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Miami Science Museum
Nothing is staid or boring in Miami, least of all its museums. The Miami Science Museum, north of Coconut Grove, contains more than 140 exhibits, all designed to be hands-on and interactive, coupled with live demonstrations and collections of rare natural history specimens that make discovering and learning a great deal of fun. The Wildlife Center boasts more than 175 live reptiles and birds of prey, and the adjacent Space Transit Planetarium provides more thrills with projected astronomy and laser light shows.
At least a half a day is required to fully enjoy south Florida's premier attraction. The Seaquarium is world-renowned for its marine life shows and attractions, including performing killer whales and television aquatic star and dolphin, Flipper. Another favourite star is the sea lion Salty and his colleagues, who amuse and amaze with their antics.
Miami-Dade Cultural Centre
The outwardly unattractive complex of the Miami-Dade Cultural Centre, in the rather unsavoury area of West Flagler Street, is worth a visit because it houses a plethora of interesting artistic and historic exhibits. The Centre contains the Miami Art Museum (), featuring a collection of modern and contemporary works by American, Latin American and Caribbean artists. There are also themed exhibits, which bring art and artists to life, as do the twice-monthly 'happy hour' parties, organised to highlight a particular exhibit. The Cultural Centre also contains the Historical Museum of Southern Florida () with exhibits that relate to the fascinating history of the area and the culture, folklore and archaeology of South Florida and the Caribbean.
Lovers of antiques revel in visiting the magnificent 34-room Vizcaya bayfront villa, built in the Italian Renaissance style in 1916 as a winter retreat for wealthy industrialist, James Deering. The grand mansion took hundreds of artisans five years to complete, and the formal gardens, which surround the villa fronting on Biscayne Bay, took even longer to lay out. Today visitors can tour the villa and grounds, enjoying the original furnishings and décor in a variety of Renaissance, Baroque, Rococco and Neoclassical styles.
Miami boasts the oldest building in the Western Hemisphere - but there is a catch. Dating from 1133 the Monastery of St. Bernard de Clairvaux in North Miami Beach is a hugely popular tourist attraction, although not quite indigenous to the area. The monastery stood originally in Segovia in Spain, but in the early 1950s the medieval building was bought by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, disassembled, shipped to Miami and rebuilt on its present site. Guided tours are available for groups of 15 or more.
Legend has it that unrequited love led a Latvian immigrant to spend 25 years single-handedly carving a castle out of rock between the Florida Keys and Miami, on the South Dixie Highway. The amazing monument to the man's determination has been called America's Stonehenge and has been featured in numerous magazine and newspaper articles. Visitors are awed by the castle, which also contains affidavits from neighbours testifying to the fact that the builder had no assistance with his mammoth task.
Everglades National Park
The vast Everglades National Park that spans the tip of the Florida peninsula, 35 miles (56km) southwest of Miami, has been described as a 40-mile-wide (64km) slow-moving river of grass, interspersed with shallow wetlands. It is the only subtropical preserve in North America, containing temperate and tropical plants. It also boasts dozens of endangered species that find a home in this natural habitat, like the swallowtail butterfly, American crocodile, leatherback turtle, southern bald eagle and West Indian manatee. The best way to explore the Park is by canoe; private operators however run rapid air-boat tours, which are popular with thrill-seeking visitors. The Park has been accorded several honours including its designation as a World Heritage Site, an International Biosphere Reserve and a Wetland of International Importance.
Lincoln Road Mall
A pedestrian promenade lined with palm trees and colourful art deco buildings, Lincoln Road Mall is a great haunt for locals and foreigners. Once called the 'Fifth Avenue of the South', this lively seven-block shopping district serves up big name labels like G.A.P. and Banana Republic but also houses the renowned Regal Movie Theatre and the Lincoln Theatre, home to the New World Symphony. Considered one of the best people-watching streets in South Beach, take refreshment at one of the string of sidewalk cafés or soak up some local culture at the many art galleries along the mall. The Farmers Market on Sundays is the best place for fresh vegetables, fruits, juices, homemade breads and flowers and on weekends Antique vendors display their wares along the sidewalk. At night, street performers take to the mall, entertaining passersby.
A vivacious collection of art and design pieces depicting popular culture from 1885 to 1945, the Wolfsonian is the amalgamation of a long-term pursuit by eccentric heir and collector, Mitchell Wolfson Jr. Housed in the original warehouse used as a storage facility for the 70,000 pieces, visitors can pick through the origins of graphic and industrial design in the hotchpotch of distinctive propaganda art from Germany, Italy and the United States, and the remarkable industrial design pieces from modern German design to Bauhaus. Not to be missed is the über cool Dynamo café and museum shop.
An offshoot of Parrot Jungle, which was established in 1936, Jungle Island is a new complex offering an exciting array of wildlife from parrots and macaws to crocodiles and penguins. You can witness over 200 parrots at the Manu Encounter, the world's only aviary replicating the clay cliffs of Manu, Peru and at the Parrot Bowl, a gaping amphitheatre, you can be entertained by the clever antics of cockatoos, parrots and macaws. Look out for the rare albino alligator and 21-foot crocodile at the Serpentarium. A new addition to Jungle Island is the waterpark featuring the 168-foot Hippo Slide, with an exhilarating 40-degree drop.
Biscayne National Park
The Biscayne National Park can be seen from downtown Miami but the two areas are completely different. The coral reefs and tiny islands of this water sanctuary are home to an abundance of wildlife for children to see, and even a couple of awe-inspiring pirate shipwrecks. This is a great camping, boating and swimming spot for families.
Crandon Park Beach
A family holiday in Miami wouldn't be complete without spending some time on the beach. Aside from sand and sea, Crandon Park Beach also has the Amusement Center with a carousel, a roller rink, a splash fountain and a playground for kids to enjoy. The Crandon Park Gardens are beautiful to see, and there are a few picnic spots to enjoy as well.
Gold Coast Railroad Museum
Kids will be delighted by the Gold Coast Railroad Museum, which offers train rides, toy trains to play with and interesting model train exhibits. The museum's railroad car collection includes President Roosevelt's historic Ferdinand Magellan carriage. In March each year there are Thomas the Tank Engine rides for children. On Saturday and Sunday between 11.00am and 4.00pm kids can ride in the cab of a locomotive and get to operate some of the controls.
Miami Children's Museum
The child-sized exhibits at the Miami Children's Museum are both colourful and interactive. Kids can explore the museum's simulated hospital, supermarket or fire station, playing with and moving anything they like. The Mt. Michimu rock-climbing wall offers a fun, physical challenge for older children.
Take the kids to play at the Pinecrest Gardens - its banyan trees and abundant vegetation are just crying out to be explored! Other highlights of the gardens include a fun playground, a petting zoo and the 'Splash 'n Play' water area, as well as a couple of tabled picnic spots.
The beaches in Miami are world-famous; some for their stunning settings and some for their stunning sunbathers. Crandon Park Beach is good for children, with the playground and carousel as well as picnic areas and restrooms. Haulover Beach Park also has good facilities like volleyball and tennis courts, a golf course, concession stands and picnic tables, but parents should be aware that the northern end allows nude sunbathing. Hobie Beach is the best place for windsurfing in Miami, while the sandy beach in Oleta River State Park is popular for boating and kayaking. The central Miami beaches have good facilities, like concession stands, showers, lifeguards, walking trails and beach chair and umbrella rentals, but tend to be the most crowded at peak times. Topless sunbathing is allowed in Miami Beach.