The perfect weather year round, the miles of beaches that stretch on endlessly - the list of reasons why Miami is an attractive destination are endless; however, most are centered around the pristine beaches. Sure, you can come here and sit in the sun sipping mojitos for the duration of your stay (and we recommend you do so at least once on the infamous Lummus Park Beach), but there is so much more to Miami, which makes it worth your while to get out and explore.
Nature takes the forefront, with several places in the Everglades offering the opportunity to come within feet of a Florida alligator, or stay several hundred feet back and watch a Miccosukee Indian wrestle one. At Shark Valley, you'll have the chance to walk or bike down one of the longest stretches of mostly untouched Everglades without having to put on snake boots and wade in the sawgrass. But if that's a bit too up close for you, Everglades Safari Park offers airboat rides, which is surely the funnest way to get around in the Everglades.
Then there are spots like Zoo Miami and Jungle Island, who bring the best of wildlife from all over the world and are constantly evolving and incorporating new exhibits, shows, and exciting animal encounters. You'll have the chance to feed giraffes, take photos with macaws, watch tigers getting fed, listen to the songs of the howler monkeys, and even come face to face with lemurs at these two unique destinations.
Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden
Lush and meticulously maintained, this garden showcases a wide range of tropical plants. Within its 83 acres, palms and cycads flourish, and a 16,000-square-foot conservatory shelters rare specimens. The Fairchild also offers a butterfly garden, an arboretum and a rainforest, and it also houses a world-renowned research facility. Leisurely strolls through the grounds are sure to provoke plenty of "oohs and aahs," and you may gain inspiration for your own little patch of paradise back home. There are also often art installations by world-renowned artists like Dale Chihuly, plus moonlight tours and movie nights. A small museum, gift shop and cafe take care of practical needs. Free tram tours run on the hour. (305-667-1651)
Intensely moving, this memorial created by artist-architect Kenneth Treister honors victims and offers solace to survivors of the horrors of the Holocaust of the Jewish people in Europe. Included in its design are an arbor that depicts the history of the Holocaust in black granite and a tunnel that opens up to "The Sculpture of Love and Anguish." This enormous bronze arm, with its base of writhing human forms, is variously interpreted as a symbol of despair or hope. The memorial also encompasses a reflecting pool and walls inscribed with the names of thousands of victims. The overall effect is visually and emotionally stunning. (305-538-1663)
Vizcaya Museum & Gardens
Constructed in 1916 for industrialist James Deering, this Italianate palace is often referred to as the Hearst Castle of the East. Intended to appear centuries-old at completion, it is absolutely rife with architectural detail and elaborate accents. In fact, more than a thousand artisans took five-plus years to complete the ornate flourishes. Deering was fascinated by 16th-century art and architecture, and most of his fine collection remains on display within the mansion. The beautifully landscaped grounds aptly complement the building, whose name remembers the Basque term for a raised site. Built on the bay, you'll also appreciate beautiful views of the water while touring the estate. (305-250-9133)
Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science
The Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science is a place everyone from Miami has been to at least once, even if only during an elementary school field trip. It has a slew of hands-on exhibits for kids in the science center that your little ones will love, an outdoor Wildlife Center, and a pretty rad planetarium. The museum also has special changing exhibits featuring such topics as dinosaurs and the early days of the Smithsonian explorers. The Wildlife Center houses over 170 reptiles and birds of prey that have been rescued and rehabilitated and you might even get to hold a snake or other animal during one of their shows. Planetarium shows are offered daily and make for a nice sitting break from the action. Call the museum for special exhibit information and show times. Admission includes the museum, planetarium, and wildlife center. (305-434-9600)
This small neighborhood packs a big cultural wallop. Settled in the years following Castro's revolution, it's now home to a third of Miami's 2 million residents. Its main drag, Calle Ocho (or Southwest Eighth Street), is the heart of Little Havana, a place to indulge in authentic food, hand-rolled cigars and strong, fragrant coffee. In Maximo Gomez Park, older folks gather daily to play dominoes, talk politics, and share stories, while each March, the Calle Ocho festival celebrates Latino culture in a boisterous street party. There's the Cubaocho Museum and Gallery for those interested in learning about Cuban art and culture, nightclubs like Hoy Como Ayer to dance in at night, and plenty of delicious eateries in which to sample and savor Cuban (and Nicaraguan, Honduran, Mexican, and Salvadorean) foods. Don't leave without trying the Cuban coffee, which is said to be the lifeblood of Miamians.
Everglades Safari Park
This is the most all-encompassing alligator experience you can have in Miami, and it will surely be the experience you go back home and tell all your friends about. Whip around through the tall saw grass of the Everglades in an airboat or swamp buggy, where you can observe the alligators in their natural habitat while maintaining a presumably safe distance. Back on shore, you can catch an alligator wrestling show, pet the baby alligators (don't worry, precautions are taken so you don't get your fingers bitten off), and come face to face with other wildlife. At the end, pick some gifts up in their shop or dine on some gator tail in the cafe. (305-226-6923)
Tropical birds have the run of this unusual island park off MacArthur Causeway. Approximately 1,100 macaws, parrots and other winged residents join giant reptiles and exotic primates to impart special character to the attraction. Although the 18 landscaped acres showcase some 500 species of plants and flowers, don't come expecting peace and quiet. Some of the opinionated inhabitants are neither shy nor retiring. Though it's noisy, the sight of a parrot riding a miniature bike is enough to make even the most jaded visitor smile. Other shows include Winged Wonders (singing Amazons and Andean condors), Reptile Giants (snakes, alligators, crocodiles) and Wild Encounters (apes, tigers, even a liger). (305-400-7000)
Shark Valley Visitor Center
Part of the Everglades National Park, the Shark Valley Visitor Center is located in the center of an expansive river of grass, punctuated only by a 15-mile asphalt trail. Visitors can opt to take the tram tour, bike or walk. There are no fences here, and full-grown alligators often sunbathe in the middle of the trail. Key deer can be seen bobbing around, as can snakes, turtles and native Florida birds. At the midway point, a water tower can be easily climbed and the silence and sheer beauty found at the top is absolutely astounding. Alligator calls echo as a slight breeze blows over the grass. This is the place to really see the Everglades as it is meant to be seen - untouched and pristine. (305-221-8776)
The only US zoo set in a subtropical climate, ZooMiami mesmerizes visitors with remarkable, open air exhibits and exotic creatures from around the world. Favorite animals among zoo-goers include clouded leopards, Komodo dragons, ring-tailed lemurs and tree kangaroos. They get ample competition from standard wildlife like giraffes, lions, meerkats, koalas, gorillas and colorful birds. When the heat starts to take its toll, Dr. Wilde's World provides a rainforest-themed, air-conditioned refuge for hands-on fun, or you can always just hop on the monorail and get a bird's eye view of the whole park. A petting zoo and wildlife shows also keep kids engaged, plus a fun splash zone and even swan and duck boat rides. (305-251-0400)
Lummus Park Beach
Because South Beach is such a broad description, and because the varying beaches here go on for miles, we thought we'd narrow it down. Lummus Park, the area of the beach located along Ocean Drive from 5th to 15th Street, is the all-encompassing South Beach experience. This is the strip of sand that is always the most crowded, which makes for excellent people watching. There is a mini playground before the entrance to the beach for children ages two through 5, but they may be just as happy splashing on the shore. With Brazilian bikinis and fluorescent tans as far as the eye can see, adults will likely tire their necks from spinning around doing a double take at colorful locals. Once you've soaked up all of the sun you can possibly fit into one day, the strip of restaurants and bars lining Ocean Drive are close at hand. (305-673-7000)
About Priscilla Blossom
Pris Blossom is a freelance writer and feminist mama with a love for travel, writing, music, film, craft beer, yoga, museums, cultural anthropology, and her awesome kid.
She spent the bulk of the past decade taking trips on a whim, falling in love with and in such places as New York City, New Orleans, and a large portion of Nicaragua.
In 2011, she took off on her own and traveled around the U.S. via bus, bunking with strangers thanks to the power of CouchSurfing. She is currently writing a novel about this.
Read her words at PrisBlossom.com.
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