While the rest of the country enjoys (or laments) their white christmas, Miami (as usual) marches to the beat of a different holiday drum. Locals here have a certain set of traditions they follow, and the snowbirds who land here to escape the frigid cold of the north are more than welcome to join in.
Holidays in Miami mean three things: surviving marathon shopping at places like the Dolphin Mall or Dadeland, attending various Noche Buena parties (at which you will surely either enjoy a glass of coquito or some lechon and congri), and a trip to Santa’s.
This list won’t include much about the former two (you’ll have to read our 10best list for holiday shopping in Miami), but we can tell you a thing or two about Santa’s, which is short for Santa’s Enchanted Forest. This long-standing Miami tradition is almost like a rite of passage. Thousands of twinkling lights and festive displays followed by carnival rides and games in the only Christmas-themed carnival in Florida make this a must-attend event.
And then there are other, family-friendly events to choose from, like the storytelling events and a holiday cruise at the Deering Estate. Don’t forget about the Miami City Ballet’s The Nutcracker or Zoo Miami’s Zoo Lights spectacular as well, that are sure to please children of all ages. Use this list as a guide, nay, a check list of all the things you must do this holiday season!
Photo courtesy of NWS
The renowned New World Symphony is housed in the new Frank Gehry-designed New World Center. The venue resembles a geode inside, with sail-like convex panels overhead. A box-like exterior has latticed glass windows and a huge projection wall. NWS is America’s only full-time, post-graduate orchestral campus and laboratory. The acoustics in the semicircular concert hall are alarmingly effective, and the 756 seats are comfortable. On nights the symphony plays (season runs September through May) concerts can be heard and seen outside via sound speakers and video projections. People bring blankets, folding chairs, picnics and bottles of wine, and sit back and enjoy the show in the urban SoundScape Park.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Dec. 20th and 21st, enjoy the Sounds of the Season concert (with a special Wallcast outdoor version that Saturday), celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, even Harry Potter!
Priscilla’s expert tip: Check their website for news on upcoming events, including their outdoor WallCasts.
Read more about New World Symphony at the New World Center →
Pinto’s Farm is a Redland-area attraction that’s become extremely popular with local families over the years. That’s probably because the farm always does it up right when it comes to holidays. In April, kiddos of all ages love to come here and hunt for easter eggs during their Easter at the Farm event. Come Fall, the farm is transformed into an epic pumpkin patch, complete with spooky decor and pumpkin-related crafts. And during the Winterland at the Farm event all December long, the farm undergoes yet another transformation, including photos and hot chocolate with Nix the Snowman, Sprinkle the Gingerbread Cookie, and of course, Santa! But even when there aren’t particular days to celebrate, a trip to Pinto’s is always fun thanks to their petting zoo, pony rides, paddle boats, and hay rides.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Winterland at Pinto’s Farm is back for another season of Santa and Nix the Snowman encounters, rides and games, holiday treats, even an illuminated forest!
Priscilla’s expert tip: Check their website for discounts on admission to the Winterland event!
Read more about Pinto’s Farm →
Photo courtesy of Arsht Center
The luxurious Adrienne Arsht Center is the place to go to catch the Florida Grand Opera, jazz concerts, flamenco festivals, the Miami City Ballet, experimental theatre, traveling Broadway shows, Teatro Avante, quality comedy, and shows and other programming for children and families. Located between Downtown and Midtown, the Center features two separate performance areas: the Ziff Ballet Opera House and the Knight Concert Hall, meaning that multiple, simultaneous shows will be going on at all times. The Arsht is accessible by public transit via the MetroMover, but there’s also a large lot right across the street and valet parking available.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: The Center’s 2019 holiday programming includes Miami City Ballet’s Nutcracker, Willie Chirino & Lisette: Navidad En Familia, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Musical, and more!
Priscilla’s expert tip: Guests who wish to skip the line may request an early access pass online or at the box office prior to the event.
Read more about Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts →
Photo courtesy of Santa’s Echanted Forest Facebook
Santa’s Enchanted Forest, the world’s largest holiday theme park, pops up annually in Miami’s backyard. Situated in Tropical Park, the amusement park-meets-Christmas extravaganza welcomes the masses every year from late October to early January.
This South Floridian cultural institution has been in play for over three decades and features over 100 thrill and kid-friendly rides, interactive animal shows, and all the carnival food one’s heart could desire.
Santa’s is home to South Florida’s tallest Christmas tree, as well as a popular holiday light show spectacular. Adrenaline lovers can also head over to the property’s bungee jump, high-flying ejector seat, rock climbing wall, or slingshot.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Everyone from Miami HAS to go to Santa’s at least once. This place is fully dedicated to all things Christmas, 305-style.
Priscilla’s expert tip: Go on a week night, and preferably before public school winter break, or risk waiting in giant lines for everything from corndogs to the tilt-o-whirl.
Read more about Santa’s Enchanted Forest →
Long-time Miami locals remember this 20-acre strip of land in the heart of Pinecrest as the original location of Parrot Jungle. The old parrot-themed park has since moved away by the Port of Miami, and what remains has been transformed into a gorgeous botanical gardens with enough shade to keep visitors cool year-round. For younger visitors who might not be too enthralled with gazing on exotic plants, flowers, and trees, there is also a butterfly exhibit, petting zoo, children’s playground, and a splash-n-play area in which to cool off. The park frequently hosts community events all year long, including a farmer’s market every Sunday, concerts and movie nights, and more.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Families will delight in twinkle lights, rides, story telling, ballet performances, Santa visits, holiday concerts, and more during the Garden’s annual Nights of Lights.
Priscilla’s expert tip: Check their online calendar for a full run-down of all the events, as some have an admission fee.
Read more about Pinecrest Gardens →
As the only US zoo set in a subtropical climate, Zoo Miami mesmerizes visitors with remarkable exhibits and creatures from around the world. Favorite animals include clouded leopards, Komodo dragons, and tree kangaroos. They get ample competition from exotic standards like giraffes, lions, meerkats, koalas, gorillas and colorful birds. When the heat starts to take its toll, Dr. Wilde’s World provides a rainforest-themed, air-conditioned refuge for hands-on fun. A petting zoo and wildlife shows also keep kids engaged.
Zoo Miami is also home to various conservation and outreach endeavors, hosting hands-on and volunteer initiatives for Everglades preservation and The Florida Panther Recovery Program.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: All December long, the annual ZooLights event will feature photos with Santa, animal encounters, Snowman’s river boat rides, and hundreds of festive twinkling lights.
Priscilla’s expert tip: Check out the packages they have for sale that include things like hot cocoa and cookies, a photo with Santa, and more.
Read more about Zoo Miami →
Photo courtesy of used in book.
Teeming with natural, archeological and historical appeal, the Deering Estate proves endlessly engaging. Excavations at the bayfront compound originally owned by Charles Deering (whose brother James built Vizcaya) have uncovered the remains of prehistoric animals, and evidence suggests that Paleo-Indians were here more than 10,000 years ago. Historic buildings also distinguish the 420-acre property � the 1922 Stone House, Richmond Cottage and 19th-century Richmond Hall. For an altogether different perspective of the estate, reserve a spot on the weekend canoe tour.
The Deering Estate’s monthly events calendars hosts everything from moonlit concerts to nighttime kayaking to community-driven classes and seminars.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: This year’s holiday programming includes story time and photos with Santa, historic holidays evening strolls, Holiday Champagne Cruise, Mistletoe and Martinis benefit, and more!
Priscilla’s expert tip: Check their online calendar for more info on all special events. And don’t forget your camera–their classic, holiday decor is second to none.
Read more about Deering Estate →
Photo courtesy of Alain M
Tropical birds have the run of this unusual island park off MacArthur Causeway. Approximately 1,100 macaws, parrots and other winged residents join giant reptiles and exotic primates to impart special character to the attraction. Although the 18 landscaped acres showcase some 500 species of plants and flowers, don’t come expecting peace and quiet. Some of the opinionated inhabitants are neither shy nor retiring. Though it’s noisy, the sight of a parrot riding a miniature bike is enough to make even the most jaded visitor smile. Other shows include Winged Wonders (singing Amazons and Andean condors), Reptile Giants (snakes, alligators, crocodiles) and Wild Encounters (apes, tigers, even a liger).
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: The Luminosa Festival of Lights is a magical treat featuring hundreds of gorgeous, hand-crafted Chinese lanterns illuminating the animal residents of Jungle Island each evening.
Priscilla’s expert tip: This colorful nighttime event features daily acrobat shows, bird shows, food trucks, and even a Moet Champagne lounge. Drop by on weekends for additional live music and roving entertainment.
Read more about Jungle Island →
Photo courtesy of used in book.
Lush and meticulously maintained, this garden showcases a wide range of tropical plants. Within its 83 acres, palms and cycads flourish, and a 16,000-square-foot conservatory shelters rare specimens. The Fairchild also offers a butterfly garden, an arboretum and a rainforest, and it also houses a world-renowned research facility. Leisurely strolls through the grounds are sure to provoke plenty of “oohs and aahs,” and you may gain inspiration for your own little patch of paradise back home. There are also often art installations by world-renowned artists like Dale Chihuly, plus moonlight tours and movie nights. A small museum, gift shop and cafe take care of practical needs. Free tram tours run on the hour.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Fairchild’s enchanted NightGarden is a magical evening of lights and and magic brought to life (from Talking Tree to Flying Fairies and then some).
Priscilla’s expert tip: Feel free to arrive hungry for NightGarden as plenty of Miami’s top food trucks will also be in attendance.
Read more about Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden →
Every year, one of the largest art events in the world descends upon Miami. The internationally renowned Art Basel attracts the most notable galleries and art collectores around the globe to celebrate the work of the best living artists today. While the main event takes place at the Miami Beach Convention Center, there are numerous satellite festivals all around the city, including the Contemporary Digital and Art Fair at Mana Wynwood. Additionally, Wynwood’s plentiful galleries all open their doors to tourists and locals for dozens of special events. This year, for example, Wynwood Walls will be celebrating their 10th anniversary just before and during Basel. And of course, if street art is more your thing, you’re in luck because some of the top talent in graffiti and street art also convene in Miami during this week. You’ll find that Wynwood and surrounding areas often find themselves painted over during the week, and these works generally remain until the following Basel.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: December’s Art Basel is one of Miami’s largest cultural events, drawing in tens of thousands of visitors in just a few days time.
Priscilla’s expert tip: Plan your week wisely. There’s no way you’ll see everything but prioritize which events and fairs you’ll want to attend and proceed. Also, find ways to utilize public transit and shared rides. Traffic and parking can be particularly nightmarish during Basel week!
Read more about Art Basel →