MIAMI BEACH, Fla. >> South Beach has a reputation as a boozy playground for partying rich kids, celebrities and wannabes. So is it possible for parents to enjoy a vacation here on a budget with teenagers?
Absolutely. We did.
My husband Dan and I took our 18-year-old daughter Maggie and her 19-year-old friend Louise Reed to South Beach on vacation. We shared a hotel room, had the occasional dinner together, issued a few warnings about safety while they went off on their own, and we all had a great time without spending a fortune. Here’s how you can do it, too.
Hotels are pricey, but we managed to find an affordable suite at the Grand Beach Hotel using a third-party booking service. It was the size of a studio apartment with a balcony, refrigerator and ocean view. We were pleasantly surprised to find two bathrooms, which came in handy for four people. The girls shared a fold-out couch, separated from our king-sized bed by one of the bathrooms. (Rates at the Grand Beach for December and January range from the mid-$200s to the mid-$500s depending on date and room.)
The hotel has three pools. One, which does not allow children, offers poolside food and beverage service that the teens enjoyed most days on their own, while we lounged at another pool in the complex.
We ate at Sushisamba our first night in town, joined by family members who drove down from Fort Lauderdale. While the adults talked long past the meal, Maggie and Louise wandered the 10-block pedestrian Lincoln Road Mall, featuring dozens of stores, from Athleta to Zara, to sidewalk cafes, restaurants and bars. We had other wallet- and teen-friendly dinners together at Shake Shack, also in the Lincoln Road Mall, and Coyo Taco in the Wynwood section of Miami. Like everything else, the food in South Beach is expensive, but we broke the budget only once. The girls’ lunch at the Sugar Factory in the Victor Hotel on Ocean Drive ran up a tab of $110 for a chicken sandwich, salad, spinach dip and a $40, 60-ounce smoking candy Lollipop Passion fruit drink.
Teenagers and adults don’t always want to do the same things, and the girls nixed our suggestions to tour the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens and to snorkel on Key Largo. So we left them at the hotel pool and drove the 60 miles to Key Largo, the closest of the Florida Keys, by ourselves. The day turned out to be too cold for snorkeling at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, but we did enjoy the view of the Atlantic Ocean and a late lunch at Harriette’s Restaurant, famous for its giant homemade muffins. (Our visit was over spring break earlier this year, before Hurricane Irma, but Harriette’s is open now. Some activities at John Pennekamp have been suspended pending cleanup, though snorkel boat tours and glass-bottom boat tours are operating.)
On our last night, we drove to the hip Wynwood Walls section of Miami, a formerly dilapidated set of warehouses now covered in vibrant graffiti by artists from around the world. The district includes stunning art on metal doors, murals on surrounding buildings, and a cafe and garden. The artist Peter Tunney has a gallery on site, showcasing his pop-culture collages. Outside the walls, antique stores, art galleries and restaurants abound. It’s about a 20-minute drive from South Beach.
As it turned out, South Beach after dark was too much for all of us. One night after dinner, Maggie and Louise walked north on Ocean Drive to take in the famous party scene on their own. We walked south, and were assaulted by music blasting from the open-air restaurants and bars as we were jostled by the crowds. We were ready to head back to the hotel after a half-hour, and were only too happy to get a text from our teens a few minutes later saying they had had enough, too.