Most people in the Northeast, Midwest and even parts of the Southeast think of South Florida as a fall, winter or early spring vacation destination—a magical place where the sky seldom looks like a gray patchwork tapestry and the ground never looks like a rolling, white duvet.
They frankly don’t even care what South Florida offers in addition to the climate—whatever it is, they’ll take it because it rarely requires a heavy parka. Which is why many people don’t often think of Florida as a summer vacation destination. Why come to places like Miami, Fort Lauderdale, the Keys or the Treasure Coast in the summer, they reason, when it’s already warm at home?
Here’s hoping they reconsider. Because there are plenty of summer events in South Florida worth experiencing on their own merits, all weather being equal.
Here are seven examples. Some are annual, some recur more regularly; some are “events” only in the sense requiring quote marks—activities that create memories.
1) Miami Marlins Baseball
There’s lots of good baseball, and no bad seats, at Marlins Park. Located just west of downtown and built in the footprint of the old Orange Bowl, this state-of-the-art stadium offers as enjoyable a game-day experience as any in Major League Baseball.
- Kids will love every Marlins home run—when spray erupts, LEDs blaze, and automated flying Marlins curl around a South Beach tacky-chic, 75-foot-tall art piece beyond the outfield wall.
- They’ll also love the 650-gallon and 450-gallon tropical fish aquariums, foul ball-proof and fully stocked, that serve as backstops behind home plate, and the Bobblehead Museum in the concession plaza.
- Parents will love the retractable roof, which insures against famous sudden Miami cloudbursts; and the climate-controlled environment when the roof is closed, which is most of the time, and which insures against overheated children.
- Urban vibe catchers will love the 60-foot tall clear window panels beyond left field and a skyline view that lets no one forget this is baseball in a world-class city.
- The over-21 party crowd will love Clevelander Marlins Park, which transfuses segregated left-field seating with the late-night ambience and excesses of its legendary South Beach namesake bar, complete with swimming pool.
- Everyone will love something off a food menu as diverse as the cuisine everywhere in Miami. (And dads stuck in concession lines will love not missing a pitch while they wait. the concession plaza not only encircles the field in a design that keeps sightlines intact at all times, it’s also packed with TV monitors.)
And if the Marlins aren’t in town when you are, Marlins Park is open for tours.
2) Elliott Museum Baseball Collection
Sticking with the baseball theme, one of the sport’s best-kept secrets is about 100 miles up Interstate 95 from the Marlins Park, on Florida’s Treasure Coast. Everyone knows that the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown houses the world’s greatest collection of autographed baseball memorabilia, but not everyone knows that the Elliott Museum near Stuart houses the second-greatest collection.
The Elliott Museum on Hutchinson Island, across the causeway from Stuart, pays tribute to history, art and all forms of technology. Its namesake, Sterling Elliott, invented everything from the modern steering column to the ball bearing to the egg carton. But baseball fans are especially drawn to one of the museum’s several permanent collections—items autographed by the game’s all-time greats.
You’ll see bats signed by Joe DiMaggio, Hank Aaron and “Shoeless Joe” Jackson; a ball signed by Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig; a player contract of Ty Cobb’s; and a century-old trading card signed by Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers and Frank Chance. (That’s as in Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance, the Chicago Cubs infield trio and double-play combination immortalized in “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon,” the most famous baseball poem of all time after “Casey at the Bat.”)
3) Exhibitions at Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens
If you’ve visited the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens before, you know it’s well worth the 50-mile drive from downtown Miami to Delray Beach. You know you can expect to encounter one enchantment after another on your stroll through the succession of gardens and your tour of the museum’s rich permanent exhibits.
But here’s what’s new this summer: Two remarkable temporary exhibits. From June through September 2015, you can enjoy “Japan’s Robot Kingdom” and “The Morikami Menagerie: Creatures in Japanese Art.” The first exhibit explores the impact of evolving technologies, particularly advancements in robotics on Japanese culture and society. The latter exhibit explores Japanese fascination with the mythical and supernatural as expressed in art.
4) Swim Week
If the notion of getting first look at tomorrow’s swimsuit designs paraded on chic South Beach hotel poolside runways brings out your inner fashionista, then c’mon down and join everyone who’s anyone in industry for Miami Swim Week. Top international designers, models and miscellaneous fashion insiders descend on the Art Deco district that every July for an event that makes normal party weekends on Ocean Drive look like Tuesday morning library club meetings.
Top events, like Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Swim at the Raleigh and SwimShow at Miami Beach Convention Center—in 2015, both July 18-21—are mostly closed to miscellaneous VIPs and the fashion media. But you’ll also find hot shows and freewheeling, DJ-driven, model-infested parties affiliated with this annual July event that welcome the public. Many even are free, thrown by the world’s most famous swimsuit brands. And if you’re interested in sampling the ambience at the exclusive shows, you’ll find common areas at those venues where you can go people watching, celeb hunting and maybe even photo bombing.
This one’s probably not for the kids, but it’s the lone exception in this entire group.
5) Swap Shop Drive-In
If you’re of a certain age, drive-in movie theatres very likely were a staple of your youth. There aren’t many around anymore, places under the stars where you can treat your own children or grandchildren to this glorious, oft-forgotten pastime.
Well, not only is there a drive-in theater in South Florida open every day of the year, an evening there on your South Florida is way more than an exercise in nostalgia. The Swap Shop Drive-In, just off I-95 west of Fort Lauderdale, actually has 14 screens—it’s the world’s largest outdoor movie multiplex.
One carload admission entitles you to park in front of any screen. If you change your mind about the movie you want to watch, you’re free to drive to any other screen as often as you want. And of course, you can customize your own double feature by sticking around for a second movie anywhere in the multiplex.
And if you’re interested in shopping for antiques and bargains, come well before dusk, when the movies start. The theater is part of an 88-acre entertainment complex that also houses the world’s largest flea market, encompassing more than 2,000 vendors.
6) Artspark Movie Night
If you’re looking for a more intimate experience viewing movies under the stars, there’s ArtsPark Movie Nights every Friday in the northern Miami suburb of Hollywood, Florida. The city of Hollywood shows free movies, all suitable for all ages, at the ArtsPark at Young Circle amphitheater.
The movies start between 8 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. depending on time of year, with later showings in the summer. It’s all lawn seating. If you can scrounge up a couple lawn chairs, then great, and if not, bring a couple of blankets so you can huddle with family or cuddle with your loved one.
Parking also is free and ample all around the beautiful, 10-acre public circle on U.S. 1 at Hollywood Boulevard. You can also enjoy classes, demonstration and themed exhibits at the Visual Arts Pavilion, stroll though through park greenery and floral arrangements, set your kids free at an imaginative playground, stop to admire The Millennium Springs, a stunning piece of environmental artwork, and more. The park is one-half hour from South Beach.
7) World’s Largest Key Lime Pie
The last event here takes place in Key West, and frankly, if you know much about the Keys, you wouldn’t expect it to take place anywhere else. The World’s Largest Key Lime Pie event is the signature event of the three-day 2015 Key Lime Festival on July Fourth weekend. It’s good, healthy, family summer vacation fun—or as healthy as anything can be that involves at least 126 pounds of butter, 46 pounds of brown sugar, 9 pounds of honey, 6,480 key limes and 220 pounds of graham cracker crumbs and 220 gallons of sweetened condensed milk.
Those were the ingredients that went into creating a 9-foot key lime pie, the world’s largest, at the festival in 2014. This year on July 4th, four expert bakers from Key West will try to surpass the record and create an even bigger pie. The effort will take place outdoors from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Greene Street near Duval Street. You can come watch for free, but each slice of the finished product will cost you a suggested $2 donation, the proceeds going to a designated Key West charity.
The World’s Largest Key Lime Pie event might be the family-friendly highlight of the festival, but there’s more to enjoy over the three-day event—including a contest for best pie recipe, a pie-eating contest, a Miss Key Lime Pie U.S.A. pageant, and more.