Key Biscayne is a five-mile-long barrier island just off the coast of downtown Miami. Connected to the mainland by a causeway, it is a mostly natural island with an upscale town of about 11,500 people in the middle. Miamians looking for water come for the day, especially on weekends, but not many tourists come for vacation. Which makes it a good place for getting away from it all.
And no less an authority than Dr. Beach agrees. The expert beach inspector named Key Biscayne's Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park the No. 9 best beach in America in 2008. The park, on the south end of the island, has a bike path, nature trails, a sea wall for fishing, beaches for swimming, and a beautiful lighthouse (climb the 109 steps to the top for a spectacular view).
Crandon Park, on the north end of the island, gets a little overshadowed by Bill Baggs, but it offers beaches, a roller skating area, a playground, a carousel, a golf course and the famous tennis center where the Sony Ericsson Open is held every March. (When the pros aren't playing, the courts are open to the public.)
Also on the island, just over the causeway, is the Miami Seaquarium, one of the region's top tourist attractions. You can see dolphins, manatees, sea lions, killer whales and eight different marine animal shows.
There are only two hotels on Key Biscayne, and the Ritz-Carlton is not the budget one. Luckily, there's the Silver Sands Beach Resort, which, despite its name, is a plain, '50s style, one-story motel almost hidden by luxury condos. The rooms are basic, but some of them give onto a lovely courtyard. Just beyond the swimming pool is the beach, though it has narrowed quite a bit in recent years. (301 Ocean Drive; 305-361-5441)
For a small town, there are plenty of places to eat. A lot of locals start the day at the Donut Gallery (83 Harbor Drive; 305-361-9985). La Boulangerie is a cozy place that bustles at lunchtime (328 Crandon Blvd. No. 125; 305-365-5260). If your kids think they'd like to become marine biologists, take them to the cafeteria in the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (4600 Rickenbacker Causeway; next-door to the Seaquarium). For dinner, drive back into Bill Baggs State Park and have some fresh fish at Boater's Grill overlooking No Name Harbor (305-361-0080). The world -- even Miami -- will seem far away.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun