Miami with Tweens: A Perfect Family Day

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Miami with Tweens: A Family Vacation

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Your ideal day in Miami might be spent sipping mojitos on pristine beaches, but I prefer going off the beaten path with my daughters, 8 and 12. Here's my idea of a perfect day in Miami – with tweens.


Morning:

My kids like to sleep in, so I have to wake them early so our vacation can start before the crack of noon. Our first stop is Calle Ocho, or Eighth Street. Here we find Versailles, a local restaurant that is quintessential Little Havana. The pastelitos, especially the guava pastries, are ideal for the kids. Vacations to Miami are best when the adults get their coffee, too – make that a large Cuban coffee, nectar of the gods. And, don't forget to order Cuban sandwiches to go (sans pickles and mustard for the kids) for lunch.

Versailles Restaurant
3555 SW Eighth St.
Miami, FL 33135-4196
(305) 444-0240
8AM to 3AM
(no website)

After breakfast, explore Miami with your tweens via bike, starting at Shark Valley Visitors Center. Rent a bike and head down the short (seven-mile) loop of the main trail. My kids can't make it to the Observation Tower, but if yours can, that's where you'll want to have lunch. Otherwise, bike for a bit, making sure to pause to gawk at the gators sunning beside the trail, herons showing off plumage and anhingas spreading their wings. Then, turn back and take the two-hour tram tour of the entire 15-mile loop. Guides expertly point out wildlife and answer questions, and there's a stop at the Observation Tower where you'll get a panoramic view of the River of Grass. Look straight down, and you'll notice sea turtles swimming among the alligators. I've been visiting Shark Valley for 30 years, and it never fails to take my breath away. It is, by far, one of my favorite places to visit during Miami family travel.

Shark Valley Visitors Center
36000 SW 8th St.
Miami, FL 33194
(305) 221-8776 (park)
(305) 221-8455 (tram tours)

Bike rental: $7.25/hour (baskets and helmets available)

Tram tours:
9AM – 4PM, on the hour (late December through April)
9:30AM, 11AM, 1PM, 3PM (May through late December)
Adults $17.25
Seniors (62+) $16.25
Children (3-12) $10.75


Afternoon:

Take time to enjoy eating those yummy Cuban sandwiches in the company of the great outdoors. If you made it to the Observation Tower, the benches nearby make a lovely picnic spot. You can also eat at the top of the tower while enjoying the sky-high view. If you've just left the tram, there are benches near the Visitors Center, as well. Be sure to throw your trash away, and remember to never, ever feed an alligator.

Next, head east about 21 miles and turn right on Krome Avenue. You'll go past loads of fruit and vegetable stands, u-pick fields and gorgeous landscapes. Enjoy the scenery and help support the local farmers. I dare your kids to resist crying out for Coco Frio (coconut chopped with a machete, straw inserted) or tree-ripened bananas, mangos, and papayas.

Once you've had your fill of fresh fruit, continue your Miami family travel experience by mingling with the monkeys at Monkey Jungle. In this jungle, there are enough monkeys to amuse even the most jaded tween. Stop at the gift shop and buy loads of raisins (monkeys like these better than peanuts). Once in the jungle, you'll see little metal cups hanging on chains. Put a few raisins in and watch the monkeys overhead pull up the cups, scoop out raisins and drop the cups, aiming for unsuspecting tourists' heads. Be sure to watch out for these falling cups as you head through the rainforest! Check out the chimps, gorillas, spider monkeys, orangutans, aviary and my personal favorite, the tiny but beautiful golden lion tamarinds. Do see the orangutan and wild monkey swimming pool shows, too. After visiting for 30 years (yes, well before I had kids), the monkeys' antics still make me laugh out loud.

Monkey Jungle
14805 SW 216 St.
Miami, FL
(305) 235-1611
Hours: 9:30AM – 5PM (box office closes at 4PM)
Adults: $29.95
Children (3-9): $23.95
Senior Discount (65+): $27.95

You're sure to be parched after tromping through the Miami jungle. With tweens in tow, head just a few minutes down the road to Burr's Berry Farm. Here you can try what may be the freshest strawberry milkshakes ever. You can also buy freshly-picked strawberries and tomatoes, as well as delicious homemade preserves. Because Florida's growing season is backwards and fruits and vegetables ripen in the winter, the farm is only open from Christmas until Mother's Day. It's a good idea to call first, just in case.

Burr's Berry Farm (open Christmas through Mother's Day only)
12741 SW 216th St
Miami, FL
(305)-251-0145
(no website)


Evening:

After washing up from an exciting afternoon outdoors, head to Biscayne Bay in downtown Miami. In this waterfront district, you'll find Bayside Marketplace, a funky assortment of shops and restaurants. Resist the junk food and save room for dinner, but be sure to stop at the ever-changing kiosks for souvenirs for the kids. Vacations in Miami must include some token to remember them by.

Bayside Marketplace
401 Biscayne Blvd.
Miami, FL 33132-1924
(305) 577-3344
Mon-Thurs 10AM-10PM
Fri-Sat 10AM-11PM
Sun 11AM-9PM

At the northeast end of Bayside Marketplace, you'll find yourself in Nicaragua – the perfect place to eat dinner. I recommend Los Ranchos Steakhouse, an eatery that claims to have the best steaks in Miami – and they aren't kidding. The churrasco (or baby churrasco for smaller appetites) is our favorite. My kids love these flat steaks plain, but I like the chimichurri and onion toppings. If your tweens aren't steak fans, there's a kid's menu in addition to countless other options. And, the waiters readily spoon out generous portions of red beans, rice and plantains. If you're not ready to burst, try the tres leches or flan for dessert.

Los Ranchos
Bayside Marketplace
401 Biscayne Blvd. Zone A [Level 1]
Miami, FL 33132
(305) 375-8188
Mon-Thurs, Sun 11:30AM-11PM
Fri-Sat 11:30AM-12AM

Before turning in for the night, spend an hour or so exploring Bayfront Park. Here, the tweens can expend the last of their energy playing in the grass, enjoying the tropical breezes, checking out the ships along the bay and people watching, among countless other activities. If you're still up for some fun (my girls and I would be ready to head home), try out The Flying Trapeze School and Tikki Beach Cruises, or attend a concert at the amphitheater.

Bayfront Park
301 N. Biscayne Blvd.
Miami, FL 33132
(305) 358-7550

The Flying Trapeze School
Bayfront Park
(786) 239-8775

Tikki Beach Cruisese
Bayfront Park
(305) 407-3506

Bayfront Park Amphitheater
Bayfront Park
(305) 358-7550


Since this is a pretty full itinerary, I'll share a couple of places that I would have loved to include and that will be great additions if you have an extra day. Try to fit these activities into your Miami with tweens travel plans !

You can swim with dolphins, or at least share a platform with them in the water, at the Miami Seaquarium. Your kids will think you're awesome.

Miami Seaquarium
400 Rickenbacker Causeway
Miami, FL 33149
(305) 361-5705
9:30AM-6PM
General Admission $37.95
Children (3-9) $27.95
Parking $8

Take a tram through Fairchild Tropical Garden and see what's blooming.

Fairchild Tropical Garden
10901 Old Cutler Rd.
Coral Gables, FL 33156
(305) 667-1651
9:30AM-4:30PM, closed Christmas Day
Adults $20
Seniors (65+) $15
Children (6-17) $10
Children (5 and under) free

Donna Ballman is the author of The Writer's Guide to the Courtroom: Let's Quill All the Lawyers. Read her blog on Red Room.

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