Chances are you know South Beach or have heard about the southernmost section of Miami Beach — 23rd Street to South Pointe Park. It’s the historic Art Deco district with stunning white and pastel buildings lining Ocean Drive, Collins Avenue and beyond.
It’s hip, stylish, multilingual and both vibrant and laid-back. Versace loved living there, as did Al Capone. It’s a glamorous scene, with chic boutiques and outdoor cafés, jazz in a hotel lobby and extraordinary, ultra-exclusive nightlife. Bordered by public beaches on the Atlantic Ocean, warm waves invite water sports, miles of sand invite games and vendors provide umbrellas and chaises, next to which bikers, strollers and folks like me walk along a paved and landscaped boardwalk.
What’s pertinent, it just happens to be perfect for the family. Here’s why:
It’s Car Free and Pedestrian Friendly
There’s no need to rent a car, even for a week’s stay. There’s a shuttle bus from Miami International Airport and Ubers are easy and inexpensive. Once there, there’s the free city South Beach Trolley with three loops. Whether you stay at an oceanfront hotel with a view from across the street or within walking distance, you can stroll or bike to dozens of dynamic places.
Once there, Lincoln Road — the car-free, open-air, artfully landscaped pedestrian mall — is a place where the family can spend hours. Located between 16th and 17th streets, stretching east to west from the Atlantic Ocean to Biscayne Bay, it’s a place to see street performers, a movie or shop and dine in an array of funky locales, many with shaded outdoor cafés. The famed Mid-Century Miami Modern architect Morris Lapidus, known for his curvaceous, over-the-top, glamourous hotels (Fontainebleau, Eden Rock-Nobu), designed Lincoln Road with bold geometric paving, modernist shaded structures, fountains and pools.
There are dozens of family-friendly cafés on Lincoln Road: There’s a kid-friendly café in Books & Books and candy at Dylan’s Candy Bar. One block south, Time Out Market is a multi-venue food hall on 16th Street and Drexel. I watched little ones delightfully eating finger foods on stools at high tables: picking at pizza, French fries, tacos and sweets, while their parents tasted specialties from some of Miami’s best chef-centric restaurants. Try local Cuban cuisine by Chef Alberto Cabrera or James Beard winner Norman Van Aiken’s fusion cuisine. The cafés along Ocean Drive are so popular, it’s just a matter of finding a free table.
Eating at Joe’s Stone Crab, especially for the fried chicken, is one of my favorite things to do — the wait can be a deterrent, especially with kids. Instead, pretend to be in Spain or Mexico and walk along restaurant row on Española Way, a pedestrian street lined with authentic Spanish Mediterranean Revival buildings housing restaurants serving Cuban and Latino food.
Kids-Centric Spaces to Play and Learn
Find some time to enjoy the 17-acre South Pointe Park where the ocean meets the bay at the southern tip of Miami Beach. It’s a place to run on verdant lawns, play soccer or any ball game, have fun at a mini-water park and at a playground or on the sandy beach. The waterfront path is ideal for walking, pushing a stroller, biking or roller blading. Or go to Flamingo Park for off-beach play time at a 35-acre neighborhood park with a track and football field, an aquatic center with a lap pool, renovated tennis center, a dog park and clean restrooms. Tykes like the shaded jungle gym, a choo-choo train and tree climbing.
And there’s family-friendly culture, too. You can enjoy free symphonic concerts inside the 900-seat auditorium, outdoors, in the park, or see a movie outdoors at the fabulous, Frank-Gehry designed New World Center. The Bass Museum’s permanent collection — from antiquity, the Renaissance and Baroque periods — is small enough for children to be interested for an hour.
Another small museum is the Jewish Museum of Florida, housed in two adjacent Art Deco synagogues. Free symphonic concerts and outdoor movies are just two of the entertainment options scheduled at the fabulous New World Center. At the very least, step into the design store at FIU/Wolfsonian Museum.
If you feel the need to leave the beach, kids can spend joy-filled hours nearby at Jungle Island, on Watson Island (reached via the Mac Arthur Causeway; I-395). This tropical wonderland — with flamingos, macaws, lions, tigers, orangutans and baboons — features scheduled performances, a mile-long landscaped trail and animal exhibits. Also, on Watson Island, the Miami Children’s Museum welcomes children from the Mommy & Me and pre-school sets to camp-aged kids from age 4. It’s a terrific alternative with hands-on interactive experiences in 56,000 square feet with 14 galleries. Little ones can climb a rock-climbing wall, explore art mediums, play with numbers in a bank, pretend to buy and sell in a grocery store, be a veterinarian or a mariner.
Then, find a sitter, so you can see what the nightlife offers in South Beach.
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