Ineffable Miami: Key Biscayne
Hello! I am Adrian Mills. I am currently attending Florida International University, where I am majoring in Biomedical Engineering, however, I am in the process of changing to Mechanical Engineering with minors in Chemistry and Biology. It is my second year here, at FIU, and in Miami and I have very much enjoyed every part of it. I originally grew up in Northern Kentucky/Cincinnati, however, I have family in Spain (mainly Madrid), Mexico/Texas, and throughout the US. including here in South Florida. I am currently working as a Student Assistant at StartUP FIU, and have been recently getting more involved with many of the clubs and organizations FIU has to offer. My passions include a wide variety of things, ranging from sustainability to soccer. I am always interested in learning new things, and up for exploring new experiences.
Key Biscayne is a town on a barrier island offshore of Miami, connected by the Rickenbacker Causeway. It lies between 2 parks, Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park and Crandon Park.
Both of the parks have long beaches, mangroves, and tropical forests, many areas to picnic, swim, kayak, fish and is home to many different species of birdlife and marine life.
The town itself is surrounded by the parks at either side and the east by the Atlantic ocean and the west by Biscayne Bay. The name Biscayne Key is technically incorrect as the island is not a geologically part of the Florida Keys, but rather is a barrier island formed from the sand eroded from the Appalachian Mountains and carried to the coast by rivers until it is deposited at the island carried by the ocean currents (1). There is no hard bedrock near the surface of the island, only layers of weak “shelly sandstone” Key Biscayne’s natural landscape include the dense mangrove forest near the shoreline, with interior land covered by tropical hardwood, and the large area of coral reefs and other marine features that extend offshore (10).
Key Biscayne, while at first seems to just be a relatively unimportant small barrier Island off the coast of Southern Florida near Miami, actually has a complex intriguing history that may not be very widely known to the hundreds of thousands of tourists that visit each year.
Starting at the beginning, the first known inhabitants of Key Biscayne were the indigenous people called the Tequestas. Many artifacts have been found on the island, shells, bones, and other tools that indicate fairly extensive habitation by the people known as the Tequesta. There is even evidence that a large community lived on the island around 1,500 to 2,000 years ago (7).
The Tequesta were a Native American people that lived throughout most of the Southeastern parts of Florida, mainly Biscayne Bay, much of what is now Miami Dade County, to the Florida Keys, from 3rd century BCE to the mid-18th century (12). What little is known about the Tequesta includes that they hunted, fished, and gathered various parts of plants, but had not developed or practiced any agriculture? This unique group of people had their developed language, way of life, and had lived that way for hundreds of years before being disrupted by the European settlements. They did make contact with the Europeans as mentioned earlier but the Tequesta and their descendants met a similar fate as most other Natives throughout the Americas.
However, eventually, in 1513, Juan Ponce de León on the 1st mission to the New World, officially explored Key Biscayne, claimed it for Spain, and named the island Santa Marta(10).
The next notable European that was thought to explore Key Biscayne was Pedro Menéndez de Avilés. According to the historical record, Aviles’s ship took refuge in Biscayne Bay from a storm in 1565, and in the time there established notable relations with the Tequesta (12).
However regarding the origins of the name Key Biscayne, apparently it was recorded that a sailor from the Bay of Biscay, called the Viscayno, had lived on the southeastern coast of Florida after being shipwrecked. Additionally, a map from the 17th century shows the label of Cayo de Biscainhos, which is thought to eventually lead to the name Biscayne Bay and Key Biscayne (7).
Much later, Florida became a territory of the US after the First Seminole War that resulted in a treaty with Spain in 1821. Eventually, Seminole and Black Seminoles began to migrate into central/southern Florida as they were essentially forced thereby many other US settlers. This eventually led to the hundreds of escaped slaves and Black Seminoles leaving the US to the Bahamas from Cape Florida, the location of the Cape Florida Lighthouse that was constructed in 1825 (3).
Moving to its History of Development, Key Biscayne was first developed for the cultivation of produce, primarily coconut. By the 1830’s it is recorded that Mature coconut trees were on the island, which is thought to be grown by John Dubose, the first lighthouse keeper of The Cape Florida lighthouse.
In around 1902 William John Matheson visited Biscayne Bay and then built a home in Coconut Grove. In 1908 Matheson began buying up the property on Key Biscayne and created a large plantation community. In this community it is said that he employed over 60 workers, including housing for the workers and their families, docks, a school, barns, windmills, and 15 miles of road, essentially creating a small town (7).
In 1940, it is recorded that the Matheson family donated 808 acres of their land to Miami Dade County to be used to create a public park, which is now Crandon Park, (5). It was in this agreement that the County would build a bridge connecting Mey Biscayne to Miami, and eventually, after some delay due to WW2, the four-mile-long Rickenbacker Causeway was constructed from Miami to Virginia Key and on to Key Biscayne in 1947, which allowed further large-scale development of the Key Biscayne Area (9).
On the opposite side of the island, the southern section of Key Biscayne was owned by James and eventually Charles Deering. “But in 1948 José Manuel Áleman, a Cuban politician in exile bought the Cape Florida property from the Deering Estate. After Áleman died in 1951, his widow, Elena Santeiro Garcia, added to the Cape Florida property by buying an area of land that also included a canal that had been dug by Matheson in the 1920s” (9). This canale extended from the bay and extended most of the length of the island. The land located north was completely developed and is what is now known as the Village of Key Biscayne. In 1966, Garcia sold the Cape Florida property to the State of Florida and this land is what eventually became known as Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, 1967.
In the most recent years, the construction of several large resorts, hotels, condominium complexes, and shopping centers on the island has affected the initially peaceful island life, but the entirety of Key Biscayne continues to become a more and more commercialized place (10).
According to the United States Census Bureau, Key Biscayne Village has an area of about 1.4 square miles, with around 1.3 square miles being land and 0.1 square miles being water. The population was 12,344 at the 2010 census and more recently it was population was estimated as 12,846 in 2019 (11.)
In 2020, with a population measured of 12,682, Key Biscayne is the 153rd largest city in Florida and the 2612th largest city in the United States. “Key Biscayne is currently declining at a rate of -0.64% annually but its population has increased by 2.74% since the most recent census, in 2010.”(8.) The population of Key Biscayne is recorded to have reached its highest point in 2017 with a population of 12,996. As Key Biscayne is also not very large, it has a population density of 10,168 people per square mile. (8)
The population of Key Biscayne has a median age of 42, 3.9% under 5 years old, 28.0% percent under 18 years old, and 16.8% 65 years and over. Additionally, 52.1% of the population is recorded as female, while the other 47.91% being labeled as male, with an interesting status of 50.6% of the population being foreign-born. (8 and 11).
There is a median household income of $133,958, but the average household income is $226,086, with a poverty rate of 4.90% (8)
Lastly, according to the most recent ACS, the racial composition of Key Biscayne was: White: 96.63%, Two or more races: 1.46%, Other race: 1.39%, Asian: 0.29%, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander: 0.18%, Black or African American: 0.05%, and Native American: 0.00% (11).
I had a hard time finding any actual residents, as a vast majority of the people on Key Biscayne are tourists and are visiting, however, I did find someone who lives in Miami and visits the parks often.
He is a 24-year-old college student at the University of Miami, who lives in Coral Gables, but says he often ventures to Key Biscayne, at least twice a month, primarily to fish.
What do you like about Key Biscayne?
- “Mostly the Parks, both Crandon and Bill Baggs have a lot of nice locations to relax and chill with friends.”
How is it being able to be here on Key Biscayne fairly often?
- “It’s actually really enjoyable, especially in the seasons when there are a lot less tourists, because you have more space to yourself.”
What do you like to do when you visit?
- “Uh, I like to go fishing a lot, so mainly that, but a lot of time I kayak, swim and go to the beach with friends as well”
What is your favorite part of Key Biscayne? What makes you like it?
- “Definitely all the good fishing spots, that where I’ll be headed now. I used to go a lot with my dad when I was younger, so I like to go to those same spots. And that’s where all the good fish are too!”
Cape Florida Lighthouse:
The other Two Main Landmarks are the two parks, which will be discussed in the next section.
The main attraction of Key Biscayne is the parks and beaches on the island. The beaches are the reason that there are so many tourists and resorts located on the island, as thousands of people visit every day.
The two main parks are Crandon Park, located on the northern side of the island, and Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park located on the southern part of the island. The parks take up more of the island than the residential areas and are the main source of tourism. There are also several smaller parks throughout the island such as the Village Green Park, Calusa Park, etc.
Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park:
Cape Florida State Park is about the southern third of Key Biscayne and is named after Bill Baggs, the editor of The Miami News from 1957 until 1969, as he had worked to protect the land from development and to preserve some of the keys in its natural state. It is ranked as having one of the top 10 beaches in the country and also contained the Cape Florida lighthouse (1.)
But as aforementioned, this area has a very important past, as it was an integral part of the underground railroad to freedom, as it was one of the main locations that hundreds of escaped slaves, the Black Seminoles, and many others escaped to freedom in the Bahamas (2).
Current Day this park has more than a mile of beachfront, with many areas for snorkeling and swimming. There are many activities available in the park, including the beach, picnicking, boating, kayaking, fishing, canoeing, bicycling, exploration, and hiking, and even a visitor center, museum, and tours of the Cape Florida lighthouse.
The Second large park on Key Biscayne is Crandon Park: Crandon Park is an 808-acre urban park located in the northern part of Key Biscayne, connected to mainland Miami by the Rickenbacker Causeway (4).
The land that is now Crandon Park used to be part of the biggest coconut plantation in the country, ran by William Matheson. However, in 1940 the Matheson family donated 808.8 acres of their land to Dade County for a public park, in exchange the Causeway was built, to connect Miami to Virginia Key and Key Biscayne (6).
It has over 2 miles of beach on the Atlantic Ocean, with a variety of available facilities, including a couple of different marinas, a tennis center, a golf course, picnic areas, a nature center, and a lot of other various activity areas. Additionally, on the northern part of the park, there is the Biscayne Nature, also known as The Marjory Stoneman Douglas Biscayne Nature Center (5.) The Nature Center has a range of natural history exhibits, in collaboration with a nonprofit project of Miami-Dade County Public School, has several unique learning areas and classrooms. Crandon also has many beautiful areas to go swimming, snorkeling, kayaking/canoeing, fishing, hiking, and more.
Village Green Park:
This park unlike the two others is one of the many smaller community parks on Key Biscayne. This Village Green Park is located near the center of the town and is a grassy community park with a playground, soccer fields, interactive fountain, and a community center with a pool.
As all different neighborhoods, there is a fairly large variety of modes of transportation that the people in Key Biscayne use to get around. The main mode of transportation, similar to most areas in the United States are automobiles: cars, trucks, etc. However, being a smaller town and because a high percentage of the people there are tourists, there is more variety of transportation than most areas.
As far public transportation there are a few buses that run throughout the island, and even a couple that runs across the Rickenbacker Causeway back to Miami. Though these buses were fairly uncommon and I only saw one in particular while spending the day there. Also, there are a lot of smaller modes of transportation, more particularly golf carts, and other smaller mass vehicles similar to those. They are often used by a lot of the residents of the resorts, and there are even designated golf cart parking in a lot of areas because of how common it is to see them.
When it comes to personal transportation, most people were observed to be walking, but there are a fair amount of people, riding bicycles, skateboards, rollerblades, etc. The most common by far were bicycles, and almost every road in Key Biscayne had bike lanes.
There are quite a few different locations n to eat on Key Biscayne, especially because it is a popular tourist destination. However, I have taken pictures and will highlight some of the more well-known restaurants in the areas as well as some smaller restaurants.
Milanezza: Milanezza Kitchen Bar Market – Key Biscayne
Milanezza Offers creative Argentinian and Italian dishes as it is has a casual dining full-service restaurant & bar with an original concept offering a wide international menu with the signature dish being a chicken, fish, or beef Milanezza.
Piononos is a small bakeshop known for its pavlova, that offers a range of gourmet cakes, pastries, and other treats.
La Boulangerie Boul’Mich Key Biscayne:
La Boulangerie Boul’Mich is a french bakery with a Hispanic twist standby featuring a variety of bread & pastries plus breakfast and more.
There are many different small and large businesses throughout the town of Key Biscayne, with one the more obvious ones being the large number of resorts that many tourists stay in, but those resorts, bring a lot of business to the other smaller businesses.
Harbor Plaza Farmers Market
This small farmers market was probably my favorite to find and was one of the few places I could go inside. It had a variety of fresh produce, as well as a deli and a bakery.
With tourism being the main part of the economy, there were 5 different massive resorts on Key Biscayne and were a source of many of the people I encountered on Key Biscayne. This is just one of the many that are located on the island and are part of the reason the actual population of the town is so low because most people who are here are just visiting.
This was one of the most interesting places I found on Key Biscayne. An unusually shaped building sat between different resorts, but across the street from a shopping center. The coolest part was that there were small peaceful nature areas connected to the library, where I assume people could go to read the book. It was at this area I probably saw the most wildlife in one sport with over 20 different lizards, and birds, as well as many insects, all in this one area.
In summary, Key Biscayne is a barrier island offshore of Miami with a long complicated past, a popular tourist location, with several large natural parks, miles of oceanfront beaches, a smaller yet substantial residential area, that is becoming more and more commercialized.
Overall it is still a wonderful place to visit. It has beautiful beaches and plenty of engaging activities. I have many memories growing up as a kid visiting Bill Baggs State Park, and the Beach, along with the Cape Florida Lighthouse. I hope to visit again soon, as I had not been since before the pandemic. It is a little sad to see more and more large scale resorts coming into play, however, I imagine this also helps bring costumes to local businesses, and as long as the Natural Parks are not somehow hurt or diminished, the commercialization that has occurred is ok to continue to grow. Also most of the actual residents there are extremely wealthy and it seems like it could be an interesting place to live, however, the extreme lack of diversity within the residents in the area, seems to be unusual and somewhat of an issue. But I hope that the parks continue to receive many visitors and that the current preservation of the natural landscape continues to be protected.
- “Barrier Islands at Cape Florida.” Florida State Parks, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, http://www.floridastateparks.org/learn/barrier-islands-cape-florida.
- “Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park.” Florida State Parks, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, http://www.floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/bill-baggs-cape-florida-state-park.
- “Cape Florida Light.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 19 Apr. 2021, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cape_Florida_Light.
- “Crandon Park Beach in Key Biscayne, FL.” MiamiandBeaches.com, Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau. , http://www.miamiandbeaches.com/thing-to-do/beaches/crandon-park-beach/3765.
- “Crandon Park.” CRANDON PARK, Miami-Dade County, http://www.miamidade.gov/parks/crandon.asp.
- “Crandon Park.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 25 Oct. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crandon_Park.
- “History of the Island of Key Biscayne.” History of the Island of Key Biscayne – Village of Key Biscayne, Village Key of Biscayne, keybiscayne.fl.gov/index.php?submenu=_island_history&src=gendocs&ref=IslandHistory&category=About.
- “Key Biscayne, Florida Population 2021.” Key Biscayne, Florida Population 2021 (Demographics, Maps, Graphs), World Population Review, worldpopulationreview.com/us-cities/key-biscayne-fl-population.
- “Key Biscayne, Florida.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 25 Mar. 2021, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Key_Biscayne,_Florida.
- “Key Biscayne.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 18 Jan. 2021, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Key_Biscayne.
- “QuickFacts Key Biscayne Village, Florida.” United States Census Bureau, Census.gov, http://www.census.gov/quickfacts/keybiscaynevillageflorida.
- “Tequesta.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 31 Mar. 2021, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tequesta.