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As an avid beachgoer and traveler, I can confidently say that Key West is a paradise for beach lovers. With its crystal clear waters, powdery white sand, and stunning views, it’s no wonder why Key West is known for its beaches. In this article, I’ll guide you through the top 5 best beaches in Key West, which beach is best for swimming, which is best for snorkeling, and other activities to do while you’re there. I’ll also share some insider tips for visiting Key West beaches, the best places to stay nearby, and the best time to visit Key West beaches.
Discovering Paradise: The Best Beaches in Key West
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Introduction to Key West
Key West is a small island in the southernmost point of the United States. It is known for its laid-back atmosphere, colorful architecture, and stunning natural beauty. The island is just 4 miles long and 2 miles wide, making exploring on foot or by bike easy. The island is also home to some of the world’s most beautiful beaches, attracting thousands of visitors every year.
Why Key West Is Known for Its Beaches
Key West is a paradise for beachgoers thanks to its location between the turquoise seas of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. The island’s location and climate make it a perfect destination for sunbathing, swimming, and water sports. The beaches in Key West are known for their clear waters, soft sand, and stunning sunsets. Whether looking for a place to relax, snorkel, or surf, you’ll find it all in Key West.
Top 11 Best Beaches in Key West
Florida is known for its stunning beaches, and Smathers Beach in Key West is no exception. Smathers Beach has a lot to offer visitors, from swimming and sunbathing to hermit crabs and sandbars.
One visitor who stayed at Margaritaville Beach Hotel wrote in March 2022 that Smathers Beach is just across from the hotel and is an excellent place for swimming and relaxing. They went at 9 am and had the whole beach to themselves. Although there is a rental service for chairs and umbrellas, they found it quite expensive.
Another reviewer who visited in March 2022 wrote that the coast is the best beach in Key West. The white sands are not too hot underfoot, and the water stays shallow for quite a while. Although they found the rental price for chairs and an umbrella expensive, they still thought it was worth it. One couple who visited in March 2022 loved the seaside spot so much that they walked over from Margarita Beach House. They said the water was warm, stayed shallow far out, and was very clean.
A family who visited in March 2022 found Smathers Beach the best beach for swimming in Key West. They loved the fact that there was plenty of parking and no crowds. They even visited twice, once for swimming and once for sunrise, and loved it both times. Another visitor voted Smathers Beach the most excellent beach in Key West in April 2022. They stayed near Higgs Beach but found it stirred up, smelly, and full of sea grass the whole time there. On the other hand, they found Smathers Beach to be open, and although there was quite a bit of seagrass, there was a beautiful sandbar with clear water.
One family who visited the spot in April 2022 rented floats, chairs, and umbrellas from Sunset Company. Although they found it pricey, they thought it was worth it, especially since they didn’t bring those things. They also appreciated the recommendations for something to do that the Sunset company staff gave them.
Finally, one visitor who visited the place in October 2022 wrote that it was beautiful and huge. Although it was somewhat grayish due to Hurricane Ian, they could see how it could be blue and beautiful at other times. They saw four weddings taking place on the beach as well. Overall, Smathers Beach is a gorgeous place to visit in Key West. With clear water, white sand, and plenty of space, it’s perfect for swimming, sunbathing, and relaxing. Although the rental service for chairs and umbrellas may be expensive, visitors think it’s worth it for the stunning views and peaceful atmosphere.
Higgs Beach, situated on the coast of Key West, Florida, is a serene shore that offers a picturesque view to visitors. With a collection of sand, coral reefs, and water that shines in the sun, Higgs Beach is a serene and shallow coastline perfect for families with kids. The beach features volleyball courts and playgrounds, ideal for children to engage in outdoor activities while parents relax. There is a restaurant near the beach where visitors can savor meals and watch beach volleyball matches while enjoying their meals.
The beach is accessible through an Old Town Trolley, and parking is free. Locals advise visitors to bring their water and snacks since there are no places to purchase them from the beach. Beach shoes are also essential since the sand, especially at the water’s edge, is like gravel due to the coral reef nearby.
While some visitors complained about the smell, others found it serene, and the beach provided a relaxing atmosphere that made it a top spot for people to chill out. Overall, Higgs Beach is a perfect location for visitors seeking a picturesque seaside to relax and engage in outdoor activities.
Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park, located in Key West, Florida, is a beautiful seaside attraction offering adventure, history, and relaxation. The park is home to a Civil War-era fort that has been preserved and is open for visitors to explore. The beach at this park is rocky. Therefore people recommend water shoes for tourists, but the clear water is excellent for snorkeling.
One reviewer raves about the convenience of the park, mentioning that visitors can rent umbrellas, chairs, snorkels, fins, rafts, and noodles. The park’s snack bar serves decent food and alcoholic drinks; visitors can bring their food. The reviewer recommends getting water shoes and sunscreen and arriving earlier to beat the crowds. Visitors can also bring their snorkeling gear instead of renting, which may be more economical.
Another reviewer loved the beach but recommended arriving early to avoid the crowd. The beach can get crowded, and rental chairs and umbrellas are steep but not outrageous. The food at the snack bar is good, and visitors only need water shoes if they have a good pair of sports sandals, Keens, or Tevas. The reviewer mentioned that parking and leaving to walk elsewhere is against the rules and warned that the walk could be far, especially in the hot Florida weather.
While the beach at the park may not have powdery sand, one reviewer describes it as what you might expect from Key West, with a rocky coastline. The reviewer enjoyed walking on the boulders but warned visitors to be careful as the wet boulders can be slimy and slippery. The caretakers of the area highlighted the park’s history with a well-preserved Civil War-era fort.
One reviewer mentioned that visitors should check their bills when purchasing items from the snack bar, as there were some billing errors. Despite this, there was a recommendation for the children’s sandwich. Another reviewer found the park delightful and relaxing, with clear water, umbrella, and chair rentals available. Another reviewer also recommends wearing water shoes as the beach is rocky but described it as the nicest they have visited on the island. The water can be cloudy and unsettled from morning to afternoon but becomes more apparent from late afternoon to evening. Visitors should know that rental chairs and umbrellas are steep at $43 and close at 5:45 pm.
Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park allows visitors to explore the history, relax on a rocky coastline, and enjoy snorkeling in clear water. Visitors should arrive early to beat the crowds, bring water, shoes, and sunscreen, and be mindful of billing errors when purchasing items from the snack bar.
South Beach, or SoBe as it’s locally known, is a superb destination for anyone planning a trip to Florida. This stunning shoreline is lined with art deco buildings in pastel hues and boasts clear blue waters and white sandy beaches that stretch for miles. It’s not just the picturesque scenery that draws in visitors, though – SoBe is also home to a vibrant nightlife, with clubs, bars, and restaurants galore.
One reviewer raved about the farmers market often set up on Ocean Drive and 5th, making for a unique and exciting experience. Another suggested staying in SoBe or nearby to be close to all the action, especially at night. It’s easy to see why, with the buzzing energy of the city continuing late into the night.
But what about the beach itself? According to numerous reviews, SoBe’s shoreline is expansive, with warm waters that are clear and perfect for swimming. If you’re more of a beach lounger, there are plenty of options, too, with lounge chairs and umbrellas available to rent or the chance to lay your beach towel down.
For the active traveler, SoBe has plenty to offer as well. You can go jogging or rollerblading along the boardwalk, play sand volleyball with friends, or use the exercise machines built into the parking area.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that SoBe is a unique city in terms of its architecture and aesthetic. As one reviewer put it, the city is art deco, with colors reminiscent of the Caribbean. It’s truly unlike any other city in the USA, making it a must-visit for anyone looking for something different.
In conclusion, South Beach is a fantastic destination for travelers looking for sun, sand, and nightlife. With its expansive shoreline, clear blue waters, and range of activities, there’s something for everyone here. The unique art deco architecture and colorful aesthetics make SoBe a standout destination that will leave a lasting impression.
South Beach is one of the most iconic destinations in Florida. Known for its dazzling shore, sparkling waters, and high-end lifestyle, Dog Beach is a must-visit location for travelers. Whether you’re looking for a relaxing day under the sun or want to indulge in high-end shopping and dining, South Beach has something for everyone.
While some reviewers note the seaweed and occasional smell, others rave about the pristine waters and soft sand. One reviewer mentioned that the water was clear two to three feet out and great for their pups. Another noted the sand is pure and white and that their dogs enjoyed the ocean. Dogs being allowed on the beach is a bonus for many dog owners.
Although the place is a small beach and often crowded, the beach is secluded and perfect for a quick stop. However, one reviewer suggested that hotels and residential buildings mainly controlled the coast, which can make access difficult. Still, South Beach is a great spot to dip in the ocean, relax under the sun, and enjoy the scenery.
For those who want to make a day out of their trip to Dog Beach, it’s worth packing a lunch, as the food options may be limited. One reviewer noted that Louie’s Backyard only allows dogs on the bar deck, which may be a letdown for those wanting to order food. However, the reviewer praised the location for its secludedness and cleanliness.
Overall, Dog Beach is worth visiting if you’re in Florida. While some may find it too small and crowded, others love the soft sand, crystal-clear water, and the fact that dogs are allowed. So, if you’re looking for a quintessential Florida beach experience, this seaside spot is worth adding to your list.
Simonton Beach in Florida is the spot if you’re looking for a clean, relaxing, and beautiful place to enjoy the shore. Visitors often comment on the clear water and the small size of the beach, which offers a cozy and intimate setting. While the limited number of chairs and umbrellas available might pose a problem during peak times, the waterfront Lagerheads Beach Bar provides excellent food and delicious frozen drinks that are perfect for enjoying in the water. Reviewers often describe the prices as reasonable and the atmosphere as friendly.
The bar is a popular spot among visitors to South Beach, with several mentioning it in their reviews. It’s a great place to grab a drink, watch the sunset, and even host a party or wedding reception. For those who prefer to stay active while on the shore, there’s a kiosk where you can book watersport activities. But if you’re after relaxation, the beach offers a nice sandy area to rent lounge chairs and umbrellas at a reasonable cost. Visitors agree that South Beach is a lovely place to spend an afternoon. With its tropical feel and a dog-friendly policy, it’s no surprise that many reviewers say they would choose this beach again on a future visit to Florida.
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Located just off the coast of Key West, Florida, Sunset Key is an idyllic little island that’s the perfect place to escape it all. This island, also known as Tank Island, has a storied past dating back to the Cold War when it served as a gasoline tank depot for the United States Navy. Today, it’s a private island with 69 exclusive properties, with only a few remaining vacant.
Visitors can reach Sunset Key via a shuttle boat from the Margaritaville Marina to the island. Once you’re there, you’ll first notice the stunning coastline surrounding the island. The white sand shore stretches into the turquoise-blue sea, creating a picture-perfect relaxing setting. While access to the island is controlled and requires a pass or an accompanying resident, the place rewards visitors with a truly immersive experience. As one reviewer describes it, “Florida Keys is a perfect tropical paradise, and if there’s one island in the archipelago that is the perfect island escape, it has to be Sunset Key.” Sunset-watching on the island is also quite popular, with one visitor stating, “We sailed there and enjoyed the magnificent sunset!” Sunset Key is a must-visit destination for those looking for a true island escape in Florida with its rich history, stunning coastline, and exclusive properties.
Dry Tortugas National Park combines nature and history to offer a unique experience. Situated 70 miles west of Key West, this remote park is a must-visit destination for those seeking a secluded escape. The park is home to Fort Jefferson, a massive but deserted 19th-century military fortress visible from miles away. The fort has been open to the public since the Civil War era, and folks can explore its history.
Many reviewers have praised the journey to Dry Tortugas as awe-inspiring as the destination itself. Visitors can get there by seaplane, catamaran, or ferry. While some complaint about visitors’ limited time on the island, others like Julia P rave about the catamaran crew, who made the trip comfortable and informative. One reviewer mentioned the importance of arriving early to get a low boarding pass number, giving you more time to explore the island.
Once visitors arrive, they can snorkel, swim, or enjoy the picturesque shorelines. The beaches at Dry Tortugas are small, although it’s terrific for travelers who want to escape the constant activity of more congested resorts. Some reviewers have complained about the limited underwater visibility, but others have noted seeing an array of marine life.
To maximize your time on the island, consider going on the seaplane trip. According to one visitor, it was the highlight of their Key West trip, while another traveler described it as an enjoyable and relaxed experience. A tourist from Houston, TX, appreciated the natural beauty of the park, its seclusion, and the fascinating fort. In contrast, another person who visited the island mentioned the smooth ferry ride and great food.
To summarize, Dry Tortugas National Park is a hidden gem worth discovering for anyone looking for a unique adventure in Florida. This park has something for everyone, from the stunning natural beauty to the rich history and fascinating fort.
Sitting on the edge of Big Pine Key, Bahia Honda State Park is another great beach getaway. Its crystal clear waters make it a popular spot for swimming, snorkeling, and scuba diving. There are also plenty of trails to explore if you want to do some hiking or bird watching. Be sure to bring your camera too.
The Casa Marina Resort is a lovely old hotel in Key West’s historic district. With its wide sandy beach, well-maintained grounds, and exceptional service, it’s no wonder why guests keep returning for a memorable vacation experience.
One reviewer raved about their stay, stating, “It is like we stayed at two different resorts yet were at the same time. I travel several times a year to ‘top resorts,’ and I would rank this among my favorites.” While another appreciated the hotel’s history and location, commenting that “Casa Marina is the oldest and most charming hotel in Key West, located in the old town. It’s exceptional due to its history, location, and wide sandy beach.” Although some reviewers have mentioned that the hotel requires minor renovations, they agree that it is nothing compared to the many advantages that Casa Marina has to offer. The attentive staff members are always ready to help and provide an outstanding experience for their guests, as one reviewer commented on the friendly front desk staff member, “He tries his best to make sure his fellow neighbors get what they’ve asked for – we are so grateful for that!”
Casa Marina Resort is an outstanding option for tourists planning to visit Florida. Visitors can anticipate an unforgettable holiday experience with its superb service, delightful ambiance, and strategic location.
If you’re planning a trip to Florida, check out Harvey Rest Beach Park in Key West. From the bustle of the city, you can escape to the tranquility of this park. The park features a beautiful walking path with roaming chickens, a small shoreline, and lovely views of the Atlantic Ocean. Someone who has been to the park says it is a peaceful and tranquil section of Key West’s coastline. “Lovely little park with great views out to sea, very few people, restful,” wrote another reviewer. On the benches, we basked in the waning rays of the day. If you’re searching for a quiet location to unwind, this is the place to go.
If you’re an early riser, try to check out Harvey Rest Beach Park. As one reviewer put it, it is a terrific place to unwind and welcome the day. You can see even more if you venture out onto the pier. Conveniently located and rarely crowded.
While the park isn’t a traditional beach with much sand, it’s still lovely to stroll along the shore. One reviewer noted, “Rest is more of a park than a beach with its limited sandy area. But it is nice to stroll along the water throughout the day and into the early evening.”
The park is also rich in history, with landmarks like the African Cemetery at Higgs Beach and the AIDS Memorial. One reviewer commented on the exciting features of the park, saying, “The draws here are the pier extending out into the water, the AIDS memorial, and the African-American cemetery. But it is nice to stroll along the water throughout the day and into the early evening.” The park offers a unique and peaceful experience for visitors to Key West. Hence, whether you’re looking for a place to relax, take a walk, or learn about local history, this park has something for everyone.
Best Beach in Key West for Swimming
Smathers Beach is often considered the best beach in Key West for swimming. The beach has a long stretch of soft sand and clear blue waters that are perfect for swimming. The waters are relatively calm, and there are no rocks or seaweed, making it easy to swim. Lifeguards also patrolled the beach, making it a safe place to swim, especially for families with children.
Best Beach in Key West for Snorkeling
While several areas in Key West fascinate snorkelers, one beach stands out above the Rest. Fort Zachary Taylor Beach is known to be the best beach in Key West for snorkeling. The beach is located in the Fort Zachary Taylor State Park and is known for its crystal clear waters and coral reef. The reef is home to various colorful fish and marine life, making it a perfect spot for snorkeling and scuba diving. You can rent snorkeling gear or bring your own.
Other Activities to Do at Key West Beaches
In addition to swimming and snorkeling, there are plenty of other activities to do at Key West beaches. You can go kayaking, paddle boarding, or take a sunset cruise. You can also go fishing or rent a jet ski. You’ll find plenty of options for water sports rentals at local rental shops. Some beaches also have volleyball courts, tennis courts, and playgrounds for children.
Key West Harbor boasts plenty of restaurants and bars, perfect for grabbing a quick bite or enjoying a leisurely dinner. Key West Beach is also home to several art galleries and shops where you can find souvenirs and unique items. Bring a picnic lunch if you’d prefer to stay on the beach for the day. Many have picnic tables available.
Insider Tips for Visiting Key West Beaches
- Shield yourself from ultraviolet rays by bringing sunscreen, a hat, and shades.
- Bring plenty of water and snacks, as there are not many food options available at some beaches.
- Rent a bike or scooter to explore the island and get to the beaches.
- Some local rental shops offer beach accommodations like shade tents and lounge chairs.
- To prevent hassles with parking and crowds, get there early.
- Respect the environment and wildlife by not littering or disturbing the natural habitats. The Key West residents want their paradise to continue.
Where to Stay Near Key West Beaches
Plenty of accommodations are available near Key West beaches, ranging from budget-friendly to luxury hotels. Some of the best options include:
- Ocean Key Resort & Spa (Luxury) – This five-star resort is ideally situated in the middle of the historic downtown and provides breathtaking seaside vistas. It boasts a spa, a pool, and a restaurant, and it’s only a short walk from the beach.
- Pier House Resort & Spa (Luxury) – A guest can enjoy the resort’s pool, spa, restaurant, and bar at this Gulf of Mexico property. It’s near the beach and offers breathtaking views of the water.
- Ambrosia Key West (Mid-Range) – The beach is within walking distance of this boutique hotel, which also features a pool, restaurant, and bar.
- Casa Marina Resort (Budget) – Casa Marina Resort can allow you to stay near the beach at a reasonable price. Famous beaches are just a short drive.
- Margaritaville Key West Resort & Marina – Besides its prime waterfront location, this resort features a swimming pool, restaurant, and marina. You can get to Higgs Beach in no time at all.
- The Gates Hotel Key West – This hotel is located near Smathers Beach and offers a tropical pool, fitness center, and restaurant. Those looking for a mid-range option should try this.
- Havana Cabana Key West – This hotel is near the airport and offers a complimentary shuttle to the beach. It has a pool, restaurant, and bar on-site and is an excellent option for those on a budget.
- Paradise Inn (Budget) – In Old Town Key West, this budget-friendly inn offers basic amenities such as air conditioning.
Best Time to Visit Key West Beaches
November through April see the lowest rainfall and warmest temperatures, making them ideal for a Key West beach trip. During this time, the water is more translucent, making it suitable for swimming and snorkeling. However, this is also the busiest time of year for visitors so you can count on larger crowds and higher rates. The wet months of May through October may not be ideal for sightseeing, but they are suitable for saving money on lodging and entertainment.
Getting to Key West
Driving through the beautiful Florida Keys, you can reach Key West from Miami in hours. The drive is an adventure, but remember to plan and ensure you have enough gas!
Many major cities have direct flights to Key West International Airport (EYW). The Key West Express ferry departs from Fort Myers Beach and Marco Island.
Ready to Plan Your Trip to Paradise?
Key West beaches offer a paradise for beach lovers. Visitors enjoy its crystal clear waters, soft sand, and stunning views. Key West has everything you could want for a vacation: a spot to kick back and relax, swim, kayak, or snorkel. From the famous Smathers Beach to the secluded Dog Beach, there’s a beach for everyone. Remember to bring sunscreen and plenty of water, and respect the environment. Plan your trip to Key West beaches today and discover paradise.
Read more about Florida’s natural beauty on our blog, Florida Splendors, if you enjoyed our article about Key West’s top beaches. We appreciate you reading what we’ve put together and wish you the best of luck finding places to enjoy.
When is the ideal time to enjoy the Key West Beaches?
Are there any beaches in Key West that are pet-friendly?
Yes, there are a few pet-friendly beaches in Key West, including Higgs Beach, Rest Beach, and Dog Beach. Remember to follow specific rules and regulations when bringing your pet to the beach, such as keeping them on a leash and cleaning up afterward.
Can I rent beach chairs and umbrellas at Key West's beaches?
Yes, most beaches in Key West offer beach chair and umbrella rentals. Prices may vary depending on the beach and the time of year, but you can generally expect to pay around $20-$30 for a set. Some beaches also offer other amenities, such as water sports equipment rentals and food and drink vendors.