Take the family to a park
Miami has stunning Key Biscayne. West Palm Beach has pristine MacArthur Beach State Park. In between, Fort Lauderdale and Broward County boast a variety of parks with special attractions.
C.B. Smith Park (Sun-Sentinel/ Kia Glimps-Smith)
1. John D. MacArthur Beach State Park
Where: 10900 SR 703 (A1A), North Palm Beach, 2.8 miles south of US 1 and PGA Boulevard; 561-624-6950.
What: The park on this barrier island encompasses a 317-acres coastal hammock as well as a 120-acre mangrove swamp on Lake Worth Cove. The beach is a prime turtle nesting area, and rangers lead organized walks in June and July. Offshore reefs are easily accessible for snorkelers and divers, while a 1,600-foot boardwalk allows for viewing wildlife such as herons, ibis, roseate spoonbills and osprey in the mangrove area.
Recreational activities: Unguarded swimming on the two-mile, very private beach, as well as snorkeling and scuba diving. Weather permitting, a ranger-guided kayak tour through the estuary out to Munyon Island and back is offered daily on a first-come, first-served basis, scheduled according to the tides. Fishing is permitted from the shore and in the estuary (but not from the boardwalk).
The park maintains two nature trails, which are about 10- to 15-minute walks. A 4,000-square-foot nature center features a film on the park, displays on park history, plants and wildlife, Native American relics, a live sea turtle, snakes and aquariums. The nature center is open from 9 am. to 5 p.m. every day and is free with park admission.
The park has bathroom facilities and outdoor showers and offers vending machines but no concession stand. The park has two picnic pavilions available for reservation or on a first-come, first-served basis, and a small amphitheater that can be reserved for weddings and other events.
Fees: You must pay to enter and you must pay for kayak tours and rental of picnic pavilions and the amphitheater.
2. John U. Lloyd State Park
Where: 6503 N. Ocean Drive, Dania, 1.5 miles north of Sheridan Street off A1A; 954-923-2833. Main office 954-924-3859.
What: This 251-acre barrier island is located between the Atlantic Ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway, from Port Everglades on the north to Dania on the south. Boaters have ocean access from two boat ramps through the Intracoastal Waterway to the Port Everglades Inlet. Amenities include a full-service restaurant serving beer and wine, the Loggerhead Cafe, and manatee viewing. The beach also is one of Broward County's most important sea-turtle nesting areas.
Recreational activities: Beaches, boat ramp, boating, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, nature trails, picnicking, scuba diving, snorkeling and wildlife viewing. Canoers and kayakers can paddle Whiskey Creek, a manatee sanctuary that flows through the park, beaching their vessels for a picnic at the north end. Snorkelers and scuba divers can follow submerged markers to reefs in one of the area's easier shore dives. Other amenities include a 45-minute nature trail, shaded picnic areas along the 2.5-mile beach and fishing from the jetty at the south end of the park. Limited picnic supplies, and canoe and kayak rentals are available at the refreshment stand.
Fees: Must pay to enter, use the boat ramp, rent kayaks and canoes and reserve a gazebo tent or grills.
3. Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park
Where: 1200 S. Crandon Boulevard, Key Biscayne; 305-361-8779. From Miami, take I-95 to the Rickenbacker Causeway, all the way to the end.
What: This 400-acre beachfront park located on the southern tip of Key Biscayne is home to the Cape Florida lighthouse, first erected in 1825 and destroyed by Seminole Indians in 1836. A second tower, completed in 1846, still stands today.
Recreational activities: Swimming, snorkeling, and sunbathing along 1.25 miles of sandy, Atlantic beachfront, with fishing available from several platforms along Biscayne Bay. A highly recommended shoreline fishing spot is the seawall located along the bay.
Eighteen covered pavilions provide shaded picnicking overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and Biscayne Bay available for reservation or on a first-come, first-served basis. The Lighthouse Cafe offering casual waterfront dining, was hit by a fire in January 2004 and is being rebuilt. The park's concession offers a variety of rentals, including bicycles, Hydrobikes, paddleboats, ocean kayaks, beach chairs and umbrellas.
There are two walking paths. Overnight boat camping is available in No Name Harbor, with the Boater's Grille offering limited convenience foods and supplies, as well as bait and tackle, showers, washers and dryers. Guided tours of the lighthouse and lighthouse keeper's quarters are available at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Thursday through Monday. Tours are limited to the first 10 people to sign up at least 30 minutes ahead of time.