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Key West beaches offer fantastic snorkeling close to the shore, thanks to the island’s proximity to the vast Florida Reef, North America’s only living coral reef. You’ll find every activity you’d wish for on a beach here, from shaded picnic spots to beach volleyball, food trucks, and fishing piers.

Key West is tiny—just four miles long—so it’s easy to visit more than one beach, or to combine your favorite beach with a visit to one of the famous sights, from Ernest Hemingway’s house to the buoy marking the southernmost point of continental U.S.

Just think about your beach style—sporty, water-loving, castaway, history buff—and take your pick.

Smathers Beach

Key West beaches - Smathers Beach

Smathers Beach

Smathers Beach is the longest Key West beach, with non-stop activity on half a mile of soft sand. The beach runs parallel to South Roosevelt Boulevard in front of the airport and features everything from sun chairs to rent, watersports concessions, and beach volleyball courts.

During spring break, the party crowd heads here, but you’ll also find newlyweds assembling for photoshoots as golden hour approaches in the late afternoon; the sunsets at Smathers are famous. The beach has plenty of facilities, including restrooms and showers, and accessibility for wheelchair users.

If you’re hungry, head for the Tropical Vibes Cones & Bowls food truck on the beach. This family-owned enterprise sells Brazilian acai bowls, Hawaiian shave ice, and homemade ice creams in tropical flavors, all with locally sourced ingredients.

Read: Fun Things to Do in Key West With Kids

Higgs Beach

Beautiful boardwalk in Higgs Beach

Higgs Beach

Higgs Beach, named after Clarence S. Higgs, lies on the south coast of Key West in Old Town, a few blocks to the west of Smathers Beach.

It’s easily recognizable by its two piers: the long, wooden Edward B. Knight Pier and the shorter Higgs Pier. Stroll along the longer pier and sit at the end, taking in the dreamy ocean views.

The waters off the beach are protected as a marine park, making it one of the best places to snorkel in Key West. Bring your mask and snorkel for a day here and look out for butterfly fish, pink and turquoise parrotfish, which feed on the coral, and angelfish.

Sea stars are dotted across the ocean floor amid the seagrass and, with an eagle eye, you could even spot stingrays gliding across the sand flats.

Clear waters of Higgs Beach

Higgs Beach

Higgs is one of the best beaches in Key West for families thanks to the array of facilities here. There’s beach volleyball and pickleball, as well as a playground for younger kids on the waterfront and a fitness trail in the adjacent park.

For lunch, head to Café Salute!, where you’ll find a blend of Caribbean and Italian fare. Order a caprese salad, perhaps, followed by grouper cakes with chipotle and aioli and inevitably, the Key lime pie that Key West is known for.

If you need a break from the sunshine, take a stroll through the beach park, where there’s history to explore. You’ll find an old watchtower dating back to the Civil War, as well as an extensive burial ground for African refugees. It’s the largest in the Northern Hemisphere and honors people who died on the slave ships.

Rest Beach

Pebble beach of Rest Beach in Key West

Rest Beach

Rest Beach, also known as C.B. Harvey Park, is a small park area located on Atlantic Boulevard on the other side of the Edward B. Knight Pier from Higgs Beach.

You’ll find soft sand and pretty seashells as you wade in the warm, shallow water. There’s shade under the palm trees for relaxing, picnic tables, and tennis courts at one end of the beach.

During your time at Rest Beach, pay a visit to the Key West Aids Memorial, a mirror-like granite stone embedded in the walkway at the entrance to Edward B. Knight Pier.

The memorial pays tribute to the 1,240 people who were connected to the small community of Key West, a highly LGBTQ+-friendly place, and lost their lives to complications from the disease. It’s a moving monument, with places to sit and contemplate. Poems by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Kahlil Gibran, and Rachel Hadas are engraved on further pieces of stone.

Behind the beach, you can stroll into the Sonny McCoy Indigenous Park, a shaded park where native trees grow. Bring your bocce balls for a game on one of the six courts here, and drop into the Wildlife Rescue Center, where injured birds and animals are cared for.

Fort Zachary Taylor State Park

Key West beaches - Fort Zachary Taylor State Park

Fort Zachary Taylor State Park

Located on the western tip of the island, Fort Zachary Taylor predates the Civil War, having been constructed in 1845, and houses the world’s largest cache of Civil War armaments.

The structure was used during the Civil War to defend the island from Confederate ships, and also in the Spanish-American war.

You can join a free guided tour of the fort to see the cannons and gun ports, and get a feeling for the life of the soldiers that defended this tropical island. Come on the third weekend of the month and locals reenact scenes from history, bringing this impressive setting to life.

Historic fort of Fort Zachary Taylor State Park

Fort Zachary Taylor State Park

The 87 acres around the old fort, which is a National Historic Landmark, stretch down through shaded woodland to a coral sand and pebble beach. It’s regarded by many as the best of all Key West beaches thanks to its wonderful snorkeling and endless horizons.

Feathery Norfolk pines provide shade from the sun here, while white coral sand leads down to crystal-clear water that takes on a shade of deep turquoise as the sea bed slopes away.

Breakwaters of tumbled boulders just offshore create a natural habitat for marine life. Bring your mask and snorkel and look for parrotfish and stripy sergeant majors flitting around the rocks, and lobsters lurking in the crevices.

Key West beaches - Fort Zachary Taylor State Park

Fort Zachary Taylor State Park

You can rent gear at the beach, as well as sun chairs and umbrellas. Do remember to bring water shoes—the shore is peppered with pieces of coral and stone, making it tricky to wade into the water.

If you haven’t brought a picnic, head to the Cayo Hueso beach shack, which serves wraps, burgers, and hot dogs, perfect when washed down with a cold beer or icy daiquiri.

Green and yellow facade of Ernest Hemingway House

Ernest Hemingway House

To make the most of your day in Key West, why not head inland to visit Ernest Hemingway’s former villa on Whitehead Street?

See where the famous author wrote, explore the lush gardens, and admire the six-toed cats. These felines are believed to be descendants of Hemingway’s original six-toed cat, Snow White, given to him by a ship’s captain.

Simonton Beach

Simonton Street Beach, at the end of Simonton Street on the Gulf of Mexico side of the island, really is tiny. But locals come here nonetheless, often to launch their sailing and fishing boats. You can rent chairs and umbrellas and there are a couple of beach bars nearby.

Try Lagerheads Beach Bar & Watersports for toes-in-the-sand fish tacos, conch ceviche, and Cuban sandwiches; you’ll find a lot of influence from Cuba in Key West as the island is only 90 miles away.

South Beach

Sunny day at South Beach

South Beach

You’ll find petite South Beach at the southern end of Duval Street. It’s the perfect place for a dip after you’ve visited the Southernmost Point of the Continental U.S. marker, a colorful concrete buoy that invites a shot for the family photo album.

Butterflies at the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservancy

Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservancy

You can also combine beach time with a visit to the nearby Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservancy. Explore this glass-domed rainforest habitat that hosts more than 50 species of colorful butterflies.

Small bridge of Emma Carrero Cates Pier

Emma Carrero Cates Pier

The beach is just a block away, and although there’s not much shade, you can rent loungers and umbrellas. Take a stroll out along the Emma Carrero Cates Pier to enjoy the view.

Drop into the Southernmost Beach Café for a Caribbean-inspired lunch; try conch chowder or conch fritters, quesadillas, or the fresh catch of the day.

Remember, too, that by visiting South Beach, you’re following in the sandy footsteps of playwright Tennessee Williams, who is said to have swum from the shore here every day when he lived in Key West.

Read: Best Time to Visit Key West

Southernmost Point in Key West

Southernmost Point

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