Planning a vacation to Miami with kids is a great idea, where you’ll find boatloads of family friendly activities that extend well beyond the beach. The problem lies not in finding things to do with kids in Miami, but in narrowing down all the options! How do you prioritize your time and money and separate the authentic experiences from the tourist traps? A Go Miami Card may be the answer.
Before moving to south Florida, my perception of Miami was based on TV shows, movies, and gossip mags: A-list celebs racing lambos on South Beach, exotic, thong-clad women, steamy clubs, pastel drinks, neon lights, old cars, and Cuban cigars. And it’s true, Miami is a city that burns brighter than most – it’s just so damn cool, which is why it has earned its reputation as a swanky, international playground for adults.
But what I didn’t realize at the time is that traveling to Miami with kids is a great idea, too – where you’ll find tons of family friendly activities that extend well beyond the beach: Nature, adventure, wildlife, sports, education, National Parks, State Parks, culture, art, and history are just the beginning.
Actually, the biggest problem lies not in finding things to do in Miami with kids, but in narrowing down the options, prioritizing time and money, and separating the authentic experiences from the tourist traps. So where do you begin?
To get us started on the right foot, the first thing we look for when visiting any big city is a Go City Card or City Pass. A city card is an all-inclusive pass that provides bundled admission to several attractions (25-35) in several cities across the country for one low price, often at a deep discount off regular ticket prices.
In Miami, it’s called the Go Miami Card, and it’s a great way for first-timers and residents alike to explore several family friendly activities in and around the city, whether you’re visiting for a long weekend, or are lucky to stay longer. With the all-inclusive Miami pass, choose how many days you wish to explore, and you can visit as many of the 27 family friendly activities as you like, for up to two weeks, at a discount of up to 55% off gate prices. Why we like it:
- Provides an overview: I can compare several family attractions in one place, which saves the butt pain of combing through Google and Pinterest to find things to do. Sure, there’s always a few of the usual tourist traps, but there are loads of activities for Intrepids, too!
- Saves money: In addition to paying one discounted price, I sometimes buy it on sale for even more discount (check Groupon for deals). This has saved us hundreds of dollars over purchasing admission to the same attractions separately. Plus, it feels good to have it all paid for and out-of-the-way before we go!
- Takes the pressure off: Sometimes we roll into to an attraction only to get a collective meh feeling about it. Instead of prolonging the pain to get our money’s worth, we just move on to the next thing, without feeling like we threw money down the drain on something that wasn’t a good fit. And with so many options, we involve the kids by allowing them to choose an activity or two. This goes a long way towards keeping the peace!
- Saves Time: If you’ve been to Disney World, think of the Go Miami Card as a city-wide fast pass for a Miami family vacation. Instead of standing in a ticket line for each activity, we just show the pass at the door (you can print the pass or download it right to your phone) and stroll right in.
A Miami Pass isn’t for everyone. If you’ll spend less than two full days in Miami, if you don’t plan to stray far from the beach, or if most of the activities that interest you are less than $20 per person, you may be better off buying tickets at the gate. Or you may want to check out the Explorer Pass option, where you can pick up to 5 attractions of your choice, also at a deep discount.The biggest problem lies not in finding things to do in Miami with kids, but in narrowing all the options down, prioritizing your time and money, and separating the authentic experiences from the tourist traps.Click To Tweet
Whether or not you use the Go Miami Card to plan a Miami family vacation, you’re still faced with the task of sorting through tons of attraction options. What are the best things to do in Miami with kids, that offer the most authentic experiences for the money?
We’ve been there, and have developed our own kid-tested breakdown of unique family activities in Miami and beyond. With 27 attractions on the Miami Attractions Pass alone, this is far from an exhaustive list. But anyone can find the tourist traps – all you have to do is look at the top 3 attractions listed in any Miami brochure. These activities are a little more un-touristy – a little more… intrepid!
Best of Miami with Kids #1: Start with a Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour:
Whether you’re visiting Miami with kids for the first time, tacking on a quick Miami day at the beginning or end of a cruise, or want an introduction to the city’s unique neighborhoods, culture, and vibe to kick off a longer stay, this is the place to start. In fact, if you have to pick only ONE activity, do this. We’ve taken narrated double-decker bus tours in Miami, Chicago, and New Orleans, and we’re so glad we did!
Here’s why we love it:
- We cover a lot of ground – we learn about all of the major landmarks, neighborhoods, and attractions in the city in much less time and without the hassle of driving, parking, and navigating unknown streets. Less stress!
- We can hop off at any of the stops to explore an attraction, then just hop back on and ride to the next one.
- It’s easy on the feet. Both of my kids last longer and can see more in a day, and learn a lot about the city in the process!
- With a 24-hour window, we can split it up into manageable chunks by choosing to do only one loop at a time, with breaks in between to do something else.
The Miami Big Bus Tour is split into three loops: The Uptown Loop, the City Loop, and the Beach Loop. You’ll receive a map or you can use their app to keep track of where you are and what attractions are at each stop. There’s something to see at the 40 stops along the way, but here are a few of our favorites:
- Housekeeping sidenote: You must pick up your tickets at the Big Bus Central Station! They won’t allow you to board the bus at just any stop with the Go Miami Card.
- Best of Miami with Kids #2 – Wynwood Walls (Stop #38)
I honestly didn’t think we would like Wynwood Walls. I mean, graffiti art? But we LOVED it. Our experience in the Wynwood Walls art district changed the way we perceived this unique art form, where everywhere we turned, vibrant, mind-bending murals covered every vertical surface.
My teen found herself in selfie Shangri-la, and the 7-year-old (who I thought would be bored) enjoyed having free rein with the camera to take lots of (good!) photos. She even asked for a Wynwood Walls coloring book for her birthday!
Strolling through the Wynwood Walls and surrounding arts district is a great way to spend a morning in Miami with kids, and be sure to stick around for lunch at one of many eclectic restaurants nearby. If you’re lucky, you’ll even catch one of the resident artists in action! It’s easy to become mesmerized by the craftsmanship all around you, but don’t forget to look down at the colorful sidewalk designs, too!
- Stop #20 Vizcaya Museum and Gardens – This opulent winter home of wealthy agricultural industrialist James Deering was built in the 1910’s and modeled after an Italian villa. The house and several acres of landscaped grounds are stunning, and provide a good place for everyone to stretch their legs. A home tour is included in the Go Miami Card which older kids may find interesting, but younger kids may find bo-ring.
- Stop #21: Coconut Grove – This is one of Miami’s oldest neighborhoods, filled with tree-lined streets, shopping, and family friendly restaurants.
- Best of Miami with Kids #3 – Little Havana (stop #25 and 26)– No visit to Miami would be complete without a stop in Little Havana. While there, enjoy an authentic Cuban meal and a cafecita (Cuban coffee) at La Carretta, Cuban ice cream at Azucar, or absorb the sights and sounds while strolling Calle Ocho, Little Havana’s main drag.
- Best of Miami with Kids #4: South Beach (Stop #5 and 6)– Splash in the warm, clear Atlantic water. Walk along Ocean Drive and bask in the art deco architecture. Or just enjoy people-watching! For a less crowded beach experience, try heading to Mid Beach instead at stop #8 or #9.
- Stop #6: Rent a bike at Bike and Roll – If you have kids over 12, you can tour South Beach by bike! Rent a bike, helmet, and lock from Bike and Roll and try the 6-mile south beach route. There is no better way to explore!
- Best of Miami with Kids #5:: ;Lincoln Road (Stop #13)- This mile-long outdoor pedestrian mall is a great place for everyone to stretch their legs and enjoy shopping, fun restaurants, sidewalk vendors, and street performers. We like to stroll Lincoln Road to window-shop and people-watch. This is also a great place to grab a family friendly meal (my kids love Shake Shack).
Best of Miami with Kids #6: Get amphibious with a Duck Tour:
Another fun way to explore Miami with kids is on a Duck Tour. Hilarious guides drive you through downtown neighborhoods, providing anecdotes and history of famous landmarks along the way.
The tour reserves a big surprise at the end when the amphibious vehicle transforms into a boat and splashes right into Biscayne Bay (don’t tell the kids!), where you can view the mansions and architecture of South Beach from the water.
Best of Miami with Kids #7, The Intrepid version: A Jet Boat Tour:
This jet boat ride provides a guided tour of downtown Miami, the barrier islands, and millionaires’ row from Biscayne Bay… but kicked up a notch. Throughout the ride, the captain gets the boat going up to 45 mph and throws in turns, pivots, twists, and high-speed bursts of power. It’s a blast (literally!)! Be ready to get wet, but it’s refreshing on a warm day! It’s like a tour and thrill ride in one!
Best of Miami with Kids #8: Zoo Miami:
There are several animal attractions in Miami, but if you have to pick one, go here. You may think, “I have a zoo at home, why should I spend the day at a zoo here?” Trust me, it’s worth it. This is one of the best zoos we’ve ever seen! With over 3,000 animals and 3 miles of walkways, this zoo is huge, so you can easily spend all day exploring it.
For extra adventure, try renting a safari cycle. This is one of my kids’ favorite things to do – it’s so fun to pedal from place to place, even in the rain! If safari cycles seem like a bit much or if your kids are small, you can still keep everyone’s feet from wearing out on the air-conditioned monorail that stops at all the major attractions, or ride a guided, narrated Safari train to get a good overview of the entire zoo.
One of the things we love about Zoo Miami is all the interactive activities – you can feed giraffes, rhinos, and parrots, ride a camel, rent paddleboats, see shows, explore a science center, walk through all the layers of a rainforest, and more – all in a beautiful tropical setting.
Best of Miami with Kids #9 – Everglades tour from Miami:
Sure, Miami is perched on a beautiful stretch of Atlantic beaches. But don’t forget that on its western edge sits one of the most precious, fragile ecosystems on earth – the Everglades.
Learn about and explore this tropical wilderness on a 30-minute airboat ride, where you will see Alligators and other wildlife in their natural habitat. Afterward, enjoy a live wildlife nature show with alligator handlers, and see the wetlands from above on one of the many jungle walkways. Transportation to and from most Miami hotels are provided, and the entire excursion takes about 6 hours.
If you have a little extra time, consider one of these day trips:
Best of Miami with Kids #10 – Day Trip to Key Largo:
Ahh, Key Largo. Where the kids wore themselves out snorkeling (with manatees, no less!) and I sat in a beach chair all day, head back and eyes closed, popping an eyelid open once in a while to this view…. I can’t wait to go back, you know, for “the kids”!
Roughly a 1-1/2 hour drive south of Miami lies paradise – otherwise known as the Florida Keys. If you have a little extra time, get a taste of the island life by taking a day trip to John Pennekamp State Park on Key Largo.
Here you can take a glass bottom boat tour (one of the Go Miami Card attractions) to check out one of the most colorful coral reefs on the planet, or explore the waterways on your own by renting kayaks, paddle boards, or boats. We brought our suits and beach gear and learned to snorkel in the calm, clear, shallow cove (you can rent snorkel equipment there). A mother and baby manatee even swam with us in the cove for a while, which was a family experience we’ll never forget!
And don’t miss a stop at Shell World on your way on or off the island. We had a lot of fun browsing through thousands of shells and picking up a few souvenirs!
One last note: The overseas highway that runs through the Keys is only a 2-lane road, and it’s SO SLOW. And yes, it’s always like that! Just plug the kids into their iPads and put your patience pants on, because it’s worth it!
Best of Miami with Kids #11 – Day Trip to Lion Country Safari:
About a 1 1/2-hour drive in the other direction lies a real gem: The Lion Country Safari. Here you can get up close and personal with free-roaming herds of animals such as zebra, giraffe, and rhinos on a drive-through safari (you got insurance on that rental, right?). 😉
Once inside, experience wildlife shows, animal feeding experiences, walk-through animal exhibits, and even a small amusement park and splash park. My kids love feeding the giraffes and lorakeets!
There’s a restaurant on site for lunch, or bring your own!
Best of Miami with Kids #12: Off the Beaten Path: National Parks
Did you know that there are two national parks within driving distance of Miami? What a great way to see some of the nations’ national treasures, that’s also easy on the wallet! As with any visit to a national park, stop at the ranger station first, as most give ranger-guided tours that will offer the best overview for the time.
Biscayne National Park holds the distinction of being the only National Park in the U.S. that is almost entirely underwater. But don’t let that scare you away!
Visitors can explore the on-site museum, rent a canoe or kayak, or take a guided boat tour to see the wildlife and learn about the fragile ecosystem of the park. And if you happen to visit on the second Sunday of the month in the spring, check out Family Fest, which features many hands-on activities for kids!
A visit to Everglades National Park is a great opportunity to learn about the largest subtropical wilderness in the US. It’s one of the most precious and delicate ecosystems on earth, and home to many endangered species such as the Florida panther, the American crocodile, and the Manatee. You can learn all about this special ecosystem by taking a ranger-led tour or a narrated tram or boat tour. You can also rent bikes or canoes, take short hikes, fish, and even try your hand at being a park employee for a day by exploring the geocache trail, where you’ll hunt for 5 hidden caches, each one containing a case study which will allow you to think about how you would deal with a particular issue that park employees deal with each day.
But what if it rains?
Rain in south Florida is practically a daily occurrence, but it doesn’t usually stick around for long. To be safe, carry ponchos in case you get caught in a passing shower. But sometimes we get socked in for longer periods of time, and tropical thunderstorms are no joke. In that case, you may want to adjust your plans. Here are some ideas for rainy days:
- Miami Zoo – Between the safari cycles and monorail, a little rain shouldn’t stop a good time at the zoo. In fact, we went during a torrential rain and it got the animals moving and playing on an otherwise hot day!
- Hop on Hop off bus tour – You can still ride the loops in the rain by staying inside the bus, and get a great overview of the city from a guide while staying dry.
- Miami Children’s Museum – This is a great alternative for younger kids, where they can wear themselves out playing with all the interactive exhibits, crafts, and experiments.
- Coming soon: The Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science. Projected to be completed by the end of 2016, this beautiful new science and nature museum in downtown Miami will boast a planetarium, a wildlife habitat, and several aquariums. Stay tuned! For now, make the short drive up to neighboring Ft Lauderdale to spend several hours at Museum of Discovery and Science. This is one of my 7-year old’s favorite places to spend a rainy afternoon!
With so much to see and do in Miami with kids, you could plan an annual family vacation to the city and never get bored! Have you taken a Miami vacation with kids? Did you use the Go Miami card? What activities were your favorites? I would love to hear about them in the comments below!
And for more resources on traveling to Florida with kids, check out my Pinterest boards!