Visiting Key Biscayne? Here are our top 10 must-sees.
Moon Over Miami
Experience a unique side of local nightlife by taking a 150-minute moonlight canoe trip (reservations required) leaving from the Crandon Park Marina. You’ll skirt a wild mangrove preserve, explore coves and canals, and paddle past a rookery for brown pelicans, great blue herons, white ibis, and double-crested cormorants — all while Miami melts into a pink-and-orange-hued backdrop. If you’re lucky, you’ll see tarpon leaping moonward or, in February, a bioluminescent show performed by microscopic marine creatures.
Bob Dylan Slept Here
You can always shack up at the swanky The Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne, Miami, but to go retro á la Dylan, head for the Silver Sands Beach Resort on Ocean Drive. This laid-back deco-style hotel (there are just 50 rooms, plus four cottages on stilts) has been included in murder mysteries written by South Floridians Carl Hiaasen and John Hall. The funky old-Florida quarters have “window-shaker” AC units, kitchenettes, rattan furniture, and suitably garish tropical prints. Check in to one of the cool oceanfront rooms, and, like Dylan, you’ll always know which way the (trade) wind blows.
Dance Till Dawn
Stefano’s Lounge, a 33-year-old melting pot eatery and three-bar watering hole on Crandon Boulevard, is known for northern-Italian cuisine that includes homemade pastas, seafood, and prime Angus beef. Stefano’s also serves Greek specialties as a nod to its Greek owners. Completing a cultural triumvirate is the real attraction, Latin dance music, which is all the rage in South Florida. The action heats up at around 10 p.m. on weekends, when locals and off-islanders flock here to salsa and meringue until closing time at 5 a.m.
After dancing all night, fuel up at the 41-year-old Donut Gallery Diner on Harbor Drive, which opens, conveniently, at 5:30 a.m. With its funky atmosphere, counter seating, and vinyl-covered bar stools, this greasy spoon has a classic 1950s feel. Locals, including the mayor and town-council members, hang out here to dish about politics and gossip. Actor-resident Andy García likes the Ted’s Special — an English muffin topped with ham, cheese, tomatoes, and eggs. And, yes, you can order a donut at this former donut shop, but it’ll have to be an “imported” Krispy Kreme.
Gourmet To Go
The place to pack your basket for a superb picnic is the family-owned Key Biscayne Farmer’s Market. The place stocks hundreds of fancy delicacies from more than 100 countries. There’s real Swiss cheese, French jellies and butter, Scottish smoked salmon, Spanish olives, Italian crawfish, Dutch tomatoes, Chilean peaches, beaucoup patés, and organic sandwich meats — you get the idea: One stop here and you’re (very) good to go.
Hit the Beach
With lunch in hand, boogie over to Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park at Key Biscayne’s southern tip. Noted for its natural beauty and varied flora, the mile-long strand has made more than one “Top Ten Beaches” list. The water is clean, the sand soft and lovely, the wind light, and the sun nearly always shines. Rent a bike or a kayak, swim, walk, relax. And if you passed on the picnic, visit the Lighthouse Café for a dinner of lobster, shrimp, or Cuban fare. (Don’t miss the flan.)
The Original Overwater Bungalows
No trip to Key Biscayne is complete without seeing Stiltsville, the famed cluster of tropical-hued houses set on stilts in Biscayne Channel’s shallow shoals. Founded by “Crawfish” Eddie Walker, who sold bait, beer, and crawfish chowder from his stilt-built shack in the 1930s, Stiltsville lies a quick boat ride from Crandon Park Marina. (Rent a powerboat at Club Nautico.) Carl Hiaasen’s Skin Tight, TV’s Miami Vice, and the film Absence of Malice have given Stiltsville’s quirkiness national attention. Note the underwater-themed mural on the southernmost structure.
South Florida’s oldest structure, the circa-1825 Cape Florida Lighthouse, which rises 95 feet above Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, is open Thursday through Monday for tours. Climb the 109 stairs to take in views of the park’s tropical greenery, Stiltsville, Miami’s skyline, Boca Chita’s lighthouse, the Atlantic, and possibly even a manatee or two. Don’t miss the restored light-keeper’s residence and its adjacent garden, planted in the 1830s.
History on Wheels
To get a feel for Key Biscayne as it used to be, rent a bike and join a 13-mile heritage tour departing at 10 a.m. from Crandon Park Visitors Center (but call 305-361-6767 to confirm). Pass by the coconut-palm beach that’s often used for movie shoots, Richard Nixon’s Winter White House, Bebe Rebozo’s pad (Nixon pal and the founder of Key Biscayne Bank), a coconut plantation, and Tequesta Indian sites dating back more than 2,000 years. You’ll also survey Biscayne’s eclectic architecture, from Key West Victorian to Mediterranean revival and contemporary — while noting that most of the houses scream: “Size matters!”
Bear Cut Preserve’s fossilized mangrove reef — one of only two such reefs in the world — is more than 6,000 years old and home to a host of fish species — sergeant majors, nurse sharks, long-spined sea urchins, pufferfish, and cowfish among them. And they’re all accessible from the beach — just walk in and look down. The visitor center hosts a three-hour kayaking-and-snorkeling tour, and landlubbers can study the reef from an observation deck above it.