Occupying the southern tip of Key Biscayne, this park’s wide beaches regularly make the national top ten lists. But this is more than just a place to catch some rays: there’s history, wildlife and plenty of activities too. You can tour the Cape Florida Lighthouse, the oldest building in south Florida; explore native wildlife planted in the aftermath of 1992’s Hurricane Andrew; and try your hand at shoreline fishing, ocean kayaking, windsurfing, cycling and in-line skating. Covered pavilions are available for picnics, and the Lighthouse Café offers good food.
The land-based portion of this vast park is pleasant, encompassing hammock trails and beachy areas, but the main attractions are underwater. This is the most accessible portion of the coral reef that runs the length of the Keys. No array of pictures or brochure flim-flam can prepare you for the beauty of the reef, which can be seen from the comfort of a glass-bottomed boat. Garish fish and exotic sea creatures glide around, and can be viewed up close by snorkeling or diving (tours also available, along with equipment rental). The much-photographed Christ of the Abyss statue is within the boundaries of the park, submerged in 25ft of water six miles east-north-east of Key Largo’s South Cut.
Aside from being home to one of the best (and safest) beaches in the county, Crandon Park boasts a family amusement center complete with a restored vintage carousel, a roller rink (bring your own skates) and a nature center with programs that explore the seagrass and the fossilized mangrove reef. Best of all are the resident iguanas and unusual reptiles. For $20 an hour, you can rent a family-sized bike built for two pedallers and two strapped-in seats up front for the little ones.