Art Basel Miami Beach might be all about glamour, but the city offers far more than grown-up pleasures. From museums and animal parks to dining and shopping, Magic City is also a haven for children of all ages. And at just over two hours by plane from New York, it’s a getaway as easy for parents as it is for the little ones. Here’s our plan for a fam-tastic time in South Florida.
Located 20 minutes north of South Beach in Sunny Isles, Acqualina Resort & Residences has earned a reputation as Miami’s most family-focused seafront stay. The property’s endless swimming pools, myriad beach activities, fun-packed kids club and on-site soccer field and basketball court make it a destination where children thrive and learn through play. Come in winter to escape the New York cold, or consider visiting from April to October, when you can watch baby turtles hatch on the hotel’s beach before crawling their way down the sand and into the ocean. It’s an awe-inspiring experience for kids (and parents) — and a reason to return year after year.
Even though it’s at the end stages of a massive renovation, Jungle Island — Miami’s famed animal-focused adventure park on Watson Island — remains a must-visit. For the moment, families can enjoy private encounters with the park’s greatest animal hits: sloths, kangaroos, flamingos, capybaras, giant tortoises and some of the rarest tropical birds on the planet. You can also navigate the Island’s new Treetop Trekking course, which invites families to swing high above the trees while safely attached to a zipline. But those activities are mere warm-ups to Jungle Island’s massive overhaul, which, when completed in late 2024, will see the introduction of entirely new rides and attractions, including a lazy river, a massive trampoline park, an al fresco amphitheater and new luxury hotel.
Britain has the London Eye, the United Arab Emirates has Ain Dubai and Miami has SkyViews, its own version of the towering Ferris wheels that offer rides as thrilling as their heavenly vistas. Set in Bayside Marketplace directly fronting Biscayne Bay, the SkyViews’ cabins rise 200 feet above the ground. Look down and there’s downtown Miami — with Wynwood, the Design District and the azure waterways that lead to South Beach and the Atlantic just beyond. Treat yourself after the ride at one of the many kid-friendly restaurants in the marketplace next door.
With its jungle vibe and tropical heat, no American city demands a safari-like zoo more than Miami. Fortunately, Zoo Miami does not disappoint. Set south of the city, just past the town of Kendall, it rambles over some 700 acres and is home to more than 3,000 animals and 500 species, more than half of which are endangered. Indeed, the zoo boasts over 100 individual animal exhibits, with key focuses on the fauna of Asia, Africa, the Amazon, Australia and, of course, the Florida Everglades. It’s also become a major center for research and conservation.
Just a short stroll from Jungle Island, Joia Restaurant and Beach Club is a tropical snack shack infused with a serious dose of glam. Set directly on the shore and shaded by towering palm trees, Joia offers a something-for-everyone, pan-Mediterranean menu — along with swimming in gin-clear waters a few feet away. Although the place gets funky in the later hours, sunset is the perfect time to visit with kids, who can get their toes sandy and feet wet while wolfing down family-friendly items like oversized hamburgers and tasty flatbreads, which are part of the ’s rotating roster of daily specials.
Compared to its counterparts in far larger cities such as New York or Chicago, the Miami Children’s Museum punches above its weight. Also set on Watson Island between Downtown Miami and South Beach, the museum overflows with hands-on, brain-twisting activities that are as challenging as they are fun, with 14 key interactive exhibit galleries that focus on art, building construction, animal care, health, cruise ships and more. Thanks to timed-entry passes, the museum never feels full, even during peak weekend hours. Check its calendar for seasonal programming, including a “Winter Wonderland” exhibition that explores the magic of snow (through Jan. 8, 2023).
The Everglades are a true Florida wonder and home to a menagerie of animals — from dolphins and turtles to manatees and crocodiles. Everglades Day Safari offers a range of day tours with pickups throughout the Miami area. Trained naturalists lead outings that can last up to an entire day. The tours cruise through the Ten Thousand Islands mangrove forest in Everglades National Park to see turtle nests, bats, shorebirds and climbing vines. The trip ends with a speedy airboat ride across saw-grass “prairies” to find even more alligators, along with rare birds such as the snail kite. Lunch is included.
South Beach’s cuisine scene tends to skew upscale and clublike. But newish Amalia restaurant, at the Lennox hotel, is refined, sophisticated and extremely family-friendly. Much of this has to do with the menu, which is heavy on the types of Italian-influenced Argentine classics that diners of all ages always seem to love. Chef Hernan Griccini was raised in a culinary clan and previously worked at the Four Seasons in Buenos Aires. Here at Amalia, he turns out crowd-pleasing classics such as burrata with heirloom tomatoes, homemade gnocchi, pasta with Bolognese sauce and a perfect Milanese. Best of all are the staff: warm, caring and willing to accommodate even the pickiest kiddie gourmet.
We asked the chicest parents we know to share their favorite South Florida excursions. Here are their expert suggestions.
“Head over to the Design District where shops like State of Kid will entertain your little ones while also providing plenty of cool items for the modern hip child. Restaurants like Pura Vida and Michael’s Genuine are super family-friendly, while interactive art and sculptures abound throughout the area. There’s also regular stylish kid pop-ups, including a recent Baby Dior shop this past summer.”
— Michele Salazar, founder of Miami-based Cozy Salazar Interiors
“The first thing my children want to do when we arrive in Palm Beach is jump in The Colony’s beach buggy and ride to the ocean for surf lessons with Gurferlady. My children adore her and have a great time mastering the waves, but most importantly, her philosophy of inclusivity and mental health have helped them appreciate Palm Beach’s natural beauty and become stewards of the ocean.”
— Sarah Wetenhall, president and owner of The Colony Palm Beach
“My favorite adventure-filled activities are the Frost Science aquarium and planetarium in Miami, which offer plenty of hands-on and interactive exhibits that explore all kinds of STEM topics, and the Lion Country Safari in Palm Beach, the drive-through animal preserve where we can see hundreds of animals roam about their habitats, stop by the petting zoo or enjoy the amusement park. For a more relaxing outing, we love the Grandview Public Market in West Palm for fantastic local food and live music and, of course, the beach!”
— Joey Wölffer, chief brand officer and co-owner of Wölffer Estate Vineyard
“Sail through one of Miami’s natural treasures, Biscayne National Park, which is 95% underwater and includes the Florida Reef, the only living coral-barrier reef in the United States and one of the largest in the world. Experience true wilderness with a variety of hikes, scenic drives and guided tours available in the Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve.”
— Ximena Caminos, founder of Miami Beach’s underwater sculpture park, The ReefLine
“There are so many child-friendly museums and art attractions in Miami which I love to visit with my daughter Pepper whenever I’m in the city. Along with the Design District (where we have a spa-boutique) and the Miami Children’s Museum, Pepper also loves the Tidal Cove water park in Aventura and spending time at the beach.”
— Dr. Barbara Sturm, celebrity skin-care guru