Ultimate guide to South Florida beaches

There’s more to South Florida beaches than South Beach and the variety is pretty extensive. Whether you’re a Florida native playing in your city’s big backyard, a snowbird fleeing the northern cold, or a sun-seeking adventurer, you’ve come to the right place. Here we tell you which are the best beaches for families, for snorkelers, people-watching, a quiet experience, nature lovers and a blend of some of these and even baring it all. Go ahead – dive in and find your favorite.

Broward

Family Fun

Deerfield Beach
WHERE: Southeast 10th Street to the Palm Beach County line
CROWD: Families, fans of fishing, surfers.
DETAILS: A 980-foot pier at the north end provides a great spot to fish ($4 fee). Not an angler? Pay $1 to watch other people reel ’em in. Surfing is allowed on the north side of the pier, and seven beach volleyball courts are available. Also have a fun underwater camera that people can look at and it’s the only in South Florida. Metered parking will cost you $3 an hour and there is fisherman parking available for $3 for six hours.

Lauderdale-by-the-Sea
WHERE: At Commercial Blvd.
CROWD: Tourists, families with small kids.
DETAILS: Feel like you’re on vacation even if you live 10 miles away. The candy-colored town is full of Old Florida-style shops and restaurants, offering ice cream, seashell wares and food served al fresco. Cute motels and Anglin’s Fishing Pier add to the charm. There are no lifeguards, so swim at your own risk. City residents can purchase annual parking passes, but visitors can park at nearby meters for $1-$2 per hour depending how far away you park. 

Adventurous

Pompano Beach
WHERE: Atlantic Blvd. to NE16th St.
CROWD: Water sport aficionados, anglers, families.
DETAILS: This big, broad beach has the staples: picnic areas, playground, volleyball courts and parking. It also boasts a municipal pier with a snack bar. Fish from the pier for free, or rent a pole for $18 with a refundable $10 deposit. (The nearby tackle shop sells bait.) Surfers can do their thing north of the pier. Rent water equipment or launch your own – launch area is Northeast 16th Street. Parking is available for $1/hr. at meters or at a lot on Riverside Drive.

People Watching

Fort Lauderdale
WHERE: From Harbor Beach north of Port Everglades Inlet to Oakland Park Blvd.
CROWD: Who doesn’t go to this beach? Tourists, families, nature lovers, sports fans, shoppers, spring breakers.
DETAILS: Starting from the south: Harbor Beach, between Port Everglades Inlet and the 17th Street Causeway, boasts powder-soft sand but access is tricky, with no parking in sight. Instead, walk or bike or stay in one of the hotels that front the beach. Families cluster south of Las Olas Boulevard, near the playground and picnic tables, as well as volleyball and basketball courts and equipment rentals. More action awaits just north of Las Olas Boulevard, with the landmark Elbo Room, Beach Place, bars, restaurants, shops, bikers, in-line skaters and that lovely beach wall. Parking lots are plentiful, but often full. At Sunrise Boulevard, Hugh Taylor Birch State Park ($2 for pedestrians and cyclists, $4 for solo drivers and motorcyclists, $6 for cars with two or more people) has a tunnel to the beach; here you can picnic, camp, bike, canoe and more. Serenity reigns as you head north to Oakland Park Boulevard: no shops, no tourists (well, fewer tourists) and also, inevitably, scarce parking.

Nature Lovers

John U. Lloyd Beach State Park
WHERE: 6503 N. Ocean Dr., Dania Beach
CROWD: People who prefer wetlands, and not hotels and t-shirt shops, as a beach backdrop.
DETAILS: The 251-acre park, adjacent to Port Everglades, offers a subtropical coastal hammock with nature trail, wetlands area, picnicking, kayak and canoe rentals and a boat ramp. It sits between the Atlantic and the Intracoastal Waterway. Entrance $2 for pedestrians and bicyclists; is $4 for solo drivers and motorcyclists and $6 for two to eight people. $9 boat launch fee.

Quiet

Dania Beach
WHERE: Dania Beach Blvd.
CROWD: Folks who love the beach, but not the crowds.
DETAILS: Despite its location near Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, Dania Beach is a quiet little jewel with a fishing pier, tiki-style huts and soft sand. Fishing will cost you $3 to cast from the pier ($2 for spectators) and rods can be rented for just $10. Parking can be had for $2 per hour in metered lots.

A little bit of everything

Hollywood
WHERE: North of Hallandale Beach Blvd.; North Beach Park is at Sheridan Street
CROWD: Families, couples, exercise buffs and, when the season is right, snowbirds from Quebec.
DETAILS: Hollywood offers a beach for everyone. Want to sunbathe against a backdrop of faded glory? Stake out some sand in front of the old Hollywood Beach Resort at Hollywood Boulevard. Want to shop, bike, eat, people-watch or hear a beachside concert? Hit the Broadwalk and visit the band shell is Johnson Street, part of the Margaritaville Resort, which is also worth a visit. Want to take the family out for a nature-friendly day in the sand? Try North Beach Park at Sheridan Street, where the water’s pretty as a picture, and a sea-turtle hatchery adds an eco-note to the fun. The north and south ends of Hollywood Beach are comparatively quiet and uncrowded. A trolley service is available to shuttle you from Downtown Hollywood, where parking fees vary but are inexpensive, to Hollywood Beach. Parking is $1.50 an hour on weekdays and $2 an hour on weekends at most lots.

Hallandale Beach
WHERE: Hallandale Beach Blvd. and State Road A1A.
CROWD: Condo dwellers, some younger families and anyone who can’t make it the extra few minutes to Hollywood.
DETAILS: The landmark beach ball water tower stands guard over the county’s southernmost shores. So do the condos. The beach offers bocce ball courts as well as showers, lifeguards, a playground and concession stands. One bummer: parking permits for the beach area are for residents only.

Miami-Dade

Families and locals

Sunny Isles Beach/Golden Beach
WHERE: On A1A from 163rd St. to the Broward County line.
CROWD: Local residents and families.
DETAILS: Deco-styled pavilion at 163rd St. harks back to Sunny Isles Beach’s ’50s-futurism while high-rise luxury condos dot the remainder of A1A. Few amenities here but the beach is fine, and it seems onl
y locals know about it. Parking can be hard to find though there are metered lots near the Newport Beach Resort just north of the William Lehman Causeway. The Newport Fishing Pier costs $5 per person to fish, $2 admission and no fishing. Golden Beach only has parking for residents.

Surfside
WHERE: From 87th Terrace to 96th St.
CROWD: Local residents, families and couples.
DETAILS: A wholly unpretentious area with a walking/bike path, dunes and no clutter. Showers available at most entrance points and not a far walk to the wter. There is parking a block or so away from the waterfront at meters and a few lots for $1 per hour.

Bare it all

Haulover Beach Park
WHERE: On A1A around 10800 Collins Ave.
CROWD: Nudists
DETAILS: A long, sloping beach where the northernmost section is clothing optional and well divided. Dogs are allowed. Other than serving as Miami-Dade’s only legal haven for nudists, Haulover offers the usual amenities: picnic area, showers, lifeguards and concession stands. Parking is available in nearby large lots for $5 a day on weekdays and $7 on weekends.

Nature lovers

North Shore Open Space Park
WHERE: On A1A and 72nd St. in Miami Beach
CROWD: Nature lovers.
DETAILS: Find long stretches of sand, picnic areas, better than average restrooms, showers and lifeguards. A good nature-lover’s spot, as well, with areas of sea grapes, dunes and decent sand. An often overlooked, but charming gem among Miami-Dade beaches. Parking is available in nearby metered lots for $1.25 per hour.

A little bit of everything

Miami Beach, Mid-beach
WHERE: Between 22nd and 46th streets behind the hotels.
CROWD: Locals wanting a more sophisticated, quieter beach experience.
DETAILS: The boardwalk is great for a stroll and the area now boasts several swanky hotels with cool bars and restaurants that have a completely different vibe from South Beach. The Miami Beach Edition Hotel, Freehand Miami with its award-winning craft cocktails at their bar The Broken Shaker, Soho Beach House and Thompson Hotel are all worth checking out. Curbside metered parking is $3 an hour and metered parking lots are $2 an hour.

South Beach
WHERE: Along Ocean Drive from the Government Cut area to about 22nd Street.
CROWD: Anything goes – and does.
DETAILS: The ocean’s still the best thing South Beach has to offer to tourists and natives alike.12th Street is the LGBT beach while surfers and thrill seekers hang out between First and Fifth streets. Families are almost everywhere and so are topless women so be aware of that. Depending on your luxury needs, chair rentals can cost you $9-$15, plus an extra $12 if you want an umbrella. But rental prices vary along different stretches of the beach; your hotel concierge might be able to recommend a spot. Across the street is the Art Deco District and Ocean Drive, where you can find restaurants, shopping and kitsch. The restrooms are mixed, but most have been upgraded and are well kept. Parking on the metered streets is a challenge and expensive ($4 per hour) and the private lots are even pricier. Best bet: park in one of the man garages along Collins Avenue, which can be $10 per day but it varies, or do the $2 per hour in metered parking lots. Or get there really early to snag the $1 per hour rate at the city operated garages.

Snorkelers

Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Recreation Area
WHERE: End of Key Biscayne.
CROWD: Families, snorkelers.
DETAILS: The well-shaded beach and park is beloved by families who spend weekend days at the plentiful barbecue grills and picnic tables, play areas and restrooms. For those seeking serenity, this is one quiet spot to absorb nature. Cape Florida, located at the farthest end of Key Biscayne (look for the centuries-old lighthouse standing proudly against the sky), offers 1.25 miles of sandy beach. Bring along the snorkel and fins, because there’s lots of interesting sea life hidden in the underwater grasses just a few yards away from shore. SunPass toll is $1.75 and Toll by Plate is $2.25 to access Key Biscayne and entrance fees are $2 for pedestrians and bicyclists, $4 for a car with 1 person and $8 for a car with up to 8 people.

Family Fun

Crandon Park Beach
WHERE: On Key Biscayne south of the Seaquarium (4000 Crandon Blvd.)
CROWD: Families from inland Miami.
DETAILS: What Crandon lacks in pizzazz it makes up for in reliability, with its long stretches of soft sand for spreading the towel out and soaking up the sun. Palm trees dot the sand and make shady spots just right for reading the latest paperback. This is actually the perfect beach for families. Mom and Dad can relax and there is enough for kids to do, too. There are lifeguards, some concessions and picnic areas with tables and grills, though not enough restrooms. Parking is generally adequate on the grounds. SunPass toll is $1.75 and Toll by Plate is $2.25 to access Key Biscayne and a parking fee of $7 per car.

Matheson Hammock Park
WHERE: 9610 Old Cutler Road in Miami.
CROWD: Families, on the young side.
DETAILS: This isn’t really a beach per se, but it boasts a man-made atoll pool that gets its waters from the tides sweeping Biscayne Bay. The bottom is rather slimy and murky but the surrounding park is lovely and families love it here for good reason. There’s a full-service marina and a snack bar and the Red Fish Grill restaurant, housed in a historic coral rock building, along with picnic pavilions and nature trails. Plenty of free parking in lots, but you pay an entrance fee of $5 per vehicle on weekdays and $7 on weekends and holidays and $12 per boat on weekdays and $16 on weekends and holidays.

Homestead Bayfront Park Beach
WHERE: 9698 SW North Canal Dr., Homestead.
CROWD: Families hunkering down around the BBQ.
DETAILS: Features an atoll beach with amenities including a marina, snack bar, barbecue grills, rental picnic shelter, a playground and lifeguards. Parking is on the grounds for $7 per car.

The Keys

Clarence S. Higgs Memorial Beach
WHERE: Near the south end of White Street on Atlantic Boulevard in Key West.
CROWD: Families, tourists.
DETAILS: This beach is on the small side, but includes fish-themed picnic shelters and structures; a pier that’s decorated in painted footprints and sand and shore that are brackish and littered with seaweed. Par
king is free. The similar C.B. Harvey Rest Beach Park is next door.

Smathers Beach
WHERE: On South Roosevelt Boulevard west of the airport in Key West.
CROWD: Volleyball players, sunbathers, tourists. (It’s Key West, after all.)
DETAILS: A long stretch of sand populated with palms, the beach is a nice place to seek refuge from the excesses of Duval Street. Volleyball nets beckon, as do rental options for water sports. Parking is free.

Nature lovers, snorkelers

Bahia Honda State Park

WHERE: Between Mile Markers 36 and 37 on Bahia Honda Key.
CROWD: Campers, snorkelers, explorers, fishermen, boaters, shallow-water wanderers and gazers.
DETAILS: You can do just about anything here. Stay overnight in a cabin or tent and wake to the golden sunrise. Swim in the Atlantic or the Florida Bay. Wade through shallow, crystal-clear water. Ride a bike. Boat, fish or just park yourself on the attractive sand and relax. You can rent kayaks for $12 per hour. ($18 if you want a double kayak) or take a snorkeling tour for $29.95 per person. Gear will cost you $2 per piece. Park entrance is $8 per vehicle with 2-8 people and and $4 for vehicles with single riders and $.50 for each person you bring. Pedestrians and bicyclists pay $2. Boat ramp feel $10.

 

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