If you are planning a Key West vacation, spending some quality time at the beach is a top priority on your travel itinerary. Boasting temperate waters and more than 3,400 hours of annual sunshine, the beaches of Key West are some of the most popular destinations on this tropical island paradise. You can enjoy the sun, sand and warm water as well as a variety of activities like swimming, snorkeling and fishing.
There are five different public beaches situated on the
southeastern side of Key West.
Starting in the east and meandering west along the shoreline from the Atlantic to the Gulf of Mexico, this guide provides an overview of these popular stretches of sand.
Boasting a half-mile stretch of soft, white sand, Smathers Beach is one of the most popular destinations in Key West. The longest beach on the island, it is the center of action during spring break when hundreds of college students descend on Key West. The rest of the year, the man-made beach is great for children because they can wade a considerable distance from the shoreline without the risk of a sudden drop off or a strong undertow. There is also a spot for snorkeling. Lined by beautiful palm trees, the beach has plenty of shade. In addition to beach chairs and umbrellas for relaxing in the sun, you can also rent equipment for jet skiing, kayaking, parasailing and windsurfing. Nets are available for beachgoers who want to play volleyball.
Located on South Roosevelt Boulevard, the beach has all the major conveniences. There is ample parking, restroom facilities and showers along with concession stands and picnic tables. The sidewalk along Roosevelt serves as a seaside boardwalk for scenic walking, jogging or bike riding. The Fort East Martello Museum is a short walk away. The beach is open every day from 7am to 11pm. Access is free for all beach goers.
Locally known as the unfinished road to Cuba, the monumental White Street Pier is a popular fishing spot. Stroll along the pier, and watch tropical sea birds compete with anglers for the catch of the day. The AIDS Memorial is located at the foot of the pier, which also provides beautiful views of Key West. Adjacent to the pier is the dog-friendly Rest Beach, which is also known as C.B. Harvey’s Beach. This small 300-yard-long beach has several picnic areas. It is a wonderful place for viewing the spectacular sunrise while you take an early morning walk. Situated west of the beach is the historic West Martello Tower that the Key West Garden Club has transformed into a colorful botanical garden. C.B. Harvey Rest Beach Park is situated just inland from the shore. While palm trees offer shade, restroom facilities are a short walk away. Open daily from dawn until 11pm, the recreation area has plenty of parking and does not charge an admission fee.
Higgs Beach offers the quintessential Key West beach experience complete with tropical palms casting their long shadows across the sand. The romantic setting is a popular destination for locals and visitors who dream of a Key West beach wedding. The white sand and wooden pier are ideal spots for working on your Florida tan. And the beach offers umbrella rentals for those who prefer a shaded oasis while enjoying the sea breeze.
With free parking, you can pull up close to the beach and easily unload your family’s gear and coolers. In addition to a restaurant and picnic tables, the beach has tennis and volleyball courts. Your little ones can swim and build sand castles while the adults relax. Featuring swings, a slide and other recreation equipment, the Astro City playground is located just across the street. Higgs Beach is located near the West Martello Tower.
The liveliest of Key West’s swaths of sand, South Beach is located at the south end of Duval Street. Along with beach chairs and umbrellas, this seaside location features the well-known Southernmost Beach Café that celebrates the community’s counterculture philosophy with its “no shirt, no shoes, no problem” policy. The beach is adjacent to the historic Southernmost House and the colorful buoy that designates the location as the southernmost point in the United States. There are no facilities at this free public beach, which is open from 8am until the restaurant closes.
The second-most popular beach in Key West, Fort Zachary Taylor State Park offers a variety of water and onshore activities. You can enjoy a daily ranger-led tour of the Civil War-era bastion and stroll or bike along the scenic nature trails where you can view Key West’s indigenous flora and fauna. Unlike the sandy Smathers Beach, Fort Zachary Taylor State Park has a crushed coral beach so beachgoers should wear water shoes or flip-flops to protect their feet. In addition to a snack bar, charcoal grills and shaded picnic areas, there are equipment rental shops, restrooms and showers. Anglers can fish off the jetty. You can also swim and enjoy other water sports like windsurfing and snorkeling as well as kayaking and paddleboarding in the clear, clean water inhabited by tropical fish. The park is a wonderful place to experience the famous Key West sunset. You can also visit nearby attractions like the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center and the USCGC Ingham Maritime Museum. The park is open year-round from 8am to sunset and there is a small admission fee for the park depending on how many people are in your party.
There are no lifeguards on duty at any of these beaches, so guests should use their discretion when swimming and snorkeling. Local ordinances prohibit open-container drinking as well as topless and nude sunbathing. While fishing is allowed off most of the piers, check with the local authorities regarding license requirements.
Bookended by the popular Smathers Beach and Fort Zachary Taylor State Park, the southeast coastline of Key West offers great weather, a laid-back ambiance and the opportunity to enjoy a variety of water sports.
No trip to Key West would be complete without
visiting one of these beaches.