South Beach For Families

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By: Laura Albittron

Mention South Beach to anyone and they’ll conjure visions of the aqua blue ocean lapping against white sand beaches, Art Deco hotels, funky Day-Glo painted lifeguard stands—and oh, yes, exclusive nightclubs. Located in Miami Beach’s southernmost section from the tip of the island at South Pointe Park and north to 23rd Street, it encapsulates the historic Art Deco District. Travelers and locals alike love the European feel of South Beach with its outdoor cafes, chic shops and stylish restaurants, along with the lovingly preserved historic architecture. It’s also an amazing place to bring the whole family.

Beach Days For the Whole Family

With miles of shoreline, the beach is a natural attraction in South Beach. Whether you stay at an oceanfront hotel or pack up your bags for a beach day, there’s plenty of family bonding time to be had in South Beach. The water is inviting year round with temperatures ranging from 71 degrees in January to 86 in July. While the water’s typically flat and calm, occasionally a small swell will create conditions ideal for children to body surf or boogie board. Waves or no waves, the beach is ideal for building sand castles, playing paddleball or soccer and, of course, relaxing. Beach chairs and umbrellas are available to rent from vendors all along the beach and if your family really wants to splurge, rent a beach “bed,” where you can lounge on the comfort of a terrycloth-covered mattress. Absolute bliss.

Dine Outdoors with the Gang

You can’t come to South Beach without dining al fresco, not with its world-class people watching and warm climate. Plus, eating outside appeals to kids: there’s a lot to look at and it feels less confining. On Ocean Drive, Gloria Estefan’s renovated Larios on the Beach, gives you the chance to try Cuban classics like vaca frita (crispy fried steak) with black beans and rice.

After sunset you might head to the quaint Española Way. Charming Spanish Mediterranean Revival buildings line this narrow lane closed to traffic. Notorious gangster Al Capone used to gamble away the hours at the Clay Hotel, on the corner of Washington Avenue. Yummy guacamole and tasty enchiladas are just two of the delicious dishes at Española Way’s casual Oh! Mexico restaurant.

One South Beach must-visit for adults and kids alike is Lincoln Road, a pedestrian street with tons of places to eat – and shop. Designed by celebrated MiMo architect Morris Lapidus, this outdoor mall is a magnet for trendy locals, tourists, jetsetters, pampered pets and performing artists. Eat at the family-friendly, The Café at Books & Books, serving an appealing kids menu, then head back to the bookstore to pick up some new reads. You can also opt for an all-American burger and fries at the hugely popular Shake Shack.

Grab a Little Culture

Even the most devoted sun worshippers need a break, so why not discover some art? The Bass Museum’s permanent collection features art from antiquity, the Renaissance, and the Baroque periods. The museum also regularly exhibits cutting edge contemporary pieces. Its manageable size makes it easy to get through in an hour or so, making it a child-friendly cultural experience.

Housed in two Art Deco synagogues, the Jewish Museum of Florida explores Jewish art and culture. Docent-led tours illuminate the saga of the lovingly restored building and recounts the history of the Jewish community on Miami Beach. Again, it’s not a huge institution, so a visit here doesn’t tire little legs and little feet.

Kid-Centered Attractions

Two of Miami’s best children’s attractions are located close by on Watson Island. Perennially popular Jungle Island boasts over a mile of beautifully landscaped trails and animal exhibits. You’ll find vividly colored tropical macaws and flamingos, along with lions, tigers, orangutans, and baboons. Parents and kids alike will love their regularly scheduled shows: Winged Wonders, Wild Encounter, and Dr. Wasabi’s Wild Adventure. Little ones will especially like getting close to gentle creatures in the Petting Barn.

Miami Children’s Museum is a quirky, brightly painted complex spread over 56,000 square-feet with 14 galleries. Exhibits include a pretend grocery store, a bank, a veterinarian’s office, an ocean odyssey, a rock-climbing wall, and other hands-on activities.

Of course, that’s not all South Beach offers for families. There’s the fabulous golf course and driving range at the Miami Beach Golf Club. Check out the large shaded playground and children’s swimming pool in Flamingo Park. If classical music, movies and picnicking is your thing, catch the New World Center’s free outdoor “Wallcast” concerts and movies. One thing you can be sure of: in South Beach families never run out of fun things to do.

Laura Albritton is the author of the guidebook Miami for Families: A Vacation Guide for Parents and Kids. 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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