When people talk about Miami Beach, they could be referring to any stretch of the over 35 miles of sandy beach in the city. Different areas have different characteristics and attract different crowds, making it important to distinguish when you’re choosing where to plant your umbrella in one of Miami’s beaches. To help you get your bearings, here is a handy guide to Miami beaches so you can choose wisely.
When most tourists talk about Miami Beach, they’re likely referring to South Beach. South Beach is roughly south of 23rd Street, but the majority of the action is contained south of Lincoln Road. This part of the beach is full of overpriced restaurants lining Ocean Drive and some of the worst traffic in all of Miami. The key to enjoying South Beach is to not have to drive there. Parking will be harder to find and more expensive unless you’re staying at one of the hotels in the area.
If you are driving to South Beach, always head north when you get to the other side of the MacArthur Causeway. If you go south of 5th, you’re making a huge mistake and you won’t be seeing the beach any time soon, only the rear bumpers of other cars. My favorite place to find parking and a good place to enjoy the beach is around 16th Street, where the big hotels fill the beach with their colorful umbrellas. It’s usually not impossible to find parking, and it still feels like walkable South Beach so you can easily grab a drink or a slice of pizza when you’re sick of the sun.
As the busiest Miami beaches, you can expect a lot of people, locals and tourists, playing music that is way too loud and may not be your taste. You’ll also have frequent ads flying overhead for whatever rapper is throwing a party at a local South Beach club. Occasionally, people will come by to pass out flyers for said parties, but this is more common the further south you go. If you do go all the way to the southern tip of the beach, you can take a walk on South Pointe Park Pier, which at least a few locals have died diving off of. Beachgoers can wave as the departing cruise ships sail out past this part of the beach.
North of South Beach, roughly between 23rd and 63rd Street, you’ll hit Mid-Beach. This is where some of Miami’s most famous hotels are located like the Eden Roc and the Fountainbleau. Unlike South Beach, there isn’t much else there. Once you cross Indian Creek, there are basically two blocks from west to east of giant hotels and overpriced condos. Unless you’re staying in one of those hotels and eating at Nobu before hitting up LIV, there’s nothing especially attractive about Mid-Beach that you can’t find at one of the other beaches. There are some parking options, but it’s mostly hotel valet all the way up the strip.
North Beach is, you guessed it, north of Mid-Beach. The most appealing thing about North Beach is that you can get to it from the mainland without having to take the MacArthur Causeway or the I195 which are often way more congested. North Beach is the calmest beach in Miami because it’s not full of tourists. There’s a healthy smattering of eateries and bars a short walking distance from the beachfront, and parking is plentiful.
North Beach is notable for hosting the full moon drum circle on 81st Street. The event draws young local crowds with their instruments, lights, and drugs. It’s super chill if you happen to catch it. If you’re swinging by during the day, it’s a laid back spot to lie in the sun with a comfortable distance between you and other beachgoers.
Key Biscayne Beaches
An alternative to the easternmost beaches of Miami are to the south in Virginia Key and Key Biscayne, accessible from the mainland by the Rickenbacker Causeway. A few beaches line the highway that connects the keys, like Hobie Beach which is the only dog-friendly beach in the city where you can also rent gear for watersports.
Past those roadside beach strips, you’ll find some sandy spots to take a swim at Crandon Park and Bill Baggs, which is the southernmost point. To enter both parks, and thus, get access to the beaches, you have to pay to get in. Parking at Crandon Park will cost you $5, which is probably only a fraction of what you’d pay to park on South Beach for a couple of hours. At Crandon Park, you can hike, swim, kayak, paddleboard, or rent a cabana and do absolutely nothing.
Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park costs $8 to get into and has a good mix of beach and greenery. Its main attraction is the Cape Florida Lighthouse and the accompanying beach, which may was featured on season 3 of the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. This beach is a favorite of locals, known in Spanish as “El Farito.” It’s small and cozy, but can get overcrowded and due to its close proximity to the rest of the park, it’s sometimes overrun with raccoons and iguanas. So maybe not the best beach to bring a picnic. But it is a good place to learn a little South Florida history or take a bike ride around the edge of the cape.
If your hotel has a nice pool though, that’s always an alternative to Miami beaches. At least you’ll avoid the traffic.