Key Biscayne vs South Beach: As Different As It Gets in Miami

A lot of “this vs that” posts that I write on this blog have a lot of nuances. A lot of pros and cons to weigh about which is better for your personal circumstances and still it’s a tough choice because you’re looking at two good options.

This isn’t one of those posts. This is going to be the easiest choice you ever make. Key Biscayne and South Beach could not be more different so once I break down the basics for you and describe the general vibe of each, you’re going to know exactly where you want to stay. 

I will preface this post with a little info…I am not a “South Beach person”. I am not into the Miami party scene and since South Beach is ground zero for it, it’s not a place that I love spending a lot of time. BUT I’ve spent time in both areas and I think I can do a pretty good job of objectively describing each place so you can decide which one sounds best to you.

Key Biscayne vs South Beach

Let’s start with South Beach. South Beach is Miami’s most famous neighborhood. Located at the southern end of Miami Beach (the barrier island off the coast of Miami), it’s an incredibly international scene famous for nightclubs, trendy restaurants, posh resorts, golden beaches, and people who want to be seen. 

And then you have Key Biscayne. Sometimes called Miami’s “secret island,” Key Biscayne is just south of Miami Beach, but it’s accessed by a separate bridge from the mainland making it much more remote. Key Biscayne is upscale, very family friendly, and very much not a party place. It’s more like a place where there’s not much to do after it gets dark. 

Both areas are only about 15-20 minutes away from Miami International Airport. 

Best Beaches

Here’s the deal…Miami beaches in general are not my favorite. I’m spoiled from mostly going to beaches on the Florida Gulf Coast and panhandle and nothing compares. Both areas are prone to seaweed and the water is a little cold and rough (but that’s the Atlantic for you). The beach at South Pointe Park (just south of South Beach) is probably the prettiest beach I’ve seen in the Miami area, but (and it’s a big but) when I saw it I was standing on the pier so I had a good vantage point plus the sun was out so the water looked super blue. 

Crandon Beach Park on Key Biscayne is another favorite because of the palm trees. It used to be the largest coconut plantation in the US and it’s one of the only places where I’ve ever seen so many palm trees right out in the sand. Shade is always a precious commodity at the beach! But neither of those beaches are beaches where resorts are located so they may not be the ones you end up spending much time at anyways. 

Best Resorts

Well there’s really just one resort on Key Biscayne, the Ritz Carlton, but it’s a good one. It’s a large property with several restaurants, two large pools, and an onsite tennis center. The spa is also pretty awesome. Because Key Biscayne is quieter with less going on, the Ritz here truly feels like a beach resort. Besides the Ritz, everything else is mostly condos and homes. Read my full review of the Ritz Carlton Key Biscayne here.

South Beach and Mid Beach (read about the difference here) is pretty much one long stretch of resorts ranging from cheap party hotels to luxury resorts to high end boutique hotels. The options are absolutely endless and there are some truly fabulous resorts and hotels in this area. I would definitely say it wins out in terms of selection, but the properties aren’t super large since real estate is at a premium. Also, even the nicest place feels more like a city hotel where when you leave the city kind of smacks you in the face. 

Best Restaurants & Nightlife

This one is South Beach by a landslide. Miami has to be one of the biggest “foodie” cities in the country and the restaurant scene is hottest in South Beach. Everything is international, there’s always a new “it” restaurant, and it’s where all of the nightlife is. 

There are some good restaurants on Key Biscayne, but they’re much fewer and farther in between. If you’re a major foodie working off a list of what’s trendy, you’re probably going to end up driving into Miami or Miami Beach every night. 

Best for Families

Key Biscayne hands down. I honestly wouldn’t take kids to South Beach. Not only is Key Biscayne a better place for families to vacation, but it’s a big draw for families to live. The main drive through the “village” of Key Biscayne is lined with well maintained parks and sports fields that are full of kids day and night. While it may not be where visiting families hang out (unless you’re on a sports team!), it sets a tone for the whole area. 

More posts about where to stay in Miami:

Where to Stay in Miami (Besides Miami Beach)

Miami Beach vs South Beach: Is South Beach Really the Best Place to Stay in Miami?

Downtown Miami vs South Beach: Brickell is the REAL Star in Miami

Miami Beach! Mid Beach vs South Beach (+My Favorite Hotels)

The EDITION Miami Beach Review (Marriott Bonvoy)

Ritz Carlton Key Biscayne Review

Best for Activities

If you’re looking for activities like tennis, golf, biking, water sports, etc. I would definitely give the edge to Key Biscayne. It feels more like an island paradise than a city and there’s just more to get out and do besides the party scene. 

After reading through this, you probably know exactly which area you want to stay in, but to recap…

Stay in South Beach if…you like the party and nightlife scene, high end hotels and restaurants are important, you want to be in the middle of “it all.”

Stay in Key Biscayne if…you’re traveling with kids, if you like a little more peace and quiet, if you’re into tennis, golf, and biking, if you can afford to stay at the Ritz Carlton. 

Don’t miss these other posts about Miami:

Miami Art Deco Walking Tour

Things to Do in Miami BESIDES Party

Things to Do in Little Havana

Biking on Key Biscayne (Cape Florida Lighthouse)

Where to Play Tennis on Key Biscayne

P.S. If you want to follow along on my travel adventures in real time, you can follow me on Instagram (@caitylincoln). My post captions are full of travel tips and I have a ton of story highlights and videos with great info. And share my account with your travel loving friends! Your support really helps me keep this blog running!