Swaying palm trees, powdery white sand and placid blue water—while Key West may have more bars than beaches, here are the island’s best spots for a day spent in the sun and surf.
The most popular stretch of sand in Key West is Smathers Beach. Spanning about half a mile along S. Roosevelt Boulevard on the southern part of the island, Smathers attracts its fair share of crowds and it’s easy to see why. There are plenty of activities, food venders, and watersport rentals here and parking is free along the boulevard. Practice your serve in a game of beach volleyball, explore the calm waters via stand-up paddleboard, or let the wind catch your sail as you drift along the coast in a mini sailboat.
Higgs Beach/Rest Beach
For a less crowded option, rise and shine early and head out to Higgs Beach inside CB Harvey Rest Beach Park. While the party crowd is still sleeping off last night’s shenanigans, this is your chance to find solace in the sunrise. Take a stroll out on the White Street Fishing Pier, stake a claim to one of the covered waterfront picnic areas, do a few yoga stretches and don’t be surprised if you hear or even see a rooster—they tend to like this beach too. Another perk: parking is free.
Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park
Located about two miles from downtown Key West, Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park is a great beach to spend the entire day because there’s plenty to do. Pack your snorkel gear and a picnic lunch (there are plenty of barbecue grills). Inside the park, you’ll find a remarkable old fort named after President Zachary Taylor that was used during the Civil War to protect the Key West Harbor. The fort has the largest collection of Civil War-era cannons in the country and is now a National Historic Landmark. Stay until the park’s close at sundown and watch a spectacular sunset. Park admission is $6 per vehicle, plus $.50 per person.
Dry Tortugas National Park
For a memorable beach day that’s truly off the beaten path, book a ferry boat or seaplane ride out to the remote Dry Tortugas National Park. The 100-square mile park is located almost 70 miles west off the shores of Key West. It’s quite the trek to reach the collection of seven islands in the middle of the Straits of Florida, but well worth it. And just as an FYI, you’ll want to bring everything with you that you think you’ll need for the day, including snorkel gear, sunscreen, food, and water. On Garden Key, explore historic Fort Jefferson, one of the nation’s largest 19th century forts. For the true adventurers, there are campsites, so you can stay overnight—the stargazing is superb. Admission to the park is $10 per person. Campsites are $15 per site and there are only 10 of them, so you’ll want to reserve a spot well in advance. And ferry rides through Yankee Freedom start at $175 per person.