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Weekend In Miami: Key Biscayne

After we'd cooled off at the Venetian Pool, it was time to get hot again. So we put the top down on the convertible and headed to Key Biscayne. A barrier island only 6 miles off the southeast coast of Miami, the beaches on Key Biscayne are way more fun -- or way more laid-back! -- than any ordinary beach. Plus, Key Biscayne has a cool lighthouse.

Key Biscayne is home to two great beaches. After leaving mainland Miami and traveling over the Rickenbacker Causeway, past Virginia Key, and past the Miami Seaquarium, we came to Crandon Park. Here, on the northern end of Key Biscayne -- with the Atlantic Ocean on the east side and Biscayne Bay to the west -- parking costs $5. Nature-loving visitors can explore the various ecosystems of the Key (dunes, mangroves, coastal hammock, and seagrass beds) and observe herons, ospreys, songbirds, hawks, sea turtles, and butterflies. You can even track rare plants like the beach peanut, Biscayne prickly ash, and the coontie. This area, set aside as a Nature Area, is rough and wild -- just like Old Florida.

Don't want to hunt wildlife? No problem, because the adjacent beach is picturesque. Often ranked among the world's best beaches, Crandon Park's beach features an offshore sandbar, which makes wading in the area's warm waters very enjoyable. Alternatively, if you're a "beach active" person, there's plenty of opportunities here for great fishing, parasailing, ultralighting, or jetskiing.

With virtually no waves and a shallow lagoon, it's easy to see why Crandon Park is popular with day-trippers wanting to get away from the mainland's more tourist-y beaches. Finally, with its soft, white sand, just sitting on the beach is pretty fun, too.

After checking out Crandon Park, we passed through the Village of Key Biscayne and wound south to Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, which is totally worth the drive. Entrance to the Park is $5. We parked and darted to the beach (also awarded a "best beach" status), which wasn't nearly as crowded as Lincoln Road Beach. Then I saw it: the lighthouse.

I had to climb it.

We hustled back out into the parking lot and around to the entrance for the lighthouse. As we approached, it slowly revealed itself.

Almost there...

We rushed to the door and raced up the 119 stairs to the top. On the way up, there were several windows to peer through. From some windows, you could see the ocean...

...from others, you could see the Keeper's Cottage below.

Finally on top, we gazed out at the Atlantic Ocean.

In the distance, you can see some small buildings on the water. This is Stiltsville, a small collection of "shacks" in the flats of Biscayne Bay, built in the 1920s. These well-known landmarks are in danger of being torn down.

The view looking back at Miami. Uh... not so pretty.

The original lighthouse and cottage, built in 1825, were attacked and burned in 1836 by Seminole warriors protesting U.S. presence in the South Florida wilderness and resisting deportation from Florida to the West. Both structures were rebuilt in 1855. You can guess what happened to the Seminoles.

Looking down was exciting... but somewhat disorienting.

Nearby, a sea kayaker was enjoying the area's lack of waves.

We clambered back down the steps and walked over to the Keeper's Cottage.

Inside the cottage, you can watch a short film about the life of a Cottage Keeper.

If you're in Miami, and you have a car and a free afternoon, I definitely recommend a trip to Key Biscayne. Although the Village doesn't have that casual, anything-goes feeling shared by the rest of the Keys, the Park and beaches are beautiful, and there are plenty of opportunities for either beach-y adventure activities OR for just sitting on the sand.

Despite the beautiful day, the great beaches, and the fresh air, however, it was time to leave. We still had another stop to make! And it was bound to be the most fun -- and the most unusual -- yet!

Previously: Weekend In Miami: The Venetian Pool

Filed under: Hiking, History, United States

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