We are so lucky to have access to a free amenity that makes many Americans jealous: the beach.
The beach is our getaway, our escape from the pressures of work and home, our respite from the unforgiving sun with its (usually) gentle winds and choppy waves.
The problem is keeping it low cost. Almost all cities now charge for parking, and even those spots can be hard to find. You can bring your own food, but if you want to walk to the restaurant, the prices are often excessive. And if you want to rent a bike or a pair of skates, the costs for our free beach excursion start to add up.
Here’s a handy guide to budget-conscious places you can park and eat, plus concessions that won’t break the bank. We couldn’t include all of the South Florida beaches, of course, but here’s a sampling to help you plan a relaxing, reasonably priced getaway east to the ocean (don’t forget your cream solar).
This is not your beach if you want to get away from it all. Fort Lauderdale Beach remains a popular national destination, crowded most of the time and excellent for people-watching. The beach has a wide promenade on the eastern side of the A1A national road, and hotels, shops, open-air bars, restaurants and pounding music on the western side; choose the atmosphere that suits you and take a walk.
Car park: Paid parking near the beach costs between $2 and $4 per hour, depending on the location chosen. There’s also Hugh Taylor Birch State Park, on State Road A1A just north of Sunrise Boulevard, which costs $6 for the whole day. It offers several parking alternatives, including a free shuttle, the Sun Trolley, which lets you park inland and takes you to the sand. In Lauderdale-by-the-Sea to the north, fees range from 75 cents to $3 per hour.
Food: For a classic Fort Lauderdale beach dining experience, head to Coconuts on the Intracoastal Waterway, where you can enjoy peel-and-eat shrimp for $17 and a burger for $14. If you’re in Hugh Taylor Birch State Park, a great choice is Park & Ocean, a casual bar and cafe inside the park. Their burger is $11.50 and the fish tacos are $12.50.
For a kitschy treat, check out the mermaid show at B Ocean Resort’s Wreck Bar (free if you spend $30 on food and drink).
Sun Sentinel entertainment writer Ben Crandell is a big fan of the North Beach Village neighborhood near the Intracoastal south of Sunrise Boulevard, where he says “a distinctly laid-back beach vibe, Old Florida pulled it off, quietly, to hold.” His favorite place: the Wine Garden, “one of South Florida’s great hidden wine bars”.
Rentals: You can rent almost any beach equipment imaginable, including parasailing, boats, bikes, and paddle boards. At American Watersports, the cost is $30 for an umbrella and two chairs and $35 for a cabana.
Hollywood Beach is known for its Broadwalk, 2.5 miles wide sidewalk, and bike path with an assortment of colorfully dressed and scantily clad characters. It’s fun to see the old Art Deco style cottages right on the sidewalk with sunbathers out front like they used to before the condo towers took up invaluable space for people watching. There are plenty of benches to rest and cafes to feel the breeze, or set up right on the sand with your chairs and umbrella in tow.
Car park: The cheapest city parking is at the North Beach lots, starting at approximately 3600 N. Ocean Drive: $2 per hour Monday through Thursday and $3 per hour Friday through Sunday. Otherwise, City Beach Garages (300 Connecticut St. and 327 Nebraska St.), Beach Community Center lots (1300 block of South Surf Road and 1200 block of South Ocean Drive), and other lots are $3 apiece. hour Monday through Thursday and $4 an hour. time from Friday to Sunday.
hollywoodfl.org (and search for “beach parking lot”)
Food: On Let’s Eat in South Florida, the Sun Sentinel’s foodie Facebook group, members have a lot to say in terms of recommendations. Among their suggestions: Rocco’s for pizza ($3 a slice), 205 Johnson St.; Istanbul ($12.95 for a chicken kebab sandwich), 707 N. Broadwalk; and Pachamanka (an assortment of ceviches from $12), 321 Johnson St.
There’s also The Tub, a famous dive bar just minutes away on the Intracoastal Waterway, which, according to former Sun Sentinel food critic Mike Mayo, often achieves “simple burger perfection.”
Rentals: Your cheapest option if you want to cycle the Broadwalk is Hollywood Beach Trikke, 327 Johnson St.; $20 for three hours for bikes or skates. There’s also Sun & Fun Cycles, 1404 N. Broadwalk, which offers a basic cruiser or skates for $10 an hour. Hollywood Beach Bike Shack, 101 N. Ocean Dr., is a little more expensive at $15 per hour for a basic bike.
At Deerfield Beach, you can find a spot in the sand, fish from the pier, stroll along a widened sidewalk, and grab some lunch, all in one compact area. There are also volleyball courts, tiki huts for shade, coral reefs for snorkeling, and grassy areas with benches facing the ocean.
Car park: At city-owned meters and lots near the beach, you’ll pay between $2 and $4 an hour, depending on the time of day and location.
Food: Wander the densely populated restaurant strip along Northeast Second Street; options include pizza, burgers, burritos, and plenty of seafood. Whale’s Rib has been around for almost 40 years and was featured on the Food Network in 2009. It’s famous for raw sea bass and Whale Fries ( $7.99), which are served with a honey mustard dip that customers refer to as “liquid crack.”
Rentals: Oceanside Beach Service charges daily rates of $20 for a lounge chair and $30 for an umbrella. You can also fish off the 976-foot-long International Fishing Pier; it’s $2 for entry for non-residents and $4 to fish. Rod rentals are $18 plus a $25 refundable cash deposit. There are several shops where you can rent a bike. Try Fun Rentals, right downtown on the beach, which offers Scootcoupes, or super go-karts, for $89 for four hours, as well as bikes and scooters.
Drive east to the end of trendy Atlantic Avenue and you’ll be in the water. The city widened the beach promenade by 1.3 miles in 2019, and it’s spacious and clean. There is a large covered gazebo to feel the breeze in the shade. For a once-in-a-lifetime South Florida experience, head to the Sandoway Discovery Center, 142 S. Ocean Blvd., an authentically renovated 1930s home that now serves as a nature center, with live shark feedings, a reef of living coral, a collection of pristine seashells and an assortment of invertebrates that visitors are allowed to touch.
Car park: If you leave early enough, you might be able to find a spot on Ocean Boulevard. The cost is $1.50 per hour for a maximum of 3 hours from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Public grounds by the beach also cost $1.50 per hour, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. The city’s public parking lots are free before 4 p.m., but they’re too far from the beach to walk with all your beach gear. However, you can take a free on-demand electric shuttle called FreeBee from any of the three downtown garages to the beach.
Food: Cross Ocean Boulevard from the beach and you’ll find an assortment of restaurants, bars, ice cream parlors and t-shirt shops. A perennial favorite is Boston’s on the Beach, 40 S. Ocean Blvd. A little further west on Atlantic Avenue, Pizza Rustica has plenty of pizza options, including “The 4 Pigs” (ham, pepperoni, sausage, and bacon; $6.95 for a personal size), and there’s also Sandwiches by the Sea, a lovely little cafe with lighter options (turkey sub, $7.75). For ice cream, treat yourself to a creamy cone from Ben & Jerry’s; they now have vegan sorbets and ice cream, although my favorite flavor remains Coffee Coffee BuzzBuzzBuzz! ($5 for a single scoop).
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Rentals: Oceanside Beach Service’s chair rental, which includes two padded lounge chairs and an umbrella, is $50 for the day (“Just sit down and the attendant will approach you,” according to the website.) Delray Beach Watersports, in a beach trailer at the Casuarina Road Intersection, rents surfboards for $15 an hour, cruiser bikes for $20, kayaks for $30, and sailboats for $90 to $140, depending on size.