Are you looking for information on the best beaches in Key West, Florida? You’ve come to the right place!
Stretching out into the Gulf of Mexico, Key West is (aptly named) the most western of Florida’s archipelago islands, the Keys. (It’s also the southernmost point of the Continental US.)
With their shallow, turquoise waters, the beaches on Key West are different than other Florida beaches. Key West beaches are not long stretches of golden sand with waves crashing in, but rather Caribbean-style coral reef beaches!
Most of the white sand you see is shipped in to replace the somewhat uncomfortable coral beaches. Any waves that you might be expecting are generally stopped by the coral reef sitting 7 miles offshore.
What you do get at Key West beaches are stunning sunsets, calm, blue waters, and tropical fish that often swim close to shore. It’s a snorkeler’s paradise as the Keys are the site for America’s only living coral reef, the third-largest coral reef in the world.
The beaches in Key West are all unique, but all offer some beautiful sights.
Are There Beaches In Key West?
The short answer? Yes! It is an island city after all.
Key West is better known for its colorful houses, culture, and iconic dessert (Key Lime pie) than its beaches. There are lots of things to do in Key West, including exploring its historic downtown, visiting Ernest Hemingway’s house, and catching sunset in Mallory Square.
However, if you’re visiting Key West, hitting the beach is definitely worth it. Despite the coral reefs mentioned above, tourism is so high in Key West, that many beaches have been modified for the utmost beach pleasure. (Some of the more natural beaches can still be a bit rocky, so bring appropriate footwear.)
Many of the beaches in Key West are located on the southern edge of the island. Depending on where you are staying in Key West, you may have to drive from your hotel or vacation rental, but it wouldn’t be a long drive, as the island of Key West isn’t even 4 miles long! Of course, some hotels and resorts do have their own private beaches available only to guests.
The beaches in Key West are unique, all with a different vibe, and all worth a visit if you get a chance. Some beaches are very family-friendly, some are just for you and your four-legged friend, some offer great water sports, while others are a sunbather’s paradise.
10 Best Beaches In Key West (And Nearby!)
Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park Beach
Known by the locals as Fort Zach, most say this is the best of all Key West beaches. It has a natural coastline, is great for snorkeling and the sand is made up of coral rather than imported sand. Fort Zach isn’t one of the beaches with imported sand, so if you are a sunbather this beach is probably not for you.
About 2 miles from downtown, located at the Truman Annex on Southard Street, this beach sits within an 87-acre Florida state park. This beach is great for snorkelers and divers and those with a love for history. Groupers, dolphins, turtles, snappers, parrotfish, and lobsters can be seen in the water. A Civil War fort named after President Zachary Taylor can also be found in the park, complete with the largest collection of Civil War-era cannons in the country.
If snorkeling and Civil War castles aren’t enough for you, the park also has two trails to explore: the Sand Hog Trail and the Fort View Trail. Make sure you bring walking shoes with you!
There are all the facilities you would expect, including a cafe, grills and picnic tables. The entrance fee to the park costs $6 and parking is free.
If you want to see beaches in Key West at their most authentic then this is the one for you.
The largest of all Key West beaches, and with half a mile of soft sand, Smathers Beach is the one to go to if you like lively, fun-filled beaches.
It’s a popular beach and is located on the south side of the island on South Roosevelt Boulevard. Smathers is a great beach for families, with clear and calm waters. And young people love it for its volleyball nets. It’s a beach where you can do pretty much everything- swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, parasailing, sunbathing, and beach volleyball. There are also plenty of food vendors.
It’s lined with beautiful palm trees and has a shoreline that slopes gradually, meaning you can wade out into the water quite far.
Smathers Beach has all the major conveniences such as ample parking, restrooms, showers, picnic tables, and a concessions stand. You can also rent equipment for jet skiing, kayaking, parasailing, and windsurfing.
It is free to enter and parking is free along the boulevard. Smathers Beach opens from 7 am to 11 pm daily.
One of the most-loved beaches in Key West, Smathers Beach is also a popular tropical Key West wedding site if you fancy tying the knot here!
If you like your Key West beaches a little bit more laid back then Clarence S. Higgs Memorial Beach Park might be perfect for you. It is adjacent to the Waldorf Astoria Casa Marina Resort and just a short walk from Smathers Beach. The beach has fine white sand, shallow water and is surrounded by tropical vegetation.
Higgs Beach is smaller and less crowded than nearby Smathers Beach. It still has all the amenities though, including restrooms, showers, a full-service restaurant, a playground, volleyball nets, tennis courts, and a dog park.
At the end of the beach is a wooden pier recently renovated and you can often easily see stingrays from there.
The C.B. Harvey Rest Beach Park, in which Higgs Beach is located, features the only shore-accessible underwater marine park in the United States. It’s also the end of the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail, the 106-mile paved rail-trail.
You can also find monuments dedicated to the 19th-century slave cemetery located on the site.
Admission is free, as is parking, and you can pull up close to the beach to unload.
Just note that there can be more ocean debris on this beach and in the water. While most of it is cleared away, just be aware, especially if you have children. This has to do with how the tides work in this area and has nothing to do with the cleanliness of the beach.
Higgs Beach is one of the beaches in Key West that has something for everyone.
Perhaps the exact opposite of its Miami counterpart, Key West’s South Beach is a laid-back, family-friendly, quieter affair.
It gets its name because it is situated at the southernmost end of the island and therefore is the closest to Cuba.
South Beach has a lower-key atmosphere with no restrooms, a few makeshift food stalls, and a cafe. Just steps from Duval Street, it has 200 feet of white sand beach and crystal clear water to match.
It’s a popular family beach because of the calm shallow waters and opens at 8 am until the restaurant closes. There is no eating or drinking allowed on the beach so come prepared to eat out for lunch.
If you are someone who likes a very chill time at the beach then this will be one of the best beaches in Key West for you.
Only 300 yards long, Rest Beach is one of the best beaches in Key West to experience a good sunrise or sunset. Let’s just say it’s a photographer’s dream. What it’s lacking in size, Rest Beach makes up for in mighty views!
The beach has a yoga deck which is indicative of the vibe here (if the name wasn’t enough). Although narrow, the sand is sugary white and the views are amazing. Head out to the Edward B. Knight Pier for a great view over the Atlantic Ocean.
You might also hear this beach called C.B. Harvey Park so don’t be alarmed and think you have gone to the wrong one. Rest Beach is at the end of White Street and near Mallory Square, if you get lost.
The beach is located in the same park as Higgs Beach and is just east of its bigger counterpart.
There are several picnic tables on the beach and it’s open daily from dawn to 11 pm. There is no admission fee and you will find lots of parking.
Dogs are not allowed on the beaches in Key West unless you go to Dog Beach. It’s a small beach about 20 feet across and can be quite rocky but the dogs don’t seem to mind.
It’s not an easy beach to find as the signage is small. Look for the restaurant called Louie’s Backyard, as it’s adjacent to the beach and easier to find. Bonus tip: Louie’s Backyard also allows your dog to dine with you!
It’s not particularly a human-friendly beach but if you have a four-legged friend then this is one of the Key West beaches you need to head for so the two of you can still enjoy some fun in the sun.
Simonton Street Beach
On the north shore of Key West, which is the harbor side of the island, is a tiny, often forgotten strip of sandy beach. Mostly it’s just used as a stop-off to admire the view but it’s having something of a revival so it’s worth a mention.
The area and amenities are improving and you can hire beach chairs and umbrellas. You also have direct access to the clear water of Key West harbor. The beach does have restroom facilities and a boat ramp for recreational purposes. The beach is quite good for swimming as it gets fairy deep, unlike many of the other beaches in Key West, and when we last looked it seems dogs are allowed here too but please check.
The shore is rocky and can get slippery with seaweed so bring water shoes with you.
It’s free to enter but parking is a challenge so it’s better to walk or bike.
You will find the beach at the north end of Simonton Street and it actually runs along Front Street. It’s a lovely little beach to walk to and while away a few hours. It can get crowded so go early, if possible.
Dry Tortugas National Park
Seventy miles west of Key West lie the islands of Dry Tortugas National Park. Once used as a fort, and with tales of pirates and hidden treasure, this beautiful, remote area is a bonus day trip when exploring the best beaches in Key West.
The Dry Tortugas are only accessible by boat or seaplane but are definitely worth the effort (and price) of getting there. The ferry ride from Key West takes a little over two hours, but if you’d like to stay overnight, camping is allowed on the second largest island, Garden Key.
There are four beaches to explore once you reach the Dry Tortugas: South Swim Beach, Seaplane Beach, Dinghy Beach, and North Swim Beach. Relax on the stunningly white sand or take a dip in the beautiful blue water. If you’re feeling adventurous, there are specific areas for snorkeling, where you can see tropical fish and coral.
For more information, check out our tips for exploring Dry Tortugas National Park.
Bahia Honda State Park
Bahia Honda State Park holds not only some of the best beaches in the Keys but also some of the best beaches in Florida. Located just off the Seven Mile Bridge, Bahia Honda is about an hour’s drive east of Key West. Once a popular stop on the railroad that ran all the way to the Keys, Bahia Honda is now a great stop on a road trip to Key West.
With its clear waters and balmy breezes, Bahia Honda State Park is a great place to enjoy a Florida Keys beach day. With different beaches to choose from, couples might enjoy the smallest beach, Calusa, while Loggerhead Beach is a better option for families due to its shallow waters.
If you want to stretch your legs, walk along the Old Bahia Honda Bridge or bike along the 3.5 miles of road that stretch along Bahia Honda. Bird watchers can hit the nature trails as part of the Great Florida Birding Trail, with hopes of seeing hawks, herons, and kingfishers.
If the beaches in Key West are too crowded for you and you’re looking for something extremely exclusive, try staying on Sunset Key. Located 500 yards off the coast of Key West, Sunset Key is a residential island, privately held by its residents. However, there are guest cottages run by Opal Key West Resort & Marina.
Check into the resort on Key West, and then an island ambassador will take you on the short ferry ride to Sunset Key. Relax on their beautiful, quiet, private beach with complimentary beach towels, chairs, and umbrellas.
You’ll almost feel like you’ve escaped to the Caribbean, rather than one of the beaches near Key West!
So there you have the best beaches in Key West. We hope out of our choices you are able to find a beach that suits you and your needs. Whenever you go to Key West we are sure you will have a great time and we look forward to hearing about it on your return!