What’s the key to a Miami Beach area family vacation? Pair shore time with off-the-beach fun. Try a zip line adventure, explore museums, learn about the city’s iconic architecture and allow plenty of time to romp through parks and along the sands. It’s easy to engage toddlers, teens and multigenerational families. A bonus: Most outdoor attractions are free.
My son and I started our morning 25 feet in the air at Treetop Trekking Miami. We pushed through a canopy of palm trees and live oaks as we inched along a tightrope, swayed across a plank bridge and glided on a zip line. Conquering those challenges on the mid-level course felt satisfying. Adrenaline-seekers can up their thrills by tackling obstacles up to 55 feet above the ground. Kids 5 years and older gain confidence by climbing ropes and balancing on logs strung a few feet off the ground. (Tip: Protect your hands by wearing the gloves provided for the adult courses or bring your own.)
Located in Biscayne Bay, Treetop Trekking Miami shares Jungle Island (aka Watson Island) with the Jungle Island attraction, an 18-acre animal-themed park where parrots roost on perches and flamingoes dot the pond. Add an animal encounter to get close to lemurs, sloths and capybaras. The nearby Miami Children’s Museum, stocked with hands-on exhibits, is especially interesting for young kids.
We based ourselves at the Hilton Bentley Miami South Beach, a family-friendly oceanfront hotel with a pool in a neighborhoodlike area. The relatively quiet location meant less beach bustle and more space than at other sites. On a toes-in-the-sea walk, we stopped to photograph several of the city’s whimsical lifeguard towers created by noted architect William Lane.
Another stroll took us along the Beachwalk, a paved oceanfront pedestrian-only pathway, toward South Pointe Park. This local favorite comes with impressive views of the ships in port plus Tobias Rehberger’s playful sculpture of an asymmetrical lighthouse. Along the way, we were lucky enough to see a manatee and her baby swimming by.
We lunched at Big Pink, two blocks from the Hilton. Even fussy eaters find something to like, from pancakes to salads, wraps, burgers and sandwiches. And the portions are huge.
Another day, we mixed beach time near Lummus Park on Ocean Drive with city strolls. The 10-block park offers playgrounds, volleyball courts, bathrooms and Muscle Beach, known for its exercise bars, ropes and great people-watching. Don’t miss the Beach Patrol Headquarters, a 1934 structure with the sleek lines of a ship and porthole windows. We learned more about the architectural style at the nearby Art Deco Museum and Welcome Center, operated by the Miami Design Preservation League, which offers art deco walking tours.
Then we took to the streets. South Beach shines with one of the world’s largest collections of art deco buildings. We admired structures with curves, streamlined shapes and geometric forms. We paused for lunch at the News Cafe with its 1932 Packard parked out front. The eatery serves good salads, sandwiches, pizza and wraps.
Architecture enthusiasts take note: The first Open House Miami, a free festival, takes place March 1-2, 2024. Affiliated with Open House Worldwide, the festival showcases the city’s architecture through workshops, performances and behind-the-scenes tours of the Hard Rock Stadium, the Frost Science Museum and other sites.
A lesser-known museum, Artechouse, is a gem. The interactive facility showcases the work of Zach Lieberman and collaborators who use computer coding to create experiential art. Lieberman’s video of cubes, flowers and landscapes morphing into one another that’s projected onto three walls sets the tone. We felt immersed in the art.
Other exhibits literally incorporated us. When we moved our arms, the spiral squiggle on the computer screen mimicked our movements, and when we spoke into a megaphone, the screen changed colors based on the pitch of our voices. Art-lovers of all ages and tech-savvy teens can ponder if this is the future of art.
Sampling Miami’s various ethnic cuisines is a must, especially with always-hungry teens. At Donna Mare, an Italian restaurant, we devoured the excellent spaghetti with seafood and the upside-down apple pie. Along with sushi and sashimi, the Japanese restaurant Blue Ribbon Sushi features tasty duck fried rice and salmon with teriyaki sauce. For Greek fare, Santorini by Georgios at our hotel serves delicious grilled octopus, branzino and baklava.
With young kids who eat early, it’s a good idea to come during happy hour for deals on gyros, empanadas and adult drinks. For Cuban cuisine, we headed to Havana 1957, known for its signature roast chicken and pork sandwiches. We chose the Espanola Way location for its outdoor tables on the lively pedestrian street.
Most people don’t think of Miami as a family destination, but with beaches, adventures, museums, plenty of parks and good food, it had everything we needed for our getaway. Now we can’t wait to return.
When You Go
Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau: www.miamiandbeaches.com
Miami Beach Visitor and Convention Authority: miamibeachvca.com
Hilton Bentley Miami South Beach: www.hilton.com/en/hotels/miabmhf-hilton-bentley-miami-south-beach
Treetop Trekking Miami: miamitreetoptrekking.com
Jungle Island: jungleisland.com
Miami Children’s Museum: miamichildrensmuseum.org
Big Pink: mylesrestaurantgroup.com/big-pink
Art Deco Museum and Welcome Center: www.mdpl.org
News Cafe: www.newscafesouthbeach.com
Open House Miami: www.openhousemia.org
Donna Mare Trattoria: www.donnamare.com
Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill: www.eatblueribbonmiami.com
antorini by Georgios: www.santorinibygeorgios.com
Havana 1957: www.havana1957.com