Visiting Miami Beach with a toddler can make even the coolest parents feel like uncouth outsiders. Many of the city’s lavish hotels, trendy restaurants and high-end boutiques aren’t exactly welcoming to unpredictable 2-year-olds — but that doesn’t mean families can’t enjoy this rowdy resort town, as I discovered on a recent visit with my own little wrecking ball.
As it turns out, Miami Beach’s famously festive vibe is a perfect fit for younger kids, and its flair for excess is just the thing a tired mom like me craves in a getaway. Don’t try to shoehorn yourself into places that are better left off-limits for you and your crew, and you’ll quickly uncover a side of the city that’s fun for all ages.
Arrive in comfort. If you’re flying in, you’ll probably land at Miami International Airport or Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport — both of which offer nursing pods with changing tables and play areas. Getting to Miami Beach will take about 30 to 45 minutes, respectively, if you go by car. Renting a ride will give you freedom to take day trips, but keep in mind that Miami Beach parking prices can be exorbitant. Of the other options, public transportation is the cheapest, but a taxi or ride-hailing option is by far the easiest and most direct choice when traveling with a kid. Just be sure to request one with a car seat, unless you’re planning to bring your own.
Find a welcoming home base. In contrast to the sprawling, sometimes gritty mainland city, Miami Beach is fairly clean and compact, especially around South Beach’s art deco district. This area is right on the water and loaded with hotels — some of which are more family-friendly than others.
Just steps away from the bustling Lincoln Road Mall, the Loews Miami Beach Hotel, which welcomes children with
age-appropriate gifts, is known for putting families first. The newly refreshed oceanfront pool is zero-entry, meaning it’s ideal for little ones, and there’s a shaded sand pit on the beach. The multiple on-site restaurants offer kids’ menus, toys, and even iPads (with headphones) to keep little ones happy during meals. For older children (4 to 12), there’s a kids’ club with half- and full-day programs available.
The Ritz and Fontainebleau are two more high-end properties with lots of perks for travelers with kids. For families on a budget, the Royal Palm South Beach offers suites for larger families, as well as babysitting services. The historical National Hotel has a fantastically long pool with plenty of room for you and your kiddo to splash around.
Don’t set yourself up for dining-out disasters. You know whether your tot will hang out in a high chair long enough for you to eat a complete meal or throw a fit if restrained for too long. If they’re anything like mine, the latter is more likely — which is why I find Miami Beach’s lively and casual outdoor spots ideal for dining out.
Puerto Sagua, a no-frills diner in the heart of South Beach, has been churning out Cuban comfort food since the 1960s. Even picky eaters should be happy with the yellow rice and roasted chicken, while parents will enjoy heaping servings of ropa vieja and picadillo capped off with a steaming cortadito. The staff is friendly and fast-moving, and the clientele includes quite a few sandy, sunburned families taking a break from the beach.
For something quick that’ll make you feel young and hip, Taquiza is a little walk-up Mexican place under a hostel on bustling Collins Avenue. Order a tray full of tacos on handmade blue masa tortillas, from traditional (carnitas and asado) to more creative (chapulines — adobo-seasoned grasshoppers on guacamole). The tables on the small, shaded patio fill up quickly, but there are additional tables outside of the hostel entrance upstairs.
Braving brunch? It’s a religion in Miami, and Yardbird Southern Table & Bar approaches the midmorning meal with the reverence it deserves. Skip the lines by making a reservation, then order the fried chicken served with honey hot sauce and chilled spiced watermelon on waffles made with Vermont sharp cheddar cheese. The loud music and relaxed ambiance will make you and your tot feel right at home.
Don’t limit yourself to “kid-friendly” activities. Yes, Miami proper has a children’s museum and a zoo and even a wildlife sanctuary called Monkey Jungle. And if you don’t mind the time it takes to get there, these are great for killing at least a few hours. But remember: It’s your vacation, too, so look for activities closer to home base that won’t leave you checking your phone after 15 minutes.
On the southern tip of Miami Beach, where the ocean meets Biscayne Bay, South Pointe Park offers picturesque views of passing ships and Fisher Island. It’s a popular spot for lounging, people-watching and amateur photo shoots. And for kids, there’s plenty of green space for running around, along with a playground and water park. There’s even a snack bar where you can fuel up with ice cream and smoothies. Flamingo Park is another locally loved green space with athletic fields, tennis courts and a lap pool for active parents, plus a playground and zero-entry pool with a waterslide for tots.
The Miami Beach Botanical Garden is fairly compact, but it’s easy to get lost in the winding, shaded paths. Secret garden paths, bizarre tropical plants, a quaint footbridge, and lizards galore will keep your kid entertained, while you enjoy the lush foliage, modern lawn furniture and endless photo ops. Younger kids won’t grasp the importance of the adjacent Holocaust Memorial, but it’s a powerful tribute that you’ll want to take some time to experience.
Afterward, on Lincoln Road — the mile-long pedestrian street lined with shops and sidewalk cafes — you can indulge in some window-shopping, grab some fresh fruit from a market stall and duck into Books & Books for some new family reads. Your kid will relish the rare chance to frolic down the car-free stretch.
Curran is a writer based in Richmond. Find her on Twitter: @Calendar_Girl.
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1677 Collins Ave.
Built in 1939 and fully restored in 2014, this art deco beauty boasts the city’s longest infinity-edge pool, which is flanked by cabanas, cushy chaises and shady palm trees. Rooms start at $155.
Loews Miami Beach Hotel
1601 Collins Ave.
This newly redesigned luxury hotel offers nearly 800 rooms, six on-site restaurants and bars, a spa, and direct access to the beach. Families are welcome, and the central South Beach location is ideal for explorations with little ones.
Rooms start at $249.
Royal Palm South Beach
1545 Collins Ave.
This colorful hotel embraces its art deco past with updated period decor. There are two pools and spacious suites at its prime location just off Ocean Drive. Rooms start at $142.
700 Collins Ave.
An approachable Cuban diner amid South Beach’s upscale boutiques and bars, Puerto Sagua offers a generous menu of affordable, perfectly prepared Cuban specialties. Don’t leave without trying the Cuban sandwich. Entrees average $10.
1506 Collins Ave.
Everything is made from scratch at this traditional Mexican taqueria. If you’re up early, stop by for a breakfast of chilaquiles, or drop in later for grasshopper tacos with a side of cotija-coated elote. Closed Mondays. Tacos from $3.50.
Yardbird Southern Kitchen
1600 Lenox Ave.
Set in an old corner store, this popular spot puts an upscale twist on Southern favorites. Brunch is a scene, but it’s worth a visit for lunch or dinner, too. Entrees start at $26
South Pointe Park
1 Washington Ave.
Soak up the 360-degree water views, splash around in the mini water park and stroll along the beachside walking paths at this beloved local park. Free.
Miami Beach Botanical Garden
2000 Convention Center Dr.
Tucked within a block off busy Dade Boulevard, this lush garden feels like an oasis in the middle of bustling South Beach. Breathe in the fragrance of the ylang-ylang tree, marvel at the garden’s extensive orchid collection and let your little one have fun feeding the koi. Free.
Lincoln Road Mall
Extending from the Atlantic Ocean to Biscayne Bay, Lincoln Road is a famous commercial district that is included in the National Register of Historic Places and is set to undergo some major improvements over the next few years. Wander down this vibrant pedestrian street at the end of the day to hobnob with locals and browse dinner menus at the sidewalk cafes. Free.
For the author’s full list of
Miami Beach recommendations, visit washingtonpost.com/travel