Historic Virginia Key Beach Park

Historic Virginia Key Beach Park

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Year-round sunshine makes Greater Miami a beach-lover’s paradise. Whether you enjoy a quiet, palm-shaded oasis or the energy of popular see-and-be-seen sands, Miami serves up a variety of beaches for all interests. But perhaps none offer the rich history of Historic Virginia Key Beach Park, a beautiful stretch of surf and sand with a story that dates back to 1896.

August 1st is the official Historic Virginia Key Beach Park Day.

About the Park

Located in beautiful Biscayne Bay, less than a mile from the shores of Downtown Miami, it’s easily one of the area’s most scenic beaches – a hidden retreat full of nature and sweeping views of the bay and the Atlantic. It’s also an ideal location for those who enjoy swimming, relaxing in the sun and rich cultural history.

Visitors to this hideaway can stroll a mile-long shoreline, ride an antique carousel with views of the ocean, be transported around the area by a miniature train and explore coastal hammock trails on a nature boardwalk.

The Story Begins in 1896

Miami was founded in 1896, at a time where segregation was a reality throughout the South. The black community had played a predominant role in the early building and development of the city, which resulted in one-third of the signatures on the city charter being black men. Nevertheless, the reality of segregation at that time systematically excluded all people of color from Miami’s most famous attraction – its miles of beaches.

Some beach areas were “unofficial exceptions,” which by mutual understanding were exclusive to the African American community. Virginia Key – at the time only accessible by boat from Miami – was one of these areas. But it wasn’t until 1945 that Virginia Key became an “official colored only” site as a result of a protest led by the late Judge Thomas.

A Protest Brings Action

With the intention of being arrested to bring attention to their cause, Thomas and a group of black men daringly entered the water at exclusively white Haulover Beach. Rather than facing embarrassment, county officials did not take legal action but instead agreed to the protesters’ demands and opened an official swimming area for African Americans at “Miami’s Colored Only Beach” at Virginia Key on Aug. 1, 1945.

From that point on, Virginia Key Beach quickly became a popular gathering place for Greater Miami’s African American community and was an often-used site for religious services. Although the beach remained segregated throughout the 1950s, that didn’t keep it from being the preferred go-to beach for many new immigrants coming from Cuba, the Caribbean and South America.

Due to high operation and maintenance costs, the City of Miami closed Virginia Key Beach Park to the public in 1982. In 1999, a group of citizens established the Virginia Key Beach Park Civil Rights Task Force after plans were announced for a private development to be built on the site. In response, the Miami City Commission established Virginia Key Beach Park Trust to oversee the development of the historic property, and in 2002 the park was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

A New Beginning in 2008

Historic Virginia Key Beach Park reopened to the public on Feb. 8, 2008, featuring many of the amenities of its past. Still a beautiful stretch of sand and surf known for its natural landscape, swaying palms and mangroves, it became the only replenished, mile-long stretch of shoreline within the City of Miami at the time.

You can take a ride back through its history aboard the “Biscayne Virginia Rickenbacker Central,” a historic miniature train that transports you through a wetland excursion. And no matter your age, you’ll delight in riding the historic antique carousel by the sea. Other landmarks like the bathhouse and concession stand have also been renovated and are open to the public.

This stretch of paradise has picnic tables and shaded pavilions, but is also vast enough to offer secluded areas to beachgoers who enjoy privacy and sunshine. Among visitor favorites are six pastel-colored beachfront cabins that can be rented for the day. Each cabin includes Adirondack chairs, a grill and a picnic table to provide a perfect backdrop for that old-Miami beach experience.

Biking Trails Built by Cyclists

Historic Virginia Key Beach Park is also home to some of the most adrenaline-pumping bike trails in all of Miami. Built by enthusiasts from local bike clubs, these trails offer all levels of riding excitement for the family. The mountain trails on the north end of the key allow all levels of cyclists to enjoy the thrills of mountain biking while being surrounded by nature and water. Made for novice, intermediate and advanced riders, each trail has a qualifier area, so don’t worry. If you can maneuver your way through the first 20 feet of a trail, you shouldn’t have any problems navigating the rest of it.

The novice trail is flat and perfect for practice riding. The intermediate trail has climbs, drops and elevation changes with bermed corners, immaculately designed to test your skills. Or if you want a challenge, the advanced course offers technical climbs and fast descents where you’ll encounter bridges, exposed rocks and hairpin turns to satisfy your thirst for adventure. All trails are well-maintained with the help of dedicated bike club volunteers, so you know they’ll be ready when you are. You can even rent bikes at the Virginia Key Outdoor Center in case you didn't happen to bring yours along.

Historic Virginia Key Beach's Natural Ecosystems

Today, Virginia Key Beach Park is known as an ecological treasure containing one of the largest mangrove wetlands in the state. Rent a kayak or take a moonlight paddleboard tour of the area by water to enjoy a truly natural adventure just minutes away from the heart of Miami. Discover unique plant and endangered animal species among some of the oldest surviving varieties of flora and fauna in the region.

Along with its history, the park is a magical and invaluable treasure that is committed to preserving its environment. Working with the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the South Florida Water Management District, the Virginia Key Beach Park Trust's goal is to protect, conserve and manage its natural resources and enforce Florida’s environmental laws.

Experience Paradise Renewed

Historic Virginia Key Beach Park is located on a barrier island minutes from Downtown Miami, just north of Key Biscayne. The island is accessible via the Rickenbacker Causeway at 4020 Virginia Beach Dr. Barbeque grills are available throughout the park for picnics and vending machines are available on site.

Be sure to follow @virginiakeybeachpark on Instagram or @historicvirginiakeybeachpark on Facebook to stay up-to-date on the latest news, activities and more at the park.

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