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Best beaches in southeast Florida
Best beach for photo ops: Blowing Rocks Preserve
Blowing Rocks Preserve encompasses a mile-long limestone outcrop riddled with holes, cracks and fissures; when the tide's high and there's a strong easterly wind (call for conditions: 561-744-6668), water shoots up, geyser-like. When seas are calm, you can hike through four coastal biomes: shifting dune, coastal strand, interior mangrove wetlands and tropical coastal hammock. Across the street, Hawley Education Center has rotating art exhibits with nature themes, as well as two short nature trails and a butterfly garden.
Entry to the preserve is $2 per person, and it's only open from 9am to 4:30pm. A dedicated photographer would probably consider the best photo opportunities to be at sunrise (though we didn't tell you to park south of the preserve and hike in with your camera and tripod). Finding the refuge is a little tricky, as there's no signage: from US Hwy 1, take Bridge St (708 east) to Hobe Sound. Make a left on Beach St (707). Travel about 3 miles; the refuge is on your right.
Best beach for working: Hollywood Beach
This may seem an odd category for those looking for vacation, but Hollywood Beach -- which recently enjoyed a massive $14 million renovation -- is WiFi-enabled. You're not likely to find people working on laptops at the beach (despite their ridiculous ads), but for visitors with Web-enabled cell phones, this is a great place to relax while catching up on email: the boss won't even know you're not in the office. If you choose to power down completely on vacation, you'll enjoy Hollywood's beautiful boardwalk and adjacent restaurants. Think of it as "the Venice Beach of Florida."
To get here, take I-95 to Hollywood Blvd exit. Head east. Park.
Best dog beach: "Friends of Jupiter Beach"
Sandwiched between Jupiter and Juno, the 2.5-mile Friends of Jupiter Beach (FJB) may be the happiest beach in the state. Welcoming all well-behaved dogs, FJB regularly hosts impromptu canine photo shoots and sees plenty of happy hounds chasing Frisbees. If you want to enjoy South Florida's waves with your pup, this is the place.
To get here from I-95, exit at Donald Ross Rd, head east to to A1A, and turn left. The dog-friendly beach begins at the intersection of A1A and Marcinski Road.
Best nude beach: Haulover Beach
Haulover Beach is the only officially-sanctioned nude beach in The Sunshine State. Nestled between the Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic Ocean, this 0.4-mile stretch of beach lies to the north of the larger Haulover Beach Park and, though tiny, can attract several thousand visitors per day. Remember: while many people are nude on this beach, it's impolite to stare. Also: given the kinds of people who like to sunbathe nude, you may not wish to stare. You've been warned.
To get here, take I-95 to NW 125 Street and go east across Broad Causeway (there's a 50-cent toll) to Collins Ave (A1A). Turn left, pass over a bridge, and proceed to the North Beach Parking lot on the left at the far north end of the park. Parking is $5 per car.
(For some other tips on where you may be able to get in some nude sunbathing, check this guide.)
Best undeveloped beach: Hutchinson Island
Most of this long, skinny island -- which begins near Stuart and stretches north to Fort Pierce -- is a sprawling mess of condos and resorts. However, the determined beach-goer can find a stunning array of unspoiled beaches, all with free access, excellent for walking, swimming and even some snorkeling. Most of the access roads and parking lots are dirt on Hutchinson Island, but barring an epic, Noah-like flood, you're unlikely to get stuck.
To get here from Stuart, take Ocean Blvd east to the barrier island and head north. The beaches get more remote the further north you travel. (If you've got your four-footed friends with you, be sure to head to the only dog-friendly beach in St Lucie County, Walton Rocks, across from the St Lucie Power Plant.)
Best beach to people-watch: South Beach
To get here, exit I-95 at Dolphin Exwy/US 41/MacArthur Cswy, and head east. When you hit the barrier island, the road becomes 5th St. Follow this east to US1 (Collins Ave), then head north. Parking in Miami Beach is always tough. Look for a meter or a parking garage along Collins Ave (one block West of Ocean Dr).
Best "nature" beach: John D. MacArthur State Park
While this park is one of the smallest in the region, the John D. MacArthur State Park offers excellent, free, ranger-led walks from its William T Kirby Nature Center (10am daily). The park has one of the best turtle-watching programs around, as loggerhead, green and leatherback turtles nest here in June and July. It's also home to several aquariums and a spectacular 1600-foot boardwalk -- which spans the mangroves of Lake Worth Cove -- and the on-site nature center provides guided and unguided kayak trips ($10-35/hour). On alternate Thursday mornings, the park offers yoga on the beach, and on full moon weekends, there are moonlight concerts and Bluegrass shows.
To get here, take I-95 to PGA Boulevard, head east, and continue heading east (and a little south) after the road changes to SR 703. The park entrance is on your left.
Best party beach: Peanut Island
Originally created in 1918 as the result of dredging, Peanut Island is an 80-acre island in the middle of the Intracoastal Waterway, north of West Palm Beach and east of Riviera Beach. Accessible only by boat, the island is popular with boaters who anchor off the northern edge of the island and party, either from their boats ... or in the water. Fishing and swimming is allowed, and there are both developed and primitive campsites available for overnights (be sure to look for manatees swimming near the southern edge of the island). For history buffs, Peanut Island is also home to the Kennedy Bunker, which served as a fallout shelter for the family during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Today, the Bunker houses the Palm Beach Maritime Museum.
To get here, you'll need your own boat. if you don't have a boat, you can rent a kayak from Visit Palm Beach ($20/hour, or $30 for the day; bring plenty of water). Alternatively, you can take the water taxi ($10, round-trip) from Sailfish Marina (which boasts a terrific all-you-can-eat brunch on the weekends, for $17/person).
Best "local's only" beach: Palm Beach (off Barton Ave)
Palm Beach -- the exclusive enclave of the super-rich, like Jimmy Buffett, Donald Trump and (formerly) Bernie Madoff -- has some beautiful beaches, much of which are difficult to access, due to the island's near-endless "no parking" signs. However, a favorite "local's only" spot is easy to access, offers free parking, and is almost always empty.
To get here from West Palm Beach, take Okeechobee Blvd east to the island (where the road becomes Royal Palm Way). At Ocean Blvd, turn left and head north five blocks to Barton Ave and turn left again. Park anywhere along Barton and walk back to the Ocean Blvd, being on the lookout for a small path leading to the beach. Unroll your towel. Enjoy.
Though these beaches aren't in "Southeast Florida," they're also worth noting:
- Best surfing beach: Indian River County's Sebastian Inlet
- Best "chill" beach: virtually waveless Anne's Beach, located in the Middle Keys
- Best camping beach: cozy but roomy Bahia Honda, in the Lower Keys
- Best beach to spot (and camp with!) manatees: the Space Coast's Canaveral National Seashore
- Best snorkeling beach: the Upper Keys' John Pennekamp Park