I hold a very special place in my heart for Miami, Florida. I grew up there; I went to college and was commissioned as an Air Force officer there; I still have family there. Miami has served as a refuge for thousands of Cubans (like my family members) and other immigrants from dozens of Latin American and Caribbean nations. As a result, it is one of the most vibrant and diverse cities in North America, filled with mouth-watering dining options, stunning Art Deco architecture, modern museums and galleries, and beautiful beaches. It is bright, loud, busy, and almost overwhelming at times. But all the wheelchair accessible options make Miami a must-visit for any lover of palm trees and warm weather.
1. The Beach. A trip to Miami wouldn’t be complete without a visit to its famous beaches! The City of Miami Beach offers both manual and motorized beach wheelchairs for free to assist those who are mobility impaired to enjoy their beautiful beaches. Beach wheelchairs are available first-come, first-serve from 9 am to 6 pm during the months of February through October and from 9 am to 4:30 pm during the months of November through January. They recommend you call ahead at (305) 673-7714. Beach Wheelchair locations (both manual and motorized) are: 1001 Ocean Drive and South Pointe Park. The City of Miami Beach has two manual Beach Wheelchairs and four motorized Beach Wheelchairs available for use. Upon arrival, see lifeguards for assistance. The manual Beach Wheelchair can go into water no more than 6 inches deep, and the motorized Beach Wheelchairs cannot enter the water and should be used only on land. Wheelchair access to the beach is via Mobi-Mats, which are available at select entrances (South Pointe is one). Please contact the City of Miami Beach for more details about beach wheelchair usage and Mobi Mat locations.
2. Vizcaya Museum and Gardens. Perched right on Biscayne Bay on Miami’s south side, the rambling Italianate mansion that once belonged to industrialist James Deering (of tractor fame) will take you back to a time when Miami was filled with trees instead of traffic. The beautifully maintained 34-room mansion, built in the 1910s, is surrounded by acres of serene European-style gardens lined with fountains and statuary, some of which date back to antiquity. The pièce de résistance, however, is the ornamental breakwater that sits right in the bay. Carved out of Florida limestone in the shape of an oversize Venetian barge, it is studded with all kinds of decorative sculpture — and makes for one of the most sublime sunset photo ops in Miami. Because of its designation as a national historic landmark, wheelchair accessibility is limited. The first floor of the Main House is mostly accessible to visitors using wheelchairs, with the exception of the East Loggia and the Entrance Loggia. Please enter through the ramp and lift on the south side of the house (to the right of the main entrance, through the arched gateway), with assistance from a security officer. The first floor of the Main House is mostly accessible to visitors using wheelchairs, with the exception of the East Loggia and the Entrance Loggia. Please enter through the ramp and lift on the south side of the house (to the right of the main entrance, through the arched gateway), with assistance from a security officer. A Virtual Access Tour allows virtual access to the second floor, tower rooms and non-accessible areas of the gardens. The central portions of the formal gardens are accessible, but visitors should be aware that the paths are primarily dirt and gravel, rather than paved. In addition, the Garden Mound, Maze Garden, Theater Garden, Tea House, Boat Landing, Secret Garden and the west statuary walk have limited or no access. Before you visit, make sure you call or check the Vizcaya accessibiliy website to see if the wheelchair lift is operational.
3. Zoo Miami. Zoo Miami (also known as The Miami-Dade Zoological Park and Gardens) is the largest and oldest zoological garden in Florida, and the only sub-tropical zoo in the continental United States. The unique climate in South Florida allows the zoo to keep a wide variety of animals from Asia, Australia and Africa, representing a broad mix of species that is unlike any other zoo in the country. Zoo Miami today occupies almost 750 acres, and is home to more than 3,000 animals representing over 500 different species. Of this population, more than 40 species are classified as endangered. The zoo also houses more than 1,000 species of trees, palms and other plants, and over 100 special exhibits showcasing a broad number of species and scientific topics. The zoo has wonderful wheelchair accessibility, to include its monorail and trams – both of which can accommodate up to two wheelchairs at a time.
4. Bayside Marketplace. I spent a lot of time at Bayside during my high school and college years. Located on Biscayne Bay in the heart of downtown Miami, visitors of Bayside Marketplace can experience the real Miami – home to impeccable international cuisine, fine shops and exotic music in a beautiful, waterfront setting. This two-level, open-air festival center features more than 150 shops including unique and national retailers such as Guess, GAP, Victoria’s Secret and Brookstone, as well as 12 delicious restaurants, such as Bubba, Hard Rock Café, The Knife and an international food court. In addition to the numerous shopping and dining options, visitors can also enjoy lively performances from Miami’s best local musicians. For a complete list of retailers and more information about Bayside Marketplace, please visit Bayside’s website. All stores and restaurants are ADA compliant, there is ample handicapped parking, and the site offers wheelchair rentals.
5. The Art Deco Historic District. Miami’s Art Deco Historic District boasts colorful buildings, interesting décor elements, intricate details and a century-old history that offers a glimpse into a bygone era. Reaching its “heyday” in the early 1920s and 1930s, Art Deco architecture is a modern take on neoclassical, one that is equally historic, retro and fabulous. Making its first debut in Paris in 1925, today, the style is marked by its characteristic bright colors, from pastel blues and pinks, to bright oranges, vibrant yellows, greens and more. The first 20th-century neighborhood to be recognized by the National Register of Historic Places, Miami Beach’s Art Deco Historic District is made up of 800+ buildings and structures built between 1923 and 1943. The District is located on Miami Beach between 5th Street and 23rd Street, along Ocean Drive, Collins Avenue and Washington Avenue. Though the Art Deco District (particularly Washington and Collins avenues) can be crowded with pedestrians, they’re fully sidewalked with ramp exits and entrances. If you have to detour or cross the street, you’ll find plenty of company with bicycles, skateboards, baby strollers and other wheeled vehicles, in addition to cars. Regular drivers of this area know what to expect, especially at busier times of day, and it’s nearly impossible to speed.
6. Lincoln Road Pedestrian Mall. This epic outdoor Miami Beach pedestrian thoroughfare features premier shopping, restaurants, and nightlife as well as South Beach classic architecture and Miami style. Lincoln Road Miami Beach is also a cultural hub with the elegant Art Deco-era Lincoln Theatre and incredible music and theatrical productions at the Colony Theatre. ArtCenter/South Florida showcases cutting-edge local artists while Books & Books often has guest appearances by noted authors. Feel the sunlight on your face and smell the ocean air as you sip cocktails over a tasty dining experience after a day of strolling around the galleries and shops lining the walkway. These one-of-a-kind boutiques, art galleries and trendy shops make Lincoln Road a retail adventure. Best of all, stores and cafes stay open late for a crowd that never sleeps! There’s simply never a dull moment on Lincoln Road—a fabulous place to eat, hang out and, of course, shop till you drop! Furthermore, every store and café in the mall is on ground level.
7. Miami Seaquarium. On a 38-acre tropical paradise with spectacular skyline views, lies a South Florida attraction like no other. Welcome to Miami Seaquarium, where conservation and education go hand in hand, sea lions delight children of all age, and endangered sea turtles and manatees find a safe haven. Enjoy a world-class marine-life entertainment park with a variety of fun things to do in Miami. From marine animal shows, astonishing daily presentations, and a variety of educational tidbits along the way, Miami Seaquarium is a place of inspiration, education, and fun! Most of the Seaquarium’s attractions, shows, and restaurants are accessible to guests with disabilities, including, among others, those using wheelchairs. While the Park complies with federal and state disability and accommodation laws, there may be attractions, activities, or areas of the Park, which may not be safely accessible to all persons. In particular, certain animal interactions may need to be modified (if it is reasonably possible to do so, in a safe manner), in order to be safe. If you (or someone you are responsible for) have a particular disability or special need, we encourage you to contact the Park and speak with a guest service associate at least 48 hours in advance of your visit to better assist them in preparing for your visit.
8. Shark Valley. Shark Valley lies in the heart of the “True Everglades,” or river of grass, that stretches 100 miles from Lake Okeechobee to the Gulf of Mexico. Wildlife abounds here where animals share a freshwater ecosystem of sawgrass marsh and tree islands. Those wishing to explore alone can walk/roll the short trails and portions of the tram road. This flat, paved road is used for tram rides, bicycling, and walking. Along the road you may see alligators, herons, egrets, deer, turtles, and snail kites. The Shark Valley Visitor Center is accessible to wheelchairs from the parking lot via a curb ramp. The parking lot contains van accessible parking spaces identified by clear signage. The Shark Valley tram tour is accessible as well; trams contain a ramp for wheelchairs. Tour includes a stop at an observation tower which has a steep ramp; it may be accessible with assistance. Call ahead for arrangements at 305-221-8455.
9. Versailles Restaurant in Little Havana. Versailles Restaurant, which calls itself “The World’s Most Famous Cuban Restaurant,” has been serving tasty Cuban cuisine and culture to the South Florida community and tourists from around the world for four decades. Soon after it opened its doors in 1971, Versailles quickly became the gathering place and unofficial town square for Miami’s Cuban exiles. Today, it remains the unrelenting gauge of the community’s pulse. Not surprisingly, Versailles is typically the first place politicians visit locally to garner support from the Cuban exile community, and the restaurant is equally a favorite among the media for gathering commentary and footage of the community’s take on social and political issues. It is not uncommon to see local, national and international media set up camp in Versailles’ parking lot, where they’re sure to get a flood of local viewpoints. After an amazing meal or cafecito, take a roll down Calle Ocho (8th Street) to explore Little Havana, the best known neighborhood for Cuban exiles in the world. It is characterized by its street life, with restaurants, music and other cultural activities, mom and pop enterprises, political passion, and great warmth amongst its residents. Famous landmarks include the Cuban Walk of Fame, the Cuban Memorial Boulevard, Plaza de la Cubanidad, Domino Park, the Tower Theater, Jose Marti Park, the Firestone/Walgreens Building, St. John Bosco Catholic Church, Municipio de Santiago de Cuba, and others.
10. Pérez Art Museum. Visit Miami’s flagship art museum, and learn about modern and contemporary, international art at the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM). Exhibitions highlight Miami’s diverse community and pivotal geographic location at the crossroads of the Americas. In addition to exploring the galleries, visitors can: enjoy waterfront dining at Verde restaurant; shop a unique selection of art books, furnishings and handmade items at the museum’s gift store; and take in the spectacular views of Biscayne Bay and the elaborate hanging gardens. Designed by Pritzker Prize winning architects Herzog & de Meuron, PAMM provides an educational and civic forum for the County’s residents and visitors alike. An ADA accessible doorway is located to the right of the main lobby doors, although the doors are heavy. All galleries and facilities are wheelchair accessible. Wheelchairs are available at the visitor services desk free of charge. There are elevators from the ground-level parking garage, up to the museum’s entrance and lobby. Additional elevators take you to the second and third floor from within the museum.
Are you ready to visit vibrant and accessible Miami? Contact me at Spin the Globe/Travel to find out how I can help you get there!