Your Travel Guide to the Best Beaches in Key West and the Florida Keys

I am often asked, what is the best beach in Key West? Well, Key West and the Florida Keys may not be known for their beaches, but there are a few you really need to check out. Even though the Keys are a chain of islands, rethink your idea of a beach. Yes, there is sand and water, but there are shallow waters around these islands so there isn’t much surf, but the views are amazing above and below the waters. Let’s check out the best beaches in the Keys.

Higgs Beach

This public beach is officially named the Clarence S. Higgs Memorial Beach Park. Located on the Atlantic Ocean and adjacent to the Waldorf Astoria Casa Marnia Resort here you will enjoy over 16 acres of amazing oceanfront views. There is so much to do at this beach, plan to stay all day. No matter if you are trying to find something to do with your kids, your friends, your family, or even your dog, there is something here to make everyone happy. In this park you will find:

  • A Civil War Era fort – also known as the West Martello
  • Salute on the Beach – a great beachside cafe that serves amazing food and great cocktails
  • The largest African Refugee Burial Ground in this hemisphere
  • One of the largest AIDS Memorials in the country

Higgs Beach offers the only shore-accessible underwater marine park in the United States. Be sure to check out all of the activities that are available here, such as swimming, sunbathing, beach volleyball, tennis, pickleball, and a children’s playground. Want to play in the water? The Beach Conncessionare offers many items to rent, including, beach chairs, umbrellas, kayaks, and paddleboards.

Be sure to check out the West Martello Tower. This Civil War Fort is now home to the Key West Garden Club. For a small donation, take the self guided tour through the two acres of beautiful gardens. It’s a great spot

to see how locals garden and ask a lot of questions.

Bringing along your dog? The park offers a great dog park.

higgs beach storm coming over water

Smathers Beach

This is the largest public beach in Key West, and probably the most iconic. Located on the south side of the island, it’s between the Atlantic Ocean and AIA. There is free parking available street side as well as a small parking lot. The beach is named after George Smathers and offers a great place to unwind and rest from a night spent on Duval Street.

Amenities here include beach volleyball nets, jet ski rentals, restrooms, shower facilities, and volleyball courts. Food trucks can be found along the street and offer a great selection of food and cold drinks. The white sand found here is rumored to be imported from the Bahamas. But, that’s ok with me.

smathers beach palm trees at sunrise best beach in key west

South Beach

Located at the end of Duval Street, this is where I end up at the end of my morning walk. This is one of the smallest of the Key West beaches, but it has an amazing view. But, then again, don’t all beaches have an amazing view? One one side is the Southernmost Resort and South Beach Pier. Behind the beach is the Southernmost Cafe.

Since there are no public restrooms and coolers are not allowed, this isn’t a place I would plan to spend all day. But, for an afternoon, or before you enjoy a great meal at the Cafe, this is a great spot. There are beach chair rentals available. I usually head here for my morning walk, as you can see the sunrise views and colors from the beach and the pier. Rumored that Tennessee Williams swam here every day he was in Key West.

south beach at sunrise

Rest Beach

Here you will find picnic tables and mature palm trees. This is often referred to as C.B. Harvey by the locals. It is named after Cornelius Bradford Harvey, a former Key West mayor, and city commissioner. Located on the east side of White Street Pier, it is adjacent to Higgs Beach.

What makes this place unique is the strip of natural vegetation and some small dunes backing the beach. There is some shade, free parking, and a boat ramp. A little known secret is this is a great place to watch a Key West sunset and avoid the crowds of Mallory Square. Get there early and enjoy a take out dinner on one of the picnic tables.

Of course, you can always catch a sunrise from here as well. Across the street, you will find more picnic tables and restrooms. The large open space here is the Charles “Sonny” McKoy Indigenous Park, home to over 125 species of tropical trees and shrubs native to the Florida Keys. When the Southernmost Bocce League isn’t playing, the seven regulation bocce ball courts are open to the public.

rest beach view of water best beach in key west

Dog Beach

This is a very small beach and the only beach in Key West that allows dogs. While other parks may offer a dog park, they are not usually allowed on the beach. Located right next door Louie’s Backyard, it’s convenient to stop by after Fido has played in the water and enjoy lunch or a drink by the water. Louie’s is dog friendly and offers an amazing view. There are no picnic areas here, just a very small strip of beach and it is not fenced in, so if Fido tends to run off, keep this in mind.

dig beach sand and water best beach in key west

Simonton Beach

During the summer months, I head over here for sunset. Great views of the sun hitting the water. During those months, can be difficult to see the sun hit the water from Mallory Square. This is also a very small beach, but it does host Lagerheads. A great beach cafe serving great food, beer, and cocktails. You can rent a chair and umbrella and spend as much time as you want enjoying the water and the views.

water and beach view best beach in key west

Fort Zachary Taylor Beach

Found inside Fort Zachary Taylor State Park, this place offers just about anything you will need to enjoy a day at the beach. This national historic landmark is centered around a Civil War fort, which you can wander through on a self guided tour. The fort houses the largest cache of Civil War armament in the world. It is also the southernmost state park in the continental United States.

Here you can bike, watch birds, fish, hike, picnic, snorkel, swim, and even walk the nature trails. There is a concession stand, restrooms, showers, and parking. Rent snorkel gear and explore the coral reefs just off shore. The sand here is not… sandy, it’s rocky. I always suggest you wear water shoes while visiting this beach. Pay your entrance fee and enjoy in and out privileges all day. Spend the day lazing on the sand and then come back for a beautiful view of sunset. One of my favorite places to enjoy a Key West sunset. Located in the Truman Annex, this is very central to Old Town.

Want to explore beaches outside of Key West? Then check out these options.

fort zach fort walls

Bahia Honda State Park

Located on Big Pine, you can see the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean from the old bridge. As with most state parks, there is a lot to do here. You can rent kayaks to head out onto the water. Plan to snorkel as the underwater views are amazing. There’s a snack bar, gift shop, and even a boat launch here. Plan to stop here on your way down to Key West, or on a trip up the Keys. Plan to be here for sunset, it is one of my favorite places to spend an evening enjoying the sand and sunset views.

bahia honda bridge

Sombrero Beach

In Marathon, you will find Sombrero Beach. This is a turtle nesting beach and frankly one of the best kept secret beaches in the Florida Keys. Here you will find free parking, a picnic pavilion, children’s playground, volleyball court, restrooms, and showers.

sombrero beach view

Dry Tortugas National Park

This is worth every penny spent to see. One of the best places to see tropical fish and truly explore a one of a kind national park. Located about 70 miles west of Key West, the only way out here is by ferry, called the Yankee Freedom III, or seaplane. Some fishing charters offer overnight stays as well. If you want to experience this place, plan way ahead. Tickets are booked out months ahead so this isn’t a last minute place to head out to see. But, trust me, you will love the experience.

By ferry, it is an all day trip. Leaving Key West, you arrive at the park and can take a tour of Fort Jefferson which was a Civil War prison. Very cool to wander through the fort and learn all about its history and take in the stunning views from the top of the fort walls. Then plan to snorkel the waters around the island. Some of the very best snorkeling you will experience. Included in the ferry trip are breakfast and lunch, a tour of Fort Jefferson, and complimentary snorkel equipment. After spending the day at the park, settle back on the ferry for a relaxing ride back to Key West and perhaps enjoy an adult beverage from the bar.

No matter what beach you visit while in Key West, or the Florida Keys, there is so much to see and do. I always love to walk a sandy beach, put my toes in the sand and take in the amazing water views. The best beach in Key West? I would say any of the above, how about you?

fort jefferson wall view best beach in key west

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