Budget Friendly South Florida With Kids: Miami, Everglades, & Key Largo!

on April 7, 2018

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I love visiting South Florida in the winter to get a dose of sunshine and warmth. In this post, I’ll show you how to take an affordable family vacation to Miami, the Everglades, and Key Largo that your kids will love!

Tip #1: Choose Affordable Activities

There are some pretty pricey things to do around South Florida, from harbor cruises to airboat tours. The key to keeping your trip under budget is to find some affordable activities everyone in the family will love.

Crandon Park & Beach

South Beach is the main attraction in Miami, but it is crowded and parking can get VERY expensive. A great alternative is Crandon Park, just minutes from downtown.

You access it via the Rickenbacker Causeway which costs $3 to use roundtrip. All day parking at Crandon Park is $5 on weekdays and $7 on weekends.

For under $10 for the entire family, you get access to a gorgeous beach, playgrounds, nature trails, restrooms with changing areas, and more. This beach was the most perfect I’ve ever been to and straight out of my dreams! Pack a picnic lunch and spend the day here.

Everglades National Park

I was really excited to visit the Everglades on this trip. The entrance was only a 10-minute drive from our hotel.

It costs $25 per vehicle for up to a week to visit Everglades National Park. If you have a large family this is a great deal even if you are only visiting for a day!

We only visited a small portion of the southern part of the park. There is SO much more you could do here, but on our first visit we just got a taste of the unique ecosystem.

We made a quick stop at the small Ernest P. Coe Visitor’s Center, which had great interactive exhibits that my daughter loved.

Then we went to the Royal Palms area and did two short hikes – the Anhinga Trail and the Gumbo Limbo Trail. They were perfect for kids and we saw tons of wildlife, including the famous Anhinga birds and a huge alligator right off the boardwalk trail!

We also visited the Mahogany Hammock and the Pa-hay-okee Overlook, both of which we enjoyed. We had a fantastic day experiencing the Everglades and went back for a swim in the hotel pool before dinner. I can’t wait to go back to see more of the park.

Key Largo

I was really excited to take a glass bottom boat tour in Key Largo to see the world-famous coral reefs. I even got a great deal on Groupon for tickets – $36 total for one adult and one child!

Well, all of the tours were canceled for our entire visit due to poor visibility in the water. There were high winds and rip tides that made it impossible to visit the reefs (we visited the last week in January). Groupon refunded the full price of my tickets with one quick call to their customer service line.

Fortunately, I had a backup plan to visit John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. It costs $9 for two people to enter and only $0.50 more per person for more than 2 people.

The beaches here are tiny and nothing much to speak off, but we did catch this cool little crab at Cannon Beach.

The visitor’s center had a large saltwater aquarium and some nice exhibits. There is camping, fishing, kayak rentals (closed during our visit due to weather), snorkeling and scuba tours, and more offered at this park. Their snorkeling tours are very affordable – $30 per adult and $25 per child. I’d love to do this on our next trip!

Since I didn’t spend anything on our glass bottom boat tour I felt entitled to a visit to the next best thing – a glass-bottom bar! We had some appetizers (plus mama had a much-needed cocktail) and RC got to feed the fish right off the side of the deck.

And of course we couldn’t leave the Keys without some famous Key Lime Pie! We got this slice to-go for $5 from Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen II. We ate it back in our hotel room and it was totally incredible.

Zoo Miami & Frost Museum of Science

One of my top tips for finding affordable family activities when you travel is to take advantage of a local museum membership if you have one. We have a membership at our local Museum of Life & Science, which gives us free or half-price entry to thousands of museums all over the country thanks to the ASTC Travel Passport Program and the AZA Reciprocal Admissions Program.

We were able to get free admission to the incredible Frost Museum of Science in downtown Miami by showing my membership card and ID. It would have cost $49 for us both to get in out of pocket.

There were tons of hands-on activities that my daughter loved. And check out this view of downtown from the top of the museum! We spent 3 hours there and paid $12 for parking which was totally worth it.

The day we arrived we went straight to Zoo Miami, which is located between Miami and Homestead. We got in for half price (thanks to our museum membership) which was $22 for both of us. It is the only sub-tropical zoo in the continental US and had great exhibits.

We split a $10 chicken basket for lunch along with some fruit I brought into the park. I find we are often able to share meals if I supplement it with something from my backpack.

We had a fantastic time checking out the budget-friendly activities for kids in South Florida. Now on to other ways to save…

Tip #2: Don’t Stay in the City

I know… Miami’s luxury resorts and yachts don’t exactly scream “affordable family travel”. But you can visit the area without staying right in Miami and save thousands of dollars on accommodations.

My advice is to look for a hotel in Homestead, which is located about 30 miles south of Miami (60 miles south of Fort Lauderdale).

Homestead is right next to Everglades National Park and Key Largo is 30 miles to the south, so you are close to ALL of the main attractions in South Florida! And while it isn’t fancy, it has a great selection of budget-friendly hotels and great amenities (grocery stores, drugstores, Walmart, etc.)

We snagged a stay at the Quality Inn Florida City for $70/night (plus tax) using Priceline. The room was completely adequate for our needs plus it had a heated pool and a basic free breakfast. You certainly can’t get that anywhere near Miami for $70/night!

I love using Priceline for stays like this and we were happy with what we got for our money.

Tip #3: Get a Cheap Rental Car

If you want to see a lot of South Florida like we did, you’ll have to rent a car during your trip. I was able to get a rental car for four days for only $70 total (including taxes!) thanks to my tricks for getting a cheap rental car that I shared in this post.

There are LOTS of tolls in South Florida so I suggest paying the daily fee to use the electronic pass with your rental company. We rented with Payless and the fee was $2.95 per day plus tolls. It saved us from ever having to stop at a toll booth and is well worth the cost for the hassle it will save you!

Tip #4: Keep Your Food Costs Down

Enjoying a smoothie at Robert is Here

Eating out at restaurants will drive the cost of your trip way up. We ate free breakfast at our hotel and bought most of the rest of our food at the Publix Supermarket down the street.

We had a mini-fridge and microwave in our room (a necessity for frugal family travel) so I would heat up food for dinner in the room. We got prepackaged sandwiches and fruit to eat on-the-go for lunches.

Free hotel breakfast

I like to get snacks at restaurants to get some local flavor instead of entire meals to save a lot of money. We enjoyed our pie from Key Largo and a fruit smoothie from “Robert Is Here“, a roadside fruit stand and farm near the Everglades that is quintessentially Florida.

Tip #5: Fly To South Florida for Cheap

My last piece of advice is to get to South Florida on the cheap with low airfare or using airline miles.

We flew round trip to Florida for $22 total thanks to my bank of Southwest Rapid Reward points. Learn how you can fly for almost free on Southwest in this post!

Alternatively, you can often find cheap airfare to Fort Lauderdale and Miami in January/February on airlines such as JetBlue, Delta, Spirit, and American. You can search in Google Flights then book directly with the airline for the best rates!

Budget-Friendly South Florida Family Vacation Summary

Here is a breakdown of every dollar we spent on the trip:

parking – science museum $12
Everglades NP – $25
Zoo Miami tickets – $22.39 (half price)
Zoo Miami lunch – $10.70
Robert is Here milkshake – $7.10
Gas $27.27
airport dinner – $14.48
Publix – $47.41
pilot house restaurant – $36
walmart – $21.77 (beach shoes + sand bucket  +$13 food)
Crandon beach parking = $5
rental car – $70
tolls – $20.80
plane ticket – $22.40

food total = $112
entertainment total = $77
transportation total = $161
lodging total = $247

trip total = $597 for a four-day trip for me and my daughter

I think any four-day long family vacation for under $600 is a total bargain! It is totally possible to take a cheap family trip for some fun in the sun. The exact same trip would cost a family of four $754 so still doable on a tight budget.

I hope this inspired you to check out South Florida with your kids. Any questions about this area or frugal family travel in general? Leave a comment below or send me a message on The Frugal South’s Facebook page!

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  • Anne

    Great tips ! I love how South Florida has so many nature-inspired activities. Gotta get kids away from the Xbox and out into the wild !

    April 12, 2018 at 12:27 pm Reply
    • Leah

      Totally, Anne! It was amazing to spend all day outside in January in shorts. Just heavenly. And we obviously love nature and getting outside so it was a perfect trip for us.

      April 15, 2018 at 5:48 am Reply

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