One of the smallest towns in Miami-Dade County by area, this affluent community is squeezed onto a pair of islands on Biscayne Bay. From above, Bay Harbor Islands looks a little like a pair of lungs.
To my mind, the location is as good as it gets. Nothing on this list, whether it’s a chic shopping center or glorious sandy beach, is more than five minutes away from these two islands.
Despite its miniscule size, the town has a dynamic downtown area on Kane Concourse, with public art and a strong assortment of restaurants.
There are a few little parks here and there on the islands, and you can rent a boat, kayak or paddleboard to see more of the bay.
1. Kane Concourse
Condensed onto just two blocks, Bay Harbor Islands has a suitably upmarket commercial district.
Kane Concourse offers shopping, dining and a variety of other service businesses in an exquisite setting, with public art and tropical landscaping.
The eastern block is absolutely loaded with alluring restaurants, with everything from sushi to Modern European, Peruvian fusion and Italian. Several of these are kosher friendly, catering to the Jewish community around this town, Bal Harbour and Surfside.
Look out for Robert Indiana’s emblematic “Love” sculpture in the median to the east. Meanwhile in the west you’ll see “For You” by Romero Britto.
2. The Bay Harbor Islands Arts Festival
In February Kane Concourse sets the scene for a colorful arts fair. This event was launched as recently as 2023, to celebrate the city’s 75th anniversary.
Already the Bay Harbor Islands Arts Festival has become a fixture in the calendar. The entirety of Kane Concourse is taken over by more than 60 artists. I made all kinds of wonderful discoveries here, from home decor to jewelry, prints, ceramics and painting.
There’s live music and DJs across the weekend, with a big concert on the Saturday evening. Added to all that are hands-on activities for kids, live demonstrations by artists, and a selection of great food and drink.
3. Bal Harbour Shops
If you want high-end shopping you’ve come to the right place. Just across Indian Creek is the ultra-posh Bal Harbour Shops, one of the most lauded shopping destinations in the Miami area.
Everything about this place feels elevated, from the crowds of palms bursting from the concourse to the sequestered ponds with koi and little turtles.
The directory is a who’s who of luxury fashion. When I came through, big names included Balenciaga, Versace, Alexander McQueen, Dolce & Gabbana, and Chanel. You’ve also got locations for Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus as the anchors.
There’s a small but carefully curated roster of eateries, with the likes of Hillstone and Makoto, by the famed Makoto Okuwa, a luminary of the Miami culinary scene.
4. Bal Harbour Beach
One of many things going for Bay Harbor Islands is the town’s proximity to the beach. You could get to the Atlantic shore on foot or by bicycle with ease.
In the car you’ll need just a couple of minutes. Bal Harbour Beach begins north of 96th Street and continues north to the Haulover Inlet.
In keeping with the village’s exclusive character, access points are rare (I counted one at 102nd Street). In fact, the easiest option is to park by 96th Street and visit the south end.
Another option would be to rent a Citi Bike and start exploring along the Atlantic Way, which skirts along the beachfront.
5. Surfside Beach
The town of Surfside has ten public access points along its shore. If you’re visiting on foot or by bike you can make your way along the coast via the newly paved Atlantic Way to pick the right one.
For visitors using wheelchairs there are accessible entrances at 88th and 96th streets. If you’re coming by car, the northernmost parts are most convenient, and are served by a pair of large metered lots.
My tip for this stretch of beach is bring a beach umbrella if you’ve got one. Rentals aren’t usually available here. Also, the shoreline is on a sharp slope, so there’s quite deep water, which may not be suitable for kids.
6. Water Activities on Biscayne Bay
Visiting a pair of islands nestled in the shimmering waters of Biscayne Bay, it’s only natural that you’ll want to take to the water.
There’s a long list of companies ready to make this happen. For starters, you can rent a wide range of boats here by the hour or day, and set off to see what you can find around the bay.
On a calm sunny day, you can’t do much better than the Haulover Sandbar, around half a mile to the north.
Kayaking or paddleboarding, you can reach the paradisiacal little islands scattered around the north end of the bay. There you can paddle through mangroves or go ashore for a picnic on a deserted beach in the middle of a huge urban area.
7. Haulover Park Beach
I can’t leave out one of the most iconic beaches in the Miami area, just across the Haulover Inlet. Haulover Park Beach is on a 1.5-mile break in the shorefront skyline.
Instead of condos and resort hotels, the sand is backed by nothing but lush parkland. If you’re familiar with this place, I’m sure it’s because it’s the largest clothing optional beach in the United States. This is the northernmost third of the beachfront.
Adjoining the beach are a wealth of features, including a dog park, kite-flying area, and a number of picnic areas. There’s a wonderful food truck rally every Tuesday on the west side of A1A.
Finally, in the calm and shallow waters of the bay is the Haulover Sandbar, a lively hangout for boaters.
8. Downtown Surfside
In no time at all you can walk or ride to another captivating downtown area in Surfside. The two blocks of Hardin Avenue south of 96th St are crammed with independent shops and restaurants.
I adore the upmarket atmosphere in downtown Surfside, with its rows of palms, and overhanging awnings. Many of the eateries have tables on the sidewalk, surrounded by lush landscaping.
Most of all this is a place to get something to eat, and the choice is extensive. There’s kosher chophouse fare, BBQ, fro-yo, Italian ice, Mediterranean, sushi, tapas, Italian, Chinese, deli food, and a kosher bakery.
If I had to pick a standout restaurant in Bay Harbor Islands’ compact business district it would be this elegant Peruvian gastrobar. O’Lima is the brainchild of the renowned innovator, Chef German Gonzales.
On the menu here is Novoandina cuisine, where traditional Peruvian ingredients meet modern cooking techniques. The result at O’Lima is a kind of Peruvian, Mediterranean and Asian fusion.
Whatever you do, you have to order at least one of the tiraditos—raw sliced fish, served in sauces from creamy passion fruit to yellow pepper.
The signature entree meanwhile is the beautifully presented grilled octopus, with grilled asparagus, golden potatoes, and two vibrant sauces—chimichurri-panka pepper and spicy rocoto.
10. North Bayshore Park
If you want to see the sun coming up over Biscayne Bay you can cross the Broad Causeway Bridge to this North Miami park.
By no means large, North Bayshore Park is somewhere to soak up the views before starting your day. There’s a long boardwalk winding through the mangroves and leading onto the bayfront.
From here you can set your sights on the densely wooded Helkers Island in the foreground, and Indian Creek Island behind. You can just about make out the southern half of Bay Harbor Islands from here.
In terms of features, this park has fish cleaning stations, a dog park, and outdoor exercise stations to complement a morning jog.
11. Atlantic Way
If you were in the mood, or had a lot of time to spare, you could hike or bicycle from the Haulover Inlet all the way south to the very tip of South Beach at South Pointe Park Pier.
Finally completed in the months before I wrote this list, the Atlantic Way allows you to traverse the entirety of the barrier island’s shoreline on paved paths.
For a set of wheels there are Citi Bike stations in Bay Harbor Islands, Bal Harbour and surfside. From there you’ll be free to ride to exciting commercial districts, shorefront parks, or unfrequented beaches.
12. Bay Harbor Islands Tot Lot
I don’t think it’s a secret that public space is at a premium in Bay Harbor Islands. Still, there are a few tiny parks hiding around the town.
As a parent, my favorite of these is the tot lot where the Broad Causeway Bridge reaches the western island. Right on the water, this spot has a great view of the northern end of Biscayne Bay.
The playground here is completely in the shade, and there’s an ADA-accessible, brick-paved walkway. Kids can also play on the grassy space, and it’s a joyous place to be late in the afternoon when the sun is low.
13. Normandy Shores Golf Club
The nearest public golf course to Bay Harbor Islands is this 18-hole par-71 on another beautiful island on BIscayne Bay. The course at Normandy Shores Golf Club first opened in 1941 and soon attracted the likes of Arnold Palmer and Sam Snead.
This facility has been renovated several times, mostly recently in 2008 when the City of Miami Beach invested close to $10 million.
As this track is on a tropical island, you’ll see a lot of wildlife. On my round I shared the fairways with iguanas and wading birds oblivious to the pace of play.
Since 2011, the course has been home to the South Beach International Amateur. Held in December, this is one of the most prestigious amateur golf tournaments in the world.
14. 95th Street Park
A block south of Kane Concourse there’s a pocket park next to the public library. Traced by hedges and with ample shade from the overhead canopies, 95th Street Park is an excellent spot for a picnic.
For residents, this park is also an entertainment destination, hosting the town’s Concert in the Park series. Taking place on Sundays, these shows feature Grammy Award-winning and nominated performers from a host of genres.
When I wrote this article the concerts were only for Bay Harbor Islands residents and their guests.