Beach Day on a Budget

miami beach day on a budget

By: Jen Karetnick

If you’re staying at a ritzy, spa-oriented hotel like, well, The Ritz-Carlton South Beach, by all means, rent a cabana and stay out of the way of the rays. There’s nothing wrong with being indulgent about your sun protection, especially when you’re getting a facial or a massage later in the afternoon. But if you’re just as happy with some terrycloth and sunscreen, the following stretches of shoreline and tips for hitting the best beaches in town on a budget are for you.

Family Plans

Got the little ones with you? Looking for the gentlest of waves? Go no further than Matheson Hammock Park Beach, where a man-made atoll pool provides perfect wading-height water for toddlers. The beach faces spectacular views of downtown Miami and Biscayne Key, as well as kiteboarders who, farther out on the water, take advantage of the breeze that’s usually blowing and provide a free show. The more restless members of your family can stretch their legs or ride bikes on the five nature trails that track through the hammock, or cast a line near the full-service marina, which includes a sailing and power boat school. Restrooms, a snack bar and a full-service restaurant that opens in the evenings, located in a distinctive coral rock structure, are just a few of the amenities. But if you bring your own snacks (and beverages to stay hydrated!) and limit your water sports to swimming, all you’ll wind up paying is the $5-6 entrance fee.

Similarly, the waters at Crandon Park Beach, across Biscayne Bay, is calm enough to accommodate a baby float. You can rent cabanas, which have showers, toward the south end if you like but with the shade available from the palms, planted like orderly soldiers, it’s not necessary. The shoreline here is long, wide and white, white, white—so absolutely stunning that Crandon Park is frequently named on “best beaches of America” lists. As for amenities, how do picnic areas with grills sound? There’s nothing like classic grill fare like hotdogs or burgers but what could be better or more appropriate than fresh caught fish bought from a market like Garcia’s Seafood Grill and Fish Market picked up on the way. Youngsters can tag along with a naturalist at the Crandon Park Nature Center and learn about exotic, tropical fish and plants. You can make a day of it by stopping at the Family Amusement Center for fun in the splash fountain, on the playground, around the outdoor roller rink or on the historic carousel.

Fresh Air and Sunshine is Always Free

South Beach has a reputation as a glitzy center of all things that go bling but that’s not necessarily the case. There’s no fee to lay on any of the beaches between 5th and 15th streets. Save a bundle if you use the bike-sharing program, Citi Bike, to get around rather than a car. Just rent a bicycle at one of the solar-powered stations, then return it to another. Citi Bike has more than 85 stations and 1,000 bikes; you can even ride one to the aptly named Surfside for a fresh air transportation experience.

Indeed, Surfside’s beach, which runs from North Shore Open Space Park to 96th Street, is one of the more laid-back contenders in the Miami Beach scene. This beach has harder-packed sand making it good for a jog al fresco and a bit rougher surf thanks to the influence of Haulover Cut to the north. It also tends to be a bit quieter here during season (the winter months), with less-expensive street parking easier to find than some of the more popular beaches. Much like the other family-oriented beaches, there’s a concession stand, bathrooms, showers and picnic tables for your pleasure.

Haulover Park appeals to naturists, kite lovers and man’s best friend. A nice, eclectic group of people flock to this beach, near Bal Harbour Shops. However, that’s only a small part of this 99-acre park that’s also famous as a kite flyer’s favorite beach. Surfers are especially fond of the bigger waves, and guests who take their pooches wherever they go will be pleased to note the dog park, available to all kinds of canines for a $2 entry fee.

The Art of Self-Concession

You may have noticed by now that almost all of Miami’s beaches have concession stands, snack bars or vendors of some sort. They’re convenient, honest and a welcome treat (especially when they have ice cream!) on a hot, humid day. But the parks also have free picnic tables and you’re welcome to bring your own beverages in coolers.

Depending on where you plan to spend the day, you can outfit a picnic basket simply, with cheeses and bread from a local Publix or more elaborately stone crab claws from Joe’s Take-Away, the fast-service resource run by Joe’s Stone Crab.

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