A city of skyscrapers, Sunny Isles Beach occupies just 1.8 square miles of barrier island between Miami and Fort Lauderdale.
When I wrote this article Sunny Isles Beach was the most densely populated municipality outside of the New York area.
Lining up along Collins Avenue are soaring condos and luxury beach resorts by big hospitality brands like Ritz-Carlton, Hilton and Marriott.
These towers form a truly jaw-dropping skyline, best viewed from the historic fishing pier dating back to the 1930s. There are some two dozen public access points along the pristine sandy shoreline in Sunny Isles Beach.
The city also operates the fantastic SIBshuttle free bus service, so you can get around without a car.
1. Sunny Isles Beach
I don’t think I need to tell you that the long sandy shoreline is a major part of Sunny Isles Beach’s appeal. I mean, it’s right there in the name.
Like a lot of the beaches in the area, the sand does drop quite steeply into the water here. So, parents will need to keep a close eye on smaller children.
Despite the gaggle of resorts and exclusive skyscraping condos, there are more than 20 public beach access points in this city alone.
The big one is Samson Oceanfront Park, at 17425 Collins Avenue. On just over two acres, this park has lifeguards on duty, a boardwalk, free Wi-Fi, and all the amenities you would expect, like restrooms, a covered playground, shoes, and a picnic pavilion.
2. Collins Avenue
Source: Felix Mizioznikov / shutterstock
Collins Avenue is the main thoroughfare that runs right down the spine of Sunny Isles Beach. The road hugs the coast on the barrier island, with the beach on one side and the Intracoastal Waterway on the other.
This is the heart of Sunny Isles Beach, where you can access the shore, and where almost all of the hotels, highrise apartments, and resorts are found.
I’m not ashamed to say that I enjoy simply checking out one of the tallest skylines in the entire country. You can easily stroll along the entire length of Collins Avenue in just half an hour. Alternatively, the free SIBshuttle bus is available for both residents and visitors.
To go with the hotel and resort restaurants, there are quite a few standalone eateries along this strip.
The choice is global, with everything from Cuban to sushi, steaks, deli food, smoothie bowls, Greek, Italian, Argentinian, Southern cooking, and plenty of fast food chains.
3. Haulover Park
At the southern end of the city, the wall of towers melts away and you’ll find yourself at a marvelous stretch of shoreline maintained by Miami-Dade County.
Haulover Park is right on the southern tip of the barrier island and is the perfect place to spend the day.
You’ll find plenty of amenities, including a marina, a dog park, and ample grassy space popular for flying kites. My ideal time to come is just as the sun goes down on a Tuesday evening, in time for Food Truck Tuesdays.
If tan-lines are an issue, the northernmost part of the beach is clothing-optional. In fact it’s the largest public nudist beach in the country, visited by more than a million people every year.
4. Newport Fishing Pier
This pier was one of the first things that popped up when Sunny Isles Beach was developed for tourism.
Dating back to 1936, the Newport Fishing Pier was designated an historic site in 1982. Like any pier in Florida, hurricanes are a part of the pier’s past, and in 2005 Hurricane Wilma forced an eight-year closure and reconstruction.
Shooting out 800 feet into the Atlantic, the pier takes its name from the adjoining Newport Beachside Hotel & Resort. The public access point is a little park at 16501 Collins Ave, and there’s a big community of fishing folk.
I will never tire of the views here. That applies to both directions, out into the Atlantic at sunrise, or back at the city’s impressive skyline, late in the day.
5. Oleta River State Park
Sunny Isles Beach is the perfect base for exploring the largest urban park in Florida. Abutting the city to the southwest, these 1,000+ acres of coastal wilderness are at the head of Biscayne Bay.
The scenery at Oleta River is remarkably diverse, with lagoon-side sandy beaches, mangroves, and tropical hammocks.
From my experience, it’s well worth renting a kayak to get the most out of the park. These are available from the Oleta River Outdoor Center, and open up the park’s dense mangroves, creeks, and waterways.
You can also rent bicycles here, and spend a few hours on the 15 miles of off-road trails, held as some of the best in the state.
6. Gateway Market
If you’re wondering what to do in Sunny Isles Beach on a Wednesday evening, let me point you towards this market at Gateway Park
Taking place from 5:30 to 10:00, the Gateway Market has a surprising amount of vendors. There’s fresh produce, seafood, houseplants, specialty ingredients, and a variety of handmade crafts, all accompanied by family fun and live music.
Most of all, the market is a place to grab something delicious to eat. When I paid a visit, there were lamb skewers, bao buns, raclette sandwiches, burgers, oysters, pizza, tacos, Lebanese street food, and much more.
7. Bal Harbour
Another fantastic place to visit close to Sunny Isles Beach is Bal Harbor. This small community is located to the south of the city, across the Haulover Inlet.
Bal Harbor Beach is an excellent stretch of sand, and much like Sunny Isles Beach, you’ll find the skyline awe-inspiring.
Something that appeals to me about the beach here is the trail, which you can pick up at the edge of the inlet and follow all the way to the tip of South Beach
Bal Harbour is also renowned for the exclusive Bal Harbour Shops mall, featuring the likes of Chanel, Prada, Versace, Dolce & Gabbana, Balenciaga, and Alexander McQueen.
8. Hollywood Beach
Just a short drive north of Sunny Isles Beach, the city of Hollywood Beach is renowned for its long broadwalk.
Continuing for 2.5 miles, this paved promenade was laid out in the 1920s, inspired by the boardwalk in Atlantic City.
For more than a century, the Hollywood Beach Broadwalk has been a lively artery, brimming with shops, eateries and live entertainment. There’s a designated lane for bicyclists, and you can rent a set of wheels here.
The views are fabulous too over a wide sweep of white sands, and there’s a string of swaying palms by the path. Finally, in the evenings, especially Wednesday through Sunday there’s always live free music at the Hollywood Beach Theatre.
9. St. Bernard de Clairvaux Church
If you’re looking for a change from the beaches and natural scenery, then just outside of Sunny Isles Beach sits the historic St. Bernard de Clairvaux Church.
To my mind, this is one of the most fascinating places to visit in the area. These Romanesque cloisters actually date back to the 12th century when they were constructed in the Spanish province of Segovia.
The complex was completely dismantled and moved to Florida in the early 20th century. Now it’s an unusual piece of local history, with authentic Medieval stonework and splendid gardens.
10. Aquanox Spa Trump International
To balance beachtime with pampering, my pick of the spas in Sunny Isles Beach is the one at the Trump International Beach Resort.
This 8,000-square-foot facility has six treatment rooms, a high guest capacity, and a wide menu of treatments.
I’m talking, massages, facial rejuvenation, facial enhancements like peels, body wraps, salon services, and a host of express mini-treatments.
You can also choose from a lineup of bundles. One that caught my eye was Island Royalty, with a scrub, massage, body butter wrap, and hair treatment. Couples can go for the Couples Retreat, with side-by-side treatments.
11. Aventura Mall
The largest mall in Florida and the third-largest in the country is within five minutes of Sunny Isles Beach.
The Aventura Mall is a byword for luxury, with a suitably stellar lineup of elevated fashion brands. By way of an introduction you’ve got Boss, Chanel, Guess, Ralph Lauren, Louis Vuitton, Longines, and Rolex.
For those without unlimited budgets, there are still a lot of less exclusive brands among the 300+ tenants. Along those lines you’ve got H&M, Macy’s, JCPenney, Indochino, Levi’s, and Gap.
The Aventura Mall has also made waves by integrating high art with shopping. Among the now iconic sculptures are the rideable Aventura Slide Tower by Carsten Höller, and Gorillas in the Mist by The Haas Brothers.
12. Town Center Park
As I’m sure you can guess, public space is at a premium in a city as dense as Sunny Isles Beach. In the shadow of those towers, this small but attractive parcel is on the site of a former mall.
The land was donated to the city by a developer, and is now a go-to spot for families. With a neat playground, Town Center Park is especially useful if you have small children and are staying along the strip.
There’s also outdoor exercise equipment for adults, as well as a gazebo, and restrooms. Best of all for me is the wooded west side of the park, with wetlands that continue all the way to the Intracoastal Waterway.
13. Heritage Park
In the very north of the city, I adore this peaceful public park. Heritage Park is a lovely little oasis, fenced off from Collins Avenue and shielded by a row of palms.
This spot has all the amenities of a community park, including a stage for concerts and outdoor movie screenings.
On hot days there’s a super water play area, where kids can run wild, away from the beach. Added to that are two playgrounds, a memorial wall for veterans, picnic tables, a sizable open lawn, and a dog park.
14. Gulfstream Park
Sunny Isles Beach is also ten minutes from the premier thoroughbred horse racing track in Florida. Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach first opened in 1939, and since the 2000s has added a casino and lifestyle center.
There are scores of graded stakes at this track every year. When I wrote this article the three Grade I races were the Pegasus World Cup (January), the Pegasus World Cup Turf (late Jan/early Feb), and the Florida Derby. The latter is normally run around late March and dates back to 1952.
The facility became a racino in 2004, and is open 365 days a year. Over two floors you’ve got hundreds of high-tech slots and table games.
Then in 2010 the Village at Gulfstream Park opened on a large portion of the former parking lot. This high-end lifestyle center has restaurants, galleries, entertainment options, and lots of elegant boutiques.
15. Tidal Cove Waterpark
If your kids need somewhere to make a splash away from the beach there’s a water park close by. This can be found at the JW Marriott Miami Turnberry Resort & Spa, and is open to day guests.
A couple of the highlights at Tidal Cove are the FlowRider surfing machines, and the long lazy river, weaving through tropical vegetation.
If it’s thrills you need, look no further than the 60-foot slide tower. This has six rides of varying speeds. For daredevils there’s the intense Aqua Drop, with a near-vertical descent.
Boomerango meanwhile is a tube slide that sends you up the side of a wall for a split second of weightlessness. Something I had never seen before is Master Blaster, dubbed the first uphill waterslide in the world.