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A World Away from Miami

Boating, dockage and reservations in Key Biscayne, FL
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Boating in Key Biscayne, Florida

A world away from Miami

Time and again it happens: Someone crosses the Rickenbacker Causeway by accident, stops at Hobie Beach, and says, “Where am I? This is beautiful.” Welcome to Key Biscayne, a perfect escape for sand- and sea-lovers located in the same area code as Miami.

The Tequesta Indians called the area Bischiyano, “the favorite path of the rising moon.” Around 1915, William J. Matheson made Key Biscayne his private paradise with a coconut plantation and palatial retreat. By the 1970s, Richard Nixon was jetting in to his winter White House on the island. Today, Crandon Park and Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park blanket the north and south ends of the land mass, respectively. Sandwiched between is Key Biscayne village, population 10,500, where the local Shell station sells $220 bottles of Dom Pérignon and restaurants are known to stock $1,000-per-pound white truffles.

No Name Harbor, set within Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park (1200 S. Crandon Blvd., 305-361-5811, www.floridastateparks.org/capeflorida/), makes for a wonderful place to anchor during a trip to Key Biscayne. The almost perfect hurricane hole is notched into the park near an 1825 lighthouse, the oldest structure in South Florida. Before the light was built, the area was part of the Underground Railroad. Hike along boardwalks through the mangroves or plant an umbrella on the pristine beach. In the distance you will see what is perhaps Key Biscayne’s most remarkable real estate venture, Stiltsville, a series of wooden houses rising from the offshore shallows. At the moment the structures are part of Biscayne National Park and uninhabited, but from the 1930s through the 1950s they were a popular gathering spot for Miami’s moneyed set.

You can dine in the park, too, at what must surely be one of the country’s best beach concessions, Boater’s Grill. The sunsets from the dining room are phenomenal, and the Cuban-inspired dishes are spot-on. Try the crispy whole fish, and finish with the traditional house-made flan.

Crandon Park Marina (4000 Crandon Blvd.., 305-361-1281, www.miamidade.gov/parks/parks/crandon_marina.asp), tucked within Crandon Park, has two valuable resources along with its slips. The guides of powerboat-rental and yacht-charter outfit Club Nautico can help you negotiate the bay finger channels; for your galley, line up on the docks with the locals at about 3 p.m. to buy just-caught cobia and wahoo as the fishing charters return.

Crandon Golf Course, also within the park, is a one-of-a-kind experience if you play, or a fun lunch stop at the clubhouse between the nines if you don’t. The public course is a natural stunner with mangroves, tidal ponds, and the critters to go with it. “Our hazards are moving,” says golf ranger Rita Craft, referring to the 4- to 6-foot iguanas that live here. Or maybe she means the three saltwater crocodiles that sun themselves on the banks. Just don’t go chasing golf balls at low tide.

Bikers will enjoy Key Biscayne’s six-mile heritage trail, mapped by local historian Joan Gill Blank. The loop from ocean to bay includes a beautiful segment along Crandon Park’s Atlantic shore. Palm-shaded sands sweep to the sea, made calm by a sandbar that emerges at low tide. Near Crandon Park’s beach cabanas, an unmarked left leads to the Quiet Garden. Peacocks, guinea fowl, and swans roam the 200 fairy tale-like acres, which make a beautiful excuse to stop for a picnic of goodies you’ve picked up from local gourmet deli the Golden Hog.

The Key Biscayne Yacht Club (180 Harbor Dr., 305-361-8229, www.kbyc.org) is just south of Crandon Park, and makes for a good base if you have reciprocal privileges. From there it’s an easy stroll along Harbor Drive for a show-stopper real estate showcase—you’ll pass Cher’s and Nixon’s former estates and Andy Garcia’s home. Mercedes and Range Rovers fill the driveways, while kids roam the streets on Segways and golf carts. “We’ve been called Mayberrycita,” says Kathye Susnjer who staffs the visitors center on West McIntyre Street, always open even when no one’s there. “Latin American families especially are drawn to raise their children here because they can live without gates,” she explains.

Key Biscayne feels like another country, or many. Spoken Spanish flies across the tables at El Gran Inca over plates of Peruvian ceviche and pisco sours. Young moms dress to the nines for the gym, and tanned gents carry exquisite leather man-purses. This is a place to buy Letarte swimwear at Boheme, or bangle bracelets—a rite of passage for Cuban and Cuban-American girls—from the Santayana family, whose father started the business from a suitcase, selling his jewelry designs door to door. To catch the local flavor, sip café con leche at the Oasis; order translucent shaved octopus at Cantina, by the ocean; pop into the pharmacy for Kérastase products from Paris; and stop by the supermarket for Czechvar pilsner from the Czech Republic.

The height of Key Biscayne nightlife happens at sunset. One of the best places to witness the spectacle is across the Bear Cut Bridge on Virginia Key. Located alongside Rickenbacker Marina (3301 Rickenbacker Cswy., 305-361-1900, www.rickenbackermarina.com), the new Rickenbacker Fish Co. serves views of the Miami skyline along with your Scottish salmon or Danish baby back ribs. (Boaters dock free.) As the sun dips low, the skyscraper windowpanes blaze with its fiery glow, followed by the neon blue lights of the port bridge. Cheers.

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