The Hidden Gem that is Crandon Park, Key Biscayne

Crandon Park, Key Biscayne

The condo we’re staying at with my parents in Fort Lauderdale happens to be about one block from the Bonnet House.  While brainstorming up things to do with our time there, it obviously came up as a contender.  It’s supposed to be a beautiful house full of history, and lavish grounds to wander. I’m sure many visitors have spent long afternoons there doing just this.  We were almost some of them.  Until I took a look at their website and found that tours cost $20/person.  Even if you only wanted to walk the grounds you had to hand over $10.  A quick tram ride could get you through for $2.

As soon as we saw these prices though, Matt and I did not want to participate in any of it.  Not that my parents couldn’t or didn’t want to hand over this money for us all to have an afternoon out, they were more than happy to have this as a possibility for ‘Things to Do’ during our time here.  The thing was…I knew of a much better place for us to spend an afternoon.  One that happened to be completely free.

Last May when Matt and I had about a month to kill in Miami waiting on specific paperwork for the cat before we could make our Atlantic crossing to Europe, we spent a lot of time with our cruising friends Alfredo and Ana Bianca, and family of theirs that lived on Key Biscayne. One afternoon while visiting, where we had a little more time on our hands than they did, they sent us off on a pair of bicycles to check out a nice local beach called Crandon Park. With the exception of having a house to tour (and based on the photos, I’m not sure it would have been my style), these grounds were much more appealing.

Here is one thing I can not understand about this park.  Every time we have summer here; summer; winter; weekday; weekend; it is always empty.  A complete ghost town, which is surprising considering how beautiful it is. As we parked our car in the vacant lot, we walked the sidewalk leading up to the beach, making sure to stop for just a moment to take in one of my favorite perks of this park.  Situated on the south side of the beach is a bird sanctuary, with it’s own trails and sitting areas, this area used to be one of the leading zoos in the country back in the 1960′s.  Having previously hosted over 1,000 animals of over 380 species, it’s open air animal exhibits now sit empty, and the birds which currently reside there are allowed to roam free.

Such is the case of the ostentation of peacocks we found lining the fence as we arrived.  Very accustomed to visitors and handouts of food, they are not shy of people and it’s quite easy to get a close up view of them.  Saving a more thorough stroll of those grounds for just a little later, we instead made our way to the palm trees and shoreline. Passing by shaded picnic areas and charcoal grills, we left the pavement and slid off our shoes as we entered the warm mid day sand.

One thing Matt and I agreed of why we love this beach so much is that other than it’s magnificent turquoise colored waters and tall sprouting palm trees, for some reason it looks as if it would fit much better into the coast of North Carolina than Southern Florida. With the exception of a few high rises at the very far end of the beach, the area appears very secluded and not at all flashy.  Although I do love a good afternoon of people watching and viewing all the vibrantly colored life guard stations on South Beach…this area just seems cleaner and more uniform.  But in a good way.

The light yellow lifeguard stands pop out perfectly from the vivid waters behind them and the palm trees lining each side. It’s a quiet area, very peaceful.  Just a short drive from the major metropolis of Miami, yet you still have the sense of solitude.  At low tide there are shallow pools to wade in, and any time is perfect for diving into a novel without surrounding distractions.  I don’t know, I can’t describe it. Just a little slice of perfection in Southern Florida that we never seem to get enough time to spend in.

Such was the case this afternoon as we had no suits on us for swimming or umbrellas to shade us from the sweltering sun. We did make a quick run of the sanctuary where most of the birds seemed to be hiding on this particular day, but the iguanas were have the run of the grounds. Once we realized that we were approaching late afternoon we did make our way up to bustling South Beach to find a nice outdoor cafe for some lunch and people watching. Since we couldn’t make the most of Crandon Park, it did seem only the logical thing to do.

peacocks at Crandon Park

picnic area, Crandon Park

Crandon Park, Key Biscayne

my parents at Crandon Park

Matt & Jessica at Crandon Park

Crandon Park, Key Biscayne

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Just Can’t Keep us Apart

Tuesday May 27, 2014

Crandall Park

It took us about two weeks of sitting here in Miami, but we were eventually able to pin our friends Ana Bianca and Alfredo down for an evening of hanging out. Both our groups have been pretty busy lately, and trying to find a day that we both didn’t have something going on (ok, maybe we’ve had a little more leisure time than them) did take awhile, but we finally planned on an night of hanging out in Key Biscayne with Alfredo’s sister Ivonne and brother-in-law Vance. Two more people that we’ve grown very fond of in our past visit to Key Biscayne, so we were very excited.

Spending my morning searching bus routes and times from Miami Beach over to the southerly island, as soon as I found out that Alfredo had to run into MB for something anyway, we jumped on the chance for a free and quick ride. Not that we couldn’t have taken the bus there, but….between transfers it would have been close to two hours. Plus this ride had air conditioning and someone much better to talk to than the passenger who wants to regale you with their release from prison. That just happened that day. (Two times this has happened to me!)

When we got to Ivonne and Vance’s place we found Ana Bianca waiting for us and ready to show off what all of their recent hard work had been going toward. If you’ve ever heard me joke on this website or our Facebook page about ‘Ana Bianca…saving the oceans!!’ (think of that in a Trey Parker/Matt Stone sing-song kind of way), it’s because she is! Between her experience as a photojournalist and his experience as a director of photography, these are making a documentary series of segments about our oceans in peril. Having already filmed a few of those segments while working their way up the coast of Central America from where we originally met them in Guatemala, this week was the big launch of their new website Element Zero, and they’ve been pouring all of their time and energy into it. We were given a quick tour of the new site where we spied the trailers we had already viewed on their Facebook page, as well as the awesome layout and beautiful photographs they’ve loaded.

They’re work for the day wasn’t quite over yet though, and since our bus wouldn’t have dropped us off there until 4, we’d just hopped a ride because it was available, we wanted to get out of their way for a few more hours so they could finish up their work. Having two bikes at our disposal though, man do we miss those, we were given recommendations of a few beaches and parks to explore and one tasty sandwich shop to grab lunch. Off we went into the bright Florida sunshine, ready to get some food before traveling the island. Hopping over to Oasis and brushing up on my Spanish, we had a mouth watering sandwich while chugging down an ice cold Coke before hitting the open road again.

Matt filling bike tires

Oasis, Key Biscayne, Florida

Word on the street, or out of Alfredo’s mouth, is that Crandon Park has the best beach in Key Biscayne, and since we obviously don’t see those enough, that’s the first place we headed to.  Honestly though, two weeks in the boat stuck in a large channel will leave you craving beaches again.  The parking lot was completely empty as we cycled in, a far departure from the crowds that must have been here the previous day celebrating the holiday weekend.  Waving back and forth on our bikes as we followed the asphalt drive we noticed a sign for a peacock sanctuary to our right and promised ourselves to check it out on our way back.  Suddenly a ruffle of feathers and a loud squawk off to my side let me know that these large birds were not confined only to their sanctuary.  Wanting to be as adult as I could, I refrained from chasing him down to see if he’d arrange his full plumage for me.  Or maybe it was because I thought the tables would turn and it would be him who would chase me down in the end.  So I settled for stepping off my bike and snapping a few photos while he idly eyed my can of Coke.  By the way he slowly advanced on me, I’m pretty sure he wanted me to share.

peacock, Crandon Park

As if seeing a peacock directly upon our arrival wasn’t enough, we locked the bikes up and walked into a scene that looked as if it was taken directly from the coasts of North Carolina with a few palm trees thrown in.  This place was stunning.  We walked out to the Atlantic and waded in the shallow pools of bath water before hiking further up the beach and peeked at a sandcastle contest that was going on between a large group of children.

When we decided it was finally time to make our way back we did still pop into the bird sanctuary which is a lush area of grass, trees, and ponds that’s just as alluring as the beach.  Plus the wildlife (to us) was just an added bonus on top of that.  Iguanas skittered across the path as we listened to more peacocks call and parade next to us on the lawn.  Our big goal was to spot an alligator in the ponds, of which the signs warned us there were, but was unproductive as there were none.  Or they were very very sneaky.  And I wouldn’t put it past us to miss any kind of wildlife that’s right in front of our face.  It may have happened like one or two (or fifty) times in our past. We actually couldn’t even identify half of the birds we did end up stumbling across there.  I mean, what is the thing that looks like a mix between a duck and a goose?*

Crandon Park, Key Biscayne

beach umbrellas at Crandon Park

Matt & Jessica selfie

low tide Crandon Park

lifeguard station Crandon Park

birds at Crandon Park

Once we were back at the apartment we enjoyed a refreshing beer and a little more website looky-loo before tearing ourselves away for a ride in the family’s golf cart, dubbed the Love Bug, for a ride up to the grocery store to stock up on items for dinner that night.  There were items to put on the grill, some chips to snack on, and best of all, a case of Red Stripe.  For cheaper than we bought it in Jamaica!  I’ll have to keep my eye on those sales more often.

Just like the last time we were here with Luki and Elmari, our group took over the area surrounding the pool although the afternoon clouds probably would have driven everyone else away anyway.  What can I say?, except we fell right back into our old dinner club routine and conversations picked up right where we had left them off two months ago.  Except this time instead of talks about our crossing to Europe we were slowly trying to be talked into following Ana Bianca and Alfredo on s/v Kajaya to Aruba and back up the Western Caribbean.  Extremely tempting based on the weather reports we’ve been seeing, and Alfredo’s testimony that today’s weather is typical for February or March, but not late May.  As I said, it was very tempting, but we’re still hoping to stick with our original plan of an Atlantic crossing.  Let me just go write those plans in the sand real quick, I think it’s low tide right now.

As usual, the night passed by way too quickly and before we knew it we were being chauffeured back to Serendipity.  We’re hoping this won’t be good-bye between the four of us, but I have a feeling it won’t.  And it’s not because we’re now planning on hightailing it south instead of east.  Nope, this family is always having get togethers, and the next one happens to be Sunday for Vance’s birthday.  Somehow I have a sneaky suspicion that we won’t be leaving on time and we’ll being seeing these faces once more.

Alfredo grilling

Ana Bianca's selfie

Alfredo, Jessica, Ana Bianca, & Matt

*Not the birds shown in the photo.  I never got a picture of the things I want to keep referring to as a mongoose.   Even though they are completely different things.

 

 

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