By Donna Gehrke-White
Miami-Dade can be pricey but there are still loads of things to do with your kids for free or low cost. Top on the list are South Florida’s pristine – and free – beaches. The county also offers plenty of other free or low-cost fun. How about a bat hike? Riding a pony? Enjoying a tropical forest? Taking in an art exhibit? They’re all offered in Miami-Dade County. Here are 10 top destinations. Most won’t cost a cent.
Ocean on Watch
Tourists spend thousands of dollars to come to the Magic City but you can enjoy one of the top destinations for free: the Miami Beach Boardwalk. It is two miles of people watching and breathtaking ocean views, starting at 21st Street. You can walk from the historic Art Deco District to the famed 1950s condo canyons where Frank Sinatra once crooned at hotel nightclubs. You and the kids can venture off the boardwalk to sun bathe and frolic in the ocean.
You can swim or rent equipment to surf, kayak, kite board or snorkel. The Travel Channel has listed the Miami Beach beaches as among the 10 best in the nation. They have restrooms, showers and are staffed with lifeguards during the day. You can also get off the boardwalk to venture south into the heart of South Beach and all its glamour. Be sure to keep your child-friendly trips to SoBe during the day. For more information, call the Tourism Hotline at 305-673-7400.
Key Biscayne’s Crandon Park Beach offers another one of the nation’s top 10 family beaches at 4000 Crandon Boulevard. Think two miles of white sand in a serene lagoon-style setting. There are lifeguards, restrooms and picnic facilities. If the kids get bored at the beach’s ocean blue vista, they can go the park’s Amusement Center that has a carousel, outdoor skating rink, splash fountain and playground. The park also has gardens, both manicured and wild. The kids might really like the tropical forest with its wild overhanging vines and ferns. The park is open from sunrise to sunset, seven days a week. The park is free, but there is a charge for parking and the toll to get to Key Biscayne is $1.75 per car. For more information call the park’s office, 305-361-7385, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The Slow Lane with a Free Farm
Further north and far, far from the urban crowd, your family can experience life in the slow lane: A pioneer farm with horses, ponies, cows, pigs, sheep, geese, chicken and even a donkey or two. Enjoy the pioneer Bill Graham’s Farm Village at Amelia Earhart Park, 401 E. 65th St., Hialeah, which boasts a sugar cane press, an old general store, horseshoeing, cow milking and a fishing lake. The park also has one of South Florida’s top-ranked mountain biking trails and a dog park. It’s free during the week; parking is $6 on Saturdays and Sundays. The park is open from sunrise to sunset with its office open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call 305-953-6024 for information.
Free Hiking Trails – Birds or Bats?
Miami has its wild side – of the flying kind. You have a variety of choices at Greynolds Park, 17530 W. Dixie Highway in North Miami Beach. You can take owl walks or bat hikes. Or maybe bird sojourns or butterfly walks amid nearly 250 acres of mangrove forests and hardwood hammocks. The park, once a rock quarry, is now restored to its natural past. It offers nature walks for everyone as well as a bird rookery, mangrove boardwalk, historic boathouse, observation mound and a lagoon. It’s on the historic Oleta River where the Tequesta Indians once lived. The park is free and open from sunrise to sunset, seven days a week, but parking is $6 on weekends. Call 305-945-3425 during office hours of 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the weekends.
Books, Stories, Crafts, and Everything is Free
The sprawling 54,000-square-foot West Dade Regional Library, 9445 Coral Way, in Westchester is probably not listed as a must-see tourist site for families – but it should be. Parents sing its praises considering it has 200,000 books, a lush indoor garden, an outdoor playground, an art gallery with ongoing exhibits, a puppet theater, an auditorium and a huge upstairs children’s area with a rain forest theme. The library touts that it “treats children special” and offers free story-telling and crafts programs. It’s all free. The library is open 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 9:30 to 6 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 1 to 5 p.m. on Sundays during the school year. Call the library at 305-553-1134 for more information.
Free Trip to Cuban Miami (and Cheap Food)
You don’t want to miss one of Miami’s most historic streets, Calle Ocho – Spanish for Eighth Street. It’s in Little Havana where many Cubans first settled after fleeing their island when Fidel Castrol took over in 1959. Along Southwest Eighth Street, between 12th and 27th avenues, you can still see hand-rolled cigars, fruit stands, herbal stores, meat markets and open-windowed cafes that sell tiny cups of strong coffee for a quarter. There’s Maximo Gomez Park, better known as Domino Park, 801 SW 15th Ave., where aging Cuban Americans still play dominos and chess. Just east of the park is the Walk of the Stars, which honors Cuban American celebrities such as Sammy Sosa, Celia Cruz and Gloria Estefan. At the corner of 13th Avenue and Southwest Eighth is the Cuban Memorial Plaza, which pays homage to Cuba’s heroes, including founder and poet, Jose Marti (who also has a nearby park named after him). Food is good and cheap along Calle Ocho. National Geographic offers instructions for a self-guided walking tour of Calle Ocho. The last Friday of the month is Viernes Culturales (Cultural Friday), with free music, art walks and other activities, including an occasional free guided tour, from 6 to 11 p.m.
Picnic with Miami’s History
The Barnacle Historic State Park, 3485 Main Highway in one of Miami’s oldest neighborhoods, Coconut Grove, is a rare treat for kids. They get to stomp around one of Miami-Dade County’s oldest Biscayne Bay estates while daydreaming of water adventures. It’s right at their feet: vistas of blue bay. You can picnic on the grounds and enjoy rocking chairs on porches that overlook the bay. There are reasonably priced tours of the 1891 house, the city’s oldest home, still on its original foundation: $3 for adults, $1 for kids ages 6-12. Children 5 and younger are free. Admission to the five-acre park grounds is $2 per person and you can drop that in the honors box. The park is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. four days a week, Friday through Monday. Call 305-442-6866 for more information.
Free Art Workshops for Kids
Once a month, the Pérez Art Museum Miami, 101 W. Flagler St., in downtown Miami opens its doors to families to enjoy its exhibits and permanent collection free of charge. Every second Saturday from noon to 5 p.m., the museum also schedules child-friendly art-making activities. The museum offers ongoing special exhibits. Its permanent collection includes modern art by Louise Nevelson, WIlfredo Lam and Robert Rauschenberg. Regular admission is $8 for adults; free for children under 12. The museum is closed on Mondays, open Tuesday through Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and from noon to 5 p.m. on weekends. For more information call 305-375-4073.
Skateboarding and Splashing on a Budget
Tweens and teenagers now have more opportunities to do extreme sports in South Florida. The Homestead area has a new, highly regarded skate park. For the younger set there is a new – and equally popular – 1,424-square-foot splash playground at the county-run South Dade Park, 28151 SW 164th Ave. Both of the park’s new attractions are drawing out-of-towners. One reason is price: South Dade Park skateboarding fees are only about a third the cost of other skate facilities in Miami-Dade. Kids 12 and under get a free skate lesson at the South Dade Park with their $2 admission during the week and $3 on weekends. Helmets are required for the skate park but can be rented for $2; skateboard rentals are $3. The skate park is open from 1 to 7 p.m., Monday-Friday; 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekends. Call 305-247-9453 for more information.
Free Fruit in the Park
Ever wanted to just pick fruit off the ground and eat it? At Fruit & Spice Park, 24801 SW 187th Ave. in historic Redland, you are encouraged to enjoy – for free – the bounty from hundreds of trees in one of the nation’s most unusual county parks. Fruit & Spice Park is the only county-run botanical garden in the nation. The park has more than 500 varieties of fruits, vegetables, spices, herbs and nuts. There are 150 kinds of mango trees, for example. The park even has a bamboo grove. It now boasts a lake with a waterfall and lily pads. The park is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $7 for adults; $2 for kids ages 6-12; and free for children under 6. Call 305-247-5727.
Have you found other great free and cheap places to take your kids in Miami-Dade County? Share your suggestions in a comment. If we find out about enough places, we’ll write another story on readers’ favorite free and cheap fun for families.
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