Biscayne National Park Is Miami's Most Underrated Spot
The Miami, Florida, most people know is a place where all you do is day drink at the beach and then go clubbing until 8 a.m. We won't deny that's a big part of life in the city. But it's definitely not the only thing to enjoy here.
If you want to skip the touristy side of Miami (or let your body take a break from partying), plan an escape to Biscayne National Park. Located just outside the city, it gives you easy access to a wonderfully diverse natural world hidden from plain sight.
Here's all you need to know about visiting Biscayne National Park.
An Oasis in the City
Located about 20 miles south of Downtown Miami, Biscayne was declared a national park in 1980 as a way to protect it from the overdevelopment that was already plaguing Miami and the Keys.
The area feels worlds away from the loud rowdiness of the city. Along with Everglades National Park, it provides locals with an easy way to connect to nature. But tourists don't make it to Biscayne very often, probably because many haven't heard of it.
Those who do often can't believe this is Miami.
Biscayne is so close to the city that you can actually see part of it from Downtown Miami. The problem is that most people don't know they're looking at a national park because 95 percent of it is underwater.
You'll find important ecosystems like mangroves and reefs, which you can enjoy by doing activities like kayaking, snorkeling, scuba diving or taking a boat tour. The Biscayne National Park Institute provides official tours, sometimes with combined activities so you can access a greater part of the park.
Following an Underwater Trail
If you are very comfortable in the water, following the Maritime Heritage Trail is one of the most popular activities in Biscayne. The trail connects six shipwrecks within the park that can all be explored in a single day.
Some of the shipwrecks are recommended for scuba divers only, but snorkelers can still enjoy amazing tours to see the remnants of the vessels, some of which have been underwater since the 19th century.
Biscayne's Must-Visit Spot: Stiltsville
Another popular tour to take is the one that takes you to Stiltsville. Made up of stilted houses built over the water, this famed community was once a dubious escape from Prohibition-era laws. It then turned into a questionable hangout for politicians, actors and otherwise rich or influential people.
The amphibious community of Stiltsville, established in the 1930s in the shoals of northern Biscayne Bay, took advantage of its remoteness from land to offer offshore gambling and alcohol during Prohibition. But several hurricanes, laws that restricted commercial activities and the inclusion within national park lands ended the free-for-all community.
Today, you can go on a boat to see the remaining sites of what many people think was the heart of old Florida.
An Aquatic Safari
While you're on or under the water, keep your eyes open for wildlife encounters. You'll probably get to see pelicans and various species of fish. And there's a decent chance of catching a dolphin pod in the middle of shenanigans.
Other exciting species you may see if you're lucky include whales, green and hawksbill turtles, and gentle manatees. In the mangroves, you may also encounter American crocodiles and alligators.
Enjoying Biscayne National Park on Land
Those who aren't keen on water activities can still enjoy the small part of Biscayne that is on land. Head to the Dante Fascell Visitor Center to learn about the history of the park and the area. There are fun ranger programs and a small jetty trail suitable to all ages.
If we're honest, though, this part of the park is fairly underwhelming, so try to enjoy the water instead.
How to Get to Biscayne National Park
It's possible to drive to the Dante Fascell Visitor Center. But to get to the park's islands or to enjoy its underwater treasures, you'll need to go by boat.
Don't worry! The boat ride is included in all tours, whether you're booking directly with the park or a licensed independent company. Some tours also leave from Key Biscayne near downtown Miami.
Private boats are also allowed within the park at any hour. If you want more freedom, you can rent a boat and do a private tour. Just note that some areas are only available for official tours.
When to Visit Biscayne National Park
Unsurprisingly, most people come to Miami in the summer. But, as a Miami native, I would advise against this.
First of all, it's peak tourist season, so everything will be crowded and overpriced. Plus, the heat this time of year is almost unbearable, especially for people who aren't used to the tropical climate. And, most importantly, summer is hurricane season, so you always run the risk of having your plans canceled by rain, storms or, yes, hurricanes.
Spring and fall are by far the best times to visit the city. The weather is warm enough that you'll enjoy getting in the water, but there's a smaller chance of tropical storms. You'll also get off-season prices.
As for "winter," it really depends on your climate preference. Though it never gets actually cold in Miami, the temperature can drop to the 50s if there are snow storms in the north. If you're comfortable getting in the water in that weather, you're very much welcome to do so. Just know that there won't be many other people as brave as you.
Where to Eat
Biscayne National Park has no food within its limits, so you need to either pack a lunch or eat beforehand. We recommend the latter since you'll be in one of the best foodie cities in the U.S.
Anyone driving down to the visitor center in Homestead should plan to stop at the historic Cauley Square. Once a small 19th-century community, this is now a scenic area where houses have been converted into boutique shops and restaurants. The best place to eat here is the Tea Room, which provides high tea as well as some delicious eats.
Otherwise, look for restaurants in Wynwood, Brickell and Calle Ocho, which are some of the gastronomic hotspots of Miami.
Where to Stay
Since the park is so close to Miami, you can stay in the city and enjoy its other offerings.
If being near the beach is the most important thing to you, book the Kimpton Surfcomber Hotel. This property provides direct access to South Beach and is known for the trendy events it hosts regularly.
For those who want a cool downtown stay that is also affordable, you can't beat citizenM Miami World Center.
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