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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

8 places to dazzle the grandkids in Florida

The Silverball Retro Arcade, which has an extensive collection of old pinball machines, plus many other kinds of games, in Delray Beach, Fla. on March 18, 2023. Arm yourself with this list of child-friendly activities in the Palm Beach area and never hear the dreaded words “I’m so bored” again.

By Beth Harpaz

What could be bad about visiting your grandparents in Florida when it’s gray and chilly elsewhere?

From the perspective of tweens and teens, a lot. Of course, seeing their relatives is great, but Charlie Abisror, 17, of Demarest, New Jersey, put it this way. When it comes to things to do, “a walk to the Circle K to get a Little Debbie is about the best of it,” he said — and the car-centric landscape means “you’re lucky if you get a sidewalk” to boot.

“I don’t really like visiting Florida because it’s very boring,” said River Mason Eromosele, 12, from Newark, who’s gone with his mother to visit family. “I honestly feel it’s for older people to relax. There wasn’t a lot of stuff for me to do.”

As a teenager, Rachel Charlupski, 38, often flew from Detroit to visit grandparents in Palm Beach County, but they were so busy that she sometimes ended up bored and alone. And while “amenities at their clubs were amazing, there is only so much a teenager wants to do by themselves.” Charlupski’s experience led her to start the Babysitting Company, which provides chaperones in South Florida and elsewhere to take kids to the pool, the mall, or the movies or just to hang out playing games.

But you don’t have to hire a babysitter to get kids excited to visit. Nor do you have to pivot your itinerary to glamorous Miami Beach or theme-park-rich Orlando. Palm Beach County — which includes Palm Beach, West Palm Beach, Boca Raton and Delray Beach — can more than hold its own with a wealth of attractions for children of all ages, from preschoolers to teenagers. Here, some ideas.

1. Go thrifting

Palm Beach County is known for its many thrift and consignment stores. Some are high-end shops like Posh Consignment by V in Boca Raton, where you can drop thousands of dollars on “pre-loved” Chanel or Gucci. But there are also lots of affordable stores perfect for a day of thrifting with teenagers.

How do you know which shops are which? “The secret to wrapping your head around it is this,” said Baron Hanson, 52, a local real estate agent. “Is the shop a profit-based consignment shop, or is it a church or nonprofit that’s taking free donations?” One of his favorite spots is the Church Mouse, a well-organized store in Palm Beach with loads of cute clothes at bargain prices. His prize find: a $525 Polo Purple Label linen shirt for $25.

When Aleda Frishman, 56, who lives in Delray Beach, hosted grandchildren visiting from Virginia, “we did a whole day of thrifting,” she said. Her favorite spots include the Faith Farm thrift store in Boynton Beach, where she bought roller skates for her 11-year-old granddaughter for $2, and a Rafe pocketbook for herself for $20. At World Thrift in Lake Worth, Frishman’s grandsons, 14 and 15, were thrilled to find a collection of brand-new Minecraft-themed T-shirts.

2. Hit the water

Palm Beach County has 47 miles of coastline and there are any number of ways to enjoy it. West Palm Beach offers kayak, paddleboard and jet ski rentals and tours, along with snorkeling. You can also rent gear and take lessons from Island Water Sports in Deerfield Beach. For a relaxing, end-of-a-long-day option, try a sunset catamaran cruise from downtown West Palm Beach.

A favorite with families is Riverbend Park on the Loxahatchee River in Jupiter. “Riverbend truly is a magical place,” said Carli Brinkman, 41, a New Yorker who visits Florida six to eight times a year and often brings her 3- and 9-year-old daughters. “We love it there and have so many memories.”

You can rent canoes, kayaks or paddleboards; take guided tours; or walk or bike the trails. “My daughters have encountered everything from a family of wild deer grazing just steps off the path, baby owls in a nest awaiting their mother’s return and even an alligator casually swimming by,” Brinkman said.

Another popular spot for all ages is Peanut Island, an 80-acre, man-made, tropical island in Lake Worth Lagoon. Reaching the island is an adventure in itself: Take a 10-minute ferry or water taxi from the Riviera Beach Marina, or get there on your own by renting a paddleboard, jet ski or kayak. (Some people even swim or, at low tide, walk.) No food is sold, so bring your own picnic (alcohol is prohibited), but there are bathrooms, showers, shaded picnic areas and overnight camping spots. The island also offers a fishing pier, swimming areas with lifeguards and a paved 1.25-mile path. Look for colorful fish and other sea creatures in the clear, calm waters (just watch out for stinging jellyfish).

3. See turtles and manatees

Young children will enjoy visiting Gumbo Limbo Nature Center in Boca Raton and Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach, where sea turtles are treated for illness and injuries.

Gumbo Limbo’s permanent residents include a disabled turtle fitted with a flotation device. The site also includes a butterfly garden, a lab where tiny hatchlings are nurtured, saltwater aquariums filled with sea horses and other creatures, and a trail through a grove of hardwood trees that takes you to views of the Intracoastal Waterway. Find everything in the center’s scavenger hunt guide and you get a free shark’s tooth as a prize.

At Loggerhead, you can meet sea turtles like Nemo, who’s doing well after having part of an injured fin amputated. The center monitors a 9.5-mile area from Juno Beach to Blowing Rocks Preserve, which is considered the most densely populated sea turtle nesting beach in the Western Hemisphere.

Gumbo Limbo and Loggerhead are both free to visit, though there are fees for some tours and activities like kayaking geared to older kids and adults. Turtle walks, where you can observe turtles nesting on the beach, are usually held in June and July, and are also offered by MacArthur Beach Nature Center in North Palm Beach.

Have you ever seen a manatee? Stop by Manatee Lagoon in West Palm Beach and you just might. These strange and gentle sea mammals are attracted to the lagoon because of warm-water outflows from the Florida Power & Light plant. There are no guarantees of a sighting, but they’re seen most often in the cooler months, from November to March.

4. Walk the wetlands

Nature lovers of all ages will be thrilled by the many creatures easily spotted on a leisurely stroll through Green Cay Wetlands in Boynton Beach or Wakodahatchee Wetlands in Delray Beach. Green Cay has a 1.5-mile boardwalk through 100 acres, while Wakodahatchee has a three-quarter-mile boardwalk through 50 acres. More than 150 bird species have been recorded in the parks, and even casual observers are guaranteed to see some of them on the water, in trees and sometimes just sitting on a fence a few feet away from you. They include herons, egrets, hawks, eagles, cormorants, pelicans and, if you’re lucky, the unforgettable sight of a pink-and-white roseate spoonbill. Both parks are free to visit.

5. Do science

Five hours into a trip to the Cox Science Center in West Palm Beach, a 4-year-old was still running around investigating every corner. His favorite activities: the water table, the magnet fishing game and the hurricane simulator.

Other displays will interest older kids, including “Journey Through the Human Brain,” about neuroscience; “States of Matter,” exploring solid, liquid, gas and plasma; and “Science on a Sphere,” a 6-foot-diameter globe that uses data and video to illustrate climate change, storms and other aspects of Earth’s weather and atmosphere. There’s also an aquarium, outdoor science trail, mini-golf course and an observatory that hosts occasional “Nights at the Museum.”

Admission to the science center is $20.95 for adults, $16.95 for children ages 3-12, and $18.95 for seniors 60 and older. Planetarium tickets are an additional $5.

Next door to the science center is the Palm Beach Zoo, where you can ride a tiger or an eagle on the wildlife-themed carousel, then see the real thing in the zoo. And while only a handful of U.S. zoos have koalas, Palm Beach is home to two, Sydney and Ellin, along with sloths, giant anteaters, flamingos and many other species. In the Lorikeet Loft, colorful free-flying birds eat out of visitors’ hands. And while you’re unlikely to spot the rare and elusive Florida panther in the wild, you can see one here.

Zoo admission for adults is $27.75; for children ages 3-12, $21.75; and for seniors 60 and older, $25.75.

6. Go on safari

Sometimes vacationing with kids can be exhausting, so here’s an outing where all you have to do is look out the window of your air-conditioned car. As you roll though Las Pampas, the Kalahari, the Serengeti and other themed habitats on the 4-mile drive around Lion Country Safari park, you’ll see herds of rhinos, giraffes (including two born in December), zebras and dozens of other species. But “watch out for the ostriches!” said Lesley Carter, 42, who visited from Texas with her 2- and 10-year-old children. “Even though you are in your vehicle, they like to stretch out their long necks and really get in your personal space for a bite to eat.”

Admission is $45 plus tax for visitors ages 10 and older, $34 for children ages 3-9, and free for those 2 and younger.

7. Visit a Japanese garden

In the early 20th century, Palm Beach County was home to a colony of Japanese farmers, but George Morikami was the only one left after World War II. He eventually donated his land to the county, and it is now the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens. A mile-long path winds its way through a series of gardens, with each area inspired by a Japanese tradition. Features include bonsai trees, rock gardens, bridges, waterfalls and koi. Admission is $15 for adults, $13 for seniors 65 and older, and $9 for children ages 6-17.

Kids who are into natural wonders (or who want a unique backdrop for a TikTok video) will especially love the bamboo grove, where you can immerse yourself in a magical soundscape as the bamboo rustles, whistles, pops and creaks in the breeze.

The museum has a display and film about the history of the Japanese farming colony, along with temporary art exhibitions.

8. And a few more

The Silverball Retro Arcade in Delray Beach is a fun spot for gamers young and old, with pinball, Skee-Ball, Pac-Man, sports- and superhero-themed games and many others both vintage and contemporary.

Not all kids are into art museums, but if yours are, check out the Norton Museum of Art and Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens in West Palm Beach. The museum’s “Art After Dark” on Friday nights is popular with teens and adults, featuring live performances, films, art workshops and more. The Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens, with nine massive sculptures in a wildly lush garden filled with 250 species of tropical palms, is a great spot for selfies. Admission to the museum is free for children ages 12 and younger, $5 for students, $15 for seniors ages 60 and older, and $18 for adults.

Admission to the sculpture gardens is $7 for children and students, $15 for adults and $10 for seniors.

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