Posted on September 26, 2014
By DONATELA VACCA
As a massive bridge propels you into clear blue skies, you look ahead and there is no land. Just water and sun. With the hectic city life out of sight, suddenly the white sand and peaceful shores become more alluring as you soar above Biscayne Bay and down into a getaway paradise known as the islands of Virginia Key and Key Biscayne.
Water, a toll and a bridge are all that detaches these barrier islands from the rest of Miami, giving them the distinction of a faraway haven but they are really close.
“As soon as you cross that bridge, all your worries are gone. I feel like I’m transported into another dimension, and I think we have to thank these bridges because they allow for the island to have a certain disconnection from the rest of South Miami,” said Paulina Cremaschi, a current resident.
Yet, the magic doesn’t really happen until you cross Bear Cut Bridge, where you enter the last portion of the islands and thus the most peaceful of them all, that being the serene village and beaches of Key Biscayne.
The further the drive, the clearer, emptier and bluer the ocean becomes, giving the island the perfect Caribbean mood that lures in so many international visitors and locals as well.
With a total area of 1.4 square miles and enclosed by two parks, Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park and Crandon Park, the island is surrounded by an invigorating mass of nature and water, allowing for it to become the main hub for recreational activities.
Whether it is visitors or locals, there are beaches for everyone. Private beaches are reserved for Key Biscayne residents and they are located adjacent to every condominium. However, visitors can still enjoy the shallow blue waters by going into the public beaches located inside Crandon Park and Bill Baggs State Park or those belonging to hotels.
Although all are equally beautiful, residents confess that the prettiest shores are those located inside Bill Baggs State Park.
According to Milagros Zavalia, an Argentinean living on the island for more than 10 years, most of the crowds don’t make it to the far end of the island where the park is located, and that is the main reason why those beaches are more quiet and peaceful.
“The fact that Bill Baggs is a natural reservation makes those beaches a much cleaner and better preserved environment, therefore the views you get are astonishing. Besides, these beaches are far less crowded and that is key when you want to relax,” said Zavalia.
Both beaches have various services and recreational activities. Guests can rent bikes, kayaks, paddle-boats and boards.
On Crandon Park, the activities are much wilder, allowing for visitors to learn how to windsurf and kite surf as well. The park has several biking trails for those who want to brave into the less-traveled areas.
On Bill Baggs however, the scene is much calmer creating the perfect ambiance for those who would rather get disconnected from the world and sync in with nature.
“I choose the location based upon my plans for the day. If I want to have fun with my friends, I go to Crandon. But if I want a more peaceful outing or a family gathering, I choose Bill Baggs,” said Cremaschi.
Funky music, thrilling sports, cool people, warm waters and an almost Caribbean beat is what Crandon Park is all about. For those in search of a vibrant beach day, this is definitely the scene.
Nothing should ruin the serenity and carelessness of being on the beach, and that’s why both parks offer umbrella or cabana rentals for the day, allowing guests to come worry-free.
Once you emerge from the beaches and parks, the island keeps you rolling with varied local dining and shopping options.
In the past few years, Key Biscayne has become inhabited mainly by international residents making the island a cultural hub of traditions and customs, thus allowing the dining options to become more diverse.
Visitors can indulge with a variety of different cuisines such as Peruvian, Argentinean, American, Italian, Spanish, French, Mexican and even Thai food.
The two most exclusive spots, however, are those inside Bill Baggs Park. These two restaurants, known as Boater’s Grill and Lighthouse Café, are island musts since one is located on the beach, and the other one on the shoreline of No Name Harbor overlooking the extravagant skyline of Biscayne Bay.
Strange enough, the island has also raised the bar in terms of coffee shops and traditional French boulangeries, housing more than four coffee houses that offer typical French pastries and delicacies until late in the afternoon.
Visiting these patisseries has become an islander tradition, making these spots the social centers for daily gossip and chitchat. It is practically an easy A for visitors to get into this scene because Key Biscayners are known to be friendly and outgoing.
The shops are surely not designer stores, but instead typical island stores that carry local and unique fashion items or home decoration. For those in need of urgent purchases, CVS lights up the island 24/7, making it the perfect hangout for midnight ice-cream cravings.
Kari Madera, a realtor who moved from Hawaii into the island 33 years ago, explained that Key Biscayne is attractive for its diversity in activities, cultures, traditions and natural surroundings. However, she pinpointed that there is one main reason for which Key Biscayne is a true hidden gem.
“The island has no thru traffic, it is safe, it has numerous amenities (beach, park, restaurants, shopping, doctors, dentists, schools and churches), and it makes you feel like you live in an oasis, but just 20 minutes away from true civilization,” she said.
The fact that the island only has one hotel and one motel makes it even more exclusive, limiting the number of tourists that can visit the village. It is in fact this sense of exclusivity that drags most people in.
Gabriella Canal, a senior at the University of Miami, explained that since the island is separated from the rest of Miami, the feeling she gets from visiting its beaches is pure bliss and relaxation.
“Knowing that not every single tourist will be invading the beaches and streets makes me really comfortable and at peace. I go to Key Biscayne because it’s a paradise within another busier paradise, and I do so when I want to get away but not so faraway,” she said.
Madera described the island as nearly perfect, and with services and attractions such as marinas, bike trails, stores, Caribbean bars and delicious restaurants, it is clear that this quiet patch of land has become the epicenter of peace and recreation, just a few minutes away from Miami.
It is true the island might eventually loose its charm as it becomes more popular, but for now it remains a hidden treasure within the busy streets of manic Miami.
If You Go
- 6747 Crandon Blvd.
- Key Biscayne, Fla. 33149
- Hours of operation: Sunrise to sunset
- Office Hours: 8 a.m. – 5 p.m., seven days a week
- 4000 Crandon Blvd., Key Biscayne, Fla. 33149
- Pay at meters
- 7300 Crandon Blvd., Key Biscayne, Fla. 33149
Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park
- 1200 Crandon Blvd., Key Biscayne, Fla. 33149
- Hours of operation: The park is open from 8 a.m. to sundown 365 days a year
- Entrance fees: $8 per vehicle including 2 to 8 people per vehicle, $4 for a vehicle or motorcycle with a single occupant, $2 per pedestrian or bicyclist, as well as for extra passengers or passengers in a vehicle with a holder of an Annual Individual Entrance Pass, $4 sunset admission, $20 per evening for boat camping: (no overnight mooring to the seawall), $8 per day use when arriving by boat
- Hours of operation: Monday through Thursday 9 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday 9 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
- Hours of operation: Monday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
- Beach chairs may be rented for $7 each
- Umbrellas may be rented for $10 each
- Two chairs and one umbrella are available for $20
- Available from 10 a.m. till 1 p.m.
- Thursday through Monday.
- 726 Crandon Blvd., Key Biscayne, Fla. 33149
- Open 24/7
La Boulangerie French Café
- 328 Crandon Blvd., Key Biscayne, Fla. 33149
Novecento Argentinean Bistro
- 620 Crandon Blvd., Key Biscayne, Fla. 33149
- Hours of operation: Monday – Friday 11 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., Saturday – Sunday 10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Tutto Pizza e Pasta
- 328 Crandon Blvd., Key Biscayne, Fla. 33149
- Hours of operation: Monday -Thursday 11:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., Friday – Saturday 11:30 p.m. to 11 p.m., Sunday 11:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
- 632 Crandon Blvd., Key Biscayne, Fla. 33149
- Daily from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.