjoy each exhibit and not feel rushed.
-Speaking of the planetarium show… you don’t want to miss the planetarium show. To curb your expectations: it’s not a presentation of the night sky like you might expect to see in a planetarium, but more akin to an imax movie. But its still incredible and I still highly recommend it. My favorite was the one called “Journey to the Stars,” narrated by Whoopi Goldberg.
-Take a break and eat at the cafe. The Frost Museum’s cafe is reasonably priced and surprisingly good. Even my picky eater enjoyed her grilled cheese and chips.
3. Urban Exploring
Fun fact: The city of Miami is full of culture and art. Take a day to explore the it with your kids.
-The Wynwood Walls is an outdoor exhibit of street art full of meaningful art and photo ops.
–Little Havana offers a taste of the Cuban community and culture that is very prominent in South Florida. I recommend Versailles Restaurant — not to be confused with the Southern California food chain of the same name, this place is an institution and has been serving the community authentic Cuban cuisine for over 40 years. But save room for dessert, because Azucar Homemade Cuban Ice Cream is a must-try!
-In both Wynwood and Little Havana you will find local artists and small businesses offering handmade goods. Support them! Not only will you help keep these incredible neighborhoods thriving, but you will get to go home with a truly unique souvenir.
4. Key Largo
If you’re looking for another quick day trip, is Key Largo is a great option. While we only made a quick trip here to meet our visiting cousins for lunch, Key Largo is another fun adventure destination just outside Miami that’s perfect for animal lovers. Kids (and parents, of course) 7 and older can swim with dolphins and sea lions at Dolphin Plus research and education facility. Or if you’d rather stay on dry land, you can visit The Florida Keys Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center located just minutes from Key Largo in Tavernier, Fl.
-I’m going to take this opportunity to mention that I intentionally didn’t visit any of the more touristy animal-themed locations such as Miami’s Monkey Jungle. I don’t know enough about them to say for sure that the animals are treated inhumanely, but I did read some alarming reviews from guests who’d visited previously and I decided it wasn’t my cup of tea. I prefer to teach my children about animals by observing them in the wild or in sanctuaries that aim to rehabilitate animals for the purpose of re-release into their natural habitats whenever possible. Just be sure to do your research before visiting any type of tourist attraction that involves animals. When all is said and done, it is your decision to make and you know what is best for you and your family.
5. Miami Beach
Yes! I saved the easiest and most obvious for last. That said, I wanted to make sure I added it to the list because some parent’s might be afraid of Miami Beach‘s “party crowd” reputation, but I can assure you that anyone coming to party on the beach isn’t getting there in the morning, so that’s your chance. My coolest South Beach experience was waking up super early to catch the sunrise. Pack a picnic breakfast on the beach and then spend the morning building sand castles and playing in the water. The kids will be warn out before noon and you’ll avoid the tourists.
-Take a walk. All up and down Miami Beach are colorful uniquely themed lifeguard towers. You likely won’t see them all in one trip, but if you’re feeling up to it, take a stroll and see how many you can check out. Just don’t forget to save some energy for the walk back.
-There’s a playground located at 13th and Ocean
-Don’t forget to bring water and sunscreen, but if you do there are vendors set up on the beach where you can purchase forgotten essentials.