Miami Nice – Family Fun in South Beach, Florida

When I think Miami Beach, I think white sand beaches, vibrant nightlife, and crime dramas.  I don’t think kid-friendly vacation.  At least I didn’t before we went on a holiday there with our two toddlers, three-year-old Olivier and 10-month-old Juliette, in tow.  Surprisingly, Miami is ideal for a low-key family vacation, especially South Beach, which is where we spent a week in the heart of SoBe.  In fact, Casa Casuarina, the house once owned by Gianni Versace and infamous for being the scene of his murder, was right across the street from our condo!

Coming back from my morning run, I stop at a coffee shop down the street and spot a pink Cadillac parked in front of the Marlin Hotel.  Excited by this “find,” I rush back to deliver breakfast to the kids and come back with my camera for some early morning shots.  I was later to learn that the Cadillac is a permanent fixture of the neighborhood as is the vintage Buick, complete with smoking gangster, parked outside the Park Central Hotel.   Like South Beach needed more color!

Because South Beach is so pedestrian-friendly, it’s an ideal place to ditch the car and explore the city without the hassle of having to drive or park anywhere.  A real plus when traveling with young children who are constantly asking “Are we there yet?”  Occupying the southern tip of Miami Beach, SoBe has about 23 streets running east-west and 13 roads or avenues running north-south. Everything is within walking distance.  A combination boardwalk/beachwalk runs along the eastern side of the island from South Point Park to the northern boundary of South Beach.  There are several kid-friendly parks with play structures along the way.  Our kids also loved getting soaked by the taps used to clean off sandy feet – talk about low budget fun!

Here are some other attractions that will keep the kids happy and the adults entertained, all on a budget:

1. Lincoln Road Mall and Espanola Way

Espanola Way is another pedestrian walkway filled with historic buildings.  It has a very European, old-world feel about it and is also known as the Historic Spanish Village. Lincoln Road Mall, an outdoor pedestrian-only promenade, is filled with cafés, restaurants, shopping, and galleries including Britto Central Inc.  If you aren’t familiar with this Brazilian artist’s colorful work, you soon will be.  It is featured prominently (for good or bad) all over SoBe.  A large Britto sculpture is situated at the corner of Fifth and Alton just off the MacArthur causeway, and his artwork is in all the gift shops.

2. Ocean Drive

Walking on Ocean drive is always entertaining and always happening, but very safe.  We felt comfortable taking the kids out, even after dark.  I was able to do some nighttime photography while we strolled on the sidewalk looking at the neon signs typical of Miami Beach.  The pastel-colored hotels that line Ocean Drive look so demure in the daylight, but really put on the glitz at night like so many drag divas inside!  The Carlyle, the hotel used in the movie The Birdcage, the Cardozo, owned by Gloria and Emilio Estefan, and the Park Central, one of the first hotels to be restored to its former glory – are all great to check out – it’s a photographer’s dream!

3. Duck Tours

South Beach Duck Tours obviously cater to tourists, but this amphibious vehicle will have your kids quacking while you see the city and Biscayne Bay, where the rich and famous live and play. From Rosie O’Donnell’s home to the Estefan’s abode, your guide will point them all out with that Up-with-People enthusiasm you’d expect in a cruise director (or someone who works for tips!). You’ll also find out where to get inked in Miami and where to buy the latest picks from the Kardashian clan while getting versed in some of South Beach’s art deco history.

4. Miami Children’s Museum

The Miami Children’s Museum is located on the MacArthur Causeway between Downtown Miami and South Beach, so it’s a little out of the way for walking, but it’s an short taxi ride, and the bus stops out front too.  Despite a short walk due to construction on the Port of Miami Tunnel (or Miami’s “Big Dig”), it was well worth the effort to get here.  Our son loved dressing up and driving the fire truck and my husband and I took turns on the police motorcycle pretending to be on highway patrol.

5. Flamingo Park

Flamingo Park is a little oasis of tranquility within the city.  With free swimming for locals and a nominal fee for non-residents, the park is a great escape from the heat.  There is a lap pool for adults and a play area for kids.  The shallow pool was perfect for our 3-year-old, and he loved the slide and the water spray umbrella.  Don’t be shy to ask the lifeguard to turn on the water features if things aren’t already squirting when you get here.  After drying off, the kids can play in the well-enclosed park, which has a lot of shade and park benches for mom and dad.

6. South Point Park

At the very southern tip of the island of Miami Beach is a park called, you got it, South Point Park. It’s a great place to watch the sunrise or sunset, and our kids liked waving to the passengers on the cruise ships as they make their way into the Port of Miami.  On the east side is the Atlantic and the beach, and on the west side, the Miami Beach Marina and Biscayne Bay.  You can also see Fisher Island to the south, once home of the Vanderbilts and now filled with exclusive clubs and celebrity homes.  My husband and I rented elliptical bikes from a local outfitter and travelled down the boardwalk to this park, which is ideal for cyclists and rollerbladers.   Like everything else in Miami Beach, the lifeguard huts are very colorful and great subject matter for photographers.  Our favorite is the very last one, located near South Point Park, which is in the shape of a lighthouse.

7. I’m hungry mommy!

When tummies start rumbling, there is no shortage of restaurants to satisfy everyone’s taste buds.  Many of the places lining Ocean Drive don’t seem so kid-friendly, what with the 36 oz. drinks and all, but most are surprisingly welcoming to the little folk, and sidewalk seating is an excellent choice for kids.  First off, you don’t even have to get the kids out of the stroller.  Secondly, the street action will help to keep the little ones entertained while distracting other diners from noisy kids.  And to top it all off, no worries about a mess on the floor!  Our best bets: the Front Porch Café for all-day breakfast with a view of Lummus Park, the Clevelander for nightlife and people watching, and T-Mex Cantina for local color and flavor without breaking the bank.

Though when asked what he like the most about his trip, my son will answer, “the moving sidewalk at the airport,” I know he will remember Miami fondly as months later he will ask to go back to that “little park by the beach.”  It will take me a moment to realize he wants to go back to Miami, and then he will tell me that he loves me more than the Miami airport, and the walkway, and the control tower, and finally, even the beach!

Check out the following resources to plan your trip to Miami:

Photo credits:  Smart Destinations, all other photos courtesy of the author and may not be used without permission.