AOL PICK from our Editors
Rain or shine, it’s almost impossible to be bored in Miami. The city is home to dozens of noteworthy galleries, museums and historical attractions that will amuse, educate, entertain and mesmerize. Live shows, concerts and plays are scheduled year-round at the various arenas, theaters, hotels and nightclubs. Festivals take place just about every month; among the most notable are the Coconut Grove Arts Festival and South Beach Wine & Food Festival in February, Art Basel Miami in December and Calle Ocho in Little Havana every March. Many of the best Miami things to do are available to visitors year-round, nearly every day of the year, and most are enjoyable for children and adults.
Neighborhood: Coral Gables
The brainchild of scientist David Fairchild, these 83 verdant acres were founded as a way to educate Americans about plants from around the globe. Today, Fairchild is one of the most famous conservation and education-based gardens in the world. The collection of tropical palms, fruit trees, flowering bushes and shrubs are draw enough for us, but to make things even more interesting, there are ongoing exhibits by renowned artists such as Roy Lichtenstein, Dale Chihuly and Fernando Botero that marry art with nature. The garden also hosts annual events like the International Mango Festival every July, when mango enthusiasts and experts from around the world converge to discuss the many facets of the mango, from the best way to grow the fruit to the various ways to cook with it. Open seven days a week from 9:30AM to 4:30PM. Admission is $20; seminars and shows may require additional fees, so call ahead to confirm prices if there is something specific that you want to see.
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Miami Metro Zoo
The only tropical zoo in the U.S., Metrozoo was born more than 40 years ago with the purchase of three monkeys, a goat and two black bears for $270. Today, it is home to more than 2,000 wild animals on 740 acres, with 3 miles of walking paths and 80-plus exhibits. Our favorite exhibit is the new Amazon & Beyond, which added more than 100 species of animals—including howler monkeys, jaguars and massive anaconda snakes—from Central and South America and simulated habitats from that part of the world. Children never tire of this day trip, so a word to the wise: don’t visit in the summer. It’s simply too hot to enjoy this otherwise fantastic experience. Open 365 days from 9:30AM to 5:30PM (ticket booths close at 4PM). Admission is $15.95 for adults 13 and older; children ages 3-12 pay $11.95; children 2 and younger get in free.
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Neighborhood: Coral Gables
Learning about science and technology is a delight at the Miami Science Museum, which has 140 interactive exhibits, classes, youth development programs, lectures and demonstrations, all customized according to the ages of the participants. Changing exhibits often are the result of collaborations between the museum and community artists or organizations, such as the recent “Energy Tracker,” an interconnected trail of interactive stations that explored basic energy principles and the future of renewable energy. The Space-Transit Planetarium offers laser shows on the first Friday of each month (absolutely worth it if your visit coincides with first Friday) and the museum is also home to the Weintraub Observatory and a wildlife center that showcases rare eagles, reptiles and insects and their roles in the environment, and teaches kids how to handle confrontations with scary and dangerous species. Open daily except Thanksgiving and Christmas Day 10AM-6PM. Admission is $14.95 for adults; seniors and students with I.D. pay $10.95; children under 3 get in free.
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Neighborhood: Coconut Grove
Built by agricultural industrialist James Deering in 1916, Vizcaya comprises a main house, 10 acres of formal gardens, a rockland hammock and an historic village that is currently being restored. At the time the National Historic Landmark was constructed, the city’s population was only about 10,000; of that, 1,000 workers were employed in the building of the house and installation of the landscape. Over the years, notables such as Queen Elizabeth II, Pope John Paul II and President Reagan have stayed here. We recommend picking up the Family Highlights Guide and Map and, if you have time, sign up for a guided tour (they offer them in both English and in Spanish). We especially love the Moonlight Garden Tours, but they’re only offered sporadically, so you’ll need to check the website for dates and times. Open daily except Tuesdays, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Day from 9:30AM to 4:30PM; admission is $15; children ages 6-12 pay $6; children 5 and younger get in free; seniors 62 and older pay $10, as do visitors in wheelchairs.
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Neighborhood: Key Biscayne
Come for the exhibits and shows, such as the Top Deck Dolphin Show, Golden Dome Sea Lion Show and the Killer Whale and Dolphin Show, but stay for unexpected exhibits including the Shark Channel Presentation, Tropical Reef Presentation, Manatee Presentation and Seal and Sea Lion Feeding Pool. The highlight of the aquarium is the Stingray Exhibit, which features a 10,000-gallon touch pool where these flat creatures glide by, stopping to eat from the hands of the park guests. Admission is $37.95; children ages 3 to 9 pay $27.95; parking is $8. Seniors 55 and over get a $2 discount. Open 365 days from 9:30AM-6PM.
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Neighborhood: South Beach
Mitchell “Micky” Wolfson has devoted much of his life to the painstaking assembly of industrial artifacts and items that date between 1885 and 1945. Make no mistake—these are not your typical museum exhibits; instead of paintings, sculpture and heirlooms you’ll pore over arts and crafts items made by British reformers during the British Arts & Crafts Movement, pre-Modern decorative art objects from 19th-century Germany; a fascinating compilation of political propaganda materials from the United States and Europe; paraphernalia related to travel—models, postcards, brochures and prints of ocean liners, planes, trains and more. The on-site Wolfsonian Library comprises nearly 50,000 pieces of reading material exploring the ways—social, aesthetic, technological, political—that design has influenced how we perceive the world. Admission is $7 for adults; $5 for seniors, students and children ages 6-12; free for Wolfsonian members and for visitors on Fridays 6PM-9PM. Closed Wednesdays.
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Neighborhood: North Miami Beach
The actual name of this breathtaking place is St. Bernard de Clairvaux Church, but locals refer to it as the Spanish Monastery. The medieval cloister was built in Segovia, Spain, in the 12th century, where it served for a while as home to Cistercian monks. In the 20th century, it was disassembled; in 1925, media mogul William Randolph Hearst purchased it, had it shipped to the U.S. in 11,000 crates, and it was reassembled in its present location in North Miami Beach. We love it for its Romanesque architecture and rich history, but that alone was not enough to make it a compelling attraction and after going bankrupt some 45 years ago, the monastery was taken over by the Episcopal Diocese of Southeast Florida. It’s now a popular venue for weddings and special events. Admission is $5 for adults; call for hours, as they often change.
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The Holocaust Memorial Miami Beach
Neighborhood: Southwest Portland
A poignant experience for all who visit, this memorial to the victims of the Holocaust was established 20 years ago by a group of survivors. Its unforgettable signature is a dramatic sculpture: a massive arm reaching skyward with skeletal bodies clinging to its sides. The two most memorable parts of the museum are the Garden of Meditation, with its plaza of Jerusalem stone, and The Lonely Path, a dark stone tunnel pierced by slivers of sunlight; while listening to the voices of Israeli children singing, as you approach the end of the tunnel a child’s cries can be heard. The memorial hosts special events and dedications throughout the year—there’s a schedule on the website. Open 9AM-9PM daily; admission is free and open to the public.
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Neighborhood: Watson Island
Jungle Island is home to more than 1,000 tropical birds and a brood of exotic wildlife that includes a “liger,” African pygmy goats, zebus, a tropical breed of cattle; Hamadryas baboons, panther chameleons and monkey-tailed skinks. Add to that 2,000 varieties of plants and flowers—the sausage trees from Africa are particularly intriguing—and you’ve got a day the kids will be talking about for years. Even if you don’t have kids, we recommend a visit. A daily shows-and-exhibit schedule is available on the website. It’s open 365 days, Monday-Friday 10AM-5PM; Saturday and Sunday 10AM-6PM. Admission is $32.95 plus tax for adults (ages 11-61); seniors pay $30.95 plus tax (ages 62+); children ages 3-10 pay $24.95 plus tax; children under 3 get in free.
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Neighborhood: South Beach
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This fascinating private collection of erotic art covers many eras, cultures and mediums in 20 themed rooms. Owner/curator Naomi Wilzig began collecting while her husband was still alive, hiding the art from him in their vacation condo because she was sure he would object to the subject matter. Today, Wilzig has her collection on display in South Beach, literally the only city where she was able to obtain a permit to display it in a public space. WEAM is not for social conservatives, but if you’re comfortable with erotica, you’ll find this a captivating education on the sexual taboos and traditions of the world over the last several centuries. Open every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day and July Fourth, Monday-Thursday 11AM-10PM, Friday-Sunday 11AM-midnight. Admission, restricted to 18 and older, is $15, $14 for seniors and $13.50 for students.
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