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Key West is the southernmost city in the United States, offering visitors a number of sun-soaked coastlines to bask in the sunshine. Whether you’re looking for a family-friendly spot with gentle waves for the little ones or a stunning sunset view, there’s a stretch of picturesque beach for every type of outdoor lover. Get out on the water and enjoy snorkeling, parasailing or jet skiing, or simply kick back and listen to the sound of the crashing waves – and it’s Key West, which means there’s always a lively beach bar nearby. With swaying palm trees and powder white sand, these are our picks for the best beaches in Key West.
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Smathers Beach is quite possibly the most famous beach in Key West (as well one of the top things to do), as it’s the largest in the area and often touted as the best. Discover all-day action at this easily accessible shoreline, which is a mile from Key West International Airport. It stretches for two miles down Roosevelt Boulevard and is dotted with various stalls selling food, drinks chairs and water sports rentals. Are you the competitive type? There’s plenty of beach volleyball available, while swimming conditions are excellent with its gradual slope of shoreline and mild currents. Best of all, there’s no entry fee for Smathers Beach.
The aptly-named Dog Beach is an ideal destination for animal lovers, as this beautiful area attracts beachgoers with four-legged friends. It’s the only beach on the island that allows dogs to roam free, which makes it a perfect spot for Fido to stretch his legs. Both big and small dogs can make a splash in the water while owners don’t have to worry about them bothering other beachgoers. Doggos will love climbing the rocky terrain and exploring the rocks for hidden treasures. This small stretch of sand can sometimes be difficult to find, but there’s a small sign indicating where the beach is, and if that still doesn’t help, ask for directions to Louie’s Backyard, as the dog-friendly restaurant is right next door to the beach.
Just a short drive or walk from Smather’s Beach, Higgs Beach is a perfect option for those seeking a less-crowded beach area. This beach is as picture-perfect as it gets with the palm-fringed shoreline and tropical vibes, and snorkeling is a top activity. Located within the bounds of the C.B. Harvey Rest Beach Park, this public space even offers free parking. When you’re ready for some water action, there are a variety of rental shops to choose from, selling anything from beach chairs and volleyball nets to snorkeling and water sports equipment. Stingrays are frequently spotted near the pier.
No, this is not the party-laden South Beach in Miami you’re thinking of. This South Beach in Key West got its name for its location at the southernmost end of the island. If you’ve got the kids in tow, this small beach is great for swimming and playing in the calm and shallow, crystal-clear waters. It’s laid-back ambiance lures in beachgoers who want to kick back and bask in the sunshine, while a nearby beach cafe and refreshment stands are also available. You’ll also find options for renting lounge chairs and towels.
Photographers or those who simply love a good sunrise or sunset should head to Rest Beach, also known as C.B. Harveys. What it lacks in size (around 300 yards long) it makes up for in location, as you can admire stunning Atlantic Ocean views while laying on the beach and beach the best views of both sunrises and sunsets. There’s even a yoga deck on the beach, where locals often run classes in the morning and evening. Not a morning person? Head over to nearby Mallory Square, a popular waterfront spot known for its nightly sunset celebrations.
Fort Zachary Taylor Beach, or Fort Zach as it’s known by locals, is one of the top snorkeling spots in Key West. Many consider this beach to be one of the more authentic beaches in the area due to its natural coastline, which is made up of coral instead of imported sand. Located about two miles from downtown Key West, this top Florida Keys beach offers plenty of things to do. See if you can spot local wildlife such as groupers, dolphins and turtles, then enjoy a picnic lunch grilled on the barbecue grills or explore the old fort named after President Zachary Taylor that was used during the Civil War. History enthusiasts can also see the largest collection of Civil-War era cannons in the country.
Bahia Honda State Park is home to an award-winning beach and historic bridge, located at mile marker 37 about 45 minutes’ drive from Key West. Encompassing over 500 acres, it’s well worth the road trip, as it’s known as one of the best spots for snorkeling and beachcombing in Florida with a world-renowned reef. There’s a concession shop with a snack bar, kayak rentals and daily snorkeling tours to nearby Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary. *Bahia Honda State Park is still recovering from Hurricane Irma but is still open to the public with limited amenities.
Dry Tortugas is the furthest beach from Key West at about 90 miles away, but this bucket-list-worthy destination is a must-see when visiting the Florida Keys. Located within Fort Jefferson National Park, you’ll have to plan an entire day to see the stunning natural beauty of this area, home to a palm-lined paradise perfect for snorkeling, relaxing and exploring one of the country’s largest 19th-century forts. You’ll have to book a ferry boat to this 100-square-mile park and pack all your essentials, such as snorkel gear, sunscreen, food and water, while adventurous travelers can book a memorable seaplane ride or stay overnight in one of the campsites.