By: Laura Albritton
Where South Beach ends, the rest of Miami Beach – an interconnected chain of barrier islands – begins. On the Atlantic side, sandy beaches continue northward in one unbroken stretch of white powder sand fringed by palm trees. Here, families love to stay and play at hotels and fabulous Miami Modern-style resorts overlooking a mesmerizing vista of sea-green waves.
Set the Scene
The strip from 41st to 62nd Street famously became known as Millionaire’s Row, while further north you’ll find Normandy Isles, North Beach, the historically Jewish neighborhood of Surfside, and chic Bal Harbour.
The vibe of Miami Beach is family-oriented. Many hotels stand directly on the sand, making the walk from room to ocean a blissfully short one. What’s more, you’ll still have plenty of awesome activities to keep the whole family occupied.
Miami Beach locals love the North Shore Open Space Park beach, which runs along Collins Avenue from 78th Street to 87th Terrace. Why is it such a hit? Obviously, long, gorgeous sand beaches and a pristine sea have a lot to do with it. There’s also something appealing about the park’s laidback attitude with tropical trees and plants giving it a refreshingly natural feel. At this mellow sanctuary, there are bike paths, nature trails, picnic tables, grills and, of course, restrooms. Parents will appreciate the lifeguards on duty and easy access to metered parking.
Miami Modern = MiMo
While South Beach boasts its colorful Art Deco gems, Miami Beach showcases its own extravagant style. From the late 1940s to the mid-1960s Miami Modern (or MiMo) architects brought a distinctly Miami slant to modernism with futuristic forms and flamboyant details. The buildings’ over-the-top glitz and some of their wacky features may fascinate your children.
While tooling around Miami Beach, see if your children can spot some signature MiMo designs like “beanpoles” (slim metal poles that are decorative, not structural) and “cheeseholes” (round shapes of differing sizes used to create a sense of energy on a façade or wall).
The most successful MiMo master was Morris Lapidus who designed two Miami Modern icons, the Fontainebleau Miami Beach and the Eden Roc Miami Beach. These resorts oozed such glamour that in the 1950s they attracted everyone from Frank Sinatra to Elvis to Elizabeth Taylor. Today, they still draw celebrities and a glamorous crowd. Other Lapidus creations include: Crystal House (5055 Collins), Seacoast Suites (5101 Collins) and Seacoast Towers East (5161 Collins).
If you’re looking for a quick bite, check out House of Dog, a hip kosher hot dog restaurant on 41st Street. Bite into the “Dracula” with sauerkraut and buffalo sauce or the Caribbean dog with pineapple and garlic mayo. Expect anything but the ordinary at this local’s hangout.
When the family’s craving Italian, head to Café Prima Pasta, a Zagat-rated restaurant with old school ambiance and very tasty dishes. The menu features kids’ meals like spaghetti, of course, while parents will enjoy entrées such as chicken limone, cooked with lemon, white wine, and garden-fresh basil. Café Prima Pasta also serves killer martinis and decadent desserts.
Have you ever eaten churros? These delicious strips of fried dough topped with powdered sugar and cinnamon appeal to kids and adults alike. While often associated with Spain and Mexico, you can order churros at Manolo, serving specialties from Uruguay. For lunch or dinner, they also boast sandwiches, pizzas, and empanadas, all done Uruguayan-style.
Family Fun For Active Kids
When you want a break from beach time, head over to the Scott Rakow Youth Center on Sheridan Avenue and go bowling. Join the fun at one of the center’s six state-of-the-art lanes with electronic scoring systems. (Kids need to be at least 40 inches tall to participate.) Saturdays and Sundays are family day with one round of bowling at a discounted price.
The Scott Rakow Center also contains a swimming pool, fitness center, game room, and an ice skating rink. While the rink’s currently closed for renovation, be on the lookout for its reopening in the coming months. If you’re thinking of relocating to Miami Beach, you should check out the Rakow Center’s schedule of swimming lessons, from infant and toddler water safety to learn-to-swim programs.
Shop in Style
In the northern reaches of Miami Beach, Bal Harbour Village has long been an exclusive, waterfront retreat. Its claim to international fame: the beautiful Bal Harbour Shops. These high-end boutiques are situated around an open-air courtyard with koi ponds, fountains and tastefully landscaped palm trees, bromeliads and other tropical plants. Anchored by Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus department stores, designer flagships include Stella McCartney, Jimmy Choo, Michael Kors and Gucci at this elegant shopping plaza.
For adorable children’s clothes, be sure to visit Bonpoint and Oxygene. You’ll also find an outpost of Miami’s favorite bookstore, Books & Books. When it’s time to get a bite, there is a range of options including Santa Fe News & Espresso with light meals and sandwiches or the Zodiac Café inside Neiman Marcus.
With its distinctive MiMo architecture, fantastic dining and high-end shops, Miami Beach’s interlinked barrier islands are a world apart—and the perfect destination for a family vacation.
Laura Albritton is the author of the guidebook Miami for Families: A Vacation Guide for Parents and Kids (www.MiamiForFamilies.com). Laura has guest blogged for popular travel websites Uncommon Caribbean, Your Life is a Trip, and Authentic Florida; she also reviews books and art for the Miami Herald, Sculpture magazine, The Florida Keys Weekly, and Harvard Review.
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