Crandon Park
Photo by Chris Garcia / Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau

Let's face it: The reason many locals never make it to the beach is that it's a friggin' pain to park once you get there. Not so at Key Biscayne's Crandon Park Beach, where parking spots are as plentiful as mangos in July. The prices aren't so bad, either: just $5 on weekdays and $7 on weekends. The beach is dotted with the kind of palm trees that make it easy to pretend you're in Jamaica, and there's no lack of amenities, including restrooms, picnic tables, grills, and even cabana rentals. You don't even have to worry about packing a cooler: Openseas Cafe takes orders by phone or online (305-606-5288; openseascafe.com) and delivers right to you on the beach.

Venture about ten minutes south from the throngs of squealing children and boozy spring breakers on Fort Lauderdale Beach and you'll find one of the best-kept secrets among Broward County residents. Known as "the Jetties" or "the Jetty," the secluded stretch of sand is tucked away just north of Port Everglades and its southern tip ends in a rocky shoreline. The sandy path that leads down to the water from the metered-parking area might feel like a never-ending trek (especially after a beer or three), but the view from the Jetties is well worth the journey –– especially at sunset or sunrise. Visit on a Saturday to watch cruise ships sail out of port. If you're lucky, you might just run into some wholesome, old-time Jetty-goers wishing bon voyage to the passengers as they glide past.

Best Place to Take Out-of-Towners
Photo courtesy of Schnebly's

You've seen it on the news: Hordes from New York and California are descending on our Sunshine State in hopes of trading gray skies and libs for palm trees and populism. If you're acquainted with any of them, they'll probably hit you up for a weekend of couch surfing before they make the move. By all means take them to the beach. But once you've checked off that requisite box, head to Homestead to give them a taste of Old Florida. Hit up Everglades National Park for the obligatory alligator sighting, then take them to Coral Castle (28655 S. Dixie Highway), a house Edward Leedskalnin built entirely of coral rock for his make-believe wife and their nonexistent kids. Shake the creepy feelings with a fruit shake at Robert Is Here (19200 SW 344th Street), and, before you head back to town, stop at Schnebly Redland's Winery & Brewery (30205 SW 217th Avenue) to taste wines made from tropical fruits, chased with a pint of fresh beer at the adjoining brewery.

Matheson Hammock Park
Photo by Chris Garcia / Courtesy of the GMCVB – MiamiandBeaches.com

Although the manmade atoll pool at Matheson Hammock Park has been around for decades, it was renovated in the spring of 2022. Parts of the round-shaped body of water adjacent to Biscayne Bay were damaged during Hurricane Irma, and Miami-Dade has repaired and reopened the pool hidden behind Redfish by Chef Adrianne. What makes this pool better than any ordinary swimming hole, you ask? It's essentially a saltwater pond that's filled by the tidal movement of the bay. According to the Miami-Dade Parks website, the recent improvements have made the pool more resilient and storm-ready. The project included dredging the bed and repairing the pool's three culverts, as well as maintenance on the interior retaining wall and stone breaker wall. Oh, and they improved the pedestrian walkways. The view from inside is magical: Tall palms line the area in a semicircle, their fronds dancing in the breeze while waves crash against the nearby rocks. The sun's rays sparkle on the crisp blue water. Although it isn't deep, there's a lifeguard on duty to make you feel safe while you enjoy the mini beach. Admission to the park is free, but you need to shell out for parking if you drive there: $5 on weekdays, $7 on weekends and holidays.

The Broadwalk is less than an hour from Ocean Drive, but the scene couldn't be more different. If you want to go all-in on the Jimmy Buffett vibes, ask for the Florida resident discount at the singer's Margaritaville Hollywood Beach Resort, where rooms typically run $300 and up per night. Beaching on a budget? The Hollywood Beach Suites and Hotel, just a few blocks south, offers seasonal specials and often has rooms that dip below $200. The actual cheeseburger in paradise can be found at Le Tub Saloon, a Hollywood institution with one of the best waterfront views in South Florida, where the 13-ounce sirloin burger with cheese is a bargain at $11.50. Wash it down with a beer or four across the street at Nick's Bar & Grill and — once you're loosened up — free live music at the Margaritaville bandshell. Before you head out in the morning, grab an egg-and-cheese sandwich ($11) and a cold brew ($6) at Cafe Club and snag a spot on the beach to enjoy breakfast — and the knowledge that home is a short drive away.

You know what's the cutest thing in the world? A family of otters frolicking in the water out in the wild, that's what. It's so damn cute you just want to puke rainbows and unicorns all over the place. And one spot in the world where you might just witness it is Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk in Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park. If you don't spot otters, it won't matter, because you're still immersed in the River of Grass on a boardwalk that goes an easy half-mile you're gonna want to take real slow. The birds are breathtaking — anhingas with wings spread like vampires, the blue heron's graceful S-shape neck, a peregrine falcon's detached majesty. You'll see massive cypress trees, some of them coiled in the grip of strangler figs, their long and arthritic fingers engaged in perhaps the slowest form of homicide on the planet. And of course there'll be the requisite alligators and raccoons, maybe a snake or two, the aforementioned otters, even an occasional black bear. The journey equals the destination: roughly 90 minutes from Miami on the Tamiami Trail, one of the greatest American drives. Turn off the phone, savor the disconnect, and treat yourself to some prime Everglades therapy.

As you float along the crystal-clear blue water of Rock Springs, admiring the lush forest surroundings and the occasional deer or wild turkey scurrying past, you might just manage to convince yourself you've found paradise. Only 30 miles outside of Disney World lies an Eden that not even Walt's Imagineers could re-create. While Rock Springs' 68-degree water temp might at first seem cold to a Floridian's tropical bloodstream, your body will eventually feel refreshed, even if your eyes and brain may never accept such natural beauty existing so close to home. If you want to put the "lazy" back in "lazy river," bring your own inner tube, canoe, or kayak, or rent one from a vendor outside the park. Otherwise, if you're a decent swimmer, you can easily stroke along the three-quarter-mile length of the park. When you reach the end of the creek, you'll probably walk back to the mouth of the springs and do it all over again. Entrance to Kelly Park costs only $3 a vehicle per day and campsites are available with an advance reservation.

You don't need to journey all the way to Key West for that island life feel. Only about an hour from Miami, camping overnight at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park will make you wonder why humans live in houses and apartment buildings. Hiking, fishing, snorkeling, diving, paddling, picnicking, sunbathing, swimming — the park offers it all. That, plus more than 40 campsites, complete with electrical outlets to help you stay connected if you can't bear to cut the cord. If you seek a true escape from the modern world, there's a "Primitive Group" camping area where no electricity is available. The park is also accessible to those who use wheelchairs. Travel by boat or RV? The grounds are equipped with water and sewer hookups. Pets and alcohol are permitted, so your most vital needs are met. Reserve your site today, happy camper!

Oleta River State Park

Hidden natural gems like Oleta River State Park make our hometown a go-to spot for kayakers. And thanks to the Oleta River Outdoor Center (786-274-7945; oletariveroutdoors.com), which operates a concession inside the park, you can get into the water with no fuss, whether you choose to rent a single-person kayak ($35 for an hour and a half) or a tandem vessel ($45). Beginners and veterans alike will find suitable routes that are conveniently marked on a visitor map. No matter which route you select, you'll find yourself among the mangroves and marshy plant life that give South Florida its natural distinction. And if you make it out far enough, you'll find yourself on an island where generous boaters might just offer you one of their brews on the beach. Hours: Monday through Friday: 9 a.m. to 1 hour before sunset; Saturday-Sunday 8 a.m. to 1 hour before sunset.

South Pointe Park
Photo by Bruno Fontino / Courtesy of the GMCVB – MiamiandBeaches.com

It ain't the Panama Canal or the Transcontinental Railway, but on the local scale of Major Urban Accomplishments, the Miami Beach Beachwalk is a monumental feat. Finally, a car-free path that spans the seven miles of the City of Miami Beach from south to north (and vice versa)! And with ocean views, no less! Just in time for Memorial Day of 2022, the final piece of the beachfront path was completed, meaning bicyclists can now pedal from South Pointe Park all the way up to 87th Street and the border with Surfside without encountering a single car — not even an intersection! If you glance past the sea grape trees to the east, you'll catch our world-famous beach, and to the west, the art deco and more modernist architectural wonders of Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue. But don't forget to look straight ahead, as you will be sharing this new thoroughfare with gaggles of pedestrians, joggers, and in-line skaters. Note: Intrepid two-wheelers can roll well beyond where the pavement ends if they care to — all the way up to Haulover Inlet.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®