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Which beach should you go to in South Florida? Here’s our guide for finding your spot in the sand

South Florida has a lot going for it: Great restaurants, exciting nightlife and never, ever any snow. But its greatest asset is the beaches.

But which beach is right for you? Do you want peace and quiet or loud and lively? Do you want to people-watch or snorkel?

And where do you go if you want to sunbathe in the nude? (Hint: it’s not Golden Beach.)

Check out our guide and decide.

Miami-Dade

Sunny Isles Beach/Golden Beach

  • Where: On A1A from 163rd Street to the Broward County line
  • Crowd: Local residents and families.
  • Details: William Lane’s new exuberant, Deco-styled pavilion at 163rd Street revisists Sunny Isles Beach’s 1950s-futurism, even though the kitschy area motels are rapidly falling victim to condo creep. Few amenities here, but the beach is fine, and only locals know about it. As for Golden Beach, forget it. That’s for residents only.

Haulover Park Beach

  • Where: On A1A around 10800 Collins Avenue
  • Crowd: Families, nudists
  • Details: This long, sloping beach would be rather unremarkable save for one thing: The northernmost section is clothing optional. Otherwise, it’s a somewhat run-down and rugged beach that could use a little refurbishing. Other than serving as Miami-Dade’s only legal haven for nudists, Haulover offers the usual amenities: picnic area, showers, lifeguards and concession stands.

Surfside

  • Where: From 87th Terrace to 96th streets
  • Crowd: Somewhat older residents.
  • Details: A wholly unpretentious area with a walking path, dunes and no clutter.

North Shore Open Space Park

  • Where: On A1A and 72nd Street in Miami Beach
  • Crowd: Nature lovers
  • Details: Find long stretches of sand, picnic areas, better than average restrooms, showers and lifeguards. A good nature-lover’s spot, as well, with areas of sea grapes, dunes and decent sand. An often overlooked, but charming gem among Miami-Dade beaches.

Miami Beach, mid-beach

  • Where: Between 22nd and 46th streets behind the hotels.
  • Crowd: Tourists
  • Details: The appearance of luxury hotels - Faena, Soho Beach House and Edition, among others - has transformed this beach, which once had a distinct lack of ambience. You can stroll the boardwalk, but you’re probably not going to come here unless you’re staying in one of the hotels.

South Beach

  • Where: Along Ocean Drive from the Government Cut area to about 22nd Street.
  • Crowd: Anything goes – and does.
  • Details: The ocean is still the best thing South Beach has to offer. You’ll see tourists and natives here. The natives are usually riding bikes, Rollerblading or running along the recently completed path that winds all the way down to South Pointe Park Pier. They’re also usually complaining about the tourists, who can be found ordering overpriced drinks on Ocean Drive. The fitness-minded work out on the equipment in Lummus Park at Ninth Street, and the unofficial (but actually kind of official) gay beach is at 12th Street.

Crandon Park Beach

  • Where: On Key Biscayne south of the Seaquarium (4000 Crandon Blvd.)
  • Crowd: Families from inland Miami.
  • Details: What Crandon lacks in pizzazz it makes up for in reliability, with its long stretches of soft sand for spreading the towel out and soaking up the sun. Palm trees dot the sand and make shade. This is actually the perfect beach for families. Mom and Dad can relax, and there is enough for kids to do, too. There are lifeguards, some concessions and picnic areas with tables and grills. One quibble: When the waters are calm a distinct aroma, the area smells a little like sewage.

Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Recreation Area

  • Where: End of Key Biscayne.
  • Crowd: Families, snorkelers.
  • Details: The well-shaded beach and park is beloved by families who spend weekends at the plentiful barbecue grills and picnic tables, play areas and restrooms. For those seeking serenity, this is one quiet spot to absorb nature. Cape Florida, located at the farthest end of Key Biscayne (look for the centuries-old lighthouse standing proudly against the sky), offers 1.25 miles of sandy beach. Bring along the snorkel and fins, because there’s lots of interesting sea life a few yards away from shore.

Matheson Hammock Park

  • Where: 9610 Old Cutler Road in Miami.
  • Crowd: Families, on the young side.
  • Details: This isn’t really a beach per se, but it boasts a man-made atoll pool that gets its waters from the tides sweeping Biscayne Bay. The bottom is rather slimy and murky but the surrounding park is lovely and families love it here for good reason. There are picnic pavilions and nature trails.

Homestead Bayfront Park Beach

  • Where: 9698 SW North Canal Dr., Homestead.
  • Crowd: Families hunkering down around the BBQ.
  • Details: Features an atoll beach with amenities including a marina, snack bar, barbecue grills, rental picnic shelter, a playground and lifeguards.

Broward

Deerfield Beach

  • Where: Southeast 10th Street to the Palm Beach County line.
  • Crowd: Families, fans of fishing, surfers.
  • Details: A 980-foot pier at the north end provides a great spot to fish (or watch other people fish). Surfing is allowed on the north side of the pier, and volleyball courts are available.

Pompano Beach

  • Where: Atlantic Boulevard to Northeast 16th Street.
  • Crowd: Water sport aficionados, anglers, families.
  • Details: This big, broad beach has the staples: picnic areas, playground, volleyball courts and parking. It also boasts a municipal pier with a snack bar. Fish from the pier. You can rent a pole; the nearby tackle shop sells bait. Surfers can do their thing north of the pier. Rent water equipment or launch your own – launch area is Northeast 16th Street.

Lauderdale-by-the-Sea

  • Where: At Commercial Boulevard.
  • Crowd: Tourists, families with small kids, some locals.
  • Details: Feel like you’re on vacation even if you live 10 miles away. The town is full of Old Florida-style shops and restaurants, offering ice cream, seashell wares and food served al fresco. Cute motels and Anglin’s Fishing Pier add to the charm. There are no lifeguards, so swim at your own risk.

Fort Lauderdale

  • Where: From Harbor Beach north of Port Everglades Inlet to Oakland Park Boulevard.
  • Crowd: Everyone. Tourists, families, nature lovers, sports fans, shoppers, spring breakers.
  • Details: Starting from the south: Harbor Beach, between Port Everglades Inlet and the 17th Street Causeway, boasts powder-soft sand but access is tricky, with no parking in sight. Instead, walk or bike or stay in one of the hotels that front the beach. Families cluster south of Las Olas Boulevard, near the playground and picnic tables, as well as volleyball and basketball courts and equipment rentals. More action awaits just north of Las Olas Boulevard, with the landmark Elbo Room, bars, restaurants, shops, bikers, in-line skaters and that lovely beach wall. At Sunrise Boulevard, Hugh Taylor Birch State Park has a tunnel to the beach; here you can picnic, camp, bike, canoe and more. Serenity reigns as you head north to Oakland Park Boulevard: no shops, no tourists (well, fewer tourists) and also, inevitably, scarce parking.

John U. Lloyd Beach State Park

  • Where: 6503 N. Ocean Dr., Dania Beach.
  • Crowd: People who prefer wetlands to hotels and t-shirt shops as a beach backdrop.
  • Details: The 251-acre park, adjacent to Port Everglades, offers a subtropical coastal hammock with nature trail, wetlands area, picnicking, kayak and canoe rentals and a boat ramp. The park has been criticized, however, for poor sand quality and less-than-perfect ambiance. It sits between the Atlantic and the Intracoastal Waterway.

Dania Beach

  • Where: Dania Beach Boulevard.
  • Crowd: Folks who love the beach, but not the crowds.
  • Details: Despite its location near Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, Dania Beach is a quiet little jewel with a fishing pier, tiki-style huts and soft sand. If you get hungry, there’s a Quarterdeck restaurant on the pier.

Hollywood

  • Where: North of Hallandale Beach Boulevard; North Beach Park is at Sheridan Street.
  • Crowd: Families, couples, exercise buffs and, when the season is right, snowbirds from Quebec.
  • Details: Hollywood offers a beach for everyone. Want to sunbathe against a backdrop of faded glory? Stake out some sand in front of the old Hollywood Beach Resort at Hollywood Boulevard. Want to shop, bike, eat, people-watch or hear a beachside concert? Hit the Broadwalk; the band shell is at Johnson Street. Want to take the family out for a nature-friendly day in the sand? Try North Beach Park at Sheridan Street, where a sea-turtle hatchery adds an eco note to the fun. The north and south ends of Hollywood Beach are comparatively quiet and uncrowded, with peak activity around the giant Margaritaville resort, which towers over the smaller mom-and-pop motels and businesses.

Hallandale Beach

  • Where: Hallandale Beach Boulevard and State Road A1A.
  • Crowd: Condo dwellers
  • Details: The landmark beach ball water tower stands guard over the county’s southernmost shores. So do the condos. The beach offers bocce ball courts as well as showers, lifeguards, a playground and concession stands.

The Keys

SMATHERS 7
Smathers Beach in Key West. Gwen Filosa FLKeysNews.com

Clarence S. Higgs Memorial Beach

  • Where: Near the south end of White Street on Atlantic Boulevard in Key West.
  • Crowd: Families, tourists.
  • Details: This beach is on the small side, but includes picnic shelters and a pier.

Smathers Beach

  • Where: On South Roosevelt Boulevard west of the airport in Key West.
  • Crowd: Volleyball players, sunbathers, tourists. (It’s Key West, after all.)
  • Details: A long stretch of sand populated with palms, the beach is a nice place to seek refuge from the excesses of Duval Street. Volleyball nets beckon, as do rental options for water sports.

Bahia Honda State Park

  • Where: Between Mile Markers 36 and 37 on Bahia Honda Key.
  • Crowd: Campers, snorkelers, explorers, fishermen, boaters, shallow-water wanderers and gazers.
  • Details: You can do just about anything here. Stay overnight in a cabin or tent and wake to the golden sunrise. Swim in the Atlantic or the Florida Bay. Wade through shallow, crystal-clear water. Ride a bike. Boat, fish or just park yourself on the attractive sand and relax.
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