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The Sunshine State beckons beach bums from near and far with its warm temps and extensive coastline. But there is perhaps nowhere else in Florida that boasts such pristine stretches of sand than Key West.
This southerly island is flanked by the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, and the combination of tropical weather and crystal clear water makes Key West a no-brainer for those seeking a beach holiday.
Whether your perfect tropical getaway in Key West includes lazing on the sand, getting your adrenaline pumping with water sports, or diving in colorful reefs, Key West has a beach for you! Here are some of the best beaches in Key West.
1. Smathers Beach
While it may not be the most authentic or the least crowded, Smathers Beach is certainly one of the most popular beaches in Key West. This man-made beach stretches for about a half mile along the island’s southern shores (the Atlantic side), with deliciously soft white sand and plenty of amenities for beachgoers to enjoy.
The gradually sloping shoreline is ideal for those who want to take a dip, and the calm shallow water is great for youngsters or those who don’t want to contend with big waves. There are also places to rent sun loungers and umbrellas if you don’t feel like hauling all your own equipment across the sand.
But there’s a lot more to do here than swimming and sunbathing. You can rent snorkeling gear, kayaks, SUPs and other water equipment from various vendors along the shore, or pick up a game of beach volleyball on the sandy courts. There are also restrooms with showers and a selection of food vendors available, making Smathers Beach as convenient as it is beautiful.
With so many offerings, it should come as no surprise that Smathers Beach is one of the most popular beaches in Key West. Parking is free along South Roosevelt Boulevard, though spots are limited and fill up quickly. Be prepared to show up early if you want to snag a spot, or you’ll need to contend with pricey parking spots and a long walk to the beach.
2. Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park
Smathers Beach may be the most popular, but Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park is known for hosting one of the best beaches in Key West. It’s also touted as the most authentic, as the shell and coral sand is 100% natural. Note that you may want to bring some water shoes to protect your feet against this coarse (yet beautiful) sand.
The beach is located on the Gulf side of the island, and the water here is relatively deep. This makes for great swimming and diving, and the coral reefs off the shore are home to tropical marine life like parrot fish, Goliath grouper, and dolphins. You may even spot dolphins in these waters if you’re lucky! You can rent snorkeling gear from a kiosk at the beach, along with other equipment like chairs and umbrellas.
You will need to pay a fee ($6 per vehicle plus $.50 per person) to access this beach as it’s part of the state park, but included in the price is a variety of other park attractions. Once you’ve had your fun in the sun, you can wander along shady nature trails, take a ranger-guided tour of the historic Fort Zachary, or grill some lunch on the park grills and sit back on one of the picnic tables. There’s also a cafe inside the park if you prefer to leave the cooking to the professionals.
In addition to the famous beach and historic fort, the state park is known as one of the best places to watch the sunset in Key West, so consider extending your beach day to catch one of these colorful displays.
3. South Beach
Bigger isn’t always better, and no Key West beach proves this better than South Beach. This is the island’s smallest beach, but don’t let the size fool you. Located on Key West’s southern (Atlantic) side, South Beach boasts soft sandy shores and calm blue water making it one of the best Key West beaches.
This little stretch of sand is a great spot for sunbathing, swimming, fishing and kayaking, and while there are no public restrooms, there are a variety of bars and restaurants nearby. This is also a great spot to catch a sunset, especially from the pier located on the beach’s west end.
Despite the small size, South Beach is one of the most popular beaches in Key West, and you’ll need to arrive early in the day to stake out a spot of real estate in the sand. Metered parking is available all around this area, but this is also a fairly walkable beach if you’re staying in the central Key West Area. After your beach day, there are tons of great attractions in the nearby vicinity, including the Southernmost Point Marker and Duval Street.
4. Clarence S. Higgs Memorial Beach Park
Usually referred to simply as Higgs Beach, the Clarence S. Higgs Memorial Beach Park is one of the best beaches in Key West. The sand is soft, the water is clear, and there are tons of activities to keep you busy both in and out of the water.
The beach sits within the C.B. Harvey Beach Park along Reynolds Street and the Atlantic Ocean. There are technically several beaches within the park (including Rest Beach and County Beach), but it’s really all just one long stretch of sand.
The shallow waters here make it a great spot for swimming, and you can also snorkel through sea grass at the shore-accessible underwater marine park – the only one of its kind in the whole country! There are also kayak rentals available, plus a long wooden fishing pier, volleyball nets, a playground, and pickleball courts.
You’ll also find conveniences like public restrooms and showers right at the beach, and once you work up an appetite, there are numerous restaurants and cafes in the area. In addition to all the classic beachy amenities, Higgs Beach is also home to some interesting historical attractions, including the African Cemetery and the West Martello Fort.
Free parking is available but limited. This is a popular spot, so arrive early to avoid the crowds. You could even arrive before the sun and watch it come up from the pier, which is one of the local’s favorite spots to watch the sunrise in Key West.
5. Bahia Honda State Park
While it’s not technically in the city, Bahia Honda State Park is home to some of the best beaches in the Key West area. If you want to get out and explore some of the natural areas of the Keys, there’s no better spot than Bahia Honda State Park. The park sits about 35 miles north of Key West on the Bahia Honda Key. Like most state parks, you’ll pay a small entrance fee ($8 per vehicle), but you’ll then have access to the entire park, including its stunning shoreline.
Calusa and Loggerhead Beaches sit on the Gulf Side of the key and are known for their crystal clear water and large sandbar located close to shore. Swimming and snorkeling are both popular pastimes in the shallow water, and you can also rent a kayak and spend the afternoon paddling along the beautiful coastline. On the other side of the park, you’ll find Sandspur Beach. This long sandy stretch is less popular, making it a great place to park your bum if you want to avoid the crowds.
Once you’ve had enough of the water, you can shower off and grab a quick bite from the concession stand before exploring other parts of the park. There is a scenic nature trail that winds past native Mangroves and the coconut palm-lined shores, an interpretive exhibit, and several scenic picnicking pavilions.
Keep in mind that Bahia Honda State Park is nearly an hour away from Key West. If you’d like to spend longer than one day in this stunning area, there are several campgrounds to choose from for both tents and RVs, but sites fill up quickly and you’ll need to reserve your spot well in advance.
6. Simonton Beach
Situated along the city’s northern reaches (the Gulf side), Simonton Beach is a local favorite and one of the best beaches in Key West. This small outcropping of sand offers a good selection of amenities, including a boat launch, chair and umbrella rentals, and public restrooms.
The sand is soft, but closer to the water it can get a bit rocky, so water shoes are recommended if you plan on taking a dip. If you want to do more than swim, you can rent water sports equipment from the kiosk, including jet skis and hydro bikes.
Once you work up an appetite, you can head over to one of the picnic tables, or make a stop at the concession stand located on the beach. There’s also a restaurant located just next to Simonton Beach (Lagerhead Beach Bar), which doubles as a charter service for fun escapades out on the water. You can book sunset cruises, dolphin-watching tours, snorkeling excursions, and more.
One of the main draws to Simonton Beach is its proximity to Mallory Square, one of the most popular areas in the historic downtown Key West area. This is the only public beach in the neighborhood, so you can count on it being pretty busy. Parking here is extremely limited, so plan to show up early or find a spot further away from the beach.
7. Dog Beach
If you want to enjoy a beach day with your four-legged friend, then Dog Beach is the place to be. The small, aptly named Dog Beach sits between Waddell and Vernon Avenue on Key West’s south (Atlantic) side and offers a little slice of beach for dogs and their owners.
This is the only beach on the island where you can let your pups run freely off-leash, but there are few other perks of this little swatch of sand. At just 25 meters wide, it’s pretty tiny, and some visitors may find it hard to relax with all the dogs running around. That being said, it’s a beautiful and secluded spot to let Fido run freely, and there’s a pooch-friendly restaurant right next door once you’re done on the beach.
8. Dry Tortugas National Park
This one is a bit of a freebie since it’s technically far from Key West and a bit hard to access. That being said, if you can manage to get there, Dry Tortugas National Park has one of the best beaches in the Key West Area.
Made up of a cluster of small islands about 70 miles from Key West, Dry Tortugas is one of the most unique national parks in America. The park is home to the historic Fort Jefferson, which became the country’s largest military prison at the height of the Civil War.
The fort is perhaps the main draw of the park, but the beach is where the beauty of this island really shines. Crystal clear, shallow water beckons visitors in, and the soft palm-lined sand is pure paradise. The diving here is also excellent thanks to an abundance of coral reefs.
Dry Tortugas sits on the small Garden Key and is only accessible via ferry. The Yankee III offers service between the park and Key West, and the journey takes about 2 hours one way. While this is far from a casual beach day, no list of Key West’s best beaches is complete without Dry Tortugas National Park. It is one of the best beaches in the Florida Keys to explore.