The Big Schlep: Grandparents' Tips On Miami, Florida

Author: John Manton

Tags : City Break, Florida, Miami, Multigen, Museums & Culture, Tips & Documents, USA

We hope you'll benefit from what we, a multi-generational family that loves to get together, learned and enjoyed during a recent stay in Miami, Florida. Here are some of our most useful tips, especially handy during the busy holiday season. We think you'll like these budget-friendly activities if you love entertaining (and spoiling) kids and grandkids like we do.


The Miami Climate

Sunblock, sunblock. Even in winter, the tropical climate insures plenty of sun through the sultry humidity. Expect refreshing downpours on occasion but you won't mind them.


Dining, Nightlife & Childcare to Enjoy Them!

The famous SoBe strip along Ocean Avenue boasts family-friendly hotspots like NewsCafé (for great drinks, salads, burgers, etc.) and lots of over-priced and noisy outdoor cafes that are more for people watching than dining.

Washington Avenue, one block inland from the beach, has many other ethnic dining choices -- usually cheaper. We like the stylish, fun and inexpensive Planet Sushi, with its varied sushi menu. Even our youngest loves sushi, we're always surprised.

Plan on a great Lincoln Road evening. This street full of shops and galleries is now a pedestrian mall and a place with little ones can run around safely, dip their fingers in some fountains, see dogs being walked and generally let off steam. For lunch or an early dinner, Spris Pizza has really tasty pies plus good salads and panini sandwiches. Follow up your meal with a stop at the Gelateria 4D, a local favorite that will give everyone enough energy to walk some more (and get tired out.)

With ages 4+ consider a trip to the Broward Center for the Arts in Ft. Lauderdale, which has an extensive children's theatre and performing arts program year-round. This is an inexpensive way to entertain the princesses who want to grow up to be Broadway stars.

Remember that families who dine early are widely accepted in Miami. The locals hit the bars and restaurants after 9pm, and the clubs after midnight. If you're going out on the town with adult children, do book ahead with one of the recommended local childcare agencies. Call Sunshine Babysitting, who are better known in Orlando, and have childcare available all through the state, for current rates and advance reservations.


Miami's Latin Soul

Dreaming about Havana nights? Our family favorites on Calle Ocho, the once-Cuban now-Latin section of town, are the heavily mirrored Versailles and La Carreta with its wagonwheel sign. Both have terrific inexpensive food and Latin style and even better, a Hispanic waitstaff who adore children of all ages.

Be sure to visit Domino Park, named for the Mexican freedom fighter Maximo Gomez, and a landmark urban park packed with domino players. These local guys, usually oldsters, play undisturbed no matter what, and it's a very colorful scene at the corner of Calle Ocho and 15th Avenue. With older kids, stick around for the always interesting Cultural Fridays, free Latin arts and antiques exhibits held the last Friday of each month.


Getting Around South Florida Easily

Fritz's Skate, Bike, Surf Shop at 1620 Washington Avenue (near the end of Lincoln Road) is open daily for skate, bike and scooter rentals; helmets and pads included in hourly, half-day or day rates. Beach Scooters has three locations in South Beach, and is open daily for mopeds, electric scooters, mobility scooters, wheelchairs, Vespas, electric cars and paddleboards, by the hour or day.


Languages You Can Practice

Expect most locals to speak English, but you'll find Spanish is the lingua franca of Miami, arguably the largest Latin community outside South America.


Shopping, Spoiling & Allowance Tips

Shopping is one of travel's great pleasures, right? Be sure to establish a budget for each child on day one, and show them how to keep track of their spending. Parents should give the kids some funds to bankroll an ice cream cone or occasional treat for their grandparents. Grandparents should give the grandkids some moolah so they can buy a rose for mom when the flower vendors pass by the outdoor cafes with bouquets.

The funky Washington Avenue in South Beach is for your skateboarding tweeners, pierced and tatooed teens, and indulgent grandparents who aren't offended by the wild display of leopard thongs, vinyl platform shoes, navel rings, henna tatoos, surfer wear and other inexpensive fad-of-the-moment gear.

Española Way hosts weekend crafts fairs along its pedestrian-only Spanish colonial lane. Like a smaller and quieter version of Lincoln Road, it's another fun walking excursion.

The city-sponsored Caribbean Marketplace in Little Haiti is another outing for unusual gifts and island items. If you're there at mealtime, be sure to check out the creole food stands along the sidewalk outside.

On this most recent multi-generational outing, we enjoyed Books & Books, a good browsing place for all ages. Teens and fashionistas will love the eccentric collection of new and vintage at the Fly Boutique, about a 15-minute drive north of South Beach. And for all ages, it's fun to see the many small galleries lining the Lincoln Road Mall and some of the sidestreets.

There's superb shopping for Euro chic at the Bal Harbour Shops and Aventura Mall, and many seasonal sales.

Coral Gables boasts the upscale, designer-oriented Miracle Mile shopping area, while Coconut Grove's odd shops and hip boutiques will delight teens.


Sights for all Ages

Go for the Deco. This architecturally distinctive style can be seen in its original form with terrific, school-age-kid-friendly walking tours given by the Miami Design Preservation League. Daily guided tours of the Art Deco District depart from the MDPL Welcome Center at 10th and Ocean Drive. Specialists should plan on the North Shore MiMo District tours that focus on the city's wonderful Mid-century Modern architecture (first Saturday of each month) or the Jewish Miami Beach Tour (second Sunday of the month); guides are very knowledgeable and fun.

There are self-guided MDPL tours if you have a restless bunch, and a fun gift shop where you can introduce the streamline concept to the grandkids. History and culture buffs should check the calendar at HistoryMiami Museum, whose docents led a fascinating tour of Little Haiti during our kids' last visit. There's architectural style in kitsch form everywhere you turn, so pausing for a a piña colada at such icons as the Eden Roc Hotel is another option. And of course, this guide to Miami attractions can keep you busy for days.


Tipping & All Gratuities

Don't be fooled by Miami's cleverly functional 'service added' dining bills. With tourist traffic emanating from servis compris Europe and never-tip Asia, Miami's top restaurants have kept their surprisingly good wait staffs happy by adding a 12%-15% gratuity to every check, with the caption: "Please feel free to adjust the gratuity to reflect the quality of service you have received." Caveat emptor!

Note! This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.