15 Best Things to Do in Opa-locka (FL)

Written by Bart Meeuwesen
Updated on
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There was a time when nobody in their right mind would want to spend much time in Opa-locka. About ten miles north-north-west of downtown Miami, this city was long associated with deprivation and high crime rates.

When I was in town there were a lot of green shoots. The Arts & Recreation Center downtown has an interesting campus, with galleries hosting exhibitions.

Developed by the renowned aviator and inventor Glenn Curtiss, the city is unique for Arabian Nights-inspired street names, like Ali Baba Avenue and Sharazad Boulevard. The were once close to 100 Moorish Revival buildings in the city, a number of which are still standing, and on the National Register of Historic Places.

At the time of writing, the airline JSX had just begun commercial services at Miami-Opa Locka Executive Airport (OPF) next door to the city.

1. Moorish Revival Architecture

In the mid-1920s, stepping into the newly built Opa-locka would have been a surreal experience. 

At that time there were close to 90 Moorish Revival buildings, all in a fantastical style with domes, horseshoe arches and minarets evoking the Arabian Nights.

No sooner than it had been built, a lot of this heritage was lost in the 1926 Miami Hurricane. A century later there are around two dozen of the original buildings remaining. 

These are preserved as part of the Opa-locka Thematic Resource Area. For a short self-guided tour, I’d begin at the old Opa-locka City Hall by Sherbondy Park, which was boarded up but still standing when I was here.

Also impressive is the Opa-locka railroad depot, built for the Seaboard Air Line and sitting next to the modern station.

2. Amelia Earhart Park

Amelia Earhart ParkSource: facebook.com
Amelia Earhart Park

Though it’s technically in neighboring Hialeah, this 515-acre park overlaps with Opa-locka’s southwestern boundary

The park is named after the century’s great heroine of the air, close to where she took off on her final flight. I learned recently that the long-gone Miami Municipal Airport was in modern day Opa-locka, a few blocks east of this park. 

Amelia Earhart Park features awesome mountain biking trails, a designated bark park, a fishing pier, playgrounds, a disc golf course, and lots of places to take picnics. 

The large lake in the heart of the park is also home to the Miami Watersports Center, which I’ll cover below.

3. Opa-Locka Indoor Flea Market

If, like me, you’re the kind of person who can go shopping without needing anything, you’ll love the Opa-Locka Indoor Flea Market. This has been a local institution for more than four decades.

With dozens of vendors, this place has everything from fresh produce to gifts, footwear, wristwatches, musical instruments, electronics, jewelry, luggage, swimwear, home appliances and tools.

The market occupies a cavernous space next to the airport, and has relocated after its previous home was sold.

4. Miami Watersports Center

On Peregrine Falcon Lake in Amelia Earhart Park is a state-of-the-art cable park. The Miami Watersports Complex offers wakeboarding, waterskiing, knee-boarding, wake-surfing, and much more.

There are two full-size cables, and one tower cable here, along with a wide array of other cutting-edge elements. 

Now, if you’re a newbie and are feeling daunted, the good news is that there are helpful coaches talking you through your first steps. Along those lines, the ‘Get Up Guarantee’ program, ensures all first-timers will have a degree of proficiency by the end of their first day. 

Elsewhere, my kids adored the Aquapark, a floating inflatable obstacle course, with more than 30 features to conquer.

5. Arts & Recreation Center (ARC)

Close to Opa-locka Station, this venue is managed by the Ten North Group. Infusing life and creativity into the downtown area, the Arts & Recreation Center hosts a variety of cultural events year-round.

When I visited there was an inspirational art exhibition. Playful and engaging, Genius Species featured the work of a variety of black woman artists.

The ARC is part of a growing campus comprising a dance/movement studio, co-working spaces, arts charter school and an urban farm. 

Meanwhile the Ten North Group is responsible for interesting initiatives around Opa-Locka. One that I saw was the Opa-locka Light District, where ten street lamps were turned into projection devices, displaying poetry on the sidewalk and walls.

6. Hard Rock Stadium

Hard Rock StadiumSource: Yaroslav Sabitov / shutterstock
Hard Rock Stadium

For decades, the magnificent sports venue now known as the Hard Rock Stadium was called Joe Robbie Stadium.

Built for the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, the Hard Rock Stadium seats 64,767, and has been home to UM’s Miami Hurricanes since 2008. Every January 1, this is also the stage for the legendary Orange Bowl.

Even for those who aren’t visiting during football season, it’s still a great place to check out. Throughout the off-season, it hosts a variety of events that draw diverse crowds.

The stadium seats more than 60,000. For those who’d like a behind-the-scenes look at usually off-limits areas, guided tours are available when events aren’t scheduled.

7. Hialeah Park Casino

Hialeah Park Racing & CasinoSource: Phillip Pessar / Flickr
Hialeah Park Casino

With a history stretching back nearly a full century, there’s an interesting piece of Old Florida at this former horse racing track. Opened in 1922, Hialeah Park was long known as one of the world’s most beautiful tracks. 

Movie stars, heads of state, and business moguls from all over the world were pictured here. For example, Frank Sinatra and Winston Churchill were two esteemed guests in years past. 

Today Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach is the main place to go for horse racing. The last thoroughbred events at Hialeah Park took place in 2010, and the facility reopened as a casino.

You can still catch Quarter Horse races during the winter months. The casino meanwhile has all the latest slot machines, as well as a large poker room, and a lineup of dining and entertainment options.

Throughout this time, the track has been famed for the flamingos that flock to its infield. In fact, this is an official Audubon Society sanctuary.

8. Main Street Miami Lakes

While Opa-locka’s downtown awaits revitalization, there’s a thriving one five minutes away in Miami Lakes. 

Built from scratch, this district was first developed in the early 1980s, and was designed to be the beating heart of the city, at the core of the road system. 

Main Street is a wonderful place for a stroll, with covered walkways and a string of beautiful live oaks down the middle. There are independent boutiques, restaurants, and a host of other service businesses, from gyms to salons. 

My favorite part, and a great place to stop for a breather, is the circular fountain, sitting in the shade of another sizable live oak.

9. Calder Casino

There’s another casino, a few miles north of Opa-locka in Miami Gardens. Like most of the older casinos in the Miami area, Calder Casino was originally a race track.

This opened in 1971, and was seen as a platform for young jockeys from Latin America and the Caribbean to get a foothold in horse racing in the USA. The track later became Gulfstream Park West, and racing was wound down in the 2010s.

The casino here opened in 2010, and has an immense, 100,000-square-foot gaming floor. When I compiled this list, there were upwards of 1,000 slots, from blackjack to video poker.

The Card Room offers the likes of Three Card Poker and Ultimate Texas Hold ‘Em, and at $5 has the lowest minimums in South Florida. There’s also three eateries at Calder, as well as the open-air, smoker-friendly Backyard Casino.

10. Main Street Players (MSP)

Five minutes from Opa-locka you can enjoy professional-level performances by the oldest community theater in Miami-Dade.

The Main Street Players go back to 1974. Like many similar groups they’ve bounced from venue to venue, and are now in a storefront on Main Street in Miami Lakes.

As well as putting on classic crowd-pleasing musicals, the MSP are also known for staging more challenging and provocative shows, as well as original productions.

For example, when I was around, No Cojas Lucha was a novela-style farce set in Hialeah, in which a Cuban and an American get married.

There are also improv shows and workshops, as well as children’s programs including a holiday workshop.

11. Topgolf Miami Gardens

There’s a branch of this chain of cutting-edge driving ranges close by in Miami Gardens. I’d describe Topgolf as a cross between golf and bowling, with a high-end flavor.

Over three stories, Topgolf Miami Gardens has more than 100 all-weather hitting stations. These are equipped with sensors and screens to offer a wide choice of games for players of all standards.

Take Angry Birds where you have to smash virtual structures, or TopScore, which rewards long and straight drives. 

All the while there’s restaurant and bar service for beer, wine, cocktails, burgers, and shareable plates like hummus dip and pretzel bites.

12. Claude Pepper Park

If you’re looking for a classic active park, I’d head for this space a minute or two east in North Miami.

Set between Opa-locka Blvd and NW 135th St, Claude Pepper Park stands out for its long paved trail. 

Ideal for a morning or evening jog, this is exactly 1.1 miles, and has workout stations if you really want to get a sweat on. 

Also at this park are tennis courts, baseball fields, a basketball court, and open green spaces for pickup games.

13. Go Fly Tours

One of the advantages of being so close to Miami-Opa Locka Executive Airport is having companies like Go Fly Tours on your doorstep.

This family-owned and operated aviation company offers memorable flying experiences over South Florida. You can choose from a roster of tours, whether you want to see Miami or Fort Lauderdale from above.

The premier experience is the Miami Sky Tour. This starts over South Beach, before taking in Star Island, Fisher Island, continuing south to the iconic Cape Florida Lighthouse at the tip of Key Biscayne.

14. McDonald Water Park

Nearby in Hialeah there’s a public water park with reasonable entrance fees for non-residents. To my mind, the highlight at McDonald Water Park is the lazy river. 

Winding through tropical gardens and under waterfalls, this is more than 1,000 feet long. There’s also a wave pool, and a large splash park that smaller children are sure to love. 

This facility is set within a public park that features no fewer than ten picnic pavilions, as well as lighted tennis courts, racquetball courts, and a playground for little ones.

15. CMX Cinemas Miami Lakes 13

One small observation I have about movie theaters in Greater Miami is that surprisingly few offer the latest amenities.

By that I’m talking about the latest sound, projection technology and comfy seating. One place that bucks that trend is CMX Cinemas Miami Lakes 13. This spot had only just been updated when I checked it out.

This has fully reclining leather seats, with spacious tables for drinks and snacks. There’s also all-digital sound and internet ticketing. 

As with most theaters there are discounts on Tuesdays, when you can watch a movie for $6.

15 Best Things to Do in Opa-locka (FL):

  • Moorish Revival Architecture
  • Amelia Earhart Park
  • Opa-Locka Indoor Flea Market
  • Miami Watersports Center
  • Arts & Recreation Center (ARC)
  • Hard Rock Stadium
  • Hialeah Park Casino
  • Main Street Miami Lakes
  • Calder Casino
  • Main Street Players (MSP)
  • Topgolf Miami Gardens
  • Claude Pepper Park
  • Go Fly Tours
  • McDonald Water Park
  • CMX Cinemas Miami Lakes 13