Miami could be a synonym for beach, the city and surrounding area encompass so many. Iconic South Beach gets most of the attention when it comes to Miami Beach's sandy playgrounds, but plenty of other lesser-known strands at mainland Florida's lower end deserve a moment in the spotlight. From funky Lummus to family-friendly Crandon Park, Miami’s shoreline draws locals seeking respite from the urban rush and visitors looking for a day (or a week) in the sun. Plenty of lists brazenly proclaim a single strip of sand as “the best,” but with options running the gamut from laid-back to certified scene, you should let your personal preference be the judge. So before you pack your beach wagon, check out these top spots first.
South Pointe Park Pier
The South Pointe Park Pier sits within a 17-acre park at Miami Beach’s very southern end. The fishing pier includes a cutting and washing station, and collection bins to recycle used fishing line. Plenty of greenery, a wide beach, designated picnic areas, and a playground with water-features makes this a good destination with the kids. A postcard-worthy view of the downtown Miami skyline make it a favorite vantage point of professional and amateur photographers alike.
Considered the quintessential Miami Beach experience, South Beach lives up to the hype. Come here to see and be seen, and continue the beach party into the night at the famous Ocean Drive nightclubs just across the street. A favorite of the jet set, South Beach celebrity sightings occur with exciting frequency. The famous art deco architecture and deco-painted lifeguard stands make it impossible to mistake your location from the sand or water.
Lummus Park Beach
At funky Lummus Park Beach, which stretches from 5th Street to 15th Street, pretty much anything goes. You can find topless sunbathers, a notable number of birds (and plenty of people happy to feed them), and a gay scene around 12th Street. Thatched huts provide shade, and pickup volleyball games occasionally get raucous. A paved pathway makes a great route for walking, jogging, or inline skating. You can also use the free public restrooms here.
The central section of Miami Beach, mapped as Mid-Beach, begins around 21st Street and extends north to the neighborhood of the famous Fontainebleau hotel. Head here for quiet beaches and the best examples of Miami Modern architecture. The area experienced a resurgence beginning in 2013, capped by the opening of the Faena Hotel in 2016. It's still considerably more relaxed than South Beach, though, but close enough for a day-trip or night outing if you want to experience the South Beach scene.
Extending from around 63rd Street north along Collins Avenue, North Beach swaps the kitschy fun of South Beach for the laid-back air of classic Miami Beach. More suburban strip mall than tourist trap, the neighborhoods fronting the roughly 12-mile stretch of sand house a largely Latino population. As expected, a slew of reasonably priced restaurants serve homey Cuban, Mexican, Brazilian, and Salvadoran food. You can also find Thai, Italian, French, Indian, and nearly every other ethnic cuisine here.
You can find a small-town vibe in Miami if you just head to Surfside, a residential community with a mile-long strip of beach. This mostly locals gathering spot often thrums with beach bashes, and it also boasts one of the area’s top-rated water parks at the Surfside Community Center. The quiet stretch of sand, devoid of any intrusive commercial activity, makes a natural sunrise-viewing location. Paddle-boarders and kite surfers come here for the uncrowded waves.
Head to Bal Harbour for the luxury resort lifestyle in Miami Beach. You can check into the St. Regis, the Ritz-Carlton, or the Sea View for the fully pampered experience, or simply claim a patch of sand onthe public beach as your own for a day. Resort staff provide a lengthy list of services, including lounge chairs and cabanas, watersports rentals, and even sunscreen spritzes, but you must be a guest of the resort to use them.
Haulover Beach, located on Miami Beach between Sunny Isles Beach and Bal Harbour, earned renown as Miami’s only legal "clothing optional" beach. But a dozen miles of white sand protected by dense vegetation from the intruding image of nearby urban high rises should be its primary draw. Anyone skittish about shedding their swimsuit can easily avoid the free-spirited crowd; signs clearly mark the nude beach to prevent surprises. A dependable supply of nicely formed waves attracts many of the area’s surfers as well. Look for food trucks and live music on Tuesday nights.
Sunny Isles Beach
Sunny Isles Beach lost much of its kitschy character to luxury condo developments in recent years. But the 2-mile stretch of sand makes a good, if somewhat generic, destination for an easy-going vacation, with plenty of restaurants and souvenir shops within reach. Access the only public fishing pier in Miami-Dade County, the Newport Fishing pier, from Collins Avenue where it intersects with Sunny Isles Beach Boulevard. The historic site is the only designated fishing area at Sunny Isles Beach.
Virginia Key Beach
One of South Florida’s more interesting beaches, Virginia Key Beach sits right off the Rickenbacker Causeway (on both the north and south sides) near the Miami Seaquarium. The location makes access easy, so some areas become quite crowded, but with a little exploration, you can still find your own quiet spot. This beach allows leashed dogs, one of only a few in the area, making it an especially appealing destination for vacationers missing their own furry friends back home.
Hobie Beach appeals mostly to surfers—not surprising since it takes its name from Hobie Alter, a pioneering surfboard maker—and other watersports enthusiasts. You can rent windsurfing equipment, jet skis, and sailboats here, and take lessons on how to use them. This beach also allows dogs, and they often outnumber the people. Located off the Rickenbacker Causeway, Hobie Beach also goes by the name Windsurfer Beach and provides grand views of the Miami skyline and free parking.
Crandon Park Beach
Miami parents with young children head to Crandon Park on the north end of Key Biscayne, where shallow water lets the kiddos play in comparative safety. A boardwalk, built-in barbecues, picnic tables, and ample and convenient parking contribute to its popularity with the mini-van set. Often appearing on lists of the nation's top beaches, Crandon Park Beach stretches for 2 miles and concessionaires rent chairs, umbrellas, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and bikes for exploring the 800-acre park.
At Bill Baggs State Park, located on the south end of Key Biscayne, you can take a guided tour of the famous Cape Florida lighthouse, the oldest building in the southern part of the state. The wide beaches here make sunbathing an enticing pursuit, but antsy visitors find plenty to keep them entertained too, with kayaking, windsurfing, cycling, and fishing from the shore among the options. Check out Boaters Grill, a full-service restaurant, when all of the activity makes you hungry.
Homestead Bayfront Park and Marina
Located in the southern portion of Miami-Dade County about an hour from downtown Miami, Homestead Bayfront Park lacks the tourist scene of other Miami-area beaches, a welcome point for many residents and vacationers in search of a more tranquil experience. A palm-shaded beach, calm lagoon, and full-service marina makes this a prime destination for both swimmers and boaters. Snorkels tours through the neighboring Biscayne National Park Institute take you 10 miles offshore to explore the vibrant coral reefs.
Oleta River State Park
Oleta River State Park, the largest urban park in Florida, adds the possibility of a rustic beach getaway to the Miami mix. Located bayside at Sunny Isles Beach, the park may be best known for its miles of off-road bicycle trails. Hop into a canoe or kayak to explore the river and the stand of wildlife-rich mangrove forest at the northern end. Relax on the sandy beach along Biscayne Bay, which provides a cooling dip in calm waters or head out for a rustic hike. Cabins are available for overnight rentals.