Beaches / Southeast Florida

Key Biscayne’s Crandon Park Beach is postcard-perfect

Crandon Park Beach is a secret to all but Miamians

Coconut palms on Crandon Park Beach

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Crandon Beach Park
~KEY BISCAYNE — Unless you know better, it’s likely that you will cruise right past the entrances to Crandon Park Beach in favor of the award-winning beach further south at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park.

But you’d be missing something.  Something big and beautiful, a broad, two-mile swath of beach so photogenic that some of the most beautiful models in the world are brought here for photo shoots.

This is the Miami that you see in bikini ads. This is the beach you see in tourism brochures. This is the beach you see in the movies.

And this is the beach where Miamians take their families for fun in the sun, the shade of a coconut palm, picnics under the tropical hardwood hammock, ride a carousel. You can also rent kayaks and kite boards. Tennis and golf are available in other areas of the park.

The dunes at the north end offer quiet hideways on Crandon Park Beach

Nature trail on the north end

South Beach is for the rich and famous, Cape Florida for the tourists, and Crandon Park Beach is for everybody else.  On summer weekends, the park’s 3,000 parking spaces are packed. In winter, it’s much less crowded. During the week, you almost have the entire beach to yourself.

A long sandbar protects the beach from ocean surf, giving it a lagoon feel and making it ideal for small children.  Big kids wade out to deeper water beyond the sandbar.  Swimming is only permitted when lifeguards are on duty, and there are 13 lifeguard stands along the beach.

Separating the wide beach from the huge picnic areas is a paved, multiple-use promenade where you can walk, bike or rollerblade.

There are hundreds of tables in the grassy picnic areas, some with pavilions and many shaded by live oaks. On weekends, if you want a shaded table, you should arrive early.

Features at the south entrance

The park’s two entrances admit vehicles to the park’s two massive parking lots, which are separated. And while the beaches are quite similar, other features may steer you to one or the other. The south lot, most popular for children, includes the carousel and amusement center, the cabana concession and the 200-acre Crandon Park Gardens.

The Crandon Family Amusement Center is a beachfront playground featuring an antique carousel and an old-fashioned roller rink, a splash fountain and marine sculptures for kids to play. The 1949 carousel is the main attraction, originally part of the old Crandon Park Zoo. The roller rink is paved and banked with guard rails, and you can rent skates at the concession.  Here’s more about park facilities.

Picnic area at Crandon Park Beach

Picnic area at Crandon Park Beach

The playground is open weekends from 10:30 a.m. until 5 p.m., and the carousel, featuring brightly painted wooden horses, operates only on weekends and holidays.  Near the amusement area are a number of concession stands selling hot dogs, pizza, ice cream and other foods.

South of the playground is the cabana area, where you can rent a cabana for the day.

Hot Tip:  Hold onto your parking pass to access both entrances.

Crandon Park Gardens, tucked away on 200 acres at the south end of the park, are Crandon Park’s hidden treasure.  Even beach regulars don’t even know it’s there.  All of Crandon Park was once a coconut plantation, and remnants of that era remain throughout the beach and the gardens.

This part of the plantation was once the Crandon Park Zoo, created when a circus went out of business and its animals abandoned. (The zoo was moved to South Miami in 1981 and renamed the Miami Metrozoo.)

There are small lakes throughout the lush vegetation, providing a rich habitat for wildlife, especially birds.  Remnants of the old zoo, including the rails for the old tram that carried kids through the zoo, remain.

Features from the north entrance

The north lot offers access to the rugby fields, the beach-toy concession, a nature walk and nature center.  I also found the picnic area on this side more shaded than the south lot.

Nature trail behind the dunes at Crandon Park Beach.

Nature trail.

The impressive Marjory Stoneman Douglas Biscayne Nature Center offers hands-on nature exhibits, an art gallery, nature trails, learning programs and field trips.

The center is tucked behind the beach dunes in a rich coastal eco-system with access to seagrass beds, where children and adults can take field trips to explore sea life, including urchins, starfish and seahorses. Other field trips include a hike through the coastal hammock ecosystem.

Another cool feature of the nature center is the wreckage of the Half Moon, an early 20th Century sailing yacht, on a shallow shoal off the beach at the north end of Key Biscayne at the entrance to Bear Cut, the channel that separates Key Biscayne from Virginia Key.  A state underwater archeological preserve, the wreck is accessible to divers and snorkelers.  If you don’t want to get wet, introduce yourself to the wreck and its fascinating through an exhibit at the nature center.

Contact the Nature Center for information about field trips at 305-361-6767 x119

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What’s nearby?

A great place to kayak is Virginia Key, one of the islands you cross going to Key Biscayne. Here’s a Florida Rambler article about the spectacular scenery on this kayak out.

Across A1A from the beach is the Crandon Park Tennis Center, home of the Sony Ericsson Open, and a championship 18-hole golf course at The Links of Key Biscayne.  For a fee, you can launch a boat at the Crandon Park Marina on the north end of Key Biscayne.

 

Miami Seaquarium

Miami Seaquarium

Miami Seaquarium is on Virginia Key, just before Key Biscayne at the east end of the Rickenbacker Causeway.

Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park. Award-winning beach with hiking and biking trails, the Cape Florida Lighthouse and a view of historic Stiltsville from the south shore.

Boater’s Grill, 1200 Crandon Blvd, Key Biscayne, is on the south end of Key Biscayne in Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, $8 per vehicle entrance fee). This fabulous little seafood restaurant has a deck for dining overlooking No Name Harbor, where transient boaters and visitors to the park often anchor overnight, and it is accessible by boat or car. Also located within Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, The Lighthouse Cafe has a spectacular view of the beach and lighthouse

 

The Rusty Pelican is on Virginia Key, overlooking the harbor that was carved out to create the Miami Marine Stadium.  With its magnificent view of the Miami skyline across the bay, the Rusty Pelican is a popular destination for dining and bar-stool sailing.

*** Hotel Special Deals in Key Biscayne ***

Crandon Park Beach Contact Information
4000 Crandon Boulevard
Key Biscayne, Florida 33149
(305) 361-7385
(305) 361-5421

Admission:  $6 for parking

Open: 8 a.m. to sunset

Directions: Take the Rickenbacker Causeway (near the end of I-95) to Key Biscayne. Go over the causeway (toll) past Hobie Beach, Virginia Key and the Miami Seaquarium and watch for the signs to Crandon Park Beach. There are two entrances to two parking lots for a combination of 3,000 parking spaces.

 

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3 Comments

  1. I just hiked along this park a few weeks ago. It’s a great place for an urban hike, to slowly take in the sights. Bicyclists abound, as do runners. I was doing primitive camping with a Scout group at Bill Baggs State Park, another great place to take a walk, run or to bike and the park is a good place to put in a canoe or kayak in the Biscayne Bay…

  2. Virginia Key, a 1000 barrier island that was once connected to Key Biscayne and is now separated by the Bear Cut Bridge is home to Jimbo’s but also a nature preserve island, with a 700-acre state-designated Bill Sadowski Critical Wildlife Area. An extensive ecological restoration of the island’s dune, tropical hammock and coastal areas has opened new trails for exploration. Virginia Key is also home to the Historic Virginia Key Beach Park and the Miami Marine Stadium.

  3. Makes me want to go and rediscover all these neat features.

    One of the more interesting spots to discover at Crandon Beach is the far north end of the beach, in an area called Bear Cut Preserve.

    Right along the beach and extending into the shallow waters, there’s a fossilized reef, remnants of long dead mangroves. The reef is not alive, but it’s very cool looking and the waters around it attract lots of fish and sea life. It’s a popular kayaking destination. (Be careful, though, if you visit, don’t walk on the delicate reef.)

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