Posted November 25, 2015
By KIT PILOSOF
KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. — It’s hard to ignore the extreme conditions and people that take up the congested South Beach hotel strip; those that drop Styrofoam cups into the ocean but cringe at seaweed and the warm salt water as it hits their toes. One must ask: if you don’t like sand then why come to the beach?
Driving across the Rickenbacker Causeway towards Crandon Park Beach rids you of this high maintenance Miami atmosphere.
“Looking out across this bridge reminds me of why I decided to move here. I like just being able to see the ocean and the boats rather than paying so much attention to the people,” said Gabby Torkan, a junior at the University of Miami from Great Neck, N.Y.
Technically only a bridge and a tollbooth away from the urban city, Crandon Park Beach manages to separate itself from the hub, providing visitors with a sense of isolation.
The two-mile beach, consistently rated as one of the top 10 beaches in the nation, occupies the northern part of Key Biscayne.
“I don’t find myself going to the beach a lot because I only ever think there is South Beach. Crandon Park is so close to Coral Gables and it feels as if there’s hardly anyone here. It always sort of shocks me that we can get the best of both worlds in Miami,” continued Torkan.
There’s a local charm on this park island. Restaurants, white sand and warm waters, Caribbean music playing, hiking trails and a vast array of other activities ensure that no visitors, from toddlers and their parents to retired couples, will get bored.
“One of the main issues I have with Miami or touring any major city for that matter is the planning. Having to book and call weeks in advance, the line-ups, getting a group of people organized. It’s an overwhelming feat that often ends in cancelling plans last minute,” said Danielle Cohen, a senior at the University of Miami from Raleigh, N.Y.
“I’m from a small town so this type of planning was never in the cards for me,” she added. “My grandma lives in Coral Gables and would often take me to Crandon Park as a kid. When I came to school here I started coming on the weekends and bringing friends.”
It is difficult to see the wildlife and historical sights in Miami without renting a boat or reserving a place on a guided tour – both of which come at a high expense that some people, specifically students, may not be able to afford.
Crandon Park is the exception.
Bicycles are available to rent at Mangrove Cycle shop. Options range from regular single bikes to four person bikes known as a “surrey,” where you will max out at $40 for two hours and get a surprisingly difficult workout.
The large loop is home to what seems like many generations of raccoons that barely twitch at human traffic passing through. Peacocks, gators and snakes can also be seen in the quiet gardens along the bike path.
South of Mangrove Cycles is Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, where a beachfront bicycle loop exists.
Along the route sits the Cape Florida lighthouse built in 1825 and reconstructed in 1846, making it the oldest standing structure in Miami-Dade County.
Twice a day from Thursday through Monday guided tours of both the lighthouse and the lighthouse keeper’s cottage are given. The Lighthouse Café and the Boater’s Grill are the two popular restaurants to stop at for fresh seafood.
“We try to come with the family once a month. We spend the day at the beach and come to the Boater’s Grill for the ceviche and seafood paella. The kids need a solid excuse if they can’t make it,” local husband and wife Marianne and Terry Gallivan sit with three of their children and one grandchild at the Boater’s Grill.
Visible from the lighthouse about a mile from shore and accessible by boat is Stiltsville. Occupying the northern portion of the bay within Biscayne National Park, it’s exactly what it sounds like when you reconstruct its name – houses built on stilts in the middle of the shallow water.
With a history that dates back to the 1930s, Stiltsville comprised 27 houses at its peak but hurricanes, fires and its general habitat have reduced that number to seven.
Although it’s free to tour around by boat, the houses can be rented for events through the Stiltsville Trust; it’s $50 a person and a minimum of 20 people must attend.
“My dad has told me stories of gambling and illegal drug and alcohol trades being done here way back when,” said Cohen.
Like an Americanized Venice Canal, the submerged structures with A-frame roofs and colorful painted walls add an old-school quirk to the park. The calm waters surround the abandoned houses and birds line the roof chirping as if they’ve seen it all.
“This history is so well reserved it’s like I can feel the high energy of people meeting here to conduct their ‘business.’ I feel stuck in a bit of a time warp,” said Torkan.
It’s these small pockets of Miami that remind you of its tropical geographic location.
Providing a great view of the city without the clatter of the population, these parks and their historic landmarks offer a mental safe-haven.
If You Go
- Crandon Park’s address is located at 6747 Crandon Blvd.
- Parking entrance fee is $5 per vehicle and $6 on weekends.
- Lifeguards, restrooms and showers can all be found on sight.
- Other amenities include beach chairs, umbrella rentals, kayak, paddle board and kite surfing rentals.
- Kayaks, paddleboards and kite surfs can be rented for $20 an hour.
- Directions to Crandon Park from North Miami: From I-95 south take exit 1A toward Rickenbacker Causeway. Continue along this road for 0.3 miles then turn left onto SW 26th Road. Continue onto the Rickenbacker Causeway. Take a slight left turn then a left turn onto Crandon Boulevard. The destination is on the right.
- Directions to Crandon Park from South Miami: Begin on SW 64th. Turn right onto SW 57th Avenue and then left onto Ponce de Leon Boulevard. Turn right onto south Alhambra Circle and then left onto South Dixie Highway. Keep right for five miles toward Brickell Avenue and then turn right onto Rickenbacker Causeway. Take a slight left turn and then turn left onto Crandon Boulevard. The destination is on your right.
- Directions to Crandon Park from West Miami: Begin on SW 62nd. Turn right onto SW 8th Street then turn left onto SW 57th Avenue. Keep right on FL-868 E to merge onto the Dolphin Express east. In 5.2 miles take exit to merge onto I-95 south toward downtown. Take exit 1A toward Rickenbacker Causeway and continue along this road for 0.3 miles. Turn left onto SW 26th Road and then continue on the Rickenbacker Causeway. Take a slight left turn and then a left onto Crandon Boulevard. The destination is on your right.
- The Rickenbacker Causeway is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The toll is $1.50.
- The park is open 365 days a year from 8 a.m. to sundown.
- Bicycles can be rented from $3 to $20 an hour depending on the model.
- Florida State Park: Bring your fishing gear, go swimming and take a tour to the top of the lighthouse in Bill Baggs State Park and Lighthouse Bike Trail.
- Ride on the beachfront pathway to try to find peacocks and gators on the Crandon Park and Beach with Quiet Gardens Natural Habitat bike tour.
- The Lighthouse Café is located at 1200 Crandon Blvd. and is open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
- The Boaters Grill is located next to the Lighthouse Café and is open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.