Ocean Drive at sunset
Ocean Drive at sunset | Sean Pavone/Shutterstock
Ocean Drive at sunset | Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

A Guide to Miami's Most Beautiful (and Beautifully Weird) Beaches

From SoFi to Hollywood, here’s where to soak up the rays and hit the surf in South Florida.

It never ceases to entertain longtime Miami locals when friends from other cities say things like, “You must go to the beach, like, ALL THE TIME.” Sure, if by “all the time,” they mean “I think once last fall, but I don’t really remember,” then, yes, dead on. Because even though we’re blessed with more year-round public sand than just about any other major city in the union, for some reason we rarely get out there.

And it’s particularly sad that we take our beaches for granted given the amount of effort it took to make them happen. Like so many 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. Carl Fisher then 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.

Fast-forward to today and we’re basically the American Riviera, a long stretch of semi-coarse sand that has made the name “Miami” synonymous with salty afternoons and sunburns. And though the city surrounding the beach has grown up considerably over the last decade or so, offering just as much away from the shoreline as on it, Miami will always be a beach city. At least, until the oceans take it back.

For now, though, our beaches offer a little bit of something for everyone, whether that’s a hard-core party scene complete with frozen Call-a-Cabs, or relaxing family-friendly escapes dotted with barbecue shelters. We’ve got boardwalks full of colorful characters, and even a nude beach with a different kind of color (or lack thereof). So even if you’re dreading the hour drive from Kendall to snag a parking space before noon, our beaches always make the extra effort worthwhile. Here’s everything you need to know about the Sunshine State's most defining feature.

Matheson Hammock Park
Matheson Hammock Park | DesiDrewPhotography/Shutterstock

Tucked deep down Old Cutler Road, you’ll find Matheson Hammock Park, a thick forest of mangroves and palm trees that ends at one of the most stunning beaches in South Florida. The small, crescent-shaped beach looks like the swaths of sand you only see in stranded-on-a-tropical-island movies, a perfect white canvas backing up to lush vegetation that appears completely untouched by humans.

Matheson Hammock also boasts a large saltwater pool, where families post up on weekends and let their kids swim the day away with no threats of boats or riptides. It’s the closest thing we’ve got to a public pool scene in Miami, but this one is all natural. A big marina is also onsite, making it a popular spot for pre- and post-boat trip parties.

Where to eat and drink: Matheson Hammock is home to one of Miami’s most romantic restaurants at Redfish by Chef Adrianne. The little coral house was a special occasion staple for decades until Hurricane Irma forced it to shut down, but in 2020, Chef Adrianne Calvo took it over, bringing her maximum flavor and to a long menu of fresh seafood. With a rooftop bar and sprawling patio, it’s the rare upscale joint that still feels blissfully laid-back.

South Beach
South Beach | littlenySTOCK/Shutterstock

Thanks to LeBron James and a slew of geographically ignorant basketball commentators, people seem to think ALL of Miami is South Beach. Not the case. South Beach is one section of Miami Beach, a barrier island chain across Biscayne Bay from the city of Miami. And though it can get a little toursity, if you’ve never been to Miami, it’s an absolute must-visit.

The Art Deco and rented Lambo South Beach of rap video fame sits primarily between Fifth Street and the Collins Canal at 24th Street. It’s home to the largest collection of Art Deco architecture in the world, plus sidewalk salsa dancers, drinks the size of your head, and parrots you can pose with. Locals might not love it, but for a visitor, it’s quite simply the most “Miami” beach in all of Miami Beach.

As you start walking, the scene varies, starting off quietly around Fifth, turning into an all-out Latin music and hip-hop party around Eighth, an LGBTQ+ beach party around 12th, and a luxury hotel lineup around 17th. The beach is massively wide, so even on a crowded Sunday there’s plenty of space for everyone.

Where to eat and drink: Ground zero for all beachfront partying in South Beach is The Clevelander, a hotel on 10th Street with an outdoor pool and bar that birthed the Miami Vice frozen cocktail. It’s absolutely worth hitting for at least one drink, and if you want more, head to Wet Willie’s, where you can enjoy your frozen cocktails with a balcony view of the ocean. For something more refined, head to A Fish Called Avalon, possibly the best seafood restaurant in Miami, or Havana 1957, if you want some tasty Cuban food. And if you’re dead set on snapping some Instagram vacation proof, nowhere is better than Sugar Factory. Keep the good times rolling at these 14 standout South Beach restaurants.

Smith & Wollensky Steakhouse
Smith & Wollensky Steakhouse

Technically, yes, South of Fifth is still considered South Beach. But turning right at the end of the MacArthur Causeway brings you into a far calmer, quieter, and more relaxed stretch of sand. The neighborhood is residential and only sports a handful of bars and clubs, so the beach itself is not nearly as raucous as ones you’d find north of Fifth. There’s a rock jetty at the end of the beach where you can stroll, and weekends bring cruise ships to the area, creating the eerie sensation of watching a 20-story building float past.

This is the last part of South Beach where topless tanners continue to splay, since the camera-toting masses tend to stay farther north—which pretty much means European visitors feel more at home here. Parking can be a pain, however, as there are no close garages around. Your best bet is to arrive before 11 am and grab a spot on the street, or park in the garage on 7th Street and walk south.

Where to eat and drink: SoFi is home to one of Miami’s most storied dive bars at Ted’s Hideaway, which is full of off-duty club workers and beach bums at noon, followed by strung out club-goers and other seedy sorts come 5 am. There’s also Big Pink, a classic diner serving breakfast all day and massive burgers, with a heaping side of neglectful service. Elsewhere, you can play darts with high tech scoreboards and enjoy some of Miami’s very best pizza at Oche.

Santorini by Georgios at the Hilton Bentley is the best Greek restaurant in Miami. For a fantastic and romantic date night, hit the bar at Smith and Wollensky and watch the sunset over the skyline. Or, for a cheaper option, hit the top of South Pointe Park for Miami’s best panorama that doesn’t involve a condo balcony.

Crandon Park
Crandon Park | Gabriele Maltinti/Shutterstock

Miamians know the best beaches in the city lurk across the Rickenbacker Causeway in Key Biscayne. The first you’ll encounter when venturing over to the scenic landmass is Crandon Park, a pillow-soft slice of paradise that feels like a deserted island. The water here is bright turquoise and calm as a lake, making it a great place to bring smaller kids to swim. There’s also no shortage of paddleboard and kayak rentals, if that’s your bag.

You’ll have to pay to park if you drive—$5 during the week and $7 on the weekend. But you can load your car up with people and it won’t cost you extra. The beach isn’t nearly as wide as those in South Beach, but it goes on for a while and the distance from the city (about 40 minutes from South Beach with traffic) keeps the crowds light. It might be a little out of the way if you’re staying in one of the touristy areas, but for a picturesque, palm-lined beach, nowhere in Miami has it beat.

Where to eat and drink: For years, Crandon Park didn’t have much in the way of concession stands, so your best bet was to hit Winn Dixie and grill something up at the barbecue shelter. That’s still an option, but you can also grab grub at the Open Seas Café, a breezy, Latin-Caribbean cafe that’ll serve you empanadas right there on the sand.

Cape Florida Lighthouse
Cape Florida lighthouse | Felix Mizioznikov/Shutterstock

At the far end of Key Biscayne is Bill Baggs State Park, a sliver of Florida’s deep wilderness marked by a historic lighthouse and views that stretch out to Stiltsville. The narrow beach feels like you’ve washed up on a marshy island, surrounded by ocean and little else. On a weekday in the summer, you’ll often be the only person here, where you can set up shop under the lighthouse and enjoy the quiet seclusion.

But on the weekends, it's a different story, as this beach is a super popular spot for family outings. That’s not to say it’s not still a beautiful place, it’s just that the parking lots might be full, and you’ll be sharing the sand with a lot of little ones. Much like Crandon Park, the water here is usually still and shallow, and during the warmer months it can actually be hotter than the air outside. Still, Bill Baggs is the best way to catch a glimpse of South Florida’s pre-condo landscape while also getting some quality time on the sand.

Where to eat and drink: The park has two restaurants: Boaters Grill and Lighthouse Café. Boaters sits on a little bay carved out of mangroves, a peaceful place to enjoy fresh seafood while watching the ships come in. As the name implies, the eatery is also accessible if you’re visiting the park by water. Lighthouse Café is closer to the beach, and offers the same cuisine as Boaters complete with a sprawling patio to soak up the rays.

Surfside | Felix Mizioznikov/Shutterstock

The town of Surfside used to feel like a throwback to the Miami Beach of yesteryear, with an Art Deco main drag populated by delis, beach shops, and old Italian restaurants. But the city has transformed as of late, welcoming Miami’s newest Four Seasons in 2017, and with it a restaurant from none other than Mr. Thomas Keller. Now the beach that was once the domain of older folks and seasonal residents has a different crowd, as young families have flocked to Surfside for vacation and to stay.

The sand is the same coarse, dredged stuff you’ll find in all of Miami Beach, fronting magnificent light blue water stretching off into the horizon. It sports a quieter, more affluent feel than South Beach, and is ideal for getting out of the hustle. It’s also fairly easy to access, since luxury hotels haven’t grabbed up all the beachfront land quite yet. Parking can be tricky, since there aren’t many garages up this way. The city lot on 71st Street might be your best move, leading to a walk up the sand to Surfside.

Where to eat and drink: The delis aren’t all gone from Surfside, and the best one to hit is Josh’s Deli, where you’ll get giant hand-cut sandwiches perfect for a sandy picnic. Later, cool off with ice cream from Serendipity Creamery, or kick back after a long day in the sun at 26 Sushi and Tapas. For drinks, head to the Four Seasons, where they’ve turned the historic old hotel that once stood there into Lido, a fantastic Italian restaurant with a stunning Champagne bar.

Shuckers Waterfront Bar & Grill
North Beach | North Beach

Harkening back to the days when waves of Argentine and Israeli immigrants flocked to South Florida, this last bastion of gritty Art Deco Miami Beach hovers around 71st Street, where mega-developers and luxury hotels haven’t yet taken hold. The neighborhood teems with the international set, so a day on the sand here will have you hearing at least four different languages and probably even more kinds of music. The beach is hyper-local, as tourists tend to ignore this expense on their way from South Beach up to Surfside. It’s got a big public parking lot, making it prime territory for making like a local around these parts.

The park at 71st Street also has a big bandshell, where weekend music festivals and small concerts happen frequently. Check the city’s website to see if anything is scheduled during your visit, as it’s one of the most underrated venues in Miami.

Where to eat and drink: North Beach is the odd beach locale where you can still eat or drink affordably. El Rancho Grande has some of the best Margaritas in Miami and sits just a couple of blocks off the sand. On the Rocks is a cool local dive bar that feels especially refreshing after a day roasting under the scorching sun. If you want to drive a little, Shuckers on the 79th Street Causeway is a massive outdoor waterfront space and a local institution.

Haulover Park
Haulover Park | Alert Five Productions/Shutterstock

For those unaware—more on them later—Haulover is Miami’s premiere nude beach. Well, clothing-optional beach, more like it. But after about three minutes here, you’ll feel like a colossal jerk if you’re strutting around with your suit on. If you’re going to Haulover, you’ve gotta go all in by letting it all hang out. The crowd is neither the nude beach of your fantasies filled with tanned European models and sexy swingers, nor is it the sea of tattered sun-worn skin and white hair you’ve heard Florida’s nude beaches can be. It’s got literally everyone and every body type, with lots of families mixed in.

You’ll have to park across A1A in the lot, as there’s nothing within walking distance from here but more beach. The lot will set you back $5 to $7 depending on when you go, and you’ll have to make your way under the road, across the jogging path, and past the bushes before dropping trou. And don’t worry if you’re shy—after the initial shock wears off, you’ll feel perfectly normal laying on the beach wearing nothing but sunscreen. And with so many people doing the same, it’s the perfect place to try nude sunbathing if you’ve never done it before.

Where to eat and drink (or in this case, some helpful tips): There’s really nowhere to eat or drink here, save for a single concession stand, so bring a picnic lunch. Also, it’s absolutely worth the $20 it takes to rent a beach chair for the day—you’ll be shocked at all the places sand can get into even when you put out a towel. For a bit of entertainment, set up near the entrance and watch joggers who were not aware of Haulover’s reputation stumble upon the sea of naked bodies. It happens at least twice an hour and the looks on their faces are consistently priceless.

Hollywood Beach
Hollywood Beach | Andriy Blokhin/Shutterstock

Technically, the town of Hollywood isn’t in Miami. But if you’re staying north in Sunny Isles or Aventura, Hollywood Beach is easily the greatest of its kind. It’s also the closest thing we have to a boardwalk beach town in South Florida, where restaurants and tacky tourist traps butt up against the sand and you can bar hop with a front row seat to the ocean, watching heavily tanned locals roll by on pastel-hued cruisers.

The sand is a little softer up here than down in Miami, and parking isn’t too bad if you arrive early enough to make use of the big municipal garage. It’s also the best beach in South Florida for people-watching, combining the convenience of the boardwalk with a local population that looks like they just stepped out of Florida Man Twitter.

Where to eat and drink: One of the best burgers in America can be found at Le Tub, a charming little beach shack perched right on the Intracoastal. Just allow about two hours for the experience, as there’s always a wait and the burgers don’t come quick. The Margaritaville Resort houses a shady bar full of fruity drinks, and its JWB Prime Steak and Seafood is a contender for the best steakhouse in the vicinity. For something more upscale, hit Etaru at the Hyde Beach House where robata-grilled meats and exquisite sushi are served on a patio with sweeping views of the Atlantic.

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Curt Hollingsworth is a writer for Thrillist and a Miami native who spends his time enjoying the city, the sand, the Keys, and any bar that claims they have the best margarita in town. 
Matt Meltzer is a Miami-based contributor for Thrillist, a veteran of the United States Marine Corps, former pageant judge in the Miss Florida America system, and past contributor to Cosmopolitan magazine.