hen people visit Miami on vacation
they’re here for one thing: Publix Subs
. But also the beach. And our coastlines don’t disappoint: we’ve got the best beaches of any big city in America, with swaths of bright white sand and turquoise water stretching for miles.
Of course, like so many of the beautiful things in Miami, our beaches aren’t anything close to natural. When settlers first came to the shores of Biscayne Bay in the late 19th century, what’s now Miami Beach was nothing but a collection of sandy mangrove islands, not good for much other than breeding mosquitoes. Then, Carl Fisher dredged the Bay and filled the island, threw up some hotels and covered the coast in sand, creating a vacation paradise that was never supposed to be there.
But ultimately, Miami is the beach. And the beach in its own little way, is Miami. It has grown to define Miami’s identity. It went from 1950s celebrity playground to retirement community, to drug-fueled gangland, and then back to glamorous vacation destination -- all in about 75 years. Many beaches may look the same on the surface, but the crowds and neighborhoods that surround them are decidedly different. The Miami you'll find depends on which stretch of sand you’re on.
Beginning on Miami Beach's southern tip at South Pointe Park, you’ll walk past the glass high-rises and wealthy Europeans who have built the Miami of today. Moving north, you’ll stroll past blaring Spanish music and smell cigars near 8th Street, like you might on the other Calle Ocho on the mainland. You’ll wander through the gay section at 12th, and might happen upon a drag show at Palace. You’ll see Instagram “models” taking the same bikini shot 100 times and club promoters handing out fliers. And somewhere, at some point, you’ll see something completely bizarre and other-worldly, like a guy roller-blading with a python around his neck, and say to yourself, “Only in Miami.”
To experience Miami without leaving the sandy confines of the beach, here are the eight best places to find great swimming, nude sunbathing, salsa music, deserted shores, snorkeling, and all the other things you come here to see.