Sunday, March 30, 2014

Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park

Nan with the Cape Florida Lighthouse
Nan and I have been exploring South Florida during weekends, looking for fun sailing destinations to visit after we get our boat up here from Isla Mujeres, Mexico in early June.

Recently, we drove over the Rickenbacker Causeway to Key Biscayne to check out Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park. It takes up the southernmost third of the island and features one of Florida's nicest beaches on its eastern shores. We paid our eight dollars at the gate and then proceeded to the farthest west parking lot, which was already starting to fill up at ten o'clock on a Sunday morning. Just past the lot is a sea wall that runs all the way around to where the beach starts. We walked south along its length, observing all the families out fishing and picnicking together. According to Google Maps, the Cape Florida Anchorage is right off the southwest shore, but there were no boats anchored there that day, though there were plenty of motor boats and sailboats cruising by. There seemed to be too much traffic and too many wakes to make for a pleasant overnight anchoring spot.

We stopped at an informational sign to learn about Stiltsville, the small cluster of now-abandoned houses built on stilts above the water that one can see about a quarter-mile offshore. The original one was built as a speakeasy back during the Prohibition era, and others followed up until the 1960s. They have managed to survive some terrible weather, but even from a distance, they don't look overly habitable.

Around the eastern corner from the southernmost point in our walk, we reached the Cape Florida Lighthouse. It was built in 1825 and is the oldest surviving structure in South Florida. It is possible to tour the lighthouse and the light keeper's residence with a guide, but we did not arrive at the scheduled time. It occurred to me looking up from the base that we could probably see the lighthouse from the roof of our apartment building across Biscayne Bay, which turned out to be true. We just hadn't realized what we were looking at before then.

The beach was indeed nice. We kicked off our shoes and walked in the sand and surf at the water's edge. People were swimming, but the water was a little too chilly even for wading. We took one of the boardwalks back to the easternmost parking lot and followed it along the way we had driven in until we reached the Lighthouse Cafe, where we stopped to eat lunch. My conch fritters were fine, but they came with cocktail sauce instead of a remoulade sauce. Nan had the shrimp basket but didn't like it much, and the table service was irritatingly slow.

We returned to our car and drove back the way we had come in until we reached the turn-off for No Name Harbor. We didn't know what to expect, but the whole establishment was impressive, from the size of the harbor itself to the long concrete quay and the Boater's Grill restaurant. It was definitely the kind of place we could see ourselves sailing to for a day or an overnight stay. Others must agree, because the place was packed with boats along the quay and anchored just offshore, and there was a waiting list at the restaurant.

We hadn't taken Scout with us that day because dogs are not normally permitted in state parks, but they are allowed at this park, except on the beach and in the restaurants. That works just fine for us.


Steely said...

Hi guys, hope you remember Karen and me, Dave. We went out a few times on Isla Mujeres. One night we listened to Jim Elliot Jones play at Tartugas. Wrapping up a last minute week trip to the island and thought of you both. Seems like life is treating you well. We'll be back in July, so I'll check you blog, maybe we will wee you here! Hey you never know. Be good...

John Lichty said...

Good to hear from you, Dave! We were in Isla Mujeres for a long weekend back in January and we'll be there again to sail the boat up to Miami at the end of May. After that, it may be next year before we make it back there, but I'm sure our paths will cross at some point. Hope you had a fun trip. Best to Karen!