Ineffable Miami: Key Biscayne by Alexandra Rodriguez

Welcome to Key Biscayne!

Video by Alexandra Rodriguez

Student Biography

Photo by Audri Rodriguez

Alexandra is a current junior in the Honors College at Florida International University. She plans to pursue a degree in Accounting and earn her certifications and licenses to become a CPA. She is an active member of Beta Alpha Psi, a national honor society for Accounting and Finance majors. She enjoys traveling, sports and fashion. Alexandra has explored over twelve different countries and appreciates the culture and lifestyle in each; she believes each country has something special to offer. With plans to study abroad in Paris next summer, she is excited to embark on a whole new journey. 

Geography

As a small island just off the coast of Florida, Key Biscayne encompasses everything you would expect of a typical Miami town. To get into the island, you must first cross the Rickenbacker Causeway, which connects Miami to Virginia Key and Key Biscayne. When looking at a map, you will notice that the island is sandwiched between two large parks: Crandon Park and Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park. From start to finish, the island is about five miles in length and one and a half miles wide.

The island is made up of sand that eroded from the Appalachian Mountains, which was carried by rivers and coastal currents. The elevation of Key Biscayne varies, but it typically averages less than five feet above sea level (Wikipedia). It’s sandy beaches and parks completely cover the north and south areas of the island.

Although greenery makes up the majority of Key Biscayne, the middle of the island offers a significant urban feeling. With countless hotels, homes and buildings, the residents often associate the area with a “city like” feeling. With the causeway just a short couple of miles away, the island of Key Biscayne always feels like an extremely functional and commercial area.

History

About 1,000-2,000 years ago, the first group of inhabitants living in Key Biscayne were the Tequestas. When shells, bones, and several different artifacts were found on the grounds, researchers were certain these indigenous peoples occupied the land. The Tequesta Indians of the Calusa Nation were able to hunt and fish on the island, as they were surrounded by green land and the ocean.

In 1513, when Juan Ponce de Leon found the island, he called it Santa Marta and planned to claim is for the King of Spain. After the King sold is to the Fornelis family, it was purchased by Mary Ann Davis of St. Augustine in the mid 1800s for a total cost of $100 (Village of Key Biscayne). The lighthouse, which Key Biscayne is most known for, was first lit in 1825, and it was used to help ships navigate along Florida’s coast. However, after Indians attacked the lighthouse during the Seminole Wars, the island’s monument was burned and destroyed. It was soon rebuilt in 1847 and remains the same tall and bright lighthouse in Bill Baggs Park today.

In 1908, William John Matheson purchased property in Key Biscayne and grew a coconut plantation and fruit grove. Soon enough, the Matheson family created a community on the island; schools, zoos and transportation were added to the land. In the mid 1900s, William John Matheson’s children decided they wanted to donate the northern half of the island to the public (Village of Key Biscayne). Following this, the Rickenbacker Causeway was built, allowing visitors to reach the mainland.

Key Biscayne soon became an island consisting of hotels and villas, which celebrities and politicians typically visited. As of today, Key Biscayne is still very much known for its luxury and prestigious hotels, as well as its vacation style homes. The island was officially incorporated in 1991.

Demographics

Key Biscayne sits at a moderate population of just over 13,000 residents. With the median age being around 44 years old, it is just 6% higher than the average Floridian. The island is known for housing some of the wealthiest families in the south Florida region. The median household income for the area sits at a hefty $130,000, which is $73,000 more than the average US income. The top employment industries of these residents consist of finance, professional services, healthcare and real estate. Moreover, the race and ethnic diversity in Key Biscayne is extremely poor. There are only two dominant races: White and Hispanic. While whites make up 31% of the island, Hispanics make up another 68% (AreaVibes). The remaining 1% consists of individuals with Asian background. 

interview with resident, ana perez-blanco:

Photo by Isabella Miranda

How long have you lived in Key Biscayne?

I’ve lived here for my whole life. I’m nineteen years old now, and my parents first moved here right before I was born.

Did you attend school on the island when you were younger?

I attended elementary and middle school at St. Agnes. It would only take me about 10 minutes to get to school every day. However, for high school, it would take me about an hour to get to school, as I went to Our Lady of Lourdes Academy in the South Miami area.

What do you enjoy most about living in Key Biscayne?

I enjoy living so close to the beach and being able to walk everywhere. My brother and I love to go on morning walks along the beach on the weekends. I also like that all the residents are extremely friendly; we’re always doing activities with our neighbors and friends.

Do you think you will live in Key Biscayne in the future, or do you plan to move?

I plan on moving outside of the island. Most of my friends live almost an hour away from me, and I drive long distances to go to work every day. I feel like I might come back and live on the island when I reach retirement age, but as I approach my twenties, I plan on moving to the South Miami region.

Landmarks/Place to Visit

Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park: Bill Baggs Park is one of the most popular places in Key Biscayne. It is home to the famous lighthouse, or as we call it in Miami, “El Farito.” The Cape Florida Light is actually the oldest standing structure in the Greater Miami area. Most visitors enjoy planting their feet in the sand and enjoying a beach day here. Keep in mind that to enter this park, it costs $8 per vehicle!

Crandon Park: Once you pass through Key Biscayne’s entrance, you are left in Crandon Park, and it’s the perfect welcome into the island. This park is a great place to swim at the beach, barbecue on the weekends or even just walk along its trail. Fun fact: This park used to be the coconut plantation the Matheson family built in the early 1900s!

Neptune Memorial Reef: This memorial reef is the largest man-made reef ever created. For those who chose cremation, their remains can be placed in the Neptune Memorial Reef. It was made to represent the Lost City of Atlantis and has brought the marine life up significantly around the area (Neptune Memorial Reef).

Bear Cut Preserve: Just along the shore at Crandon Park, there is a hiking trail across the water and under the numerous trees. Whether you just want to take in the scenery or explore the park’s sandy dunes, the walk is sure to be a memorable one. At the end of the trail, you are left at a 6,000-year-old fossilized forest reef (Florida Hikes).

Green Space

Key Biscayne is home to many green areas and state parks. The most popular are the two previously mentioned: Bill Baggs State Park and Crandon Park. With such an immense amount of greenery, both of these areas are typically enjoyed by tourists and even the residents. The parks are always occupied with people playing sports, having a picnic, or even just basking in the sun.

Green spaces like these are extremely important to any city. Greenery is actually proven to reduce stress and offer better quality of air. This is most likely why the area of Key Biscayne is extremely laid-back and carefree.

Along most of the island’s green areas, there are numerous amounts of garbage and recycling bins. At every entrance of the park, a Miami-Dade County trash bin stands proud. I think this is an extremely great effort by the island of Key Biscayne and the county, as trash in our parks and oceans continues to hurt our environment and animals.

Transportation

Metrobus: The Metrobus makes numerous stops in Key Biscayne including the Rickenbacker Causeway, Crandon Park, City of Key Biscayne and Cape Florida State Park. Although walking in Key Biscayne is preferred by most, it is also convenient to take the bus, especially if you’re in Bill Baggs Park and need to get to Crandon Park. Having busses pass through the island is helpful, as it aids in the reduction of the amount of traffic.

Bicycle: Many residents travel on bicycle to get to their destinations. The entire five-mile length of the island has designated bike lanes for those choosing this form of transportation. Having these bike lanes are extremely efficient and add an extra form of safety. Bicycling is a great way to exercise and save the environment, as well. Who wouldn’t want to peddle down the beach to get to work every day?  

Golf carts: Surprisingly, besides driving a car, cruising around the island in a golf cart is extremely common. In the morning and afternoon, you typically see children being picked up and dropped off at school in golf carts. On the weekends, families will drive to a restaurant down the street in the golf cart, and even park it in a designated parking spot for golf carts only (yes, they have that in Key Biscayne!).

Boat: If all other modes of transportation fail, do not fret! You can always come to the island on a private yacht or speedboat. With the number of marinas on the island, there is always a place to dock a boat.

Food

Costa Med: This “chic bistro” is owned by Venezuelan, Antonio Braschi and is inspired by European, Mediterranean and South American style. Common foods to order from this bistro are escargots, lobster ravioli, steak tartare and any catch of the day! It is also very highly recommended to pair their entrées with a glass of rosé or champagne. $$

Milanezza Restaurant and Bar: As soon as you enter this laid-back atmosphere, you are instantly greeted by the friendliest waiters. Whether you are in the mood for a classic Italian pasta dish or an Argentine churrasco, this amazing little spot has your back! After bringing the check, the waiter brings a stand of lollipops to finish off your meal. *My personal recommendation: Churrasco steak sandwich (and a strawberry lemonade flavored lollipop!) $$

Donut Gallery Diner: This family-run diner delivers an American classic. The restaurant has been passed down since 1971. They are most famous for their comforting breakfast options like pancakes, grits, hash browns and eggs (Miami and Beaches). They are also open for lunch with all your favorite, staple dishes. $

Businesses

Clothing Boutiques: Small, independently-owned clothing boutiques are a common business on the island. One particular boutique, Moda Boheme, offers unique pieces from around the world. The owner enjoys mixing chic, bohemian, and sophisticated styles of clothing. Ten years ago, Moda Boheme was able to open Mercedes Benz Swim Week with a few of pieces from their collection (Boheme Boutique).

Watersport Rentals: In Key Biscayne, there are countless places to rent kayaks, canoes, and jet skis. What makes each of these places special is the fact that most of these businesses are ran by residents. This business is definitely geared towards Key Biscayne, as they are surrounded by beaches. One specific company that offers rentals is Miami Watersports: Hobie Cat and Windsurf. Staying active while visiting the Key is a must! This company offers everything from kayaks to paddle boards to flyboards.

Real Estate: An extremely common business in Key Biscayne is real estate. There are dozens of realtors across the island, especially since property there is so expensive. Most realtors in Key Biscayne sell properties ranging anywhere from $150,000 to $3,000,000 (US News). Whether they own a company or sell homes independently, real estate agents in Key Biscayne are always busy, year-round.

Summary

As you pass over the Rickenbacker causeway and begin to see the white, sandy beaches of Key Biscayne, you already know what’s ahead. The island successfully encompasses everything from greenery, to urban lifestyle, to toes in the sand. As far as what works well in the town, transportation seems to be doing great. With most residents walking or bicycling everywhere, the traffic on the island is light and the air pollution is low. In addition to a good transportation system, the island knocks it out of the park when it comes to authentic restaurants. If someone is in the mood for Argentinian food or even Mediterranean, the restaurants in Key Biscayne have got all the bases covered. It’s comforting to know that the restaurant owners on the island come from around the world; this helps spread the culture and ideas to a new set of people. Another important aspect of Key Biscayne to note is their environmental awareness. Recycling bins and trash cans appear everywhere on the island; this is probably why the streets are so clean. The residents seem to be reducing their carbon footprint, as well, as many homes on the island were powered by solar energy.

Although the island has its many perks, there are a few drawbacks and unfortunate cases to note. The first, and probably very obvious, is the income gap between Key Biscayne residents and those living in other parts of Miami, Florida. The average Miami resident makes about $30,000 a year. Compared to Key Biscayne’s $130,000, the average Miamian cannot afford to live on the luxurious island. Another disappointing statistic about the island is its extremely poor ethnic diversity. Although its restaurants offer a cultural experience, the population of Key Biscayne has little to no variety. There are only about thirty-nine individuals with African American descent living on the island. This is shocking, as African Americans make up almost 20% of the entire Miami area. Staying on the same topic of culture, Key Biscayne’s places of worship only include Christian and Catholic churches and only one Jewish center. With there being over thousands of religions in the world, it’s sad to see an area only focusing on three common faiths. Again, this just proves Key Biscayne’s poor diversity.

*All photos are by Alexandra Rodriguez, unless stated otherwise.

works cited

AreaVibes. “Key Biscayne, FL Demographics.” Key Biscayne, FL Population & Demographics, http://www.areavibes.com/key+biscayne-fl/demographics/.

Boheme Boutique. “Boheme Boutique- Key Biscayne.” Boheme Boutique, 2010, bohemeboutique.blogspot.com/.

DeFrancisci, Leonard. Coconut Plantation Memorial. 2009.

Florida Hikes. “Bear Cut Preserve.” Florida Hikes!, 3 June 2019, floridahikes.com/bearcut.

Miami and Beaches. “Your Official Miami and Miami Beach Guide.” Your Official Miami and Miami Beach Guide, http://www.miamiandbeaches.com/.

Neptune Memorial Reef. “The Neptune Memorial Reef ™.” Neptune Memorial Reef, http://www.nmreef.com/index.html.

US News. “Top Key Biscayne Real Estate.” U.S. News & World Report, U.S. News & World Report, realestate.usnews.com/agents/florida/key-biscayne/.

Village of Key Biscayne. “History of the Island of Key Biscayne.” History of the Island of Key Biscayne – Village of Key Biscayne, 2013, keybiscayne.fl.gov/index.php?submenu=_island_history&src=gendocs&ref=IslandHistory&category=About.

Wikipedia. “Key Biscayne.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 12 Nov. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Key_Biscayne.

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