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The Florida Keys attract travelers of all interests with their natural beauty and myriad on-shore and off-shore activities, and Key West is among the archipelago’s most-visited islands. Revelers come here to bar hop along Duval Street, or attend one of the island’s many annual festivals, like Fantasy Fest and Hemingway Days. Ocean adventurers can sail in Key West’s dazzling waters, or snorkel near gorgeous nearby reefs. And while Key West beaches aren’t usually top contenders on lists of Florida’s best beaches, there are some solid options for visitors in Key West. These eight beaches are our picks if you’re heading to the southernmost island in the Florida Keys.
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One of Key West’s best-known beaches is also its largest. Located on the south coast of the island, Smathers Beach is a half-mile long and is one of four main beaches in Key West proper. Pick-up volleyball games take place down on the sand, and there are restrooms and showers for rinsing off after a heated match or a dip in the shallow water here. And don’t be surprised if you see crowds gathered at the beach around sunset — this is a popular spot for weddings, and weekends often lure these parties down to the water’s edge for photos, vows, and million-dollar views.
Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park Beach
Far and away the best beach in Key West for a refreshing swim and snorkel (thanks to its relatively deep waters), the beach at Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park, on the southwest tip of the island, is considered one of the top beaches in all of the Florida Keys. Towering Norfolk pine trees lining the sand provide plenty of shade, and picnic tables beg you to pack lunch and settle in for the day. Look for colorful reef fish — parrot fish, sergeant majors, and more — along the rocky pilings of the park’s jetty. This is the best spot in all of Key West to snorkel right from the shore, and you can rent snorkel gear, beach chairs, and umbrellas from a nearby kiosk. The park’s historic fort dates to 1845 and was used to deter Confederate ships from coming ashore during the Civil War. Grab a hot dog and daiquiri from Cayo Hueso Cafe, a snack shack near the water with sweeping ocean views.
Clarence S. Higgs Memorial Beach
Locals call this stretch of sand Higgs Beach. It’s just a few blocks west of Smathers Beach and another very popular destination, so don’t expect to have it to yourself. You’ll find everything you need here for a fun beach day, including shallow waters for swimming and snorkeling over seagrasses, plus beach volleyball, tennis and pickleball courts, and even a beachfront playground for children. Hit cafe Salute! On the Beach for Caribbean-inflected seafood dishes and tropical cocktails. There are some serious historical sights here, too. The beach park is home to a Civil War era fort; the largest African refugee burial ground in the northern hemisphere (honoring victims of slave ships); and the Key West AIDS Memorial.
Simonton Street Beach
This diminutive Key West beach draws in-the-know locals, and tourists who’ve stumbled upon it while exploring the island. To find Simonton Street Beach, head to the end of the street of the same name, on Key West’s Gulf of Mexico side. People set off on fishing and island-hopping day trips from here, rolling their boats down ramps and into the turquoise waters. There’s a beach concession stand that rents chairs and umbrellas should you wish to spend time ashore sunbathing.
A far cry from the busy beach in Miami of the same name, Key West’s South Beach is on the southern side of Duval Street and right near the Southernmost Point marker. A beach day here puts you within walking distance of shopping, restaurants, bars, and some local history — island lore maintains that when Tennessee Williams lived in Key West, he came to South Beach almost every day for a dip in the water. Make time to stroll out onto the Emma Carrero Cates Pier, a sweet spot for photos at golden hour and for catching a dreamy island sunrise, too.
Rest Beach at C.B. Harvey Park
Pocketed away on Atlantic Boulevard on Key West’s Atlantic Ocean side, Rest Beach at C.B. Harvey Park is a great place to chill out. The warm, shallow waters and soft sandy beach make this is a favorite destination for shell hunters and families, as it’s ideal for wading and playing. You can also access the Key West Aids Memorial from here, as it’s in the middle of Rest Beach and Higgs Beach.
Dry Tortugas National Park
For an adventurous day trip from Key West, head about 70 miles west to the remote beaches of Dry Tortugas National Park. The 100-square-mile park is reachable by boat or seaplane, and it’s the least-visited national park in Florida, composed mostly of open seas and seven small islands. Garden Key is home to 19th century Fort Jefferson, its brick walls starkly contrasting the dazzling blue waters around it. You’ll also find beautiful beaches on this island, and you can wade right into the water to snorkel above protected coral reefs. Basic campsites are available here on a first-come, first-serve basis, should you want to spend the night on the island.
This is another day trip option from Key West. Drive about 50 miles back toward Key Largo and Miami to reach this scenic swath of beach on Marathon Key — locals treat this one like a backyard hangout spot. The beach is on the Atlantic Ocean side of the Overseas Highway at Mile Marker 50, manmade with coral sand and a very pretty place to unfurl your beach towel and set up an umbrella for the day.
Bahia Honda State Park
Home to one of the most in-demand oceanfront campgrounds in all of the U.S., Bahia Honda State Park preserves 524 acres on Big Pine Key in the Lower Keys, and it’s about 37 miles east of Key West. The park also happens to have long stretches of beautiful natural beachfront, making it great for sunbathing, snorkeling, and swimming. The name Bahia Honda comes from the Spanish for “deep bay,” and that makes sense, since the waters here tend to be deeper, and therefore a bit cooler and more refreshing on a hot summer’s day. Set up your beach gear at Calusa Beach, near the Bahia Honda Bridge, or the mile-long Sandspur Beach near the park’s entrance, Both are great for swimming and snorkeling. Showers are available for day-use visitors, and there are 80 campsites, six stilted cabins, and options for RVs. Kayaks and bikes can be rented to explore the park, and boat trips take snorkelers out to the reef at nearby Looe Key.