South Florida Road Trip: Palm Beach Gardens to Miami

Not all road trips have to be cross-country treks; they just need to be loaded with fun. Welcome to Florida’s southeastern coast.

The drive to Miami from Palm Beach County takes only a couple hours, but there’s so much to do along the way.

Start at Palm Beach Gardens, one of the northernmost cities in the county, slightly inset from the coast but no less posh than its beachfront neighbors. Meet rescued turtles at the nearby Loggerhead Marinelife Center. Then hang out at Downtown at the Gardens, an open-air retail complex with free parking, train rides, a wooden carousel and a monthly Kids Crawl.

Relax at PGA National Resort & Spa

Even on a road trip, it’s nice to park your car for a while and just chill. Hello, resort life. The PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens is a world unto itself. Famous for its five championship golf courses and home to the PGA Tour’s Honda Classic, this luxe resort has it all: a wide selection of restaurants and shops, indulgent spa, golf and tennis lessons for kids, ultra-modern guestrooms with private terraces, and a 33,000-square-foot sports club that puts hotel gyms to shame (fitness classes included!). The customer service is top-notch, so expect to be spoiled.

In the summer, the resort is a favorite with families. Chill out poolside during Weekends at the Wave with music and activities ranging from a bounce house to face painting. Book a cabana and plan to spend the day. You’ve got the zero-entry pool, hot tub and kiddie pool plus lawn games like giant Jenga when you want a break from the water. You don’t even have to leave for lunch since the Wave Bar & Grill with a full kids menu is right there.

Luxury usually means a high price tag, but I have a couple tips for you. First, get there early the day you check in. They’ll hold your bags and you can get a head start on your vacation. Second, check out their special offers. Right now, there’s a third night free deal that also includes a deluxe buffet breakfast for the kids, one free with each adult meal.

On the road to Miami

You’ll take either I-95 or the Florida Turnpike. The latter is a toll road but often worth it since it gets less traffic. Check drive times before leaving.

There are a few cities worth visiting along the way.

  • Delray Beach: Not as glitzy as West Palm Beach, this laidback town specializes in nature. Kids will love the shark feedings at Sandoway Discovery Center and the chance to spot alligators at the free 50-acre Wakodahatchee Wetlands.
  • Boca Raton: Stop here to get out those wiggles at Sugar Sand Park. It’s got a splash pad, inclusive playground, children’s science museum, theater and more.
  • Fort Lauderdale: This bigger city has lots to do. Tour the tropical grounds of the 1920s Bonnet House. Explore the riverwalk downtown with a free trolley ride. Or play indoors at one of the many museums.

Where to stay in Miami

Miami hotels don’t come cheap, and it’s hard to get close to the action without paying for it.

The Copper Door B&B was our answer. Located in a historic neighborhood less than a mile from downtown and with free street parking to boot, The Copper Door combines the best of a boutique hotel with a traditional bed and breakfast. You have chef-prepared meals each morning and bright, clean rooms that are hotel-level quality rather than feeling like someone’s cutesy spare bedroom.

I’ll admit it’s not the obvious choice for families. There’s no pool, and the ambiance is classy and calm rather than kid-centric. But once you check out the Miami attractions below, you’ll realize there’s no time for a pool, and with the whirlwind rush of the day, retreating to The Copper Door each evening is a welcome respite. They have suites perfect for larger families, free and fast wifi and friendly staff who can share advice on what to see nearby.

Going wild in Miami

If you happen to have future zoologists, botanists or marine biologists in tow, just accept that you’ll need to spend a week in Miami. There are more parks, gardens, aquariums and wildlife habitats than you can shake a stick at, as my mom would say. If you have just a few days, pick your favorites from these top attractions.

  • Zoo Miami: It’s huge. So huge that we quickly became jealous of the families pedaling around in Safari Cycles. Camels, lions, otters, a river ride, monorail — they’ve got it. Block off your whole day if you can.
  • The Kampong: A national tropical botanical garden, The Kampong is an exotic wonderland for kids to explore with views of the bay. You can even eat a mango (it’s incredible) if you find one on the ground, proving once and for all that fruit doesn’t originate from the grocery store.
  • Monkey Jungle: Splurge on the extra 25 cents to buy sunflower seeds to feed the monkeys, and don’t miss the presentation with King, resident silverback.
  • Frost Museum of Science: Lots of hands-on science exhibits for the kids as you’d expect, but the three-level aquarium is the star.
  • Jungle Island: This eco-adventure amusement park combines animal exhibits with adrenaline-pumping attractions like rock climbing and kids’ bungee jumping.
  • Miami Seaquarium: Get there early to grab a seat at the popular shows. The one with the killer whale and dolphins is a must.

Downtime in Miami

The items above will keep you busy, but you’ll want to build in slower-paced activities, and a little AC couldn’t hurt.

Visit the Pérez Art Museum Miami: Stop by before or after the Frost Museum of Science next door so you don’t have to move your car. They also have activity booklets and free monthly programs geared toward younger guests.

Catch a show: City Theatre holds the distinction of being the only theater in the country dedicated to creating 10-minute plays for all ages. Seeing the hilarious SUMMER SHORTS was one of the highlights of our trip. They do full-length productions, too. Next up is The Cake, a more serious play with splashes of humor, written by the producer of This Is Us and opening at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts this December. The Arsht Center also has free Family Fest performances throughout the season. Sign up for emails to get the schedule.

Indulge at the Café at Books & Books: Tucked inside the Arsht Center is another destination, an independent bookshop with travel guides to Florida, children’s books and a full-service restaurant. The café specializes in local, sustainable and seasonal food by a James Beard award-winning chef, and you can taste the difference. They’re always open before showtime, so tell them you have tickets and they’ll help you get out on time. While kids will love digging into the burger and fries, parents will enjoy the drinks, upscale apps like lobster gazpacho, and entrées that let the fresh ingredients shine. If you’re there on a Monday, they do a five-course vegetarian farm-to-table dinner that takes you on a culinary tour accompanied by live music and served family style.

Play games: For the ultimate family experience, go to a restaurant devoted to macaroni and cheese that also has board games galore. Purchase a game pass at Mac & Chess, and you can play 20 Questions and Telestrations as long as you want. Bonus: Each pass includes a fried mac ball.

Driving to Key West?

On your way out of Miami, you’ll pass through Homestead. Coral Castle is one of those places you have to see if roadside oddities are your thing. It’s a series of limestone sculptures built by one man as a monument to his lost love. You learn the story and more on guided tours included with admission.

About the Author:
Cheryl Rodewig is storyteller, marketer, and award-winning feature writer specializing in travel. Her Venn diagram includes minimalism, waterfalls, French, and the em dash. Find her at or on Twitter at @cherylrodewig.