Hotels in this story
In it’s heyday in the ’60s and ’70s, Sunny Isles Beach was a pedestrian-friendly seaside strip of two-story snow bird motels with Vegas-themed names like Tangiers, Golden Nugget, and the Dunes. While wealthy visitors flocked to the Fontainebleau Resort, seasonal travelers favored the more casual and affordable kitchenettes along this 40-block stretch of North Miami Beach. In recent years, the kitschy motels and Wolfie Cohen’s Rascal House have disappeared as city fathers worked to transform the landscape into towering resorts and condos sporting nameplates like the Trump International. The retro Miami Beach vibe is history.
This race to capture moneyed resort clientele leaves the sidewalks along Collins Avenue rather daunting and austere. The brand new high-tech properties make it possible to remain on site for the duration of your holiday enjoying room service, spa treatments, and pricey drinks by the pool. While a totally pampering oasis is awfully tempting, if you are traveling with your kids and want to find fun activities away from the commercial strip, here are a few spots to help you get back to nature and discover Florida.
Enchanted Forest Elaine Gordon Park (1725 NE 135 Street, North Miami): Just 10 minutes southwest of Sunny Isles, the Enchanted Forest Elaine Gordon Park is a perfect spot for animal adventures on foot or on horseback. A 22-acre oasis with paved walking trails and a tot-lot playground, the highlight of your visit will be spotting giant iguanas warming in the sun and riding ponies through the oak hammocks of this Florida State historical preserve. Park guides offer eco-tours and special spooky ghost tours by reservation at 305-944-6111.
Oleta River State Park (3400 NE 163rd Street, Sunny Isles): Florida’s largest urban park is just five minutes west of Sunny Isles and offers miles of off-road bike trails, kayaking through the mangroves, and 1,200 square feet of tranquil beaches. To escape the pricey poolside action, treat the kids to a day of adventure exploring the former home of the Tequesta Indians by canoe and spotting playful bottle nose dolphins along the western shoreline. Bikes, boats, and safety gear are available at the Blue Moon Outdoor Center starting at 9 a.m.
Haulover Park (10800 Collins Avenue, Bal Harbour): Just south of Sunny Isles along Collins Avenue, Haulover Park contains some of Florida’s most beautiful beaches running a mile and a half along the coast. On the west side of the park, facing the Intracoastal waterway, families can enjoy a full-service marina with charter and drift fishing boats, a nine-hole golf course, and public tennis facilities. Fly kites along the breezy inlet at A1A and picnic by the sea from sunrise to sunset year round.
Sunny Isles resorts near the parks include Trump International Beach Resort, Newport Beachside Resort, and the Doubletree Ocean Point Resort & Spa. The city offers free shuttle service to nearby parks and shopping malls daily.
Correction: This article originally listed an incorrect name for Enchanted Forest Elaine Gordon Park.