If your perfect vacation day includes soaking up the sun, playing in the sand, or swimming in the ocean, then our Miami guide is just what you need. Our 10Best list highlights the best places to soak up the sun, with Boca Raton being a favorite of our editors and readers. Turn off the laptop, pack your beach attire, and get ready for a relaxing day of taking in rays.
10 Matheson Hammock Park
Matheson Hammock Park, which also harbors (no pun intended) the full-service Matheson Hammock Marina (complete with sailing and powerboating schools), offers several enticing features: Natural, native landscaping, featuring old live oaks, mangroves and palm trees. A Hammock Trail (different from the main road, which some also call a trail) for a gorgeous, scenic walk that actually leads into Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. Red Fish Grill, an upscale restaurant carved into an historic coral rock building, where prime dining hours are between sunset and star shine. And a man-made atoll pool that is fed by Biscayne Bay. Shallow enough for babies and attneded by a lifeguard, it's also perfect for kite-boarders because, while it's calm and gentle, stiff breezes sweep through here. A snack bar, picnic pavilions and locker/restrooms make Matheson a convenient spot for families to take in the sun and saltwater. As a bonus, there's also an awesome view of downtown from across the bay. (305-665-5475)
9 Cape Florida Lighthouse
Located in Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, this historic, white brick lighthouse has stood sentinel since 1825, when it was originally built. It was later reconstructed in the mid-1850s, after it was attacked and burned by the Seminoles in 1836. As such, it's the oldest building in Miami, and visiting it is a great break to take from swimming, sunbathing, biking, kayaking or fishing when in the park. From the top, 95 feet off the ground, views of Biscayne Bay and beyond, where cruise ships and wildlife are frequently visible. Guided tours of the lighthouse, which features 119 iron steps, and the accompanying cottage, which housed the lighthouse keeper, occur twice daily Monday-Thursday, and Cuban fare is available for munching from the Lighthouse Cafe. (305-361-5811)
8 Boca Raton
In the 1920s, Palm Beach architect Addison Mizner bought thousands of acres in present-day Boca Raton, intent on developing a new Venice. Shortly after he completed his first big projects, the real estate market went bust, taking most of his plans with it. Fortunately, the city survived, and Mizner's Mediterranean-inspired architecture was replicated, giving the town a unified aesthetic and a decidedly pink tint. Now home to various technology industries, Boca boasts an affluent population who enjoy elaborate shopping venues, stunning beachfront parks, innovative restaurants and an atmosphere of cultivated leisure. (561-393-7700)
7 Lummus Park Beach
Because South Beach is such a broad description, and because the varying beaches here go on for miles, we thought we'd narrow it down. Lummus Park, the area of the beach located along Ocean Drive from 5th to 15th Street, is the all-encompassing South Beach experience. This is the strip of sand that is always the most crowded, which makes for excellent people watching. There is a mini playground before the entrance to the beach for children ages two through 5, however, the kids will generally tire out playing in the water all day. With Brazilian bikinis and fluorescent tans as far as the eye can see, adults will likely tire their necks from spinning around doing a double take at colorful locals. Once you've soaked up all of the sun you can possibly fit into one day, the strip of restaurants and bars lining Ocean Drive are close at hand. (305-673-7000)
6 Oleta River State Recreation Area
This beautiful recreation area set on an idyllic strand of Miami beach is a great place to get away from it all. Visitors enjoy miles of walking paths and mountain bike trails, a peaceful man-made stretch of beach, a designated fishing area and a well-appointed playground for the kids. A jewel of natural beauty in the center of Miami's urban landscape, the 1,043-acre Oleta River State Park is the largest urban park in the state. (305-919-1844, 305-919-1846)
5 Palm Beach
Palm Beach gained its signature trees by happenstance, thanks to a 19th-century shipwreck that dispersed coconuts on the beach. Years later when tycoon Henry Morrison Flagler surveyed the area, he was inspired to transform the island into an exclusive resort. Now a haven for the wealthy and a popular cultural destination, the city offers plenty to do, from concerts at the Meyer Amphitheatre to exhibitions at the Norton Museum. Incredible galleries, amazing shopping and a host of fabulous restaurants lend yet more appeal. West Palm Beach, just across Lake Worth, also promises plenty of leisure-time opportunities.
4 South Beach
Of the many attractions in this sunny city, South Beach is a must-visit. A day on this crowded strand, where locals and tourists alike go to see and be seen in the latest and most fashionable swimwear, offers an assuredly authentic Miami experience. After lounging amid a sea of sunbathers, swimming in the sparkling surf or jogging the path surrounding the strand, pack up and head across the street to enjoy Miami's legendary nightlife scene. (305-673-7730)
3 Key West
The words "Key West" may conjure up images of Jimmy Buffett lazing on the beach with a margarita or Ernest Hemingway hunched over a typewriter or lounging in a bar. These impressions aren't far from the truth. The pace is decidedly relaxed, the margarita is a popular refresher, and the influence of the water is unmistakable. Sunset cruises, fishing charters, snorkeling and other watery activities are de rigueur, and a lively arts scene adds a punch of local color. Roughly 160 miles and 40-plus bridges from downtown Miami, Key West may be a bit far for a day trip, but it's certainly worth an overnighter!
2 Key Biscayne
Accessed via the Rickenbacker Causeway, this small island grants a rich taste of Miami's coastal charms. Crandon Park, on the northern end, is known for its marina, golf course, tennis center and beaches. The residential Village of Key Biscayne, in the center, offers exclusive boutiques, gourmet shops and art galleries. On the southern end, Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Recreation Park boasts its own superb beaches and historic Cape Florida Lighthouse. If you've got time coming or going, catch the marine exhibits, porpoise shows and impressive killer whales at the Seaquarium on Virginia Key. (305-361-5207)
1 Haulover Beach Park
Known for its spacious expanses and small crowds, Haulover Beach offers free parking and endless leisure activities. With landlubber sports, including tennis and golf, water activities such as surfing and swimming, and interesting extras like kite-building and flying workshops, not to mention hiking trails and fishing coves, Haulover has something for everyone. The February Kite Festival does draw substantial crowds, and it's well-worth going, even as a spectator. (305-947-3525)