There's a lot to do during the day in Miami Beach. Just let your interests be your guide. You can do nothing but lounge by the sea, taking in the salt air, or you can play an active game of volleyball, stroll Ocean Drive, or even go diving to see marine life on artificial reefs offshore.
On the Beach
Miami Beach's 12 miles of firm, crushed-coral-rock sands are excellent for sunbathing and swimming. While most of the beaches have lifeguards on duty daily during the winter and summer, those at Surfside and Bal Harbour do not.
At the northern end of Miami Beach, near Bal Harbour, is Haulover Beach Park, a mile and a half of tropical vegetation with panoramic views not marred by high-rise condominiums. The beach got its name in the early twentieth century when residents “hauled” their boats over surrounding swamps to reach the ocean. It's probably the most beautiful beach here, with hilly sand dunes of chestnut-colored sand and thick grassy areas. This is a great place for you and your kids to toss a line out over the jetty and fish while enjoying a panoramic view of Miami Beach. There's also inexpensive all-day parking. (305-947-3525)
The stretch of beach between Twenty-fifth and Eighty-seventh streets is what made Miami Beach the resort of the 1950s. Though still the focus of vacationers here, it now has competition from South Beach and other resorts along Florida's coast. At the upper end between Seventy-second and Seventy-fourth streets, you'll find palmetto chickees — huts similar to those built by the Seminoles — for shade. A single row of palms and lush sea grapes border the shell-encrusted beach, which stretches for 150 feet out to the ocean. Again, you'll enjoy the rainbow panorama of deco South Beach. Beaches south to Twenty-fifth Street all have lifeguards and water sports rentals. Or you can rent water sports equipment from Aquasports Unlimited on Collins Avenue at Forty-eighth Street (305-458-3133, www.playtimewatersport.com).
The beach in front of Lummus Park, from Sixth to Fourteenth streets across from the art deco hotels, has fine white sand spreading out twice as far to the ocean as the upper beaches. But unlike them, neon umbrellas and refreshment stands dot the sands. And if they don't suit you, there are always the sidewalk cafés across Ocean Drive. This is an active beach where you can fly a kite, go bicycling, listen to music playing all day, have the kids play in the playground, or go windsurfing. You can rent sailboards from Penrod's (305-538-2604). A sandbar extends fifty yards out, making for excellent ocean swimming.
Late in the afternoon on Thursdays and Saturdays, you may want to amble over to South Pointe Park, a 17-acre grassy area with meandering sidewalks. Sit on a bench and watch the cruise ships depart on voyages to the Caribbean from the Port of Miami through Government Cut. It's a dramatic sight.
Today, South Beach is the place to see and be seen on the sands in Miami Beach. In fact, more people jam onto this one block of southern beach than in all the others combined. Definitely catering to a younger, hipper crowd, it offers a sports bar, volleyball competitions, and loud music throughout the day. Walk the boardwalk down to the ocean. Here, strong winds and currents churn up waves, making it the only place to surf in Miami Beach, though most beachgoers tend to do more bodysurfing and boogie-boarding than surfing.
Families spend weekends at Crandon Park Beach on Key Biscayne. This wide swath of golden sand bordered by clusters of palm trees and a grassy meadow stretches for 3 miles down to a knee-deep sand bar that extends nearly 300 yards out, making it an excellent swimming beach for families with young children. Watch for dolphins and manatees offshore. The park has full amenities, including bicycle trails, concession stands, changing rooms with showers, and lifeguards. And though it's filled with the sounds of kids laughing and sizzling barbecues on weekends, it's all but deserted at other times. Admission is $2 per car. (Open daily 8 A.M.–sunset, 305-361-5421)
On the Water
Miami Beach offers all sorts of water sports. You can rent a cigarette boat and pretend you're Sonny Rocket as he speeds across Biscayne Bay or just go for a ride in one. Or you can get soaked in the surf on a Jet Ski as it bounces over the waves. You can rent Jet Skis at American Watersport Clubs, Inc. (305-538-7549, www.jetskiz.com).
For the best windsurfing and kite-sailing in Miami Beach, head to Hobie Beach, a ribbon of fluffy sand along the south side of the Rickenbacker Causeway on Key Biscayne. It gets its name from the Hobie Cats that whiz up and down in front of the beach. Windsurfers also glide by on heady gusts of wind. When the Florida sun gets too hot, you can duck under broad Australian pines and enjoy the view of downtown Miami. It's always crowded, so get there early. Sailboat, sailboard, Jet Ski, and windsurfing rentals are all available.
With so much water around Miami Beach, both ocean and bay, boating is a big-time sport. If you've handled a motor or sailboat before, you can rent one from Club Nautico South Beach (305-534-4307) and cruise around Biscayne Bay.
You'll find several piers and sea walls on the Biscayne Bay side of Miami Beach from which you can hook snook, red snapper, yellowtail, and jack. The farther out you go in the ocean, the better the chance of catching yellowfin, grouper, and dolphinfish. Why not make it a family outing and pay $35 per person to fish aboard a 70-foot party boat for four hours from the Reward Fishing Fleet (305-372-9470, www.fishingmiami.com) or Sissy Baby Sport Fishing (305-531-4223, www.sissybaby.com).
Surf and offshore saltwater fishing is available year-round in Miami Beach. Both the MacArthur and Rickenbacker causeways have catwalks for fishing, and there's a fishing pier at Haulover Beach Park. Newport Beach Pier, at Sunny Isles on the northern end of Collins Avenue, is a great place to fish for bluefish, mackerel, and jacks. Built in 1936 and destroyed by hurricanes three times and rebuilt, it's a favorite spot for pelicans (305-949-1300).
Under the Water
Snorkeling and scuba diving haven't always been done on Miami Beach. Because the natural reef lies farther south, the city fathers decided to create artificial reefs by sinking tugboats, freighters, and Army tanks, creating a unique diving opportunity. Wrecks, starting in only 45 feet of water, and corals and sponges at only 30 feet harbor a variety of tropical fish and crustaceans.
You can also go on a four-hour snorkeling excursion to John Pennekamp Marine Sanctuary off Key Largo for $65 per person, including all gear, with South Beach Divers (305-531-6110, www.southbeachdivers.com). Children under 15 must be accompanied by an adult. You can dive the artificial reefs in a two-tank dive for $75, including tanks and weights. If you need scuba equipment, you can rent it for $100.
You can also snorkel or dive over the wreck of the Half Moon, a steel two-masted schooner that sank in about 1930, for $59, all equipment included, with Tarpoon Lagoon Dive Center. (305-532-1445, www.tarpoondivecenter.com)
On the Links and on the Courts
Though you'll find many golf courses in Greater Miami, there are just three 18-hole public courses in Miami Beach. Greens fees range from about $50 to $185, depending on the time of day and the season.
The Links at Key Biscayne: The spectacular views of Biscayne Bay may distract you from your concentration as you try to navigate the fairways that weave through mangrove swamps in what's known as one of the best courses in the Miami area. (305-361-9129)
Miami Beach Golf Club: Designed by Robert von Hagge and Bruce Devlin, this public golf course includes a driving range, a pro shop, and a clubhouse. Since caddies aren't available and walking the course isn't permitted, golf carts are included in the greens fees. Rental clubs are available. (www.miamibeachgolfclub.com)
Normandy Shores Golf Club: A challenging eighteen-hole golf course, featuring water hazards on twelve holes, plus a pro shop, a snack bar, a driving range, and putting green. You can also take instructions from a PGA professional. (www.pcmgolf.com/normandyshores.html)
While most of the larger resorts along Central Miami Beach have tennis courts, you can also play at the Flamingo Park Tennis Center on Twelfth Street (305-673-7761).
When you vacation with the beautiful people, you may want to pamper yourself. Most of the major resort hotels in Miami Beach have some sort of spa. But you can also go to any of the following for spa treatments:
Crescent Resort and Spa on South Beach: www.crescentsuites.com
Energy Fitness Center Spa Studio: www.energyfitnesscenter.com
Le Spa Lancôme: www.lespamiami.com
Sanctuary Salon and Spa: 305-674-5455
Miami Beach's oldest shopping center, the Lincoln Road Mall on Lincoln Road, between Alton Road and Washington Avenue, offers stores along a plant-bordered, eight-block, pedestrian-only, open-air mall decorated with water fountains, flowers, and greenery. Specialty shops feature jewelry, furs, art, and clothing. Competition from other air-conditioned supermalls has hurt it, but you can still find some interesting shops and art galleries to explore.
Carl Fisher carved the Lincoln Road Mall out of mangrove swamps in 1913 as part of his long-range plan of development. Known as “the Fifth Avenue of the South,” it sported such high-priced fashion and jewelry stores that even into the 1950s, many considered it to be the swankiest shopping district outside of New York City.
A few blocks west in the mall near Lenox Avenue, you'll discover the Lincoln Road Arts District. Here among a number of art galleries are the studios and showrooms of the South Florida Art Center, Inc., stretching for three blocks along the mall. Eighty or so Miami artists work here, focusing on contemporary works in all media, though you may discover some impressionist and exotic Caribbean paintings and sculptures. (305-674-8278)
For designer goods, head to the Bal Harbour Shops on Collins Avenue at Ninety-seventh Street. Well-groomed shoppers meander through the two levels of eighty luxurious shops set amid tall palms, tropical foliage, waterfalls, and over 100 flowering orange trees, searching for Gucci, Cartier, and Fendi apparel and accessories. (305-866-0311)
Kids have fun at Sugar 'n Spice in Surfside, a discount clothing store jammed with children's fashions and accessories. (305-865-5265)
Washington Avenue in the Art Deco District is the place to find vintage clothing and furniture. Bohemian and ultrahip boutiques fill the lower floors of restored deco buildings. Flashbacks, for example, sells twentieth-century collectibles, including flower power mirrors, Beatles paraphernalia, and other items from the '60s and '70s. (305-674-1143)
If you know someone who loves a good cigar, stop into the South Beach Cigar Factory along Collins Avenue and select a hand-rolled Cuban cigar. (305-604-9694)