Early in the morning, warm candy-colored clouds lay close to the ocean. They slowly start to stretch and break as the sun climbs in the sky. It seems as if everything and everyone is still sleeping, save for the birds and the roaring surf. But as I walk from the free trolley to North Shore Open Space Park on Miami Beach‘s North Beach, I realize that I’m not the only person awake. Not by a long shot.
Under a canopy of lush palms, live oaks, and wide, waxy-leaved deciduous trees, I find a group practicing yoga in a semi-circle — greeting the day with hands sweeping up over their heads. Just past them, a group of four carry enormous paddleboards toward the sand, cutting through the green park on their way to the beach. It’s the perfect vibe for an early morning run, and I take off along the winding paths of North Shore Open Space Park — heading south to north, before finally looping around to the south again.
After my run, I spend a few minutes lounging on the powder-white sand — listening to the distant whoops of the paddleboarders — before wandering back through the park to Collins Avenue. I walk south until I find what my stomach craves: Brazilian food. Specifically, Cypo Café, a cozy spot that I’ve heard great things about. The file de peixe, a light, garlic-and-tomato fish, satisfies me in that distinct Miami way: it’s not at all heavy and I leave full, yet energized.
My time at North Shore Open Space Park has me feeling invigorated and craving more adventure, so I embark on a mission to explore a few more of Miami’s unforgettable beaches.
Paddle yourself right into another world: Oleta River State Park
Situated to the north of upscale Bal Harbour and the secret charms of Surfside, Oleta River State Park is one of the best places in Miami to go paddle-boarding. Miami’s largest urban park, this place makes it easy to embrace nature with winding channels of water, prehistoric-looking mangroves, birds calling to one another, and, of course, a nice slice of white sand beach.
Once you get your balance, go ahead and weave in and out of the watery pathways. Cross your fingers that you’ll see a manatee or two, watch for herons and other waterfowl in the sky, and keep your eyes peeled for little hermit crabs crawling around the mangrove roots. It’s a different world out here.
While you’re in the neighborhood… Walk around The Ancient Spanish Monastery in North Miami Beach, maybe take a tour or catch a concert, and marvel at the 12th-century building, which was brought to the U.S. by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst.
Ride the quarter pipe: Haulover Park
If you’re looking for something a little wilder than your typical beach experience, Haulover Park has that and more. If you feel like really letting loose, head to the nude beach, which lies at the northernmost edge of the park. Set on 99 acres, this LGBT-friendly beach offers plenty of room to stretch out and relax, and the location gives Haulover Park an edge over other clothing-optional beaches along the Mediterranean.
Bonus: rent either a skateboard or rollerblades from Fritz’s in South Beach, take a quick Uber ride north, and head to the skate park—where they have rails, a pump track, a few quarter pipes, and more. Or you can rent a bike at Haulover Bike Rentals on Collins Ave. and ride around the pump track then watch skaters defy gravity on the quarterpipes. Either way: work up a sweat on the track before you cool down in the ocean. How better to combine action and relaxation?
While you’re in the neighborhood… Go to Surfside and take yourself on a Turtle Walk: hunt for all of the decorated fiberglass turtle sculptures around town which are made by local artists. Once you’ve found them all, head to 26 Sushi and Tapas, a kosher Japanese/Peruvian place where ají amarillo and masago make a harmonious pairing.
Kayak through the mangroves: Crandon Park
On the northern tip of Key Biscayne lies Crandon Park, an enormous park that includes tennis courts, a golf course, a nature center, and two miles of protected beach. Somehow, despite the fact that this is well-trodden territory, this area manages to feel like pure paradise. You can explore this park any number of ways: hike around the preserve, rent a kayak or paddle-board, or do it in style and rent a cabana.
To really maximize your time at Crandon Park, snorkel in the morning and kayak in the afternoon. The waters of Key Biscayne are protected by several sandbars, so they’re not only glassy calm, they’re also astoundingly clear. First, head to Bear Cut Nature Preserve and explore the fossilized mangrove reef, where you’ll likely see spotted eagle rays floating quietly along in the reef, and no shortage of tropical fish. Then head to the north end of the park rent that kayak, and push out to sea, where you can take in the splash of green that makes up Key Biscayne against the backdrop of city skyscrapers to the north. The waves will bump you along gently, and you’ll get a whole new outlook on the Atlantic coast.
If, however, you really want to try something different, when you’re back from your snorkeling adventure, head to the rentals area at the north end of Crandon Park and sign up for kiteboarding lessons at Miami Kiteboarding, where they have a designated stretch of beach for kiteboarders only. Experts call this place “kiteboarding paradise” for a reason: you’ll quickly fall in love with the push and pull of the heavy parachute and the power of harnessing the wind. But know this: you’ll definitely be ready for a restorative night of sleep at the end of the day.
While you’re in the neighborhood… Head north to Virginia Key, and watch the sunset with a local beer in hand on the patio of Wetlab, the semi-secret bar located on the University of Miami’s School of Marine Science campus.
Hit the South Beach surf scene: South Pointe Park
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Oh man….where does one start to describe yesterday’s epic swell event. We don’t, we leave it up to you and the photographers to tell us each of your stories. . . . . #southbeach showed up and she reminded us all what happens when she flexes her muscles. Ego’s were crushed, boards splintered and legend statuses were handed out to those that escaped her grip. Whether you were in the water or watching from shore, you got front row on the 🦄 of a wave that is home to us. . . . Check out these local photographers pages for some more pics of Monday’s Madness 👇🏽. . . @jasonmac7 @manybeaches @b_uphotography @3rdandocean @surf_305 @cshapesmiami @mikefreas . . . . . If you got some great images and want to have us share it, send us over a DM or send prints and credit info to firstname.lastname@example.org , there’s also some great video on our live feed from yesterday that goes dark in a few hours. . . . #ifitskneehighchopwereyourshop 👈🏽 did not apply to yesterday
Sometimes you want to be close to where the action is. If that’s the case, head to South Pointe Park, an easy walk from the South Beach hotels. South Pointe Park is probably what you think about when you think about Miami: brightly colored lifeguard stands, a wide jetty, and a pier you can wander down. Take in the views of palm trees and people jogging along wide curving paths, cruise ships in one direction and funky art deco hotels in the other. There’s also quite possibly the best beach in America, where you can swim, kick back, have a picnic, and bask in the sun’s rays.
For the adventurer, South Pointe Park holds a surprise. When the swell is right—coming from the Northeast or directly from the east—this place becomes Miami’s standout surf break. It’s a peaky little setup with a few different sandy-bottomed breaks. The wave itself is quick, punchy and a whole lot of fun.
Rent a board at F1RST Surf Supply Company. Or, if you prefer, take a jog or use a City Bike to cruise north past Muscle Beach before doubling back the way you came and going for a swim. Of all the forms of exercise in Miami, a run plus swim just might be the most quintessential.
While you’re in the neighborhood… Head over to Joe’s Stone Crab, a Miami Beach institution, and gorge on the best dang crab you’ll ever have. Joe’s serves up juicy claws and their special dipping sauce all year long and trust us: It’s the most memorable shellfish you’ll ever have.
Exploring the city’s beaches and chasing adventure — both along the shoreline and in the sea — allowed me to soak in a little bit more of the city’s culture, diverse influences, and friendly locals. Plus it was tons of fun. That’s the whole point of travel, in my book, and an absolutely awesome way to spend a day in Miami.