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South Florida beaches

Hollywood Beach

Hooray for Hollywood! Hollywood Beach, that is. This sun-splashed mecca has evolved into a must-go-to destination. It's South Beach sans the over-the-top bling-bling -- and a lot more family-friendly. As a teen, I hung out here every spare second, pretending to be a rock star on the band-shell stage, dousing myself with baby oil and lathering my locks with Sun-In hair lightener.

The beach is as beautiful as I remembered, but travelers don't visit just for the sand and surf. There is a plethora of eclectic, casual restaurants and mom-and-pop shops lining the oceanfront Broadwalk, a 2.5-mile, 30-foot-wide pedestrian promenade.

From organic smoothies to sizzling steak, it's all here, along with beachside stands that still sell ice-cream cones for $1.50. There is no need to cajole the kids to change out of wet bathing suits when you're ready to eat -- most places offer outside dining with a fantastic view of the ocean.

Rent a bike or meander down the sun-dappled street. Here, Old Florida mixes with nature in a concoction more intoxicating than any mimosa.

At the heart of the promenade is the band shell at Johnson Street. Free concerts are held several times a week.

Festivals are almost as common as the sunshine. We visited in October during the annual Hollywood Beach Clambake, with its tantalizing aroma of seafood, plus craft booths, games for the kids and music. The "Sandman" was there too, drawing a crowd as he crafted an intricate castle out of the fine, soft sand.

If you're looking for solitude, visit North Beach, at the far end of the Broadwalk, a haven for shell-seekers.

There are many hotel options, from the glitzy new Westin Diplomat to Old Florida-style motels. We stayed at the Atlantic Sands Beach Suites, a block from the beach.

The small, family-run hotel doesn't have a pool, a restaurant or a view of the beach, but the accommodations are spacious; there's a living room with a fold-out couch and a full kitchen.

The owners left us a note and a hibiscus welcoming us. There were beach towels, chairs and umbrellas in the closet -- and a chest of beach toys for the kids. And who needs a pool or restaurant when you can walk a few steps to a beautiful beach?

-- Linda Haase, Cox News Service

John D. MacArthur Beach State Park

10900 SR 703 (A1A), North Palm Beach, 2.8 miles south of U.S. 1 and PGA Boulevard; 561-624-6950.

The park on this barrier island encompasses a 317-acre 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 snorkeling and diving, while a 1,600-foot boardwalk allows for viewing wildlife such as herons, ibis, roseate spoonbills and ospreys in the mangrove area.

Recreational activities include 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, American Indian relics, a live sea turtle, snakes and aquariums. The nature center is open from 9 a.m. 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: Entrance/parking is $4 per vehicle for up to eight people, $1 for each additional passenger, walk-ups, bicyclists and skaters (per person). Kayak tours are $20 for a single kayak, $35 for a double kayak. Picnic pavilion rental is $100; amphitheater rental is $75.

-- South Florida Sun-Sentinel

North Shore State Recreation Area

7929 Atlantic Way, Miami Beach; 305-673-7720.

Beachfront: Bordered by sea grapes, coconut trees and dunes planted with sea oats, the natural-looking beach runs from 79th to 87th streets along Collins Avenue, with a park on one side, then dunes and the long, flat beach.

Facilities: Temporary restrooms, picnic tables, grills, showers, nature trail, bike path, exercise trail. New pavilions and restrooms are planned. The park is open from sunrise to sunset.

Lifeguards: On duty daily.

Rules: No glass containers, no alcohol, dogs allowed on a leash only in the park, not on the beach.

Fees: Free admission. Metered parking across Collins Avenue and metered city lots nearby, $1 per hour.

-- South Florida Sun-Sentinel

South Beach

South Beach, the suburb that covers the southern end of the barrier island of Miami Beach, has historic buildings bathed in bright neon lights, a 10-mile beach and a happening nightlife. Such amenities make the area a magnet for many types of people, from movie stars, millionaires and fashion models to designers, art-lovers and beachgoers from all over the world.

Its Art Deco District includes more than 800 hotels, restaurants, boutiques and other buildings that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Businessmen and preservationists have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to restore the spectacular early '20s to late '40s buildings with pastel colors, neon outlines and antique furnishings. South Beach also has museums, fancy boutiques, ethnic eateries and posh resorts.

Ocean Drive is the place to be in SoBe, as the locals call South Beach. It has sidewalk cafes, palm trees, historic buildings and shops. At night neon signs tout trendy bars and nightclubs.

Other South Beach streets also are lined with historic buildings, such as the 1939 post office and Old City Hall on Washington Road and Lincoln Road's 1935 Lincoln Theatre.

The Lincoln Road shopping district, on the north end of South Beach, is closed to automobile traffic, so pedestrians are free to peruse the 12-block area's galleries, shops, restaurants and theaters. Shoppers can buy designer clothing, jewelry, hand-rolled cigars, books, antiques and works by local artists.

GETTING THERE

Many airlines offer service from Orlando to Miami; check with a travel agent.

If you want to travel by car, take Ronald Reagan Turnpike south to Interstate 95, near Fort Pierce. Head south on I-95 to Miami, then go east on I-195 to get to Miami Beach. Head south on State Road A1A, which takes you into South Beach. The trip should take from four to five hours.

INFORMATION

For more information on South Beach, contact the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau at 701 Brickell Ave., Suite 2700, Miami, 33131; (305) 539-3000.

-- Orlando Sentinel

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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