The 7 Best Beaches in Key West

The 7 Best Beaches in Key West

 

Key West is well known (some may even say notorious!) for a lot of amazing experiences, and if you know where to go, the beaches are certainly one of them. When you have had enough of the amazing restaurants, art galleries and myriad of bars – take a day in the sun at one of these top-rated beaches.

Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park Beach

 

Fort Zachary Taylor Beach

Ariel View Of Fort Zachary Taylor Beach

 

Located at 601 Howard England Way, Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park Beach is exactly what its name states. It is a beach in a state park with an historic fort. They are open 365 days per year, 8am until sundown and charge a very nominal fee for use of the park and facilities. $6 per vehicle (less for bikes and foot traffic) will get you a Key West experience that is one of the best values on the island. They are also dog friendly, much like the rest of Key West.

There is abundant parking if you drive to the beach, but also plenty of bike racks should you choose to pedal there as well. There is an expansive tree lined and shaded area where you will find picnic tables and grills. You are welcome to bring in your own food and drink however, alcohol must be purchased at the concession stand. Our suggestion is to “set up camp” for the day under the trees and head out to the sun and sand as desired.

The sandy beach itself is a fairly good size, especially for Key West beaches. Even on the busiest days it never seems crowded and everyone finds their private space. Many people stay until sundown to take advantage of the most beautiful sunset spots on the island. The water, as expected is a visual sensation. Although there are no lifeguards on duty, the water is quite swimmable and the surf is generally calm. We do suggest wearing water shoes or something similar as the entrance to the water is lined with chunks of coral, shells and rocks that can be a bit rough on the feet. Snorkeling there is one of the best spots to do so that is accessible from land. If you forget to bring your snorkeling gear or just want to try it out – you can rent a mask and fins on site.

The beach has a great concession stand that serves up a variety of food and snacks. The concession stand also has a limited bar which features some delicious frozen drinks and a small but well thought out selection of beer. In addition to food and drink, they also provide rental chairs and umbrellas (beach wheelchairs are free). You will also find clean and well-maintained public restrooms and showers.

If you are interested in a little more than just sun and sand, you can also dive at Fort Zachary Beach. You will need a dive flag and any other legal requirements. Fishing is allowed from the rock jetty that is next to the main ships channel. You will want to make sure that your fishing license is up to date and bring all your own gear. If birding is your thing, the park is a part of the Great Florida Birding Trail and birds are no exception to the amazing wildlife of the Florida Keys. There is also a launch for paddle boards and kayaks if you feel like getting out on the water.

As for the historical aspect of the park, the best way to experience a visit would be to head to the entrance of the Fort by 11AM. They provide a daily guided tour and give an in-depth explanation of the fort that was built to protect the Harbor of Key West. The 1800’s Civil War era fort was active during the Civil War, Spanish American War, World War 1, World War 2 and The Cuban Missile Crisis. You are also welcome to take a self-guided tour where they will provide a map and pamphlets explaining some of the key points.

 

Smathers Beach

Smathers Beach Key West

Smathers Beach Key West

Running along the south side of the island along the Atlantic Ocean, you will find Key West’s largest public beach. Smathers Beach is roughly a half of a mile long and runs along South Roosevelt Boulevard (A1A) roughly from the airport heading west to Bertha Street. Parking is street parking only, but it is plentiful and you should have no trouble finding a spot, the parking is metered though. Metered parking outside the beach is from 8AM-12AM daily except Sunday. Sunday is 12PM to 12AM.

Being Key West’s largest public beach, there is generally enough room to not feel crowded and soak up the sun in your own personal space. Smathers Beach is a very popular spot for the spring break crowd though, so it does get considerably busier during March and April. There are public Volleyball nets and a kiosk to rent Jet Skis, paddle boards, chairs and umbrellas and a few other items. There are also public restrooms and shower facilities. There is no food concession, so it is recommended to bring your own food and drink. There are however, several food trucks that park along South Roosevelt Boulevard daily and are quite popular.

The beach itself is beautiful and it is not uncommon to catch a wedding taking place. The sand is soft and powdery and the entrance to the water is fairly clear and free of rocks. The water is typically crystalline, but can get murky is stirred up after a storm. Smathers is a popular swimming destination because there is very little wake – so it is a good place to snorkel too – but we would suggest doing it towards the end of the beach where there is a rock jetty. Depending on storms, the season, wind, and nature’s own plan, you may find seaweed lining the shore. This is typically case in June and July and otherwise much less of an issue, if an issue at all.

 

Clarence S. Higgs Memorial Beach

Higgs Beach Key West

Higgs Beach Key West

Clarence S. Higgs Memorial Beach, or “Higgs” is one of the smaller beaches (16 ½ acres) in Key West but it is certainly worth a visit. Higgs beach is located at 1000 Atlantic Boulevard (at the end of Reynolds Street), next door to the Casa Marina and flanked by 2 piers. The recently renovated 400 ft western pier is a great place to stroll and look down into the water and spots some of the plentiful aquatic life. You can also fish off the pier or use the built in staircases to enter the water if you choose not to do so from the beach. The eastern pier is the White Street Pier. It is a massive structure going far out into the water and is a great place to stroll, sit on benches and view a spectacular photo op sunset. At the entrance to White Street Pier is the Key West Aids Memorial and the African Cemetery. Parking at the beach is free, but the spots do get taken up quickly. There are also pay to park spots on Reynolds Street which are typically available.

Higgs beach has imported sand, replaced by the city to combat erosion – so the sand is mostly fine and soft. We still do recommend water shoes although there are much less rocks and coral here than Fort Zachary Taylor. The beach is wide and is not generally too crowded. We find there are less tourists at this beach than Smathers but a few more wild chickens and roosters. The water is generally calm, clear, and very little wake. It gradually deepens and makes for a great beach to wade in. You can snorkel there and it is best to do so directly out front of the beach where the old pilins are. You are sure to catch an array of tropical fish swimming around the remnants of the old pier.

Higgs Beach is very family friendly and has a host of amenities. There are 2 children’s playgrounds, a dog park, barbecues, covered picnic tables, tennis courts, volleyball courts, public restrooms and outdoor showers. The showers are not private but they are great for rinsing off the salt and sand. The concession offers an array of options including chair and umbrella rentals (there are some great palm trees for shade), snorkel gear, sailboats, and the option to book a myriad of tourist activities. There is no food concession at this beach, so be sure to pack food and drink. At the eastern end of the beach is Salute! Restaurant which has a full bar and indoor as well as outdoor beachfront dining. The pavilions at Higgs Beach are also rentable for parties and events. If you need a break from the sun, check out the nearby Civil War Era Fort. Fort West Martello is now occupied by the Key West Garden Club and they maintain a beautiful walkable garden.

 

Simonton Beach / Lagerheads Beach Bar

Simonton Street Beach Key West

Simonton Street Beach

At the north end of the island, located at 0 Simonton Street you will find Simonton Beach and Lagerheads Beach Bar. Taking a visit to Simonton Beach and Lagerheads Beach Bar is truly a Key West experience all on its own. Parking is plentiful and there is a public lot directly at the entrance to the beach that can host cars, bikes and scooters.

The beach is very small (the smallest on this list), just a strip of sand between two buildings – but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in fun. Although Simonton Beach is a public beach, it hosts a bar and restaurant on site. If you are interested in sitting on the beach and sipping frozen cocktails, this is the place you want to be. The restaurant has a full menu of island Key West fare and offers both indoor and outdoor seating. Many days and nights they have live music and bring in a selection of local musicians to please the crowds.

There is a concession that offers just about every activity under the sun. From chair rentals (you may bring your own) to full boat charters and hydrobike tours, Lagerheads has a full menu of activities and tours to choose from. Here is a list of their offerings – feel free to book directly from this page.

Rum Runner 16 Passenger Sunset Downtown Tour

Sandbar Watersports 6 Passenger

Shared Sandbar Trips (Per Seat)

Rum Runner 6 Passenger Sunset Downtown Tour

Rum Runner (16 passenger) Private 4 Hour Shipwreck and Sandbar

Rum Runner (Private up to 6 Passenger) Private 4 hour Shipwreck and Sandbar

Rum Runner (Private up to 6 Passenger) 2 Hour Bar Boat Rum Party

Key West Hydrobike Rentals & Day Tours

Rum Runner (Private up to 16 Passenger) 2 Hour Bar Boat Rum Party

Key West Hydrobikes SUNSET Tours

LHWS Barebones Sandbar Boat Rentals (up to 10 passengers)

The sand is kept very clean but the swimming area is limited. This is not the best snorkeling spot on the list but people do snorkel there and see some interesting fish. This is more of a place to float in a tube and relax the day away. If you stay until sunset, a five-minute walk will bring you to Mallory Square where you can enjoy the street performers and celebrate the sun going down.

 

Rest Beach/CB Harvey Park

Rest Beach CB Harvey Park Key West

Rest Beach

One of the lesser-known beaches in Key West is the CB Harvey Park otherwise known as Rest Beach. It is located at White Street and Atlantic Boulevard, just east of the White Street Pier (Edward B Knight Pier).  The beach is open 7am – 11pm every day and offers free parking, which is plentiful and offered on Atlantic Boulevard. This small (only 300 yards) and off the beaten path offers little amenities, but it does offer a much more secluded and quieter atmosphere than the nearby Higgs Beach. There are no public restrooms or showers or concessions but there are plenty of picnic tables and a walking path that are in a nicely landscaped area. If needed, all the concessions and amenities from Higgs Beach are a short walk away.

The sand at CB Harvey Park/Rest Beach is soft and the water is calm. Water shoes are recommended, much like most Key West beaches due to some sharp shells and coral – mostly at the water line. Snorkeling can be good here, especially if you stick to the areas around the pier where the fish tend to congregate. Overall, this little off the beaten path beach is a great place to go for a few hours and settle down with a book or a nice place to take a stroll with your dog.

 

South Beach

South Beach Key West

South Beach

South Beach is another smaller beach, roughly 200 feet long, but what makes this beach stand out is its location. South Beach can be found at the south end of Duval Street on the corners of South Street and Duval Street. The proximity to the Duval Street shops, The Key West Butterfly Conservatory and the famous Southernmost Point Buoy make this little beach a great place to take a break from tourism for a little while and relax on the sand or stop into the restaurant for a oceanside lunch.

Although South Beach is a public beach, it hosts the Southernmost Beach Café which is a restaurant of the Southernmost Beach Resort. Being so, you will feel as if you are staying on a resort’s beach. There is a kiosk that rents chairs but you will need to bring your own towels. There is no doubt that South Beach is a tourist centered beach. The hotel guests flock there and a few locals as well, but tourists are the main stay. There are no public restrooms (the restaurant has them for customers) and parking is minimal. Being in the walking part of Key West, you have to get lucky to find a parking spot here.

The sand at South Beach is well kept, soft and clean. Water shoes are suggested as there are a few rocky spots and chunks of coral. The water is a little choppier than Higgs or Rest Beach but it gets gradually deeper and makes for a great place to swim. There is also a large concrete walking pier (The Emma Carrero Cares Pier) which is a nice stroll into the Atlantic Ocean and makes a great snorkeling spot as well.

 

Dog Beach

Dog Beach Key West

Dog Beach

The final entry on our list of Key West Beaches is Dog Beach. We could not leave out a beach that is dedicated to our four-legged friends. Dog Beach is located at 700 Waddell Avenue and you would have to find on street free parking. The neighborhood is absolutely one of the quieter areas of Key West, so parking is not typically an issue.

The beach itself is small as expected for Key West, but this particular beach is reserved for the dogs. Many people let their pets run off leash and swim, explore and play catch on the sand. There are no facilities here, so please bring your own clean up bags and anything you may need. Being a dog beach, this is not a place we suggest to plan a day out of but maybe an hour or two to let the dogs run free end enjoy themselves. Very conveniently, Dog Beach is located directly next to Louie’s Backyard which is one of the best restaurants in Key West. They have a back deck and bar that is dog friendly, so lunch or dinner with the pup after a beach break is a great idea. Louie’s is also a great place to catch a sunset.

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