Famed for its pastel-hued, conch-style houses, it’s a cruise-ship stop also accessible from the mainland via the Overseas Highway. It’s known more for its coral reefs – destinations for diving and snorkeling – than for its beaches.
The island city is famous among visitors for its range of beautifully natural as well as man-made beaches. Key West island is 4-mile- long and 1-mile-wide. The most famous street in the city if Duval Street.
Most attractions are in its Old Town neighborhood, the western half of the city. On Duval Street, the main drag, pedicabs ride past restaurants serving local specialties (conch and fish), bars serving brightly colored frozen drinks and shops selling Key lime pies and hand-rolled cigars.
Waterfront Mallory Square hosts nightly events with art, craft and food vendors, jugglers and musicians. At the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, descendants of the famed American author’s cat roam the grounds and exhibits explore his life in Key West, where he lived for more than a decade.
Due to its proximity to Havana, some of the places in Key West sees more foreign tourists than local. Sloppy Joe’s, once frequently visited by Ernest Hemingway, is a favorite hangout place in Key West.
Let’s explore some of the best beaches in Key West:
1. Smathers Beach
Smathers Beach, the largest of its kind in Key West, is the best public beach in the area. The two-mile-long shoreline can be easily reachable from Key West International Airport.
Unlike most other beaches in the island city which are made of ground coral or pebbles and are bounded by mangroves, Smathers Beach not only boasts a sandy shoreline but also a more intimate ambiance.
The Beach access is free for all; however, you may need to pay a parking fee to use the beach parking lot. A free parking space is available a few meters ahead of the beach if you don’t mind walking.
There are various stalls around the coastline that sell food items, drinks, chairs, and even rafts.
Smathers is specifically great for families with kids as the currents never get too strong here and the wide shoreline lets you walk a long way into the water.
Some of the commonly enjoyed activities at the beach are swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, parasailing, sunbathing, and beach volleyball.
Public amenities available at the beach include restrooms, lounge chairs, and several shops for renting water sports gear and equipment.
2. Dog Beach
Not your usual Key West Beach, coming to this tiny yet beautiful area only makes sense if you have a four-legged best friend who wants to enjoy an exclusive beach day.
The only beach in Key West that allows your buddy to go unleashed and splash around happily, Dog Beach is only 20 feet across and has a lot of wet rocks and seaweed laying around which makes the terrain rocky and slippery.
There is another Dog Beach and Dog Park at Higgs Beach but ask for Louie’s Backyard to get to this one since there is no signage to point at the beach.
Louie’s Backyard, the adjoining eatery, is a great place to wrap up your beach day with your dog since they have no issues if you bring your buddy to dine with you.
3. Higgs Beach
Located within the proximity of Smathers Beach, Higgs Beach is a serene alternative to Key West’s number one beach. The landscape around the beach is exactly as a tropical landscape should be – palm-fringed shoreline, nice stretches of sand, and magnificent waters.
One of the biggest advantages that Higgs has over Smathers is the availability of free parking.
If the heat gets to your skin even with the cool ocean breeze, cross the street to visit West Martello Tower, a lovely garden brimming with a variety of flora and fauna.
There is also a playground and a Dog Park across the beach.
Swimming and snorkeling can be enjoyed at the beach but a little far away near the pier. Stingrays are frequently spotted.
Tropical Watersports Key West, a concierge at the beach, offers great daily deals starting only at USD $30 – two lounge chairs and umbrella for a complete day.
Other common facilities include beach chairs, kayak rentals, paddle-boards, snorkeling gear and equipment, and volleyball nets.
Outside showers and public restrooms are available at the beach.
4. South Beach
Comparatively a smaller coastline to Smathers and Higgs, South Beach is at the southernmost end of Key West. Due to the region’s closeness to Cuba, the area sees more foreign tourists than locals.
Due to the shallowness of the waters, South Beach is quite popular among families with kids. Another significant feature of the beach is that it is mainly meant for relaxing. With its crystal-clear water, South Beach is also quite good for swimming.
The laid-back atmosphere surrounding the beach area lets you spread your towel, lay down, and simply watch the world go by.
There are a couple of water fountains around the area, a beach café, and a few makeshift stalls which can sell you frozen drinks, smoothies, and even wet towels. Hire a sunbed and get the refreshments for free instead.
There aren’t any restrooms or other public facilities here but the nearby bar lets you access their facility.
5. Rest Beach
Also known as C.B Harveys, Rest Beach may not feel like the most exquisite beach on Key West but don’t be fooled by the usual appearance of the beach as compared to the other popular joints like Smathers and Higgs Beach.
Rest Beach is only approximately 300 yards long but what it lacks in size and grandeur, it makes up for it during sunrises and sunsets. Rest Beach offers the most amazing sunrise in the island and due to its view off of the Atlantic Ocean, it is the only beach where you can enjoy a refreshing sunrise laying on the beach.
If you miss the sunrise or find yourself too lazy to wake up so early, gather with the rest of the crowd at Mallory Square Home of the Sunset Celebration to watch what may seem like the best sunrise of your life!
There is a yoga deck on the beach in case you want to attend night yoga classes ran by locals. Source: www.bedandbreakfast.com
6. Fort Zachary Taylor Beach
Locals consider Fort Zachary Taylor Beach as the truest beach among all Key West beaches. One of the only natural beaches in the Florida Keys, the shoreline is mostly made up of ground coral.
The Beach sees a lot of returning guests who mainly visit the area for the snorkeling opportunities it offers.
Aside from snorkeling, the water is also pretty amazing for divers. Turtles, dolphins, barracuda, goliath grouper, and tarpon are easily spotted here.
Locally known as Fort Zach, the place was once a real-time Fort completely encircled with water. There are daily tours of the fort that begin at 12:00 noon.
Due to its stature as a state national park, a ranger accompanies you for the tour as they explain the history and background of the area.
There are two natural trails around the area – the Sand Hog Trail and the Fort View Trail.
7. Bahia Honda State Park
Established as one of the ‘top beaches in the United States’ by the Travel Channel, Bahia Honda is around 30-miles from Key West and offers some of the most mesmerizing beach views around the world.
A vast expanse of sugary white sand, shallow waters, and brilliant campsites where you can pitch your tent and camp for the night, the sites are water and electricity equipped.
There is also a boat ramp where you can park your boat for a fee.
Located in the lower Florida Keys, the island of Bahia Honda State Park is almost uninhabited.
The State Park has an abundance of marine life. Snorkelers at the beach can easily spot rays, small reef fish, barracuda and even the small nurse shark. The only known existence of Miami Blue butterfly which was once known to have become extinct was established in the park in 1999.
8. Dry Tortugas Beach
Approximately 90 miles from Key West, Dry Tortugas Beach is located within the Fort Jefferson National Park. Spending your day at the beach here is one of the best things to do in Key West.
The Dry Tortugas Ferry takes you to the beach and is a great day trip that includes breakfast and lunch, snorkeling gear and equipment, and a guided tour of the surrounding fort.
You can swim, sunbathe, or just walk along this palm-fringed beach.
Only 1% of the national park is dry ground. The Florida Keys reef system is the third largest of its kind in the world.
9. Casa Marina Resort
A Waldorf Astoria Resort, Casa Marina is a huge mansion-style resort known for its 1,100 feet of private beach and superb hospitality. The coastline is adorned with swaying coconut palms and several hammocks to spend the afternoon reading a book.
Listed in National Register for Historic Places, residents of the hotel get to enjoy lavish services such as beach concierge setting up your beach chair, umbrella, and towel, serving you with refreshingly delicious cocktails, and cool cucumber slices to soothe your eyes.
The in-house spa, Spa al Mare, offers rejuvenating spa and massage treatments to residents as well as non-residents. Some of the services include aromatherapy and deep-tissue massage. The Ocean Breeze Massage right on the beach is one of their most popular facilities.
The beachfront at Casa Marina is known to offer some of the best sunrise views in the region. Source: waldorfastoria3.hilton.com
10. The Reach Resort
Another marvelous hotel property operated by Waldorf Astoria, The Reach flaunts one of the largest private natural beaches in the area. The chic boutique hotel features a striking pier with a pavilion that extends over the Atlantic Ocean.
If you are an early-riser and a guest at this quaint boutique property, you will be treated with gorgeous sunrises almost every morning.
Professional and warm staff at the hotel pamper you with their pleasing hospitality. Tell the concierge that you wish to spend time at the beach and the staff will arrange for your lounge chairs on the coastline, wet towels to keep you cool, thirst-quenching and energizing drinks, and even popsicles.
For over 20 years, Barefoot Billy’s at the resort has been offering world-class watersport activities such as jet skiing, kayaking, and paddle-boarding. Source: waldorfastoria3.hilton.com
11. Sunset Key
Located at 500 yards from Key West Harbor, Sunset Key is a 27-acre beach resort marked by its distinctive crystal white beach sand, swaying hammocks, and thatched tiki huts.
Reserved exclusively for guests at the resort, Sunset Key comprises charming cottages that are dotted along the shoreline. The perfectly tropical ambiance and Gulf Views ensure a blissful romantic lunch or exquisite sunset dinner.
For non-residents of the property, Chef Todd Holender at Latitude Café serves some of the best Caribbean delicacies out of a seasonal menu. The in-house Spa which offers a full range of exotic tropical treatments and massages and fully-equipped treatment spaces are also open to non-guests.
The resort’s Sunset Romance Package is highly popular among couples. Source: sunsetkeycottages