John D. MacArthur State Park
||Palm Beach, FL|
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John D. MacArthur State Park on Singer Island is a gorgeous place where you can take in nature. You enter through a dense tropical forest called a coastal hammock. Now you feel you have really found paradise! Strangler figs (they look like banyan trees), gumbo limbo trees (twisty tall trees with red and white trunks), and cabbage palms abound. Little paths lead from the parking lot to the nature center which is a modern and beautiful building. You can sit on rocking chairs on a huge patio under a tall strangler fig. There is a great beach supply shop where you can get beach umbrellas for a good price, hats, t-shirts, nature books, and snacks. A tank with a turtle stands outside a small room with descriptions of the type of trees and wildlife found in the park.
The nature center is an attractive building with wooden paneling inside and pristine tanks. You can see vibrant coral and fish, snakes (the tanks are so clean and don't smell!), and a mangrove habitat. Hanging from the ceiling is the skeleton of a manatee. In the reef room a projector makes an ocean pattern on the floor so that it looks like you're underwater. There is a table with items kids can touch, like a turtle shell, coral, and bones. You can rent kayaks at the nature center and row around the calm, shallow estuary.
Outside the nature center you can take a tram (an elongated golf cart) on the long boardwalk that leads across the estuary. It's free and kids enjoy it! Plus it keeps you from getting sunburned out there where there's no shade. Trams run from 10-4 daily. Once you get to the other side, there is more tropical jungle and a wonderful raised boardwalk that leads through it. It gives you pretty views of the jungle below and then of the beach. The beach has a nice feel to it, with a high dune covered in grass on one end, and the most incredible blue-green water. Patches of bright green vegetation on the coarse sand add to the color. Plenty of people gather here on the weekend to play in the sand, body board, and snorkel. When there are easterly winds, there are sometimes portuguese man-of-war (look for blue bulb-like jellyfish on the beach or in the water with stingers attached) so check the warning flags.
The water looks so enticing, so clear and wonderful! It's impossible not to jump in. The water is also warm, and there are whole, unbroken shells all along the shore. What a wonderful place!
If you stand on the boardwalk over the estuary, you can see creatures through the clear water, crawling or swimming through the wavey underwater grasses. We saw thin, long fish called needlefish and a blue crab.
Other beaches on Singer Island are Ocean Reef Beach, with great snorkeling, and Riviera Beach at Singer Island (not to be confused with the impoverished town of Riviera Beach) with restaurants and an ice cream shop at the beach.
Sharks come to South Florida as south as Fort Lauderdale in December and then head north along this stretch of coastline in March. Their bites are usually not fatal but can be extensive (one boy was recently bit 20 feet offshore at this beach and required eighty stitches). They really should get lifeguards at this beach because lifeguards can call people out of the water if they see any sharks from their high position on the shore. How to avoid shark bites: Swim at a beach with lifeguards. Don't swim at night, dawn, or dusk. Don't wear shiny jewelry or bright swimwear. Don't swim if the water is murky, such as near inlets or after rains. Don't swim if you have an open wound.
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Exit Highway 95 at PGA Blvd and head toward the ocean. Follow it as it leads onto Singer Island. After you pass a long chain-link fence with tropical jungle behind, you will see the driveway for John D. MacArthur State Park on your left. Admission is $5 per car and this includes free admission to the nature center.
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