When people talk about going to the beach at South Beach, they’re most likely talking about heading to Lummus Park (Ocean Dr. between 5th St. and 15th St.). The beach is long and wide, with crystal-blue waters gently lapping the soft white sands. And those sands are often packed—packed—with people, many of whom are either exceedingly beautiful or pretending as if they’re exceedingly beautiful.
With the nexus of South Beach’s dining and nightlife just a few steps away, the beach is crowded both day and night, and for those looking for an overload of people-watching, this is definitely the beach to go to.
Seekers of quietude won’t have much luck here and would likely be better served heading for South Pointe Park (1 Washington Ave.), which, due to numerous rocky outcroppings and some incredibly rough waters kicked up by the combination of tides and passing cruise ships, is often pretty deserted.
It’s a scenic beach that’s much better for picnics and relaxing than it is for swimming and sunbathing, although the waves often lure surfers into tempting fate among the rocks.
Families will generally find more appropriate beaches north of South Beach’s crowds. Parks like Indian Beach Park (4601 Collins Ave.) and Collins Park (201 21st St.) are spacious and often considerably less crowded than the beaches to the south. Both parks have parking lots and facilities; the Miami Beach  boardwalk starts at Collins Park and goes for 20 blocks, allowing easy access to parts of the beach that are blocked by the many condominiums along Collins Avenue.
The best beach in the immediate area, though, is the one found at North Shore State Recreation Area (7900 Collins Ave., $1), which is remarkably uncrowded and even somewhat rustic in spots thanks to overgrowing sea grape trees and spacious swaths of sand; the water is beautiful and blue, and there are picnic tables, grills, and restroom/shower facilities.
A corollary to the statement about these northern beaches being “family-oriented”: parents fearful of their little ones eyes being scorched by nudity should avoid heading further north to Haulover Beach (10800 Collins Ave.). The large beach park is beautiful and popular, and the northernmost portion of it is clothing-optional. Truth be told, though, given the skimpy beach attire worn by many folks at Miami ’s beaches—and the toplessness tolerated on South Beach—seeing the extra few inches of skin allowed by full nudity really isn’t that much of a stretch.
Recently reopened after a long restoration effort that was necessary after years of neglect, Virginia Key Beach (3701 Rickenbacker Causeway) is a small beach park with a narrow shoreline, smooth shallow waters, and restroom/shower facilities. The beach area is natural, and a copse of trees directly abuts the shoreline.
A better beach option in the area is the Bill Baggs State Recreation Area (1200 S. Crandon Blvd., $5), with its wide and expansive beach that stretches along a mile of Atlantic Ocean coastline. The waters are blue and calm, while the natural areas throughout the park are rough and pastoral. An array of facilities—including water-bike rentals—are available; make sure to dedicate half an hour or so to exploring the mid-19th-century lighthouse here.
Windsurfers love the action at Matheson Hammock Park (9610 Old Cutler Rd., $5), and although the air currents are active, the waters are calm and shallow, making it a favorite with families who love to spread out on the large beach. There’s a saltwater lagoon where water cycles through as the tides come in and out, and it makes for a great enclosed area for kids to splash around in. Beyond the beach, this park has expansive nature areas, with mangroves, ponds, and lush tropical foliage.