South Florida doesn’t possess the reputation that child-friendly Orlando has, but sheesh, where does? This region still knows how to care for your young ones, with a plethora of parks, nature trails, megamalls, beaches, zoos and family-friendly hotels and restaurants to keep your kids happy on holiday.

Best Regions for Kids

  • Coconut Grove

Big malls, mainstream cuisine and a pedestrian-friendly center.

  • Everglades

Kid-friendly national park exhibits. And big alligators. Kids love alligators.

  • Florida Keys

Active families with older kids will adore the snorkeling, diving, fishing, boating and all-around no-worries vibe.

  • Key Biscayne

An enormous, central park devoted to kids and surrounded by child-friendly nature trails and public beaches.

  • Coral Gables

More malls, midrange restaurants that are happy to host children, and the fairy-tale Venetian Pool.

  • Miami Beach

Lincoln Rd, South Pointe Park, Ocean Dr neon and the sandy beach will keep your kids grinning.

South Florida & the Keys for Kids

There is a plethora of kid-themed activities in South Florida. And in Florida, every tourist town has already anticipated the needs of every age in your family. With increasing skill and refinement, nearly every Florida museum, zoo, attraction, restaurant and hotel aims to please traveling families of all stripes.

Your only real trouble is deciding what to do. Florida offers so much for kids and families that planning can be tough. Simple itineraries can suddenly become a frantic dawn-to-dusk race to pack it all in.

Eating Out

Most midrange Florida restaurants have a dedicated kids’ menu, along with high chairs, crayons for coloring, and changing tables in restrooms. Even cheap ethnic eateries – a delicious, ubiquitous constant in the South Florida dining scene – are good at accommodating children. Most restaurants, even high-end ones, are happy to make a kids' meal by request. As a rule, families with infants or toddlers will get better service earlier in the dinner hour (by 6pm). Some high-end restaurants may look askance at young diners; simply ask when making reservations.

Our favorite restaurants for kids:

Big Pink

Boater’s Grill

11th St Diner

Steve's Pizza

Shuckers

Blue Heaven

Keys Fisheries

Camellia Street Grill

Robert Is Here

Animal Parks

Some visitors expect Disney World and Universal Studios to be just outside Miami (they’re actually a few hours away). South Florida isn’t a theme-park contender, but what it does possess, in oddly high numbers, are animal parks. Some are grassroots volunteer outfits that rescue injured beasts, such as the Turtle Hospital and Laura Quinn Wild Bird Sanctuary in the Keys. Others more closely resemble hybrid zoo-theme parks, such as Monkey Jungle and Jungle Island in Miami. These locations are a hit with kids, although you can expect more child-oriented infrastructure and exhibits in the Miami examples. There's also easy wildlife access at Royal Palm Visitor Center in the Everglades.

Beaches

The prototypical Florida family beach is fronted by – or near – very active, crowded commercial centers with lots of water sports and activities, tourist shops, grocery stores, and midrange eats and sleeps. Admittedly the region’s most popular beach, South Beach, is a bit more sophisticated and snooty. But c’mon – this is still Florida. Lots of families hang out on the southern end of South Beach. Mid-Beach and North Beach are also more traditionally family-oriented, as are the beaches on Key Biscayne.

The Keys have only a few small beaches, despite being islands. However, Bahia Honda State Park on Bahia Honda Key is safe, reasonably nature-focused while still fun in a beachy way, and has a small, kid-oriented science center on-site. Sombrero Beach on Marathon is near a playground and has good food options.

Museums & Attractions

South Florida and the Keys holds its own in the 'Stuff Kids Love' stakes. In addition to all the animal life in the Everglades National Park and outside of it, there is decades worth of only-in-America kitsch. Hard to define ‘sites’ such as the Coral Castle in Homestead wow kids if only for their unique weirdness. The visitor centers of the area’s many parks all have child-friendly interactive exhibits.

Some of the art museums may not jive with your kids (although the more cerebral ones will appreciate the trip), but institutions such as the Bass directly and indirectly sneak learning right into a child’s day.

Getting into Nature

Much of your time here is spent in air-conditioning, but don’t overlook unpackaged nature. Florida is exceedingly flat, so rivers and trails are ideal for short legs and little arms. Raised boardwalks through alligator-filled swamps make perfect pint-sized adventures. Placid rivers and intercoastal bays are custom-made for first-time paddlers, adult or child. Never snorkeled a coral reef or surfed? Florida has gentle places to learn. Book a sea-life cruise, a manatee swim, a nesting-sea-turtle watch or a glass-bottom boat tour. At Oleta River State Park and almost every state park we review in the Keys, there’s family-accessible kayaking and boating.

Children’s Highlights

Beaches, Pools & Parks

South Pointe Park, South Beach Ice-cream stands, soft grass, a beach and mini waterpark.

Mid-Beach Boardwalk, North Beach Fronts a family-friendly stretch of sand.

Arch Creek Park, Miami Has nature walks and ghost walks.

Crandon Park, Key Biscayne Pretty spot with sand and nature trails.

Venetian Pool, Coral Gables One of the most beautiful public pools in the country.

Jacob’s Aquatic Center, Key Largo Small water park and plenty of kiddie pools.

Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, Key Biscayne Picnic tables front a pretty sweep of beach.

Village of Key Biscayne Community Center, Key Biscayne Playgrounds, sports fields and a packed kids’ activities schedule.

Barnacle Historic State Park, Coconut Grove Outdoor paths and frequent family-friendly outdoor concerts.

Fruit & Spice Park, Homestead Pretty trails wind past freshly fallen fruit.

Biscayne National Park, Homestead Glass-bottom boat tours and snorkeling over epic reefs.

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Key Largo Great coral reefs, by snorkel or glass-bottom boat tour.

Harry Harris Park, Key Largo This small park is one of the best in the Keys for kids.

Sombrero Beach Park, Marathon Sugar-soft sand lines calm water on one side; playground facilities are on the other.

Animal Encounters

Zoo Miami, Miami This extensive and wide-ranging zoo has all the big-ticket species.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas Biscayne Nature Center, Key Biscayne Kid-friendly intro to subtropical South Florida; has great hands-on programs.

Monkey Jungle, Miami The tagline at this zoo says it all: ‘Where humans are caged and monkeys run wild.' Unforgettable.

Jungle Island, Miami This zoo has tropical birds and exotic species such as the liger, a tiger-and-lion crossbreed.

Everglades Outpost, Florida City This volunteer-run animal sanctuary is essentially a great small zoo.

Shark Valley, Everglades Cycle or take a tram tour along the paved road of this park. Wading birds and alligators are practically guaranteed.

Royal Palm Visitor Center, Everglades Take a boardwalk trail over some of the most beautiful wetland landscapes.

National Key Deer Refuge, Big Pine Key Kids love spotting these cute-as-Bambi minideer.

Laura Quinn Wild Bird Sanctuary, Tavernier Injured birdlife is sheltered along several windy paths at this refuge.

Turtle Hospital, Marathon Turtles get tender loving care from a staff of dedicated volunteers. Visitors welcome (and appreciated).

Robbie’s Marina, Islamorada A sort of ‘working’ harbor and aquatic petting zoo.

Robert Is Here, Everglades This favorite farmers market has a petting zoo and fresh juice.

Quirky Fun

Metromover, Miami See the city from the sky via this free elevated train.

Mallory Square, Key West A carnival for the crowds that pops off on any evening as the sun sets.

Museums

Miami Children’s Museum, Miami Extensive role-playing environments.

HistoryMiami, Downtown Miami Bookish kids will appreciate the thoughtful exhibitions.

Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science, Downtown Miami A new museum with lots of fun and stimulating exhibits.

Gold Coast Railroad Museum, Miami Little train-spotters will get their fix here.

Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center, Key West Fantastic and entertaining displays pull together Florida Keys ecology.

Crane Point Museum, Marathon Excellent alfresco introduction to the ecology of the Keys.

Vizcaya Museum & Gardens, Coconut Grove Older children will appreciate the whimsy of this fairy-tale mansion.

Coral Castle, Homestead Kids may not appreciate the kitsch, but they still love the weirdness of this odd structure.

Miami-Dade Public Library, Downtown Miami Flagship library for Miami.

Miccosukee Village, Everglades On Tamiami Trail, this Native American village has culture shows and alligator wrestling.

Planning

If you’re a parent, you already know that fortune favors the prepared. But in Florida’s crazy-crowded, overbooked high-season tourist spots, planning can make all the difference. Before you come, plot your trip like a four-star general: make reservations for every place you might go. Then, arrive, relax and go with the flow.

For all-round information and advice, check out Lonely Planet's Travel with Children.

What to Bring

If you forget something, don’t sweat it. Just bring yourself, your kids and any of their can’t-sleep-without items. Florida can supply the rest, from diapers to clothes to sunscreen to boogie boards.

That said, here are some things to consider:

  • For sleeping, a pack-and-play/portacot for infants and/or an inflatable mattress for older kids can be handy, especially if you’re road-tripping or sticking to amenity-poor, budget-range motels.
  • Bring light rain gear and umbrellas; it will rain at some point.
  • Bring water sandals for the beach, water parks and play fountains.
  • Bring sunscreen (a daily necessity) and mosquito repellent.
  • Prepare a simple first-aid kit; the moment an unexpected cut or fever strikes is not the time to run to the drugstore.

Accommodations

The vast majority of Florida hotels stand ready to aid families with cribs (often pack-and-plays), rollaway beds (some charge extra), refrigerators, microwaves, adjoining rooms and suites. Ask about their facilities when you book. Large hotels and resorts can go toe-to-toe with condos for amenities: including partial or full kitchens, laundry facilities, pools and barbecues, and various activities.

While some high-end boutique hotels in Miami Beach and adult-oriented B&Bs in the Keys may discourage young kids, they aren’t allowed to discriminate and ban them. If you’re unsure, ask about their minimum age preference. In general, the best Miami neighborhoods to stay with kids are South Beach (despite the mad party scene, it has the best hotels in town), North Beach, Coconut Grove and Coral Gables. Children should be fine at most of these places, except for South Beach’s priciest hotels – these hotels generally attract a celebrity-party crowd rather than families. Good family-style motels and B&Bs can be found in the Keys, Marathon, Islamorada and Key Largo.

Travel Advice & Baby Gear

If you prefer to pack light, several services offer baby-gear rental (high chairs, strollers, car seats etc), while others sell infant supplies (diapers, wipes, formula, baby food etc), all delivered to your hotel; book one to two weeks in advance.

These websites provide family-centered travel advice and services:

Baby's Away (http://babysaway.com)

Babies Travel Lite (www.babiestravellite.com)

Jet Set Babies (http://jetsetbabies.com)