• Best Party Beach: In Key Biscayne, Crandon Park Beach, on Crandon Boulevard, is National Lampoon's Vacation on the sand. It's got a diverse crowd consisting of dedicated beach bums and lots of leisure-seeking families, set to a soundtrack of salsa, disco, and reggae music blaring from a number of competing stereos. With 3 miles of oceanfront beach, bathrooms, changing facilities, 493 acres of park, 75 grills, three parking lots, several soccer and softball fields, and a public 18-hole championship golf course, Crandon is like a theme park on the sand. The beach also offers Eco-Adventure Tours, including kayaking and snorkeling. For more information, call tel. 305/365-3018. It's open daily from 8am to sunset.

  • Best Beach for People-Watching: Lummus Park Beach, also known as South Beach, runs along Ocean Drive from about 6th to 14th streets on South Beach. It's the best place to go if you're seeking entertainment as well as a great tan. On any day of the week, you might spy models primping for a photo shoot, nearly naked (topless is legal here) sun-worshippers avoiding tan lines, and an assembly line of washboard abs off of which you could (but shouldn't) bounce your bottle of sunscreen. Bathrooms and changing facilities are available on the beach, but don't expect to have a Cindy Crawford encounter in one of these. Most people tend to prefer using the somewhat drier, cleaner bathrooms of the restaurants on Ocean Drive.

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  • Best Beach for Communing with Nature: Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park is the pot of gold at the end of Key Biscayne, with over a mile of unfettered beach, a historic lighthouse, and nature trails that take you back to the days when South Florida was a tropical wilderness.

  • Best Swimming Beach: The 85th Street Beach, along Collins Avenue, is the best place to swim away from the maddening crowds. It's one of Miami's only stretches of sand with no condos or hotels looming over sunbathers. Lifeguards patrol the area throughout the day and bathrooms are available, though they are not exactly the benchmark of cleanliness.

  • Best Windsurfing Beach: Hobie Beach, on the side of the causeway leading to Key Biscayne, is not really a beach, but an inlet with predictable winds and a number of places where you can rent windsurf boards. Bathrooms are available but not exactly the cleanest.

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  • Best Shell-Hunting Beach: You'll find plenty of colorful shells at Bal Harbour Beach, Collins Avenue at 96th Street. There's also an exercise course and good shade -- but no lifeguards, bathrooms, or changing facilities.

  • Best (Ahem) All-Around Tanning Beach: For that all-over tan, head to Haulover Beach, just north of the Bal Harbour border, and join nudists from around the world in a top-to-bottom tanning session. Should you choose to keep your swimsuit on, however, there are changing rooms and bathrooms.

  • Best Surfing Beach: Haulover Beach, just over the causeway from Bal Harbour, seems to get Miami's biggest swells. Go early to avoid getting mauled by the aggressive young locals prepping for Maui. Formerly rancid bathrooms were fixed up, though some homeless people do tend to use the bathrooms to wash up, so use at your own risk. Surfers also like the southern tip of South Beach, not necessarily for the waves, but for the surfers themselves.

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  • Best Scenic Beach: Matheson Hammock Park Beach, at 9610 Old Cutler Rd. in South Miami (tel. 305/665-5475), is the epitome of tranquillity. And while it's scenic, it's not too much of a scene. It's a great beach for those seeking "alone time." Bathrooms and changing facilities are available.

  • Best Family Beach: Because of its man-made lagoon, which is fed naturally by the tidal movement of the adjacent Biscayne Bay, the waters of Matheson Hammock Park Beach are extremely calm, not to mention safe and secluded enough for families to keep an eye on the kids. Clean bathrooms are a plus.

  • Best Beach for Seclusion: Virginia Key on Key Biscayne is where people go when they don't want to be found. It's also incredibly picturesque. Bathrooms are decent.

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  • Best for Gay Beachgoers: South Beach's 12th Street Beach is the place to be for Miami's best gay beach scene. Here you'll see strutting, kibitzing, and gossiping among some of Miami's most beautiful gay population. You might even find yourself lucky enough to happen upon a feisty South Beach party while you're soaking up some rays here. If you can hold it, skip the public bathroom and head over to the Palace on Ocean Drive to use their bathroom.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.