Bye Bye, South Beach
South Beach in Miami is one of the most famous stretches of sand in South Florida, and perhaps even the country. But what if you’re tired of all the blaring radios, groups of college kids throwing footballs, and crowds? Miami is also home to peaceful beaches where you can set up your chair beneath swaying palm fronds and barely be able to hear the conversation of your distant neighbors. If this is your ideal day at the beach, it is time to say goodbye to South Beach and discover beaches that visitors don’t usually see.
A rental car is necessary to see the following beaches, but the investment will definitely be worthwhile. So many travelers are hesitant to rent a car or even to leave the island of Miami Beach that once you cross the causeway back to the mainland, you might just be surprised at what you find. Prices are distinctly more affordable. Not everyone looks like a runway model. You might even come across areas that have a certain neighborhood charm. If you want to see the Miami that locals see, it is essential to leave South Beach behind.
Once in your rental car, the Mac Carthur Causeway (I-395) will lead you across Biscayne Bay towards Miami. This drive alone justifies renting a car. As you drive, notice the luxurious homes and yachts on the islands to the north of the Causeway. Depending on the day and time you take this drive, you might encounter a cruise ship in port, or even better, a ship departing for the open seas. Put the windows down and soak up the South Florida scenery.
Once over the Causeway, follow I-95 south until it turns into US1. Follow signs for the Rickenbacker Causeway to Key Biscayne. This is in my opinion, one of the most spectacular drives in South Florida. Soaring over bridges you will feel as if you’re floating above the water and driving straight for the sky. The bridge is flanked by beaches and restaurants where you can stop, but with a little more effort, you can find the best beach on the Key: North Crandon Beach.
Make the left into North Crandon Beach, pay the $5 parking fee, and you will enter a world vastly different from South Beach. Instead of crowds of people you will find crowds of palm trees, providing cool shade all along the beach. Instead of blaring radios, you will hear the sound of burgers hitting the grill as families take advantage of the local picnic area to prepare lunch. If you don’t want to go all out and start lighting a grill, pack a picnic of tropical fruit and sandwiches to enjoy at one of the shady tables.
This beach may not be famous – but odds are you’ve seen it before. The sugary sand and palm trees have provided the back drop for many music videos and movies set in Miami. During a visit you might even encounter an impromptu filming. While this can be exciting, I prefer this beach on a weekday (the picnic area can become crowded with locals on Sundays) when you can have it all to yourself. Pick a spot for your beach chair, tuck your cooler away in the shade, and laze the day away sunbathing or soaking in the warm waters.
Once you’ve watched the sun set, you likely still won’t want to leave. Beach volleyball games often get started here after the heat of the day has passed, so if you’re feeling competitive, go ahead and join in. If all that sunbathing has left you with a thirst, get back in the car for a happy hour cocktail. On the Rickenbacker Causeway headed back toward the mainland, you will see a sign for the Rusty Pelican. This fine-dining restaurants is known for its incredible views of Miami. Instead of splurging on dinner – have a drink at the bar to get a taste of the atmosphere. (Bar open until 1:00 am, cocktails start at $8, appropriate attire is required).
Beyond Key Biscayne, there is another beach even further south that is completely unknown to tourists. To find Matheson Hammock State Park, you will need a good map or GPS system, as winding your way through back roads of Coral Gables is required to find this park. When you arrive, you will be rewarded by a sunny cove of powdery sand, shimmering water, and more of those swaying palm fronds. After paying the $5 parking fee, I have at times had this entire beach to myself. That’s right, not another soul. The occasional fancy yacht will chug by, but otherwise, this beach delivers blissful silence.
If you only have one day in your itinerary to explore these two beaches, there is a solution. Spend the day on the shores of Key Biscayne, and afterwards, head south to Matheson Hammock State Park. Right on the beach there is a magical little restaurant called the Red Fish Grill. This romantic spot, right on the water, provides the same serene environment as the beach, with an extra luxurious touch. Lights will twinkle in the palm trees overhead as you feast on appetizers such as seared yellow fin tuna ($12) and entrees such as pan fried red snapper ($27).
Both of these places will transport you away from the glitz of South Beach. If you ever had a fellow tourist place his beach towel and blaring radio 5 centimeters away from yours, this is sure to be a very positive development.
- South Beach (map)
- North Crandon Beach, Key Biscayne (map)
- The Rusty Pelican, 3201 Rickenbacker Causeway, Key Biscayne (map)
- Matheson Hammock State Park (map)
- The Red Fish Grill, 9610 Old Cutler Road, Miami (map)