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Public Beaches in Key West - Everything You Need to Know

Suzanne Bratton

November 12th 2020

Public Beaches in Key West - Everything You Need to Know

Key West, FL, is a tropical island paradise, known for its wonderful watersports, coral reefs, historic landmarks, and awe-inspiring sunsets. Key West spans a mere 8 square miles, but rest assured, what they lack in quantity, they make up for in quality! The natural beauty, historic relevance, rich culture, and plethora of fun things to do encompasses this tiny island in a massive and majestic way.

With that being said, Key West is not particularly known for its beaches, since they are not as expansive as those in your typical tropical vacation destination. However, what they lack in size, they make up for in crystal-clear waters, scenic beauty, and hours upon hours of fun in the sun! Even further, there are plenty of public beaches in Key West to choose from, so finding your very own slice of beachside bliss is a cinch. Keep reading to discover the best public beaches in Key West, and everything you need to know including parking, directions, and more!

Table of Contents

  • Smathers Beach
  • Rest Beach
  • Higgs Beach
  • Dog Beach
  • South Beach
  • Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park
  • Bahia Honda State Park
  • Dry Tortugas National Park

 


 

Smathers Beach

 

smathers beach view from the water
Image of Smathers Beach from Wikimedia

 

When it comes to choosing a public beach in Key West, you truly can’t go wrong with Smathers Beach! Smathers Beach starts at mile marker zero, the beginning of A1A, and is about a half of a mile long. One of the most popular beaches on the island, it is estimated that almost 150,000 people visit Smathers Beach, each and every year.

And it’s easy to see why! Positioned on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, this beach is known for its soft sand, crystal clear waters, and plenty of opportunities for beach-side shenanigans. Not only that, it’s one of the best places to catch a sunset, which is a must when in Key West. Other amazing amenities this public beach in Key West has to offer include the following:

  • Volleyball nets
  • Picnic tables
  • Showers
  • Restrooms
  • Boat ramp
  • And MORE!

Aside from the awesome extras, Smathers Beach is also in close proximity to street vendors, equipment and watersports rentals, and restaurants. With so much to offer, and something for all ages and interests, spending a day at Smathers Beach is easy, and fun! Kayaking, paddleboarding, and jet skiing are just a few of the many fun things to do here. One unique way to enjoy Smathers Beach, however, is from above on a high-flying parasailing excursion.

 

parasailing near smathers beach in key west
According to a recent Traveler Story, checking out the beach while soaring among the clouds is an exhilarating experience

 

Parasailing in Smathers Beach is one of the most popular activities in the area. Reach heights of up to 300 feet when parasailing over Smathers Beach, and beyond! When parasailing in Key West on a clear day, flyers can see for up to 12 miles in every direction. This thrilling, yet tranquil, experience is the perfect way to enjoy the beach, and the island as a whole, in a completely new way. Not only that, the cost of parasailing is affordable and can be squeezed into most vacation budgets. Be sure to look out for these amazing sights:

  • Incredible wildlife such as dolphins, sea turtles, and sharks
  • Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park
  • Key West Historic Harbor and Mallory Square
  • Cruise ships arriving and departing
  • and MORE!

And if that’s not tempting enough, there are convenient departure locations throughout the island, including Smathers Beach. So, no matter where you are in Key West, you’re not far from an unforgettable parasailing excursion!

{Read Reviews & Book Key West Parasailing Online}

Hours, Location, Parking, and Additional Information

Smathers Beach is free to the public, and is open daily from 7:00am until 11:00pm. Metered parking is available for $4.00 per hour on S. Roosevelt Boulevard, from 6:00am until midnight Monday through Saturday, and from noon until midnight on Sunday. Overnight parking is prohibited. Restrooms are open from 7:00am until 4:30pm.

Address: 2601 S. Roosevelt Boulevard, Key West, FL 33040

 

Rest Beach

 

rest beach in key west
A relaxing and scenic view of Rest Beach in Key West, FL

 

C.B. Harvey Memorial Rest Beach, also known as Rest Beach or C.B. Harvey, is one of the smaller beaches on the list, stretching about 300 yards in length. What it lacks in size, however, it makes up for in stunningly scenic views and incredible things to do! With plenty of picnic tables, this is a great place to pack a lunch or dinner and enjoy a scenic seaside meal. Please be aware there are no nearby restaurants, vendors, or restrooms at this specific beach.

Across the street, however, is the Charles “Sonny” McKoy Indigenous Park, where visitors can find restrooms and additional picnic areas. This gorgeous park boasts over 125 species of tropical plants native to the Florida Keys, and is known for hosting many species of migratory birds and butterflies.

white street pier in key west
Image of the White Street Pier in Key West, FL, from Wikimedia

Its position next to the massive and magnificent White Street Pier is another reason to visit this scenic and serene beach. Also known as the Edward B. Knight Pier, as well as the, “the unfinished road to Cuba,” White Street Pier stretches far out into the Atlantic Ocean, and is the perfect place to walk, go bicycling, take photos, and go fishing!

Now, we all know that Key West is famous for spectacular sunsets, but did you know that their sunrises are practically just as breathtaking? Due to its location and view of the Atlantic Ocean, Rest Beach is one of the best places to catch a sunrise on the island. This is the perfect way to start another day in paradise! Even further, their beachfront yoga deck is the perfect place to strike your best Cobra Pose, find your zen, and take in the gorgeous golden sunrise.

Interesting Fact: This beach is named after the late Cornelius Bradford Harvey, a beloved Key West mayor and city commissioner.

Hours, Location, Parking, and Additional Information

Rest Beach is open 7 days a week, from 7:00am until 11:00pm. This particular beach is located at the end of White Street, on the east side of the Edward B. Knight Pier. This pier is open 24/7, and is dog-friendly, as well. Rest Beach is free to the public, with ample free parking available nearby.

Address: White Street and Atlantic Boulevard, Key West, FL 33040

 

Higgs Beach

 

higgs beach
Couple paddleboarding at Higgs Beach in Key West. Image from Wikimedia

 

Clarence Higgs Beach Park, also known as Higgs Beach, is a popular public beach in Key West, known for its tropical landscape consisting of gorgeous waters, plenty of palm trees, and almost 17 acres of beachfront! Outdoor showers, picnic tables, grills, and restroom facilities are available onsite, as well. Higgs Beach is home to the only shore-accessible underwater marine park in the country, meaning the swimming, snorkeling, and diving there is impeccable.

 

snorkeling at higgs beach
Mystery and magnificent beauty lies just beneath the surface when snorkeling at Higgs Beach

 

Higgs Beach snorkeling is a favorite activity for both visitors and locals. With so much underwater allure in the Keys, it’s no wonder that snorkeling is one of the top things to do. As far as snorkeling from the beach goes, Higgs Beach is the place to be! The dock at Higgs Beach, specifically, is known for hosting a wide array of tropical fish.

However, if you are wanting to take snorkeling to the next level, the best way to do so is on an amazing Key West snorkeling tour! Snorkeling tours come in many forms, so finding the one that best fits your interests and itinerary is easier than you may think. Popular Key West snorkeling tour types include the following:

  • Combination cruises
  • Sunset snorkeling
  • Reef diving and snorkeling
  • Private charters
  • Day trips
  • Snorkel trips with live music
  • Snorkel trips with meals included

And that’s just to name a few! Snorkeling is a fantastic way to experience the Florida Keys in a unique and unforgettable way, as it allows you to see this gorgeous island from a whole new perspective. Be sure to look out for colorful corals, native fish, sea turtles, dolphins, and more!

{Read Reviews & Book Key West Snorkeling Tours Online}

At Higgs Beach, there are a ton of rentals available. Available at an affordable rate, these rentals will help enhance your beach experience with fun, adventure, and comfort! Beach chairs, umbrellas, kayaks, and paddleboards are just a few of the many rentals to choose from. Across Atlantic Boulevard, guests can enjoy pickle ball courts, volleyball courts, tennis courts, and more!

 

key west aids memorial near higgs beach
Pictured above is a section of the Key West AIDS Memorial, located near Higgs Beach in Key West. Image by Jeff Kern via Flickr

 

But wait… there’s more! Higgs Beach is ranked among the top public beaches in Key West for historical sites, landmarks, and things to do, as well. There is so much to see and do at Higgs Beach, you could definitely spend the whole day there! Some of the top attractions near Higgs Beach include the following:

  • Key West Wildlife Rescue Center
  • Higgs Beach Dog Park
  • Astro City Playground
  • Higgs Beach Children’s Park
  • West Martello Tower and the Key West Garden Club
  • Key West African Refugee Cemetery
  • Key West AIDS Memorial

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg! Visiting Higgs Beach is truly a unique experience, that provides a deeper insight into the rich and diverse history, nature, and culture of Key West. And, of course, a trip to this public beach in Key West means hours and hours of outdoor beachside bliss!

Hours, Location, Parking, and Additional Information

Higgs Beach is open 7 days a week, from 6:00am until 11:00pm, and is located on the west side of the Edward B. Knight Pier, next to West Martello Tower. Higgs Beach is free to the public, with free parking available, as well.

Address: 1000 Atlantic Boulevard, Key West, FL 33040

 

Dog Beach

 


Your pup will love this public beach in Key West, FL

 

Bring your canine companion to Dog Beach, for a doggone good time! This public beach in Key West is perfect for those visiting this island oasis with their pet. This is the only beach in Key West that allows dogs to play without a leash, and Louie’s Backyard, the adjoining restaurant, offers a pet-friendly dining experience for when you and your pup work up an appetite making a splash!

Dog Beach is one of the smaller public beaches in Key West, spanning a mere 20 feet. It is also important to note that this area has been known to be rocky with seaweed, making for slippery and uneven grounds. This beach is not recommended for those with mobility issues or accessibility needs.

Hours, Location, Parking, and Additional Information

This beach is open daily from 7:00am until 11:00pm. Located next to Barefoot Billy’s, Dog Beach can be found at the intersection of Vernon Avenue and Waddell Avenue. Free parking is available onsite.

Address: 1500 Vernon Avenue, Key West, FL 33040

 

South Beach

 

south beach key west
Pictured above are the calm, gorgeous waters of South Beach in Key West. Image from Wikimedia

 

South Beach is a small public beach in Key West, and is located at the southern end of Duval Street. This is an ideal location, as it is within walking distance to many shops, restaurants, things to do, and landmarks, including the famous Southernmost Point buoy. The water is shallow, the sand is soft, and the area is relatively small when compared to Smathers Beach or Higgs Beach. Stretching about 200 feet, South Beach is perfect for families with little ones.

It’s important to note that there are no showers or restrooms at this public beach in Key West, but nearby businesses allow travelers to use their facilities, if needed. Water fountains are scattered throughout the area, and with many bars and restaurants nearby, finding a place for snacks or drinks is easy! Beach chair rentals are available onsite, and are affordable at only $5.00.

 

tennessee williams home
Pictured above is the former home of playwright Tennessee Williams, located in Key West, FL. Image from Wikimedia

 

One of the awesome things that sets this beach apart from the rest is its historical relevance. Tennessee Williams, who is considered by many to be one of the best playwrights of the 20th century, is said to have visited and lived in Key West from 1941 until his passing in 1983. It is believed that he completed the final draft of Street Car Named Desire while living in Key West in 1947.

It’s said that Williams went for a swim at South Beach almost every day while living on this island paradise! Who knows, maybe his morning swims at South Beach gave him the inspiration he needed to write as beautifully and creatively as he did. Either way, a trip to South Beach is sure to leave you feeling inspired, relaxed, and refreshed!

Hours, Location, Parking, and Additional Information

South Beach is located at the end of Duval Street, in between the Southernmost House and The Southernmost Hotel. This public beach in Key West is open from 8:00am until the Southernmost Beach Café closes! Metered parking is available along the beach, but since it is in such a bustling area, it is recommended to walk, take a taxi, or ride a bike there, if possible.

Address: 1319 Duval Street, Key West, FL 33040

 

Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park

 

fort zachary taylor state park american flag
Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park is home to not only Fort Taylor, but also one of the top public beaches in Key West! Image from Wikimedia

 

Commonly referred to as, “Key West’s favorite beach,” the beaches at Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park are a sight to be seen! With crystal-clear, turquoise waters, tons of tropical fish, and calm, shallow waters, this public beach in Key West is perfect for swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, and those looking for some good old-fashioned fun in the sun. The park also comes fully equipped with anything you may possibly need for a successful beach trip, including the following:

  • Accessible amenities
  • Canoe and kayak launch
  • Food and drinks for purchase
  • Ample parking
  • Restroom facilities
  • Picnic areas
  • Shower area

Insider’s Tip: Some areas of the beach can be a bit rocky. It is recommended to bring water shoes along for optimal enjoyment.

 

scuba diving in the florida keys
Image from Wikimedia

 

Scuba diving at Fort Zachary Taylor Park is one of the best ways to explore the underwater utopia surrounding the fort. The coral reefs at the park are located between beds of seagrass and the shore, which is rare for coral reefs, but provides amazing clarity and helps the reefs grow. Popular types of coral found at the park include:

  • Tube coral
  • Knobby brain coral
  • Starlet coral

Even further, coral reefs, like the ones found at Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park, attract a wide variety of wildlife, from small, tropical fish, to massive barracuda! If you plan to scuba and use scuba equipment at the park, please bring a dive flag and a partner. If you’re a beginner, that’s okay, too! Key West scuba diving tours come in all shapes and sizes, accommodating both beginners and experienced divers, exploring everything from reefs to shipwrecks.

{Read Reviews & Book Key West Scuba Diving Online}

 

Experience the History of Fort Zachary Taylor

 

fort zachary taylor cannons
Image of Fort Zachary Taylor from Wikimedia

 

While many head to Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park to visit one of the best public beaches in Key West, they stay for natural and historical relevance. In fact, this is why we added Fort Zachary Taylor State Park to our list of historic attractions in Key West to visit if you had only one day in town! This state park is home to Fort Zachary Taylor, which was named after U.S. President Zachary Taylor after its completion in 1850. This fort was created to guard Key West’s harbor, and was used in the Civil War, Spanish American War, WWI, WWII, and the Cuban Missile Crisis.

This National Historic Monument also houses the largest collection of Civil War armament in the world, including cannons, ammunition, guns, and more. Self-guided and guided tours of Fort Zachary Taylor are available, and will make you feel as if you’ve been transported back to the 1800s! A trip to Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park is so much more than a trip to the beach, but a true cultural and historical experience.

As you can see, there is so much to do at this amazing park, that you could definitely spend the whole day exploring. Aside from the fort and the beaches, this is also a great place for birding, as this state park is a part of The Great Florida Birding Trail! Not only that, the park’s Tropical Hammock Trail is a great place for hiking, walking, and running, and checking out the native flora and fauna. It’s also one of the best places to catch a famous Key West sunset!

Hours, Location, Parking, and Additional Information

Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park is open daily from 8:00am until sundown, with the fort closing daily at 5:00pm. Please be aware that there is a fee to enter the park, but this fee does include the cost of parking. The park entry fees are as follows:

  • Motorcycles or single-occupant vehicles are $4.50 per vehicle.
  • Vehicles with 2-8 passengers will be charged $6.00 per vehicle. (Please note there is an additional .50 Monroe County surcharge that will be added, per person)
  • Pedestrians, bicyclists, extra passengers, and those with an Annual Individual Entrance Pass are $2.50 per person.

Address: 601 Howard England Way, Key West, FL 33040

 

Bahia Honda State Park

 

bahia honda state park
Pictured above are the glorious beaches of Bahia Honda State Park

 

Even though it’s not technically located in Key West, Bahia Honda State Park is definitely worth a mention! Located about 35 miles north of Key West on Big Pine Key, Bahia Honda State Park is perfect for a day trip from Key West, and is home to two amazing, award-winning beaches. The first is Sandspur Beach, which is a gorgeous, aquamarine beach located at the entrance of the park. The second is Calusa Beach, which is pictured above, and probably the more recognized of the two.

There is so much to do at Bahia Honda State Park including bicycling, birding, camping, and hiking, but the true treasures start where the land meets the sea! Looe Key Sanctuary Preservation Area lies within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, and is located about 12 miles from Bahia Honda State Park Marina. Boat tours are available at the park, and take guests snorkeling in this magical underwater wonderland. Amazing sights you may see when snorkeling this beautiful area include the following:

  • Colorful coral
  • Angelfish
  • Sharks
  • Turtles
  • Conch
  • Lobster
  • And MORE!

And you don’t have to travel to Looe Key to enjoy the incredible beaches of Bahia Honda, either. Staying close to shore will still yield some incredible snorkeling, as well as swimming, kayaking, and paddleboarding, just to name a few! The park also comes equipped with everything you need for a successful day at the beach, including the amenities below:

  • Boat ramp
  • Food and drinks for purchase
  • Historic landmarks and exhibits
  • Ample parking
  • Picnic pavilion
  • Restrooms
  • Showers
  • Accessible amenities

While it may take about an hour to travel to this awe-inspiring aquatic area, depending on your location, it’s definitely worth the trip! And with so many amenities and fantastic things to do, spending the whole day there is easy, even with the most “hard to please” travelers, as there is something for all ages and interests. For more information about this amazing area, check out TripShock’s Florida Keys Beaches and Islands Guide!

Hours, Location, Parking, and Additional Information

Bahia Honda State Park is open 7 days a week from 8:00am until sunset. While there is a fee to enter the park, it does include the cost of parking. The park entry fees are as follows:

  • Motorcycles and single-occupant vehicles are $4.50.
  • Vehicles with 2-8 passengers will be charged $8.00 per vehicle. (A .50 Monroe County surcharge will be added per person, as well)
  • Pedestrians, bicyclists, extra passengers, and those with an Annual Individual Entrance Pass are $2.50 each.

Address: 36850 Overseas Highway, Big Pine Key, FL 33043

 

Dry Tortugas National Park

 

dry tortugas national park beach and fort
Image of the breathtaking beaches of Dry Tortugas National Park from Wikimedia

 

The Dry Tortugas are located 70 miles west of Key West, and consist of seven islands, amazing wildlife, stunning scenic beauty, historic Fort Jefferson, and some of the best and most beautiful beaches! Any Key West insider will tell you this place is a must when searching for the best beaches! In fact, Dry Tortugas National Park made out top 3 list of Beaches in the TripShock Key West, Florida Insider’s Guide. Be aware, however, these islands are only accessible by boat or plane, but they are definitely worth the trek!

Scuba diving and snorkeling is the name of the game when visiting this area. Just below the crystal-clear, blue-green water lies a whole different world just waiting to be explored! Some of the top snorkeling spots in the Dry Tortugas are listed below:

  • Windjammer shipwreck southwest of Loggerhead Key
  • Little Africa on the north side of Loggerhead Key
  • Texas Rock which is north of Garden Key
  • Pulaski Shoals Area which can be found on the east side of the park
  • Long Reef Key south of Long Key
  • Moat Wall of Fort Jefferson (daytime and nighttime options available)

While swimming, snorkeling, diving, boating, fishing, and paddling are the top things to do when visiting the beautiful beaches of the Dry Tortugas, a trip to this area is incomplete without visiting Fort Jefferson. This historic landmark was named after the third president of the U.S., and was originally built to protect Florida’s coastline in the 1800s. Check out these fun facts about Dry Tortugas National Park and Fort Jefferson, and discover just a few ways this spectacular place combines nature and history in the finest way:

 

infographic facts about dry tortugas national park

 

Hours, Location, and Additional Information

Dry Tortugas National Park is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and Fort Jefferson is open year-round from sunrise to sunset. Due to its remote location, nearly 70 miles west of Key West, the Dry Tortugas is only accessible by ferry, private boat, charter boats, or seaplane. Prices vary depending on the mode of transportation you select.

While the cost of entry is typically included with the purchase of a ferry ticket or excursion, some tours do not include this. If your tour requires you to pay an entrance fee, please note it will be $15.00 per person, and is good for 7 consecutive days. Anyone under the age of 16 does not have to pay an entrance fee. If you are a National Parks Pass holder, please present your pass at check-in, and the fee will either be deducted from transportation costs or voided.

 


 

a public beach in key west
A trip to a public beach in Key West is the perfect way to soak up the sun, and take in gorgeous views, like the one pictured above

 

One of many wonderful Key West things to do, a trip to the beach should definitely be on the agenda. With so many different waterfront wonderlands to choose from, finding a slice of island paradise perfect for you and your group is simple. Whether you decide to spend the day in the ravishing and remote Dry Tortugas, or check out South Beach where Tennessee Williams spent his days, be prepared for some beachside bliss!

 


 

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