1. Where to Stay
Find all the space you need at the Ritz-Carlton South Beach (rooms from $529, suites from $679), whose family-friendly one-bedroom suites and adjoining standard rooms offer a welcome alternative to the cramped quarters found in other Art Deco gems. The Ritz Kids program ($50 for a half-day, $85 for a full day) keeps children ages 5 to 12 busy with swimming, seashell hunting, and jewelry-making, giving parents an opportunity to enjoy Astro Balance massages ($200 for 80 minutes), a fun mash-up of bodywork and astrology, or settle into chaise lounges on the pristine stretch of sand.
Kick back around the iconic pool at the Raleigh (from $320), where local moms take little waders to splash around in the one-foot-deep outer rim. The hotel’s kid-friendly staff can arrange for swim lessons ($30 per hour) or babysitters ($20 per hour with a three-hour minimum), and on rainy days they’ve been known to screen movies for the youngsters and serve popcorn. The Royal restaurant, located outdoors under a verdant tree canopy, features a menu created by chef John DeLucie of the Lion.
Take shelter from the crowds at the Sense Hotel (from $179), a small boutique property located in the relatively quiet SoFi (South of Fifth Street) district that is still within walking distance of bustling Ocean Drive. There are no suites or connecting rooms here, but eighteen units offer two king-size beds, and kids under 12 stay free. Keep the family entertained at the non-sceney rooftop pool or less-crowded Brazilian Beach across the street—or just let the hotel staff create an itinerary for you from a selection of themes like music, sports, or shopping.
2. Where to Eat
Find a balance between grown-up sophistication and kid-friendly fun at Barton G. the Restaurant, where you’ll find a David Burke-like penchant for over-the-top culinary showmanship. Try the whimsical but delicious Sashimi Snowcone ($21) and order the agreeable fried chicken ($24) to please younger taste buds. Reservations are a must for groups.
Placate picky eaters with a simple margherita pie ($14) at Pizza Rustica, which locals consider to be the city’s best pizzeria. Foodie parents can choose from two dozen more-adventurous pies, but skip the chocolate dessert pizza and instead go to the Frieze Ice Cream Factory for cones of the kid-favorite flavor, Get Down Boogie Oogie Cookie ($3).
Book in advance for a meal at Michy’s, celebrity chef Michelle Bernstein’s buzz-worthy bistro that serves luxurious takes on comfort food in the scruffy Upper East Side neighborhood. Tuck into a plate of chupe de mariscos ($32), a heady assortment of locally caught fish, clams, scallops, and shrimp with crispy rice cakes. Kids are welcome, but if you’re looking for one great local meal out alone, this may be the night to get a sitter.
3. What to Do
There’s plenty to do on the white-sand beaches besides just getting a tan. Surf Miami Beach will deliver rentals ($15 per hour, $40 per day) for burgeoning surfers and boogie boarders to your hotel or spot on the beach; call in advance to arrange for a group surfing lesson. If you’d prefer to cruise around the water, American Water Sports rents WaveRunners that seat up to three people (from $149 per hour). Adventurous families can give parasailing a try with Miami Beach Parasail (from $150 per ride); children over 5 can participate, but observing from the boat is also an option.
People-watch on wheels down Ocean Drive. Miami Beach Bicycle Center (from $8 per hour; reservations recommended) and Fritz’s Skate Bike & Surf (from $10 per hour; reservations recommended) offer bike and in-line skate rentals, respectively, for all ages. To see Miami by water, Ocean Force Adventures offers two-hour tours (from $150 per person) in the same boats used by the FBI and Coast Guard. You’ll zip across Biscayne Bay, spot dolphins, and ogle million-dollar waterfront mansions.
Watch your little ones sing onstage, ring up groceries, and walk through a piggy bank at the interactive Miami Children’s Museum ($15 admission for nonmembers). The museum also offers a dozen or more drop-in programs on any given day as well as single-day camps, like the circus-themed Under the Big Top ($50 for nonmembers; 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.). Continue playtime at the three-acre SoundScape Park (500 17th St.; 305-673-3331), adjacent to the Frank Gehry–designed New World Center, the home of the New World Symphony. In the evening, take in a Wallcast, a large-scale projection of that night’s performance that feels like a concert and a drive-in movie.
4. Insider’s Tip
Joe’s Stone Crab is a legendary destination for its eponymous delicacy and the bib-wearing, claw-cracking fun that comes with it, but it’s also touristy, insanely crowded, and has a maddening no-reservations policy. Avoid the disappointment and take a cue from the locals by placing an order at the take-out window; they’ll pack everything you need for a picnic. Then walk to nearby South Pointe Park, a gorgeous, newly renovated seventeen-acre green space where you can feast on your crab and real key lime pie as the sun falls over the water.
5. Oddball Day
Spend a day getting acquainted with the area’s exotic animals. First, fuel up on Benedict-style eggs with ham and tomato ($10.75) at News Café, the combination sidewalk café, newsstand, and bookstore on Ocean Drive. Then drive a few minutes west to Watson Island, where you can spend the morning exploring Jungle Island ($30.95), an animal park where the star attraction is a 900-pound liger named Vulcan. From there, head 30 minutes south to Monkey Jungle ($30), a wildlife preserve where 400 primates run free while the humans watch from cages. Then it’s a short drive to the Miami Zoo ($16) for lunch and a peek at the captivating sixteen-foot Orinoco crocodiles. If they have any energy left, kids over the age of 5 can swim with dolphins at the Miami Seaquarium ($199 per person) on Virginia Key. Back in South Beach, finish the day with a taste of the local cuisine at the no-frills, family-friendly Cuban joint David’s Café.
Head to the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau for a downloadable app that lets you plan on the go; the family-fun section of the site offers useful information on kid-friendly beaches and activities.