Best Miami Beaches Guide
This is what the majority of visitors have come to see and do. If you are fortunate enough to be staying in a beachfront hotel, you will most likely be able to walk past the swimming pool and out onto the beach. If this is not the case, rest assured that most other hotels on Miami Beach are within walking distance of the beach.
Nonetheless, lying on the beach near your hotel would be a waste of time. Each beach has its own personality, and with a convenient bus service running up and down the strand, it’s easy to visit the other beaches. It will be even easier if you have rented a car.
In this section, I’ll describe the beaches, as well as tell you how to get there and, if necessary, where to park. I’ve taken photos, and while they may not be glossy professional landscapes, they will show you what you’ll see.
Miami Beach Central
Miami Beach Central is a place of the rich and the famous. Built on a sandbar across Biscayne Bay from Miami, the place gives an arty feel as you walk down the street. Basically the earlier residents here included the art set whose sensibilities led to the creation of the Art Deco architecture.
Popular as the winter destination earlier, it now draws tourists all the year round because of its attractions. The ambience of the Miami Beach just reminds you of the movie sets where you find the models and the celebrities walk by or just lazing around the pool side. Mornings is for lazing around the beachside, lunching at umbrella-shaded tables, and even coasting along Ocean Drive on roller-blades and during nights the non-stop action right from the beach to the sizzling clubs, bars and restaurants.
Sunny Isles Beach
This autonomous municipality of Sunny Isles is far more welcoming to beachgoers, as visitors are its primary source of revenue. There are 2.7 miles of beachfront. It is most likely more family oriented than Miami Beach. This beach has been revitalized. The east side of Collins Avenue (A1A), the city’s main thoroughfare, is undergoing a major redevelopment renaissance. On the west (beach) side, the antique two and three story mom and pop motels are being replaced by high-rise condominiums.
The sand appears to be softer here than further south, most likely because it was snatched (under protest) from a sand bank facing Golden Beach. The wonderful fishing pier next to the Newport Beachside Resort is the beach’s highlight. The 12 mile-long Newport Fishing Pier, built in 1936 and designated a historic site in 1982, has long been a popular destination for fishing enthusiasts and sightseers.
Just located amidst Atlantic Ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway, Sunny Isles Beach lies in the heart of South Florida. Stretching 2.5 miles long, Sunny Isles is a well-maintained beach and a great place for swimming and water sports. One can do anything from fishing off the pier to deep-sea fishing on chartered boat, or just enjoy the long walk on the white sands of the beaches bordered by green walking/jogging tracks. They have plenty of equipment available for rent.
This wealthy enclave, which stretches from the county line 1.8 miles south to Sunny Isles, is one of the few areas along the beach where high-rise buildings are not permitted. Along the beach, only single-family homes are permitted. Because there is almost no public access, the beach is very clean and quiet. The beach can only be reached by boat from Hallandale or Sunny Isles.
The general public is allowed on the beach up to the high water mark. Above this point, it is private property. This autonomous municipality has its own police force that does little more than catch speeders on A1A and keep an eye out for non-residents using the beach. It’s not a happy place, but if you want to rebel against the system, go ahead and have fun. There are no hotels or restaurants in this private township.
Haulover Park Beach
Immediately south of Sunny Isles’ built-up area is Haulover Park, which is maintained by Miami-Dade County Parks and Recreation and contains one of south Florida’s most beautiful beaches—a mile and a half stretch that attracts both locals and visitors. It has pristine white sand beaches, open ocean surf, various shaded picnic areas, beautifully landscaped sand dunes, and concession stands. It is located between the Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic Ocean.
Considered to be on of the most beautiful beaches in South Florida, it draws a lot of crowd all the year round. Stretching for a mile and a half, it is nestled between the Intercostals Waterway and the Atlantic Ocean. Known for its immaculate, perfect white sand shores, people love to walk here. The open ocean surf and the beach itself are ideal for water sports. There are various shaded picnic facilities, beautifully landscaped sand dunes, and concession stands. There are well-trained lifeguards, who are keeping a constant vigil on the beach.
The beach is ideal for both swimming and surfing. The entire beach is patrolled by well-trained lifeguards who will keep beachgoers informed of current weather and surf conditions. Haulover Park, located across the street from the beach, has a full-service marina, restaurant (currently closed), tennis courts, a family 9-hole golf course, a sundries shop, and kite shops.
Bal Harbor Beach
This elegant and well-kept 6-block stretch of beach is maintained by the exclusive residential Village of Bal Harbor from Haulover Cut south. There is a great strolling/jogging path beside the beach that begins at Haulover Cut and runs all the way down through the neighboring town of Surfside.
A get away for the rich and the famous, Bal harbor is a symbol of pristine elegance and sophistication. The one-mile long curve beach is a famous place for celebrity spotting. The clear white sand of the beach is a great place to walk. The beach has recently been re-nourished with $1.8 million. This small place has it all from the Atlantic Ocean and the Bay of Biscayne, to backwaters rich with fish. This is one of the most secure vacation places.
The elegant Bal Harbor Shops are located on the west side of A1A (Collins Ave.). On par with Fifth Avenue in New York, Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, and Worth Avenue in Palm Beach. This prestigious mall is anchored by Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue, and it features boutique shops from Louis Vuitton, Brooks Brothers, Dolce & Gabbana, Fendi, and other top designers. A true social gathering place.
Surfside Beach is another small self-contained seaside town that stretches from 96th Street to 87th Terrace. Surfside has a mile of public beach that rivals any in the world. Surfside’s beaches are serene, clean, pleasant, safe, and devoid of commercialism. This is a much more family-friendly neighborhood than her neighbor to the north, and there are many streets with beach access. The town was founded in 1935 by 35 members of the Surf Club, which was the only building on the beach at the time.
Located along the beautiful Atlantic Ocean, in southeast Florida between Miami Beach and Bal harbor, it is a perfect place to relax and chill out. Enjoy the walk on the 2 miles of pristine sands of the unspoiled shore line. It is an ideal place for recreational sports, sun worshippers and nature lovers alike. There are excellent services available here and besides all of that it is within walking distance from many famous restaurants.
There are very strict zoning laws in place to preserve the community’s character, which consists primarily of single-family homes and small apartment buildings. The ocean and Collins Avenue are lined with revitalized hotels and new luxury condominiums, but Harding Avenue, one block inland, retains the feel of an old-style main street, with small shops and bistros to welcome strollers. The town community center is located on 91st Street, but it is only for residents and their guests; however, you can use the beach in front of the building. The beach comes to an end at 87th Terrace, where the restored 1950’s Howard Johnson Dezerland Hotel is located.
North Shore Park
This “wild” beach, which runs from 87th to 72nd streets, is Miami Beach’s only qsemi-wilderness park, surrounded by sea grapes, coconut trees, and sea oat dunes. One mile of streets in the North Shore district along Collins Avenue. East of the avenue is a public wooded park, followed by dunes and the lengthy, flat beach. There are restrooms, picnic tables, grills, shower facilities, a nature trail, a bike path, and an exercise trail. The park is open daily from dawn to dusk, and lifeguards are on duty.
At the southern end of the beach, the lonely two-block Ocean Terrace, with a trio of two-star small art-deco hotels Ocean Surf, Days Inn North Beach, and Ocean Way. In our opinion, Ocean Terrace should have extended all the way up the beach. It would have resulted in a single long stretch of Ocean Drive in Miami Beach. What a thrilling idea, snuffed out by avaricious developers. A few private residences were engulfed when the park was built, but mostly part, you can enjoy the beach without being encircled by high-rise buildings, helping to make it one of the few places in Miami Beach in which you can feel like you’re on a Caribbean beach.
The 3 1/2 mile stretch of oceanfront from 72nd Street to 44th Street, which concludes at the famous Fontainebleau Hotel, is encircled by massive condominiums and luxury hotels. On 64th Street (Allison Park) and 54th Street (Beach View Park), there are two small beachside parks, as well as a larger park neighboring to the Eden Roc Resort on 46th Street (Indian Creek Park). All three have lifeguards, parking, and fresh-water showers.
The beach along this stretch is of equivalent quality to the rest of the beaches, ranging in width from somewhat wide to relatively narrow. Because parking is scant, the beach appears to be underused, with the condo and hotel crowd favoring to be bothered by irritating sand and salty water in their chlorine-laced swimming pools.
The beach from the Eden Roc Hotel on 44th Street all the way down to Collins Park on 22nd Street, which marks the beginning of South Beach proper. The majority of the street is lined with hotels of varying quality.
Miami Beach’s famous boardwalk, an elevated wooden walkway that parallels the beach all the way down to 22nd Street at Collins Park, begins at Indian Beach Park (See Condo Canyon). The actual beach is similar to other sections, possibly less crowded because there is significantly less parking available, but the boardwalk is a huge plus, with the option of walking or jogging the entire one and a half mile distance. It is well-lit at night (there were a lot of missing light bulbs the last time I did it) and quite secure.
It’s a great way to see some of the Art Deco and Streamline Moderne hotels from the water. This will eventually be replaced by a Beachwalk. The City of Miami Beach intends to build a Beachwalk along its entire coastline, from 87th Street to South Pointe Park. While the Boardwalk is charming, the Beachwalk is more environmentally friendly, less expensive to maintain, and more user friendly; bikes and skating will be permitted. The Beachwalk currently extends from 22nd Street to Lummus Park (See South Beach).
Located in the southern most tip of Miami, the South Beach has an identity of its own. On of the hottest nightspot in the world, it is a mecca of adult entertainment. Stretching for less than two square miles the beach is ranked amongst the top ten beaches in the world. The fine white sand, the surf, and the waters are something that the people come to this beach. Be sure to bump into topless and other nearly nude sunbathers here. Besides the pulsating nightlife and the entertainment, the beach homes varieties of restaurants serving cuisines from all over the world, bars, clubs, hotels, and lots more.
This is the moment you’ve all been waiting for. Regardless of how nice the other beaches are, this is why you came. It is bigger and better than all the other beaches, and it will not disappoint you.
South Pointe Park
The beautiful recently renovated South Pointe Park marks the end (or beginning) of Miami Beach proper. This is most likely the best beach on the entire island. Previously, there was mostly open space with no major attractions. There are now 20-foot-wide walkways lined with Florida limestone and grass-covered restored natural sand dunes. Children can have fun playing with metal tubes that resemble stems and spout water like daisies. This is a dog park in Miami Beach, so take care where you step.
The project was first conceived in the mid-1990s, but city officials needed to acquire additional land to make it a reality.
Government Cut is formed by a long stone breakwater that is popular with local fishermen. This is the best place to see the great cruise liners leave the Port of Miami, including some of the world’s largest passenger ships, such as the 156,000-ton Norwegian Epic and the 130,052-ton Carnival Breeze. These mighty ships appear to sail by within hands reach, and the best time to see them is between 16:00 and 17:00 on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday afternoons.
Fisher Island, on the other side of the cut, is only accessible by ferry and requires a hotel reservation or permission from a resident.
While in the area, don’t miss Joe’s Stone Crab, Miami Beach’s most iconic and oldest restaurant, which was founded in 1913 and is still owned by the same family.
If you have your own transportation or are staying in Miami, don’t miss out on this hidden gem. Key Biscayne is home to four spectacular beaches: Hobie Beach, Virginia Key, Crandon Park, and Bill Baggs State Park, the latter of which is ranked as the eighth best in the United States. The island’s center is a very exclusive residential enclave, with posh hotels and tall condominiums on the beach. Nonetheless, there are more than five miles (eight kilometers) of beautiful public beach on and around this lush island.
There isn’t much else to say at this point. The water’s edge south of Key Biscayne becomes mangrove swamp almost all the way down to Key West. There are a few notable oasis in the middle. The first is…
Crandon Park Beach
Spread over 900 acres, the beach is one of the most popular amongst the tourists as well as the locals. It is known for its clean and immaculate sand, the surf, calm waters, and winding promenade. A lagoon style beach, it has off shore sandbars that protect the people swimming along the coast from crashing surf. This is basically a low surf impact beach and is quite safe. There are plenty of Lifeguards patrolling from the thirteen elevated towers. People love to wade along its length here and those of you going to picnic there have the facility of the concession stands, multiple picnic areas with tables and grills, a playground, splash fountain, and carousel for kids and ample of place for parking for over 3,000 vehicles.
Matheson Hammock Park
Recognized as the “Best Family Beach”, Matheson Hammock Park is the best bet if you want your kids to have fun. It has a man-made atoll pool, which is flushed naturally with the tidal action of nearby Biscayne Bay. The kids love its warm, safe waters and beautiful waterside views. The park also has a full-service marina and a snack bar and restaurant built into an historic coral rock building.
This verdant corner of Coral Gables was laid out in 1930 and, aside from an attractive entrance with lake and palm trees, is mostly in its natural state, that is, impenetrable mangroves growing in muck. But don’t dismiss it because most of the fish in the ocean breed in these brackish waters. We now recognize the value of mangroves, and they are protected on a global scale. If you take my bike tour recommendation, you’ll cycle right through them on a wooded path.
A hammock is a dense area of mangrove trees that is partially submerged in the ocean (hence, the name of the park). At the end of the road, you’ll find a yacht marina and, surprisingly, a man-made atoll pool that’s naturally flushed by the tidal action of nearby Biscayne Bay. Family-friendly establishment. The view of the distant Miami skyline is quite spectacular. Red Fish Grill, one of Miami’s better seafood restaurants, is paradoxically located within a coral rock edifice beside the lagoon.
What You need to know
Miami Beach was once a mangrove swamp and is now a barrier island linked to the mainland by five causeways and bridges. The swamp is a distant memory, replaced by 15 miles of sparkling white sand beach stretching from upscale Golden Beach to upbeat South Beach. There are several large beachfront parks open to the public, but the rest of the beach is surrounded by hotels and condos.
Not surprisingly, the beaches along the coast are not the same as those seen by the first settlers. Hurricanes and poor building decisions have caused significant erosion, and if the beaches had not been renourished, Miami Beach would have long since vanished into the ocean. Sand has previously been sucked from the ocean floor facing the beach, but supplies are running low, and it is possible that we will need to import sand from the Bahamas or the Turks and Caicos Islands.
One of the drawbacks is the occurrence of rip tides. The beach used to come right up to the hotels, as evidenced by the photos on the left. The vegetation between the sand and the buildings can now be seen on the right-hand photo. Aside from beautifying the beach, native species keep the sand in place, preventing erosion during storms and hurricanes. Here’s a technical link to preview what’s to come.
In theory, up to the high water mark, all beaches in the United States are federal property and thus open to the public. When your hotel advertises that it has a private beach, they are lying. In this country, there is no such thing as a private beach. However, getting to these beaches is a different story. If there is no parking and no right of way between buildings, it may as well be private after all. There are miles and miles of such beaches in Palm Beach Country, surrounded by billionaire seaside mansions that appear to be used only for a three-month stay during the winter season. There is even a minimum speed limit in place to ensure that you don’t slouch as you pass by these magnificent homes.
Parking along the beach is frequently scarce. We will indicate where parking is available on each beach description. This is primarily a commercial district, with many shops, businesses, and supermarkets providing their own private parking for customers. It may be tempting to park there and walk across the street to the beach, but beware: tow trucks are always on the lookout, and it can cost up to US$ 200.00, plus a lot of time, to get your vehicle back.
All the way up Collins Avenue, there is excellent public transportation (A1A). Attempt to obtain a bus schedule. You’ll need some sort of cover-up to ride the bus. Bring a towel, a light parasol, a folding chair, sunblock, and, of course, exact change (US$ 2.25 each way). Buses are generally not overcrowded.
Most of the beaches from Sunny Isles south will be supervised by lifeguards. Please check the lifeguard posts for swimming conditions. There is a system of coloured flags flown as shown here:
- Green Flag: Calm surf conditions.
- Yellow Flag: Moderate surf conditions, exercise caution.
- Yellow Flag with black jellyfish: Portuguese man-of-war warning. (No, not machete wielding Portuguese illegal aliens, just pesky jellyfish)
- Purple Flag: Dangerous marine life. (Jaws [sharks], etc. Fortunately a rarity here)
- Red Flag: Strong surf, strong currents. Read more about rip tides.
- Red Flag with line crossing out swimmer: Water closed to public.
Simply put, no glass containers, no dogs, no camping, no guns (! ), and no cooking. Beach patrols usually ignore fishing as long as you are not bothering other beachgoers. Except in the north section of Haulover Beach, nudity is prohibited. Toplessness is technically illegal, but as long as you are discreet, it is rarely enforced. That is, I do not recommend starting a volleyball tournament in front of a family picnic.
Changing on the beach
This is a very European custom that you will rarely see in the United States. So, if you don’t want to stand out or get arrested for lewd and lascivious behavior, I recommend that you come to the beach in your swimsuit. Many of the beaches have fresh water showers where you can rinse off the sand and salt before getting back in your car or bus. It is far preferable to get wet on your seat than to be embarrassed with a towel around your ankles (unless you are on our naturist beach, in which case this would be quite natural).
The eclectic Atlantic Coast highway in Florida begins as Collins Avenue in Miami Beach and runs in fits and starts all the way up the coastal barrier islands to the Georgia state line. The A1A Scenic and Historic Coastal Highway has been designated as a National Scenic Byway. In many places, the highway runs directly alongside the Atlantic Ocean, while in others, it runs 1-5 blocks inland from the beach.
The Intracoastal Waterway
This entire stretch of beach is on the eastern side of the barrier islands. The Intracoastal Waterway is the waterway to the west. This 1,200-mile inland canal was completed in 1936 and runs from Key West in the south to Norfolk, Virginia in the north. The canal is mostly natural waterway that is kept dredged to a depth of 12 feet.
We will begin our beach revue from north to south because we are in the Northern Hemisphere. Many would argue that the best is saved for last.