One of seven heritage parks in Miami-Dade County, Crandon Park is located on a barrier island in Key Biscayne, with 2 miles of beach to the east and Biscayne Bay to the west. Today, it’s one of the most frequented parks and beaches in Miami, but its history dates back almost 80 years! Read on below for everything you need to know before visiting Crandon Park in Key Biscayne.
Once part of the largest coconut plantations in the U.S., Crandon Park was owned by the wealthy Commodore William John Matheson. In 1940, the Matheson family so generously donated over 800 acres to the county under the condition that Miami-Dade would create a public park there. But first, a bridge needed to be built connecting Key Biscayne to the mainland. Seven years later, Rickenbacker Causeway was born and Crandon Park officially opened to the public. The Park was home to Miami’s first zoo — with some animals that were rescued from a traveling circus — until 1981, when Crandon Park Zoo moved south and was renamed Miami MetroZoo (today, it’s known as Miami-Dade Zoological Park and Gardens).
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What to Do There
The zoo is no more, but there’s still lots to do at Crandon Park, located on the northside of Key Biscayne. Spend the day lounging at the beach, but don’t forget sunblock, Miami’s rays are strong. If activity and adventure are more your speed, grab a partner and engage in a friendly tennis match. With volleyball nets on the sand, it’s easy to get a pickup game going with family, friends or even like-minded strangers. Golf is an option, too. If you’ve brought the kiddos along, exploring nature might be right up your alley. There are plenty of bird species you’ll spot as well as fish and even a couple of iguanas. If you’re really lucky, you’ll see dolphins or manatees out on the water. Get your cameras ready but always stay an appropriate distance away from wild animals for your safety and theirs. If you’re hungry and didn’t pack a lunch, head on over to nearby Boater’s Grill or the Lighthouse Cafe for traditional Cuban cuisine and super fresh seafood.
Crandon Park’s amenities include Crandon Gardens, the Crandon Park Visitor and Nature Center, a marina, a golf course, a tennis center, picnic areas with tables and public grills, bicycle and running paths and, of course, the beautiful beach area. You can rent equipment at Crandon Park’s beach, like chairs and umbrellas for a little relief when the afternoon sun is scorching. If you’re even more serious about sun protection, rent a beach cabana (first come, first serve from 8 a.m. to sunset). Cabanas come with a private shower and an assigned parking space. You can also rent kayaks and stand-up paddleboards, as well as single or quad bikes to make your way around the park. Also, if you’ve never gone kiteboarding before, this is your chance.
How to Get There
Getting to Crandon Park is not complicated as there’s only one way in and out of Key Biscayne. Arrive at Rickenbacker Causeway from the mainland (or if you’re coming from South Beach, you’ll take the I-95 highway south) and cross into Key Biscayne. You may have to pay a toll fee on your way onto the island. Drive through Virginia Key and past the Miami Seaquarium until you see signs for Crandon Park. Park entry, which includes parking (don’t think you won’t find a spot — there are over 3,000 parking spaces here) and beach access is $8 per vehicle (with two to eight passengers), $4 per single-occupant vehicle or motorcycles and $2 per pedestrian or bicyclist.
What to Do Nearby
There’s plenty to do in Key Biscayne, whether you’re on your way to Crandon Park or headed back home. Work up an appetite by taking a free guided tour of the Lighthouse at Bill Baggs State Park. Climb 109 stairs to the top for a breathtaking, 360-degree view. Head to the Rusty Pelican for a bite. The restaurant’s award-winning weekend brunch is fantastic, as is the happy hour and the incredible watercolor sunset views. Folks come from all over to eat at Rusty Pelican as the sun is going down. Immediately next to the Rusty Pelican is Whiskey Joe’s Miami Bar & Grill. You can dock your boat here and ride out into the sunset or, if there’s no boat, you can just hang out here with a tropical, fruity cocktail while listening to the live band play everything from Margaritaville to Brown-Eyed Girl. Happy hour is also fantastic at this waterside bar and, maybe the best thing about it, is that you can go as you are. The more board shorts, bikini tops and flip flops, the merrier. Although furry friends aren’t allowed in Crandon Park, there is one beach on the Key Biscayne island that’s dog-friendly. Hobie Island Dog Beach is a fun, carefree place to take your pup, who might really enjoy a little salt and wind in his hair. If this is part of your plan, make sure to pack pup-approved treats, plenty of water and some dog toys or tennis balls. It’ll be an experience to remember, that’s for sure.