Welcome back, Oakland Parkers!
For our second edition of Socially Distant Sunshine we’re going to talk about the quintessential South Florida outdoor activity – beach days. Beaches are what we’re famous for.
The thing is, there is no such thing as “the beach” when you live someplace as full of coastline as the tri-county area is. There are a mindblowing number of beaches to choose from and they’ve all got something unique to offer.
Our 7-year-old outdoor expert is back to share her thoughts. We’re going to give a disclaimer, though. She’s a tough one to please because she “would totally love the beach except if it had no sand and no waves and no people.”
Yeah. She was initially less-than-thrilled to discover that South Florida is full of so many beaches that we would need to break things down into categories.
By the time our adventures were through, we’d managed to turn beach day into something all of us could enjoy, even her!
Grab your mask, your other mask, some sun protection and a drink and let’s get this party started.
Make a Day of It
The longer drives (each is about an hour from Oakland Park) and admission prices for these beaches mean these spots aren’t ideal for a quick run. If you’re looking to spend a full day with sand and sun, give these beaches a shot.
Spanish River Park
3001 N SR A1A | Boca Raton
Admission: $20 per car
This Boca Raton park gets high marks across the board. The western side of the park is filled with mangroves, nature trails, and bird viewing areas. You could spend hours wandering through nature, picnicking and generally relaxing in the shade on the west half of the park alone.
Picnics and grilling under the shade of massive old trees is a favorite afternoon activity here. How massive are those trees?
There’s a teenager in this picture. See if you can spot them.
We’re here to talk about the east half of the park though – a gorgeous long stretch of beach with no street access along A1A. You reach the sand through one of three tunnels inside of the park that take you safely under the road.
The tunnels themselves are worth visiting for – each one is beautifully and uniquely decorated on both sides, but take a minute to read the unassuming signs in front of them. They tell a bit about the Barefoot Mailmen, local history makers that changed the way our whole nation communicated.
Pro Tip: Stop at the restrooms before you hit the beach and don’t wait until the need is urgent throughout the day. Walking back is a trek and means leaving your possessions unattended or packing everything up unless you have multiple adults in your group.
What this park lacks in affordability it makes up for in the ability to socially distance. The limited access means there are often large unoccupied stretches of sand. Bring a tent and a cooler, park yourself, and enjoy. Your admission fee covers you for the entire day with re-entry, so you can leave and come back if you want or need to.
Wear your mask in the tunnels and restrooms as social distancing is not possible in those confined spaces.
Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park
1200 Crandon Blvd | Key Biscayne
Admission: $8 per car
This park has been one of our favorite happy accidents. A half-day spent at Miami Seaquarium left the kids with tons of energy, and Google said this was the closest park.
Bill Baggs is similar to Spanish River in that you can only access the beach from the park, there are wonderful nature trails, and a fair bit of history as well. What makes Bill Baggs so special is the diversity and quiet.
It’s at the end of the island so there’s not much beyond the boundaries of the park to disturb wildlife or habitats. If you go to the “end” of the park, you’ll find a path and low stone wall separating you from the sea, and not much else.
The beach is much busier near the lighthouse (which is currently closed due to COVID) and cafe, but areas further from that hotspot offer plenty of space and excellent snorkeling opportunities. The water here is famously calm and there are large patches of seagrass where critters congregate.
Manatees, dolphins, sharks, eels, stingray, colorful fish, iguanas, birds, raccoons and crabs are all common sights at Bill Baggs. Wildlife here doesn’t seem to mind people, so keep a close eye on young ones with snacks that could be easily stolen. For the most part any animals you see will ignore you and go about their business, but seagulls evidently love Cool Ranch Doritos.
The bathrooms aren’t all the way across the street like they are at Spanish River, but they are a walk that is out of sight from the sand so plan accordingly.
These are spots you probably don’t know or think to make use of unless you’re a long-time local. They’re off-the-beaten path and a little hard to get to – and that’s why we love them.
Pompano Beach is a long stretch of sand with multiple entry points, but the one we’re going to share with you is our favorite for when we need a quick beach reset. There’s no public parking and no restroom anywhere nearby, so lengthy stays here can be a challenge.
Head north along A1A until you pass St. Gabriel Catholic Church. Once you see it, you’re in the right area. Find available public parking (a challenge in itself) and make the walk to the 812 building.
Along the north side of the building is a small alleyway beside a dumpster. It runs between 812, which is a multi-story apartment building, and a smaller single-story property. That’s where you’re heading.
This is a legitimate public beach access spot but the sign is small and literally hidden behind other, much larger, signs. That means almost everyone who passes it doesn’t realize it’s there and assumes the beach directly behind this building is private.
We left our expert home for this trek because of the lack of facilities, but for older kids, teens, and adults who can handle that more easily, this is a fantastic nearby area for an afternoon dip.
Paddle Board Park
The Dania Beach Pier isn’t exactly a secret location. There’s a decently sized marina, the Quarterdeck keeps it pretty consistently busy, and the beach itself is a popular one.
This secret spot isn’t so much about the location – but how you use it. Next time you go, let other people fight for a spot on the sand. Instead, turn away from the pier towards the west side instead. That small area of trees is officially called Paddle Board Park and the water, Whiskey Creek, is dotted with tiny beaches.
Either wade through the cool shallow water along the shoreline or follow the narrow path through the trees to find them.
Here’s an overhead map to help you get an idea.
The sandy breaks between the mangroves are almost always totally unoccupied unless someone in a paddleboard or kayak has stopped at them.
The creek is pretty narrow and the land on the other side is almost entirely natural. Wildlife sightings are common, but even if you don’t spot any animals, the view is something you don’t get with a lot of beaches.
We know them, we love them, but have you checked them out lately?
If this area feels like it’s been under constant construction lately that’s because it has. The revamped pier and surrounding areas are more popular than ever, and it’s easy to understand why.
This spot is about as family-friendly as you can get. There are multiple well-maintained bathrooms (some of which you can see from the sand,) a playground, pavilions, grills, and even a splash-pad in case you happen to have an “I don’t really like sand” outdoor expert of your own.
It’s also the most accessible beach we tried when it came to strollers, carts, and mobility devices.
The downside here is that it’s so appealing that it gets crowded fast. We didn’t need to ask an expert opinion this time, she has loved the splash pad for years.
Like Atlantic, this area has great infrastructure, close parking, and is popular with families. Interestingly, this stretch of beach is also a big hit with foodies!
There are several restaurants close by, so if good food and a lounge in the sun sound like a perfect day to you, take a look around Hillsboro Blvd.
Parking is limited so you may need to cruise up and down a few times before you find a spot.