Look, we love South Beach. We really do. It is a national treasure, an endless source of civic pride and chamber-of-commerce boosterism. But sometimes, in the dead of summer or the height of tourist season, you want to take your tired-ass talents anywhere but South Beach.
Yes, we know it’s hard to beat Art Deco hotels in the background and C-list reality stars with strategically photogenic nip slips in the foreground. But there are plenty of other (arguably better) beachfront places in Miami if you’re looking for a place to just chill the eff out.
Here are a few of our best beach picks:
Best Beach To Upgrade Your Instagram
As much as we love scrolling through endless pics of you thigh-clutching a daiquiri between your glistening hot dog legs, up your hashtag game and head to Matheson Hammock Park (pictured at top) off of Old Cutler Road. Flush with tropical flora and fauna, Matheson Hammock boasts a picturesque, man-made atoll pool, which flushes with the tides of the nearby Biscayne Bay. The seaside park is ringed with miles of carefully hewn coral stone walls. It also has bike paths, nature trails and native stone buildings that need no filter to look amazing. Bonus: It’s also a prime spot for actual, professional photographers to shoot engagement photos, family Christmas card portraits and the like. Be sure to casually wander into these shots for hilariously charming photobombs. People love it when you do this! (Just kidding. Don’t do this, please.)
Best Beach For History Nerds
It’s tempting to want to shed a few unnecessary IQ points while baking your brain in the sun for a few hours. But in case your definition of “fun” includes “learning about stuff other people think is boring, but maybe other people shouldn’t be so intellectually lazy all the time,” then head to Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park. Ponce de Leon named this area “Cape of Florida” when he led the first Spanish expedition to Florida in 1513. The Cape Florida lighthouse – known to most Spanish-speakers in Miami as the beloved “El Farito” — was completed in 1825, damaged during the Second Seminole War, rebuilt tower in 1846, and remains the oldest standing structure in Miami-Dade County. Awesome fact: The area served as part of the Underground Railroad, and was a secret meeting place and port for runaway slaves and Black Seminoles hoping to find safe passage to the British Bahamas. Ironic fact: Although the lighthouse was built to save lives, its bright light brought an end to this escape route to freedom.
Guided tours of the lighthouse and lighthouse keeper´s cottage are given twice daily, and there’s even an old-timey outhouse. (Presumably not currently in use. We hope.)
Best Beach To Take The Fam
Crandon Park not only has a blissfully calm waves and two miles of sand, it also has a pretty sweet splash fountain, vintage carousel, kiddie playground, covered tiki huts for birthday parties and barbecues – and even cabana rentals, which savvier locals know to rent out early in the season and trick out with all the comforts of home. (I once saw one that had framed family portraits on the walls and a china cabinet tucked inside. No joke.) Best of all: Ample and accessible parking, which on its own beats South Beach by a mile. Because anyone who has ever organized a trip to the beach with little kids knows that you require more gear than the entire invasion of Normandy, so you best keep your car close by.
Best Beach To Be Alone With Your Own Thoughts
Sometimes you just need a place to close your eyes and let the sun beat down on your upturned face while you silently ponder the frailty of the human condition. Or whatever.
With stunning, unobstructed views of the Atlantic Ocean and Biscayne Bay, the Historic Virginia Key Beach Park is a relatively tiny slice of shoreline on Virginia Key, an 82-acre barrier island between Key Biscayne and Miami proper. (The beach’s history dates back to the segregation era, when it was designated the county’s only beach for blacks otherwise denied access to local beaches.) While the park, now run in part by the City of Miami and the Historic Virginia Key Beach Park Trust, has a playground, carousel and mini locomotive for the kiddies, it’s a rare and quiet escape, especially on a weekday. Just be sure not to plan to plan your alone time during many of the concerts and music festivals that happen there throughout the year.
Best Beach to Stare Discreetly at Strangers While Pretending to Do Something Else, Like Cleaning Your Sunglasses
Haulover Beach Park contains the largest remaining stretch of undeveloped beachfront in Miami-Dade County, holds spectacular kite-flying contests – and also has a designated stretch of sand for people who enjoy wearing their birthday suits any day of the year.
As much as we aspire to European-level attitudes about nudity, it’s pretty hard for the average American — bestowed not only with a Puritan work ethic but a Puritan attitude about the human body and its assorted dangly bits – to visit Haulover Park’s famous nude beach without at least a nervous giggle. That’s OK. The novelty of watching middle-aged people slap sand off of their naked backsides will wear off – eventually. But until it does, at least pretend to be cool, bro. Or as this First-Timer’s Guide to Haulover Beach implores: “keep to yourself and not ogle or stare at those around you.”
Other sage advice: “As a courtesy to others, nudists always place a towel down on any area that they will sit on.”
Duly noted, sir. Duly noted.