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

The Ultimate Guide to the Best Beaches in Miami

Here’s where to soak up the rays and hit the surf at the best beaches in Miami, from SoFi to Hollywood.

Miami may be blessed with more beaches than just about any other major city in the union, but—like so many beautiful things in Miami—we don’t take advantage nearly enough. The best beaches in Miami offer a little bit of something for everyone, from a hardcore party scene steps from the sand to relaxing family-friendly escapes. We’ve got boardwalks full of colorful characters, and even a nude beach to lay it all bare. So even if you’re dreading the crowded shores of South Beach or the battle to snag a parking space before noon, our beaches always make the extra effort worthwhile. Here’s your ultimate guide to the Sunshine State's most defining feature so you can find the best beaches in Miami.

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.

Weekdays are chill. But on the weekends, it's a different story, as this beach is a super popular spot for family outings. 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: Boater’s Grill and Lighthouse Cafe. As the name implies, Boater’s Grill is also accessible if you’re visiting the park by water, while Lighthouse Cafe is closer to the beach with a sprawling patio to soak up the rays.

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 thing.

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 Cafe, a breezy, Latin-Caribbean cafe that’ll serve you empanadas right there on the sand.

Haulover Park
Haulover Park | Alert Five Productions/Shutterstock

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.

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.

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.

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 around 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.

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 desert 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 maximum flavor 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.

Shuckers Waterfront Bar & Grill
North Beach | North Beach

The last bastion of gritty Art Deco Miami Beach hovers around 71st Street, where mega-developers and luxury hotels haven’t yet taken hold. 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.

South Beach
South Beach | littlenySTOCK/Shutterstock

Thanks to 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. Although it can get a little tourist-y, it’s an absolute must-visit.

The Art Deco Historic District 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, which is possibly the best seafood restaurant in Miami, or Havana 1957 if you want some tasty Cuban food.

Smith & Wollensky Steakhouse
Photo courtesy Smith & Wollensky Steakhouse

Technically, 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 go for a peaceful stroll, and weekends bring cruise ships to the area, creating the eerie sensation of watching a 20-story building float past.

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. For a more active drinking experience, 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.

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 and a restaurant from none other than Mr. Thomas Keller.

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, making it 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.

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.

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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.