From glitz, glamour, and crowds to spacious family-friendly hideouts, here are the best beaches Miami has to offer.
5 Best Beaches
Lummus Park Beach
Want glitz and glamour? On South Beach's Ocean Drive from 6th to 14th streets, this beach is crowded with beautiful people working hard on their tans, muscle tone, and social lives. It's also the place for golden sands, blue water, and gentle waves. However, as this place is all about seeing and being seen, the lessperfect among us may feel intimidated or bored.
Matheson Hammock Park Beach
Kids will thrill to the tender waves and warm water of the beach at 4000 Crandon Blvd. in Key Biscayne. The golden sands of this 3-mi beach are only part of the attraction: the park includes children's rides and a playground, picnic areas—even a golf course. The manmade lagoon is perfect for inexperienced swimmers, and it's the best place in Miami for a picnic. But the water can be a bit murky, and with the emphasis on families, it's not the best place for singles.
Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park
All the way at the end of Key Biscayne, at 1200 S. Crandon Blvd., is a wide peachy-brown beach with usually gentle waves. The picnic area is popular with local families on the weekends, but the beach itself never feels crowded. The park also includes miles of nature trails; bike, boat, beach chair/umbrella rentals; and casual dining at the Lighthouse Café. You can fish off the piers by the marina, too. Come here for an escape from city madness.
Halfway between Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood Beach is a perfect retreat. Sun yourself on the pristine golden-white sands, join a volleyball game, take a tai-chi or yoga lesson, then walk along the two-mile boardwalk and visit its small shops, cafes and restaurants. Head north on the boardwalk and you'll find North Beach Park's sea turtle hatchery (part of the Endangered Sea Turtle Protection Program—the kids will love it), meander south and you'll end up at the Ocean Walk Mall.
Want to bare it all? Just north of Bal Harbour, at 10800 Collins Ave. in Sunny Isles sits the only legal clothing-optional beach in the area. Haulover has more claims to fame than its casual attitude toward swimwear—it's also the best beach in the area for body-boarding and surfing as it gets what passes for impressive swells in these parts. Plus the sand here is fine-grain white, unusual for the Atlantic coast.
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Pros & Cons of Miami's Beaches
Beaches tend to have golden, light brown, or gray-tinted sand with coarser grains than the fine white stuff on Florida's Gulf Coast beaches. Although pure white-sand beaches are many peoples' idea of picture-perfect, darker beach sand is much easier on the eyes when the sun comes out and—bonus!—your holiday photos (and the people in them) will have a subtle warm glow rather than harsh highlights.
Expect gentle waves, which can occasionally turn rough, complete with rip tides, depending on what weather systems are lurking out in the ocean—always check and abide by the warnings posted on the lifeguard's station. One thing that isn't perfect here is shelling, but for casual shell collectors Bal Harbour Beach is the best bet, enter at 96th Street and Collins Avenue.
South Beach Parking Tips
You'll notice right away that several things are plentiful in South Beach. Besides the plethora of cell phones and surgically enhanced bodies, there are a lot of cars for a small area, and plenty of seriously attentive meter maids. On-street parking is scarce, tickets are given freely when meters expire, and towing charges are high. Check your meter to see when you must pay to park; times vary. It's $1/$1.25 for meters north/south of 23rd Street respectively. No quarters? You can buy a Parking Meter Card at Miami Beach Visitors Center and Pulix supermarkets for $25. Or take the South Beach Local shuttle for a quarter.