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.
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 from the south entrance to Crandon Park Beach
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 a restored 1949 carousel and an old-fashioned roller rink, a splash fountain and marine sculptures for kids to play. The 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.
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.
Crandon Park Carousel
The amusement area and carousel are open weekends and holidays only from 10:30 am until 6 pm. Birthday picnic shelters at the Amusement Area are available for rent.
The carousel costs $2 per ride.
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 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 moved to South Miami in 1981 and is now known as Zoo Miami.
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.
Rambler Tip: Hold onto your parking pass to access both entrances.
Features from the north entrance to Crandon Park Beach
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.
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
Things to do near Crandon Park Beach
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 outing.
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 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 park visitors 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.
Crandon Park Beach, 4000 Crandon Boulevard, Key Biscayne, Florida 33149. Phone: (305) 361-7385, (305) 361-5421. Parking fee: $5 weekdays; $7 on weekends. Open: Sunrise until sunset
Directions: Take the Rickenbacker Causeway (near the southernmost 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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Bob Rountree is a beach bum, angler and camper who has explored Florida for decades. No adventure is complete without a scenic paddle trail or unpaved road to nowhere. Bob co-founded FloridaRambler.com with fellow journalist Bonnie Gross 14 years ago.