The Miami saying is true: We live where people vacation. The Magic City is powered as much by the salt air as by its residents' daily shot of cafecito at 3:05. Miami has its problems, but they're difficult to see from its sunny, slice-of-paradise shores. Meanwhile, your friends up North spend most months bundled up in four layers. We can go to the beach in January and not even bat an eye.
Locals often take Miami's beaches for granted, but they rank among the finest stretches of shoreline in the nation. So where's the top place to experience the sun and sand? Check out Miami's ten best beaches:
Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park
1200 S. Crandon Blvd., Key Biscayne
Outdoor enthusiasts, this spot is for you. Known to locals as "El Farito," this hidden oasis offers a ton of fun and relaxation. Lie on the sand and catch a glimpse of the historic Cape Florida Lighthouse, Miami-Dade's oldest standing structure, built in 1825. For magnificent views and a behind-the-scenes look, climb to the top of the lighthouse on a free tour provided by the park Thursday through Monday beginning at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. For ultimate Miami bliss, rent a quad bike with family or friends and ride through the park to take in jaw-dropping views of Biscayne Bay. Once you've hiked through the mangrove wetlands and fished along the seawalls, grab a well-deserved bite at the oceanfront Lighthouse Café. Entrance costs $8 per vehicle or $4 for single drivers.
6747 Crandon Blvd., Key Biscayne
If you grew up in Miami-Dade, you probably attended a few family parties at Crandon Park. It beckons grillmasters to fire up the pit and host a cookout in the park's beachfront picnic areas. The aromas of a mouthwatering meal will summon you all the way from Kendall. The two-mile beach at this family-friendly spot is the perfect place to cool off in Miami's unforgiving heat. The adjacent park offers cabana rentals at the south end, 26 courts at the Crandon Park Tennis Center (former home of the Miami Open), a golf course, kayak rentals, nature tours, picnic shelter/pavilion rentals, an amusement center, and other diversions. The South Beach parking struggle is real and can be a huge deterrent for a day in the sun, but Crandon provides parking for more than 3,000 cars, including tree-shaded spots close to the shore. Parking costs $5 weekdays and $7 on the weekend.
Haulover Beach Park
10800 Collins Ave., Miami
In just a 1.4-mile stretch, you'll find pristine white sand, kites, dog-friendly areas, and the option to swim and sunbathe in the nude. You won't find any tan lines in the northern section (between lifeguard towers 12 and 16) of the self-proclaimed "top clothing-optional beach in the United States." As you head south to the dog section (between lifeguard towers 2 and 3), brace yourself for cute overload. From 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., the area is a pup playground, adding wet and sloppy kisses to your beach itinerary. Let your four-legged friends frolic in the surf, cool off in style, and play in the Bark Park, open from 8 a.m. to sunset. Parking costs $5 weekdays and $7 on the weekend.
Historic Virginia Key Beach Park
4020 Virginia Beach Dr., Miami
Head over the Rickenbacker Causeway to this beach on a weekday for complete seclusion and a reprieve from the clamor of the city. The beach boasts picnic benches and nearby restrooms and showers. Snag a tiki umbrella on the sand and lounge like royalty. The beach bottom is a bit rocky, so consider wearing water shoes. If you're feeling adventuresome, visit the Virginia Key Outdoor Center for kayak, bike, and paddleboard rentals. Nearby, night owls can enjoy the magic of the city under the stars during a Full Moon Paddle. Admission costs $5 per vehicle or $10 per bus weekdays and $8 per vehicle and $16 per bus on weekends.
3501 Rickenbacker Cswy., Miami
Dog lovers: Come one, come all. Known as one of Miami's favorite dog-friendly stretches, Hobie Beach offers shallow water, making it easier for pooches to romp and have a blast. On your way in, grab a refreshing frozen lemonade and an arepa from the stand, and cozy up under the palm trees. After a hard day of play, let your pup cool off on the sand and take in the incredible view of the Rickenbacker Causeway from the shore. Humans, if you're fixing for a thrill, the beach offers catamaran rentals and lessons, so hop on. One caveat: Parking can be tricky on the weekends.
Lummus Park Beach
Ocean Drive at Fifth Street through 15th Street, Miami Beach
Want to make your snow-shoveling friends cry in jealousy? Send them a picture of this beauty. Lummus Park Beach, the mother of all beaches in Miami-Dade, revels in all of its quirky pastel glory in the Art Deco Historic District. No matter how buck-wild South Beach gets, there's no denying its charm. From the retro buildings to the palm tree-lined streets to the cerulean water, this is the stretch of sand you take out-of-towners for that postcard-perfect shot. The park, tucked between the Atlantic and Ocean Drive, offers beach volleyball, a paved promenade for cyclists and joggers, and a convenient location only steps from shops and restaurants. The gay beach at 12th Street will still forever be the heartbeat of Lummus Park.
Matheson Hammock Park
9610 Old Cutler Rd., Coral Gables
Tucked away off Old Cutler Road, the kid-friendly beach at Matheson Hammock Park is a gem. Actually a manmade atoll pool, this bad boy is flushed naturally by the tidal movement of Biscayne Bay and is a great place to spend a hot day under the palms. The park is a labyrinth of sorts, so when driving in, hang a left and take a ride through the forest until you reach the parking lot near the showers. For stellar views of the bay, take a walk around the pool to the Tenerife Reflecting Point, an area with benches surrounded by coral rock. Matheson Hammock is also the perfect spot for fishing, picnicking, kayaking, and kiteboarding. For a romantic dinner on the waterfront, head to the park's Red Fish Grill. Admission costs $5 weekdays and $7 on weekends and holidays.
Collins Avenue from 75th to 79th Streets, Miami Beach
Low-key, laid-back, and clean, this stretch of glimmering ocean bliss is where you can unwind and enjoy a proper day of relaxation at its finest. Although this spot doesn't offer a boatload of restaurants as conveniently located near the sand as South Beach, the peace and quiet is worth the tradeoff. After a day of soaking up the rays, stroll down to the nearby North Beach Bandshell and experience the area's beauty under the stars and enjoy some live music. This beachfront music venue is hands down one of Miami-Dade's best spots to catch a live show.
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South Pointe Park
1 Washington Ave., Miami Beach
The water seems to glisten a little brighter at South Pointe Park. For a truly special day at the park, stroll along the promenade while you take in the views of the Atlantic, lounge on a bench while you enjoy the ocean breeze, and let the kiddies run their summer energy off in the tot lot. A walk on the pier is definitely in order for a jaw-dropping shoreline view, and depending upon the time, you can catch the cruise ships sailing out of PortMiami. There's beach access from the park, so make your way down and catch the sunset at this prime spot.
Collins Avenue between 88th and 96th Streets, Surfside
When you begin passing swanky hotels and condos, you know you've arrived in Surfside, self-described as "Miami's uptown beachtown." Its mile of unspoiled beach is quiet, with a locals-only vibe. Whether you're sprawled out in the sand or taking a stroll along the oceanfront path, Surfside Beach is the place to come if you're looking to chill extra hard.