By: Guiomar Barbi Ochoa
Washington DC to Miami, Florida: The road trip as a kid
When I was a child, my family drove to Miami from Washington, D.C. every summer. We’d always divide the 15-hour drive into two days with Florida alone taking up most of the second day. There were no iPads, DVD players or even Walkmen. We would find Rest Areas on our AAA guide book and have a picnic lunch along the way. The first day of driving, we’d plow through Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina before stopping somewhere in Georgia by late afternoon. Highlights of that day for me included passing the fun and quirky “South of the Border” as well as maybe getting ice cream as a treat after lunch. We would spend that evening at a roadside motel and swim at the hotel pool so we could expend some energy before going to bed. Early the following morning, we’d cross into Florida with another six to seven hours driving to go.
Washington DC to the Florida Keys: The road trip with kids
As fate would have it, I married a Cuban-American from Florida. We go to Miami at least twice a year and still vacation with my family on Miami Beach every August. Usually we fly but this summer, we opted to drive and explore the South East a bit. As we don’t have a minivan with built in movie screens and there’s no WiFi in our car we weren’t quite sure how our children Anna-Cecilia (age 6) and Luca (age 3) would survive this voyage. Just to spice things up a bit, we added the Florida Keys to the mix. Our journey took us to St. Simons Island, Georgia, Miami, Florida, Key Largo and Key West in the Florida Keys. It was a long trip but we survived and had fun exploring this beautiful coast together.
Washington DC to the Florida Keys: Our Road Trip Itinerary
DAY 1: Washington DC – St Simons Island, GA
Pit Stop 1: ‘South of the Border’, between North & South Carolina
South of the Border, the quirky, Mexican themed divide between North and South Carolinas. The billboards announcing it are cute and fun for kids to read. It’s a nice goal marker stop and it’s always fun to see Pedro’s sombrero.
Pit Stop 2 : Florence, South Carolina
Florence has tons of food options (both fast food and full service). But the best thing Florence has is Bruster’s Real Ice Cream. You can order from an old fashioned window or even drive thru.
Overnight: St. Simons Island, Georgia
Our first overnight stop was St. Simons Island, GA. Only about 10 miles from Brunswick, GA and I-95 lies St. Simons Island. The largest of Georgia’s illustrious Golden Isles, St. Simons is a picturesque seaside resort with family friendly beaches, tons of outdoor activities, fun shops and tasty restaurants. Because I’m a stickler for learning about the history of places we visit, I made sure our family went on a Lighthouse Trolley tour. The tour was scheduled to last 90 minutes but actually ran over two hours! The kids took a little nap but my husband and I thoroughly enjoyed it and feel like we definitely got a great history lesson about the island.
Where to stay in St Simons Island, GA
One of the things we loved most about St. Simons Island, GA. was the King and Prince Resort. Our room had a view of the beautiful beaches as well as the fun pools and my kids were in heaven! We went for a long walk during low tide while the kids splashed each other and took dips when they got hot. It was the perfect way to get rid of energy from being cooped up in the car. After hours of going back and forth between the beach and pool, we had a lovely dinner at the King and Prince’s casual yet delicious ECHO restaurant. Dessert was a fun sundae called the Shipwreck and we even got an impromptu fireworks show. We started the next morning off with breakfast at ECHO again and the fluffiest pancakes we’ve ever had.
DAY 2: St Simons Island – Miami
Pit Stop 1: Florida Welcome Center
Get some fresh squeezed orange or grapefruit juice and pick up countless brochures on all the fun activities Florida has to offer. Florida is a LONG state to drive from North to South so let the kids enjoy this interactive stopover.
Pit Stop 2: La Carreta, Miami
La Carreta in Miami to eat good, reasonable and authentic Cuban food.
The drive from St. Simons to Miami was a good nine hours. It’s a long haul but mentally knowing we were beach bound helped get us through it! In Miami, we split our time between Miami Beach and the city itself. Miami is a great place to discover with kids. Its chock full of Latin culture that should be explored thoroughly. From Cuban croquetas to Colombian carimañolas, there are vast food options to satisfy even the pickiest of palettes. There are many public beaches to swim in and the water is nice and warm.
Where to stay in Miami
Acqualina Resort & Spa is a super kid-friendly, luxury seaside sanctuary located in Sunny Isles Beach between Miami and Ft. Lauderdale. Our room was on the twenty third floor so we had a breathtaking view of the Atlantic Ocean. Because kids will be kids, we had to try out all the pools before even setting foot in the ocean. Forget your swim diapers? No worries, you can get some at the Beach Club pool kiosk. Yes, they’ve even thought of that. Kids aged five to twelve can even try the hotel’s Aquamarine day camp that teaches children about the sea through educational activities. An awesome feature for kids to have fun and learn and for mom and dad to relax and get some beach time! I walked into Acqualina and was afraid it might be too stuffy for our little ones but nothing could be further from the truth. From the foosball table by the pools to the gelato bar near the lobby, this resort is a must for any family visiting Miami Beach.
What to See in Miami / Fort Lauderdale with Kids
In Ft. Lauderdale, it’s worth taking the kids for dinner and a show at the Mai-Kai, a tiki-themed restaurant that’s been around since 1956. They have a fun Polynesian show and good food. The gardens are beautiful to walk through and perfect for family photo ops.
In Miami, make it a point to go to Vizcaya Museums and Gardens. Constructed as James Deering’s winter home in the 1910’s, today Vizcaya is a National Historic Landmark with beautiful grounds. The views are stunning and our kids loved running around and seeing iguanas, birds, manatees, and butterflies.
DAY 3: Miami – Key Largo (Florida Keys)
Leaving Miami and getting on US1 to drive to the Florida Keys exudes relaxation! US1 is a one lane road so you don’t have a choice but to sit back and enjoy the beautiful views that lie ahead. Our first stop was Key Largo, about 60 miles south of Miami proper. We opted to spend the night here so we could enjoy the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Key Largo is one of the largest Keys so many modern commodities are available to tourists.
Overnight Key Largo, Florida Keys
In Key Largo, we stayed at an ample and very family friendly condo at Ocean Pointe Suites. We had a kitchenette, pool and even a little private beach which is not always a given in the Keys. This was an ideal property for traveling with a family.
What to see in Key Largo, Florida Keys
The John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is a must see in Key Largo. Measuring 70 nautical square miles, Pennekamp is the first undersea park in the United States. The coral reefs are spectacular and you can enjoy them and their marine life, via glass-bottom boat tour, scuba diving or snorkelling if you have older kids.
DAY 4: Key Largo – Key West (Florida Keys)
Pit Stop: Bitton Bistro Cafe, Islamorada, Florida Keys
Bitton Bistro Café in Islamorada, Florida Keys. This fun, vibrant and vivacious café has amazing homemade pastries and strong French coffee. The giant crepes, both sweet and savoury, are not to be missed. As a bonus, they have a large play area for little ones.
Morada Bay in Islamorada was by far one of the best surprises we stumbled upon. Located at MM 81.6, in the Florida Keys, this family friendly-retreat is adorned with cozy Adirondack chairs on a beach overlooking the Florida Bay. After viewing the spectacular sunset, while the kids ran around in the sand, we ate at the yummy Morada Bay Beach Café. Everything from the weather to the seafaring ambiance to the great food was perfect about Morada Bay.
Pit Stop: Flamingo Crossing, Key West
Flamingo Crossing Ice Cream on Duval Street in Key West, Florida Keys. Get some respite from the blazing Key West heat with this homemade ice cream in yummy, tropical fruit flavours you probably haven’t even heard of.
Overnight: Key West
The final stop on our adventure was Key West, the southernmost tip of the Florida Keys. It’s only 90 miles from Havana, Cuba. Key West is a fun, quirky place with lots of Spanish and Caribbean influence. Don’t be surprised to see roosters walking on the streets! Tin-roofed conch houses were once home to Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Frost and Jimmy Buffett. Folks here are definitely on island time and before no time, so were we! Head over to Mallory Square at sunset and watch street performers do everything from eat fire to jump over bicycles. Let yourself wander and get lost in Key West. Explore the eccentric shops and let the kids people watch. They’re sure to see some awesome sites!
Where to stay in Key West, Florida Keys
We opted for the new Hilton Garden Inn. This new property is right at the entrance of the island. It’s not right smack in the middle of everything but that might be a better option for families that don’t want to deal with the noise or business of Key West at nighttime. They do have a shuttle that takes you to historic Key West.
What to see in Key West, Florida Keys
When you need a break from walking in Key West, head to the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory a low key activity that kids of all ages will love. Stroll through a magical and inviting environment filled with hundreds of beautiful butterflies.
In downtown Key West, the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum was definitely three-year-old, Luca’s favourite. Containing an extensive collection of artefacts from ancient shipwrecks, this is a must see for any family with tiny pirates. Ernest Hemingway House and Museum was the famous author’s home, in Key West, from 1931 to 1939. A U.S. National historic landmark, the house is still populated by six- and seven-toed cats that are descendants of Hemingway’s cats. That, in itself, is a treat for kids.
Road Trips with Kids Tips
• Download the I-95 Exit Guide on your phone. It has every exit number, by state with a list of places to eat, sleep and fuel up
• Download movies and TV shows on tablets before your trip in case Wi-Fi is not available to you in the car.
• Make hotel reservations ahead of time so you have a set goal as to where you’re stopping and to guarantee you have a place to rest.
• Mentally and physically prepare yourself for traffic.
• Allow for splurges whether it be a 7-11 Slurpee or Krispy Kreme doughnut.
• Bring lots of snacks for the car.
• Bring baby wipes and toilet paper for public bathrooms.
• Pack lots of Patience!
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