Miami: Top Attractions
|Wild and exotic Miami (Corel)|
With ten miles of sandy shores, Miami spoils visitors with places for fun in the sun. Don't forget, though, that the Miami area also features prime off-the-beach attractions such as a world-class zoo, playful children's museum, great golf courses, and easy access to the natural wonders of Biscayne and Everglades national parks.
What kids don't enjoy playing in warm blue water? Miami's beaches stretch from South Pointe Park north to Sunny Isles Beach. While many oceanfront hotels in the heart of Miami Beach offer just a sliver of sand, Sunny Isles and Key Biscayne properties boast wider beaches. Two Key Biscayne parks have plenty of sand as well: Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, home to a 19th-century lighthouse, and Crandon Park Beach, which offers tram tours and bird and butterfly walks. For the record, Cape Florida ranked ninth in Dr. Beach's 2004 top-ten list, the bible of U.S. beach rankings.
Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park: 305.361.5811, www.floridastateparks.org
Crandon Park Beach: 305.361.7385, www.metro-dade.com/parks/
Miami Children's Museum
Two floors of hands-on exhibits at the Children's Museum aim to teach and entertain toddlers and grade-schoolers alike. Young kids like the walk-in sandcastle and six-foot piggy bank, as well as the climb-aboard fire truck and cruise ship. Older kids learn about broadcasting at the interactive television and recording studios, as well as attend to their more star-struck needs.
Miami Children's Museum: 305.373.5437, www.miamichildrensmuseum.org
This 300-acre zoo presents animals in their natural habitat, confined by moats and landscaping instead of cages. Highlights include the white Bengal tiger, the Caribbean Flamingo lake, the daily pelican feeding, 300 exotic birds in the Aviary Wings of Asia exhibit, and the Children's Zoo with its petting farm.
Miami Metrozoo: 305.251.0401, www.miamimetrozoo.com
Everglades National Park
About 20 miles from Miami you can experience the unspoiled natural beauty of the Everglades, a 1.5-million-acre subtropical wilderness of mangrove swamps and saw-grass prairies cut by watery channels. These rivers of grass harbor alligators, herons, pelicans, plus the endangered American crocodile and manatee. The easiest way to get a feel for the region is to take a boat or tram tour. Bring water, sun block, insect repellant, and a hat.
Everglades National Park: 305.242.7700, www.nps.gov/ever/
Parrot Jungle Island
This Florida classic, great for young kids, is now located on a small island between downtown Miami and South Beach. Meander along its 1.35 miles of lushly planted trails and see vibrantly colored parrots, macaws, cockatoos, and parakeets. The Serpentarium's reptiles include an albino alligator. White tigers, wolves, and chimpanzees perform at the Jungle Theater. And don't miss the Parrot Bowl show, famous for its tricycle-riding cockatoos and chariot-racing macaws.
Parrot Jungle Island: 305.2.JUNGLE, www.parrotjungle.com
These eco-adventures offer families a chance to bike and canoe through the pine rockland habitats and backcountry lake area surrounding the Metrozoo in the capable hands of encyclopedic naturalist guides. There are also bike tours along wilderness trails as well as canoe and kayaking tours, some by moonlight. In late summer you can take part in a sea turtle nesting and relocation program.
Miami-Dade Parks Eco-Adventure Programs: 305.755.7800, www.metro-dade.com/parks/
Miami Museum of Science & Planetarium
Scores of hands-on exhibits here teach kids about science. At Newton's Notions, kids bounce balls, create a maze of plumbing, and play tunes on a panpipe as they discover the basic laws of physics. A permanent exhibit, in conjunction with the Smithsonian Institution, explores ancient Caribbean and Latin American cultures. At "Amazing Feats of Aging," a temporary exhibit running May to September 2005, kids watch their faces age a quarter-century as they explore the science behind this natural process.
Miami Museum of Science and Planetarium: 305.646.4200, www.miamisci.org
Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden
Take a quiet break from Miami's excitement in this tropical paradise that boasts an extensive collection of tropical plants spread over 83 acres. There are two self-guided tours designed for kids ages four to tenÂ—the Nature Notebook tour encourages kids to create drawings of the plants they see, while the Adventure Pack takes them on a nature hunt. Both tours end with children planting seeds in a small pot they can take home, a nice touch to an educational experience.
Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden: 305.667.1651, www.fairchildgarden.org
At this collection of 26 specialized aquariums, plus exhibits and animal shows, kids get to discover things like what the largest mammal on Earth, the blue whale, eats and what it feels like to touch a friendly manatee. Crocodile Flats houses the Nile crocs, one of whom is 20 feet long, and Tropical Wings showcases exotic birds. At the daily whale and dolphin shows, these elegant sea mammals put on a show for the crowd by arcing, diving, tail-walking, and responding to other commands.
Miami Seaquarium: 305.361.5705, www.miamiseaquarium.com
Biscayne National Park
Within a one-hour drive of downtown Miami, you arrive at Biscayne National Park, nine miles east of Homestead. Since water covers most of this nearly 173,000-acre park, the best way to enjoy the coral reefs and the marine life is on a guided boat trip. Aboard the glass-bottom boats you're likely to spot sea turtles, dolphins, and colorful fish. Better still, even kids as young as five are welcome on the snorkel trips.
Biscayne National Park: 305.230.7275, www.nps.gov/bisc/
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication