Play outside, host your next family barbecue or simply spend the day enjoying nature at the best parks in Miami.
While the city doesn’t have much of a pedestrian culture, the best parks in Miami do give us plenty of reasons to head outdoors. Miamians have access to a range of green spaces with eye-catching flora and fauna, fitness trails and all sorts of water-based activities. A day in the park is not only one of the best free things to do in Miami, but also makes for a cheap date idea in Miami and is one of the best things to do in Miami with kids. What’s more, special programs and events at many of the best Miami parks can turn a boring visit into a genuine learning experience for the whole family.
David T. Kennedy Park
This diminutive green space is widely used by people in the community for sports, exercise and all sorts of outdoor pursuits. There’s free yoga on the weekends, a dog park with plenty of seating for voyeuristic animal lovers, a bike trail (Citi Bike docking stations were recently installed on park grounds) and an exercise course with calisthenic equipment. Regulars will recognize the A.C.‘s Icees truck, which has had a permanent spot in the parking lot for more than three decades. It’s common these days to see generations of locals sipping on frozen lemonades as they make their way around the park during evening walks.
Matheson Hammock Park
This picturesque park has an artificial atoll pool that’s good for safe, quiet bathing. For lunching, the Red Fish Grill is housed in a charming coral-rock building—and the food’s not bad either. A fair warning for boaters hoping to use the marina on the weekends, arrive early. Matheson Hammock Park has one of the city’s most popular boating docks, so expect traffic driving into the park even if you’re not headed for a day out on the water.
While most of Key Biscayne’s public beaches are shallow and not great for swimming, Crandon Park offers two miles of white-sand beaches that are free to enjoy. Families love Crandon Park for its ease and convenience: plentiful parking ($7 per vehicle) with proximity to the water and numerous cabanas with barbecue capabilities, which are available to rent. A visit to Crandon Park is more than just a day at the beach; it’s an opportunity to play volleyball, go on an eco-adventure tour, take a self-guided nature walk and ride a family-sized bike built for four.
Bill Sadowski Park
This 30-acre park and nature center, located half a mile west of Old Cutler Road, has nature trails and organizes birdwatching tours. It’s also an observatory site for the Southern Cross Astronomical Society, which holds stargazing sessions from 8pm to 10pm every Saturday night, weather permitting.
Oleta River State Recreation Area
The largest urban park in the state, covering around 1,000 acres, Oleta River is another of those splendid natural wonders that manages to exist in the shadows of condo canyons and metropolitan mayhem. Once home to the Tequesta Indians, who camped along its shores, the river is a habitat for manatees, waterbirds and dolphins. Visitors can explore the river by canoe or kayak, and there is a popular fishing pier. The park is well known for its mountain bike trails, all graded at varying levels of difficulty. A concession offers kayak, canoe and bicycle rentals.
Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park
Occupying the southern tip of Key Biscayne, this park’s wide beaches regularly make the national top ten lists. But this is more than just a place to catch some rays: there’s history, wildlife and plenty of activities too. You can tour the Cape Florida Lighthouse, the oldest building in south Florida; explore native wildlife planted in the aftermath of 1992’s Hurricane Andrew; and try your hand at shoreline fishing, ocean kayaking, windsurfing, cycling and in-line skating. Covered pavilions are available for picnics, and the Lighthouse Café offers good food.
Amelia Earhart Park
It’s way up north in Hialeah, but this park has lots of distractions for children that make it well worth the trip, including several lakes, a farm village with petting zoo, pony rides, a skate park, a re-created pioneer homestead, an enormous playground and a “bark park” for dogs. On weekends, you can rent bikes to traverse the park’s mountain-bike trails.
Biscayne National Underwater Park
Nearly all of this park’s 181,500 acres are underwater, so come prepared to explore via glass-bottomed boat tours, canoe or—better yet—snorkelling or scuba diving. Get an introduction to the park’s ecosystems and wildlife at the visitors’ center, built in the style of the area’s pioneer homes. Of interest are the ecologically important mangrove forest, the abundant birdlife and, of course, the dazzling coral reef filled with brilliantly colored fish, sea turtles and other marine life. Wildlife-lovers should take a boat trip to the neighboring keys, full of nesting birds, subtropical forests and nature trails. Note that due to damage caused to the dock by Hurricane Sandy, boat tours had been temporarily suspended at time of writing; call to confirm schedule before visiting.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
The land-based portion of this vast park is pleasant, encompassing hammock trails and beachy areas, but the main attractions are underwater. This is the most accessible portion of the coral reef that runs the length of the Keys. No array of pictures or brochure flim-flam can prepare you for the beauty of the reef, which can be seen from the comfort of a glass-bottomed boat. Garish fish and exotic sea creatures glide around, and can be viewed up close by snorkeling or diving (tours also available, along with equipment rental). The much-photographed Christ of the Abyss statue is within the boundaries of the park, submerged in 25ft of water six miles east-north-east of Key Largo’s South Cut.
Barnacle Historic State Park
Built in 1891 and named after the distinctive shape of its roof, Ralph Munroe’s “Barnacle” is the oldest home in Miami to remain on its original site. It was designed as a one-story house facing Biscayne Bay. Three verandas and a skylight, which could be opened with a pulley, provided ventilation. The Munroe family continued to live at the Barnacle until 1973, when they sold the house and its furnishings to the state of Florida to be used as a museum. The pristine beauty of this bayfront pioneer home and its grounds is even more apparent now that it has been tragically sandwiched between two cramped luxury condo developments. You can tour the house and the grounds, or catch one of the regularly scheduled concerts on the lawn.