Bill Baggs State Park
covers an area of approximately 400 acres on the southern third of Key Biscayne. It was established in 1967 and was named for Bill Baggs who was the editor of The Miami News from 1957 until 1969.
Among the many draws to this state park
are the Cape Florida Lighthouse, which is the oldest standing structure in Greater Miami, the 1.25 miles of beautiful beach which, in 2011 was listed as the 10 th best beach in the country by Dr. Stephen 'Dr. Beach' Leatherman, and 'Stiltsville', a group of wood stilt houses dotted in a group on Biscayne Bay.
When you come to this park you'll find there are many things to enjoy in the warm Florida sunshine things like, boating, canoeing, kayaking, hiking, bicycling and if you don't have a bike you can rent one there. They also have some of the best shoreline fishing in the area, you can cast a line from the seawall along Biscayne Bay or from one of the mini piers in the southern part of the park facing Biscayne Bay, if wildlife watching is more your thing there many animals to see and photograph. The parks amenities include picnicking areas that have pavilions with grills and primitive youth camping, you can even park your boat in No Name Harbor if you have one and camp overnight.
Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park has two restaurants, the 'Boater's Grill that looks out over Biscayne Bay from No Name Harbor and the Lighthouse Café that looks out over the Atlantic Ocean; both serve delicious, authentic Cuban cuisine along with traditional sandwiches, burgers, soups, salads and, of course, seafood. The Lighthouse Café is only open for breakfast and lunch but the Boater's Grill is open all day. After enjoying a meal you can stop by the parks visitor center or check out the museum and the interpretive exhibits there.
There are approximately 1.25 miles of sandy beach at the park and approximately six mile off the beach there is a reef breaks up the water and makes the waves very gentle providing a wonderful place to swim or snorkel in peace. This also makes it an ideal place to rent a kayak or a hydro bike and experience the waves; single or double person crafts are available. If you prefer to stay on shore beach chairs and umbrellas are also available to rent.
Dr. Stephen Leatherman, a man you may know as 'Dr. Beach', puts out a list of the top 10 beaches in America every year and has rated this beach on that list several years in a row; it was number 8 in 2005 and number 10 in 2011. Needless to say this an ideal place to spend that day with your family and the perfect place for new or young snorkelers to get really comfortable in the water.
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The Cape Florida Lighthouse
The Cape Florida Lighthouse was originally built in 1825, at that time it was 65 feet tall and it operated off and on until 1878 when it was replaced by the Fowey Rocks lighthouse. The lighthouse
was put back into use officially on July 4, 1978, with a new automated light, compliments of the U.S. Coast Guard, and just in time for Miami's centennial celebration.
Between 1825 and today this lighthouse has gone through many changes and survived many things, some attacks by man and some by nature but has survived them all, giving it the distinct honor of being the oldest standing structure in Greater Miami.
In 1836 Seminole Indians attacked the lighthouse and set a fire that seriously wounded the assistant lighthouse keeper and killed his servant. It was the only lighthouse to have been attacked by Indians. This led to a U.S. Army base being built here to protect area from more Indian attacks. It also led to the tower and stairs having to be rebuilt in 1847 and then in 1855 it got another mini makeover when the tower was raised to 95 feet.
The Cape Florida Lighthouse has also been hit by several hurricanes. In 1835 a major hurricane struck the island, it damaged the lighthouse, the keeper's house, and put the island under three feet of water. The lighthouse then survived a direct hit by the eye wall of the 1926 Miami Hurricane and in 1992 Hurricane Andrew passed close by causing damage and yet another refurbishment.
In 1966 the State of Florida bought the southern third of Key Biscayne, including the lighthouse that sits on the southernmost tip and turned it into what is now Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park.
Today the structure is made of white conical brick with a black tower, or top, that stands mere feet from the edge of the Atlantic coast, there approximately 119 steps to the tower and it flashes every six seconds. It marks a reef four miles off-shore, and still lights the Florida Channel, which is the deepest natural channel into Biscayne Bay.
The lighthouse tower, keeper's house, outhouse, cookhouse, and cistern have all been restored and you can take a guided tour of the lighthouse and lighthouse keeper´s cottage twice daily, Thursdays through Mondays. It's a great place to visit not only for the sheer beauty of it but for the amazing history as well.
Stiltsville is a cluster of structures grouped out in Biscayne Bay that has been there since the early 1930's, some believe they were there as early as 1922 but officially it's around 1933. They stand about ten feet above the shallow water, which varies from one to three feet deep at low tide, on wood or reinforced concrete pilings.
Stiltsville was originally built in the days of Al Capone and prohibition when gambling was rampant. The law, at that time, was that gambling was allowed a mile off shore so that's where Stiltsville was 'built', it was known as a fine, unique gambling and drinking establishment that clients were ferried out to. Here are some of the more notable ones.
Crawfish Eddie's, built in 1933, belonged to "Crawfish" Eddie Walker. Along with being a gambling joint he sold bait and beer and was known for dish he called chilau, a crawfish chowder made with crawfish he caught under his shack.
The Calvert Club, built in the late 1930's, was the first social club built in Stiltsville, there is a popular post card picture of the prestigious Miami Beach Rod & Reel Club that was taken in front of the Calvert Club.
In 1940 the exclusive Quarterdeck Club was built by Commodore Edward Turner, member ship was by invitation only and was 150 dollars, which was a lot of money in those days. This club was featured in the February 10, 1941 issue of Life magazine.
One of the last buildings created was the Bikini Club which was made from a 150-foot yacht named, "Jeff" that was grounded in the mud flats. They sold alcohol but if you were a girl in a bikini you drank for free.
To the outsider Stiltsville may look like an eyesore but in the 1940s and 1950s it was the place for the upper crust of Miami to eat, drink, see and be seen. There were 27 buildings in 1960 when Stiltsville was at its peak. Stiltsville has been featured in several T.V. shows such as Miami Vice several commercials and one of the buildings was in an ad for Pittsburg Paints.
There are only seven structures left today but before Hurricane Andrew hit in 1992 there were twenty. When Hurricane Andrew with its sustained winds in excess of 190 mph blew through the old structures simply couldn't take it and many were lost. The park service has since added hurricane strapping to protect the structures that remain from wind damage and basic maintenance is still done by caretakers.
Today the Stiltsville buildings are owned by the National Park Service, they are secure and posted with no trespassing signs and you can only gain access to them with permission of the park's superintendent.
Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park is lush and beautiful, a wonderful place to spend a day on the beach with your family or to tour and learn some of Florida's amazing history. Here's one more fun fact about the park; it has been recognized as a site within the U.S. National Park Service's National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, it was a stop on the trip to the British Bahamas by escaped slaves and it's still worth a stop today no matter where else your trip takes you.