Beaches on Key West

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by Kristin Young | Updated On: January 4, 2022 | beaches

Though its Florida island location may lead you to think otherwise, Key West isn’t really a beach destination as such. Most of the beaches on Key West are man made and rocky, so there are limited sandy spots to spend the day on.  

There is good news too, however. You can opt to stay at a Key West beach resort to enjoy exclusive access to a private beach, or choose to visit one of the public beaches for a while. Some of these have a cafe, restaurant or bar on site, making a day trip with a long, lazy lunch an appealing prospect.

If you’re looking for the best beach in Key West, this guide will help you find the best option for you. Whether you simply want to find the best beach in Key West for swimming, enjoy some sunbathing, go snorkeling, diving or fishing, take part in water sports or watch the sunset. 

Options range from small South Beach by the Southernmost Resort Key West to Fort Zachary, which is home to a historic fort as well as walking and cycling trails, and offers some great snorkeling too. 

From birdspotting or playing volleyball to parasailing and kayaking, there is plenty to do at Key West’s public beaches. Should you want more, we also outline the area’s best accommodations that come with private beaches. 

In this post:

MAP OF BEST PUBLIC BEACHES, KEY WEST

Best Public Beaches, Key West Map

THE 6 BEST PUBLIC BEACHES ON THE KEY WEST

Fort Zachary Beach

Aerial Fort Zachary Beach Key West
Photo credit: virsuzigils, Getty Images

KEY POINTS: Howard England Way, 8am to sundown, state park entry fees apply

  • Location: 601 Howard England Way, Key West, FL 33040 
  • Contact: 305-292-6713
  • Hours: 8am to sundown, fort closes 5pm
  • Entry: $6 per vehicle for 2 to 8 passengers, plus 50c Monroe County surcharge per person
  • $4.50 single passenger vehicle or motorcycle (Monroe County surcharge inclusive)
  • $2.50 pedestrian/cyclist/extra passenger (Monroe County surcharge inclusive)
  • Amenities: Cafe, cycle racks, bike & hiking trails, picnic area with grills, showers, restrooms
  • Attractions: Fort Taylor tours, Great Florida Birding Trail
  • Activities: Geocaching, fishing, paddle boarding, diving, snorkeling, swimming 
  • Rentals: Chairs, Umbrellas, snorkel gear

The beach at Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park is attractive, and there’s an abundance of natural and historic attractions at the site. As the sand is really just coral that has broken down, it’s not comfortable to walk on, so you will need to bring beach shoes.

Snorkeling is one of the key activities available at Fort Zachary Taylor on Key West, and the beach offers the easiest access to shore snorkeling on the island. As one of the Florida State Parks, plenty of amenities are provided including restrooms, showers, a picnic and BBQ area with grills.

The biking and cycling trails at Fort Zachary are popular and bike racks are available. Visitors can also take a led or self-guided tour of the Civil War fort or follow the Great Florida Birding Trail as well as going snorkeling, paddling, fishing, diving or swimming. 

Fort Zachary Beach, Key West
Photo credit: poladamonte, Getty Images

Umbrellas, chairs and snorkeling equipment can be rented from the chickee hut on site, and the availability of beach wheelchairs ensures accessibility. Service animals are also welcome at all Florida State Parks. 

Fort Zachary beach, Key West provides the ideal location for snorkelers – even beginners as there is direct access from the shoreline. It is also a favorite among history fans, as the fort provides a fascinating insight into life during the Civil War. 

The flora and fauna of the area is rich and diverse, and exploring the nature trails by bike or on foot  can keep both kids and adults occupied for hours. This is definitely a beach that’s worth setting aside an entire day to enjoy. 

Smathers Beach

Smathers Beach Key West
Photo credit: Gabrielle Maltini, Getty Images

KEY POINTS: South Roosevelt Boulevard, 7am to 11pm, public beach

  • Location: 2601 South Roosevelt Boulevard, Key West, FL 33040
  • Hours: 7am to 11pm
  • Parking: Paid street parking at $4 per hour
  • Accessibility: Disabled parking close to beach
  • Amenities: Snack vendors, volleyball nets, picnic areas, showers, restrooms
  • Activities: Kayaking, parasailing, volleyball, paddle boarding, jet skiing
  • Rentals: Chairs, umbrellas, kayaks, jet skis, paddle boards

Smathers Beach, Key West is the prettiest and most tropical feeling beach on the island, with white sands and palm trees that sway in the ocean breeze. This tropical style beach offers great views over the coastline and offers plenty of amenities. It is also the biggest beach on Key West. 

Located on the southern shore, this Key West Florida beach is public and one of the most popular in the area. It’s only around a mile from downtown and is fairly close to the airport, which means there may be a bit of aircraft noise on occasion. 

This beach is one of the most popular spots on Key West to watch the sunset, and during the day it is generally a peaceful and pleasant place offering kayak, chair and umbrella rental, picnic areas, volleyball nets, beach showers and restrooms. Snack vendors also sell drinks and food to visitors, and jet skis can also be rented.  

Smathers Beach Key West
Photo credit: TriggerPhoto, Getty Images

As a typical vacation style beach, around half a day to a full day is the ideal amount of time to spend at Smathers Beach. 

Higgs Beach

Higgs Beach Key West from pier
Higgs Beach Key West from pier/Photo credit: bennymarty, Getty Images

KEY POINTS: Atlantic Boulevard, 6am to 11pm, public beach

  • Location: 1000 Atlantic Blvd, Key West, FL 33040
  • Contact: 305-295-4385
  • Hours: 6am to 11pm
  • Parking: Free parking spaces close to beach
  • Amenities: Restaurant, picnic tables, grills, play park, fishing pier, showers, restrooms
  • Attractions: Higgs Beach Dog Park
  • Activities: Diving, kayaking, snorkeling, paddle boarding, swimming 
  • Rentals: Chairs, umbrellas, kayaks, paddle boards

Although smaller than Smathers Beach, Higgs Beach in Key West is also in a convenient location. This seaside spot also boasts clear waters and coconut palms for that tropical feel. It’s also one of the best of the public beaches in Key West, Florida for snorkelers. 

Throw on your mask and fins and you can snorkel just past the end of the pier at Higgs Beach, so it’s ideal for those who love to explore the underwater world. Those who enjoy fishing will also appreciate the pier that is often used for this purpose. 

Higgs Beach is also home to Salute, one of the most popular restaurants in Key West. It serves up a mixed menu featuring locally caught seafood, handmade pasta, freshly baked bread and a delectable Key Lime pie. 

Woman paddleboarding at Higgs Beach Key West
Higgs Beach Key West snorkeling area
Photo credit: bennymarty, Getty Images

If you’re looking for a dog beach on Key West Higgs is also the place to be, as there’s a fenced-in park right by the sand with lots of grass for pets to run around on. Your pooch can also go off-leash here, so it’s a great spot for some much-needed exercise. There are benches provided, so you can rest while your dog lets off steam.

This is one of the best Key West beaches for swimmers, snorkelers, divers and dog owners in particular, and it’s worth booking into Salute for lunch or dinner if you want to make a full day of it. 

Rest Beach

Rest Beach Key West from Pier
Rest Beach Key West from Pier

KEY POINTS: Atlantic Boulevard, dawn to 11pm, public beach

  • Location: White Street & Atlantic Boulevard, Key West, FL 33040
  • Hours: Dawn to 11pm
  • Parking: Free parking spaces close to beach
  • Amenities: Amenities of Higgs Beach close by
  • Attractions: C. B. Harvey Park
  • Activities: Paddle boarding, kayaking

Just to the east of Higgs Beach is the C. B. Harvey Park and Rest Beach. There isn’t a lot of sand or that much to do on, but it offers direct access to the water for paddle boarders and kayakers.  

It’s certainly more of a park than a beach, but is a pleasant place to spend time and very easy to get to while visiting Higgs Beach. Lots of people like to search for seashells at Rest Beach, and you can also roll up your pants to take a paddle in the soft sands lapped by warm, clear waters. 

There are also several Key West attractions close to Higgs and Rest beaches. These include the AIDS Memorial, the African Cemetery and West Martello tower. All the amenities of Higgs Beach are also conveniently close by, as is Salute restaurant.

Tranquil Rest Beach and the C. B. Harvey Park are worth strolling to while you’re visiting Higgs Beach, and it’s a peaceful spot from which to see the sun rise over the Florida Keys. If you’re bringing or renting paddle boards or kayaks (available for rental at Higgs Beach), Rest Beach provides the ideal place to enter the water. 

Simonton Beach

Simonton Beach, Key West

KEY POINTS: Simonton Street, 8am to sundown, state park entry fees apply

  • Location: Simonton Street, Key West, FL 33040
  • Hours: 7am to 11pm
  • Parking: Limited parking, walking or cycling recommended
  • Amenities: Bar & restaurant with restrooms, picnic tables, boat ramp
  • Activities: Water sports, swimming, boating
  • Rentals: Beach chairs & umbrellas from Loggerheads

As another of Key West’s smaller beaches, Simonton Beach is the only Key West public beach located on the livelier side of the central zone. Due to its size it often gets very busy, but is worth a visit to watch the sunset or admire the views toward Christmas Tree island.

Beach chairs can be rented on site, so you can sit on the soft sands and soak up the Florida sunshine. There is also direct access into the clear waters of the harbour, and the beach is close to the Pier House resort. 

Laggerheads shop on Simonton Beach, Key West FL

One of Key’s West’s most popular bars is right here on site, so there’s somewhere fun to go once the sun has disappeared over the horizon. Serving food as well as drinks, Loggerheads also sells frozen cocktails that can be taken onto the sands or even into the water with you. Water sports equipment and fast food can also be obtained from the beach vendors.  

Simonton is a good place to take a dip in the sea, and you may even spot the likes of tropical fish or manatees while in the water. You can also wade out to reach the sandbar. Close to town Simonton is also a dog friendly beach.  

South Beach

South beach in Key West, Florida
Sout beach, Key West, FL

KEY POINTS: Duval Street, public beach

  • Location: 1319 Duval Street, Key West, FL 33040 
  • Contact: 305-296-6577
  • Parking: Limited parking by Southernmost Beach Cafe
  • Amenities: Cafe, restrooms
  • Activities: Swimming, paddling, sunbathing  
  • Rentals: Beach chairs

Right by the Southernmost beach resort on Key West is little South Beach. It’s also close to the famous buoy that marks the most southerly spot in the US.

Being small, it’s ideal for a quick dip, and those who do so will be following in the footsteps of Tennessee Williams, no less, who was said to swim here daily. Access, however, is via a rocky ledge topped with sand, and in this sense South Beach is typical of many in the area. 

Being located at the end of lively Duval Street, South Beach is one of the most convenient in Key West, and also holds the honor of being the most southerly beach in the entire US. Chairs ca be rented here, so you can spend some time sunbathing or watching the sunset as well as paddling or swimming in the ocean. 

As it’s just 200 meters long, South Beach isn’t really an all day kind of place, but it’s great for a quick pit stop between sightseeing or before heading on a Duval Street bar crawl. 

RESORT BEACHES ON KEY WEST

If you’re planning a trip to Key West, it’s worth knowing that there are several resorts with their own private beaches. These are reserved exclusively for guests’ use, so they can be less busy than the public beaches in Key West. 

Our personal favourites include Casa Marina and Pier House, and we’ve also outlined 9 other great options in our post on the best places to stay on the beach in Key West article. These include popular stays such as the Barbary Beach House Key West and the Marriott Beachside Key West, and all our picks are right by the ocean. 

WHICH ARE THE BEST BEACHES IN KEY WEST FOR YOU?

Although Key West is not blessed with the vast, beautiful stretches of sand found in other parts of Florida, the top beaches in Key West will provide you with a place to play, swim, sunbathe and snorkel, and at several you can also dine with a sea view at one of the island’s most popular lunch spots.  

Whether it’s a quick stop at Simonton beach in Key West while wandering around town or an all day trip to the beachfront in Key West to sunbathe or sample water sports, each of the best beaches in Key West Florida has something unique to offer.

Looking for more ideas for your next Florida Keys trip??? Check out all of our Florida Keys Guides HERE!

Profile Kristin and Andrew with palm tree background

Hi!  We’re Kristin & Andrew, lovers of everything tropical.  We spend as much time as possible searching for the best beaches, snorkeling, hiking, and fun in the sun!