When people think of Miami, they usually think of the nightlife (or David Caruso). But as an oft-solo traveler, I have to make sure that my activities are safe and that I’m doing things that I’m comfortable doing alone. In other words, despite the popularity of the bar scene, I generally avoid it. As a result, I’ve discovered a side to Miami that rarely gets any buzz – Miami’s parks and outdoors, which are fabulous for exercise, relaxing, and spending the day with family.

While on a three-day stopover, I managed to squeeze in visits to several of the city’s most popular parks.

Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden

A visit to Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden is well worth the 20-minute drive from downtown Miami. This garden destination has got more than 3,400 species of plants housed on 83 acres of lush spaces. With so much variety, this assures that whenever you visit, there’ll be something in bloom.

Traffic can be bad on Highway 1, but once you take the turn-off to the park, you go through neighborhoods that are tree-lined and filled with mansion after mansion.

Hibiscus flower at the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden

Once at the park, plan to spend at least an hour wandering, or rather, bring a book or snuggle up under a tree to enjoy the solitude for longer. Free tram tours are available as well as private tours of the grounds.

Oleta River State Park

Weekends are happenin’ at Oleta River State Park, located in North Miami. With 1,000 acres, Oleta is the largest urban state park in Florida. Within the park, there’s a staggering range of things to do, from kayaking to stand-up paddle boarding to biking to running.

Kayaking at Oleta River State Park in Miami

The park has 900 parking spots but you’ll need to arrive early on Saturday or Sunday if you don’t want to fight the crowds. Alternately, plan to visit mid-week when the park is nearly empty. About one-third of visitors come to bike the 15 miles of trails, but kayaking here is not something to miss (rentals available). You might even be lucky enough to spot manatees, stingrays, spotted eagles, or dolphins.

Tropical Park

Viewfinder Tip: Visit any of Miami’s parks mid-week and you’re assured better parking and fewer crowds.

Need a place to work out or work your horse? Tropical Park has tennis, racquetball, and basketball courts, as well as baseball and soccer fields. But the real draw is the equestrian center, which plays host to about 35 events a year. If you didn’t travel with your horse, stop in to at least enjoy the programs.

South Pointe Park

Grab a rental bike and ride the paved trails or simply park your car and walk to the beach. Either way, South Pointe Park is just south of South Beach and is a nice respite from the more crowded and rambunctious SoBe.

What’s your favorite park in Miami?