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Bahia Honda State Park
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The 10 best Key West beaches

The best Key West beaches pepper the man-made island with sand imported from the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean

Written by
Juliet Dyal Gray

Most of the best Key West beaches are tucked away like hidden treasures. After all, this is not your typical beach town: the velvety-smooth sand dotting our man-made island has been imported from the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico and beyond and has to be occasionally replenished.

Each local swimming destination serves its own function: Fort Zack, where the Atlantic and Gulf meet, is the unofficial gathering place for birthdays, weddings and hangouts of any kind. On the ocean side, Smathers Beach is great for watching kiteboarders or even trying your hand at the sport yourself. Higgs Beach, also on the ocean side, is a sporty location where you can pick up a game of beach volleyball or train for your next triathlon by swimming laps between the piers in the ocean. And at the beach at Zero Simonton on the gulf side, you can relax and watch the sun set over the harbor accompanied by live music and cold beer.

So, in-between gulping down delicious seafood at the best restaurants in Key West and craft beer from local bars, embrace one of the very best things to do in town: soak up that sun at these great local beaches.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best things to do in Key West

Best Key West beaches

Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park
Photograph: Shutterstock

1. Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park

Where: At the end of Southard Street, 601 Howard England Way

Before you head to this beautiful beach, do yourself a favor and get a hammock (if you didn’t bring one, you can buy one at Key West Hammock Company on Duval Street), then head to Fausto’s and pick up some grilling and picnic supplies. Once you have all of the above, along with your requisite beach towel and snorkeling equipment, you are ready to spend the day at what locals affectionately call Fort Zack. In addition to its sandy beach, Fort Zack has grilling stations and plenty of pine trees where you can set up your hammock with an ocean view. Start the day by snorkeling with colorful parrot fish around the rocks between the jetties, then grab lunch. After your meal, you can read that book you’ve been meaning to get to as you lazily sway in your hammock. Note: the sand at Fort Zack can be hot and the pine needles prickly, so wear a pair of sliders from the parking lot to the beach. Also, the shallow water entryway into the ocean is rocky, so water shoes are highly recommended.

Clarence S. Higgs Memorial Beach Park
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2. Clarence S. Higgs Memorial Beach Park

Where: Between the Casa Marina Resort and the White Street Pier

If beach and ocean sports are your thing, then head to the Clarence S. Higgs Memorial Beach Park, known by locals as Higgs Beach. This strip of land actually comprises approximately 16.5 acres of Atlantic oceanfront and is a favorite of those looking to play beach volleyball, frisbee and train for the swim portion of the Tri Key West that takes place here every December. Beach chairs, umbrellas, kayaks and paddleboards are available for rent and there is also a children’s playground, a restaurant and bar called Salute, a Civil War-era fort that is home to the Key West Garden Club, the African Refugee Burial Ground and the Key West AIDS Memorial.

Casa Marina Resort and the Reach Resort
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3. Casa Marina Resort and the Reach Resort

Where: Between Reynolds and Simonton Streets

Looking for the best spot to try paddleboarding? This stretch of beach shared by the Casa Marina and Reach resorts is typically the easiest spot on the island to launch as the water is usually calmer between the piers. One caveat: you have to be a guest of one of the resorts to experience it. Stay at the Casa Marina or Reach (both Waldorf-Astoria properties) and lounge on the white-sand beach replete with themed sand sculptures located between two wooden piers that jut out into the Atlantic Ocean. If you are looking for waterfront activities, jet skis, paddleboards and more are available for rent. Beach cabanas are also available for rent at the Casa Marina and beachside cocktail service is on offer at both resorts.

Sunset Key Beach
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4. Sunset Key Beach

Where: Sunset Key Resort and Cottages

Rumor has it Oprah has been on this very beach. If that is not enough to make you pack your bags and head here right now, then check this out: Sunset Key is the only place for unobstructed views of the sun as it sets over the Gulf of Mexico. The island rests on the other side of Key West Harbor and is only accessible by ferry boat. To gain access to its pristine white sandy beach, you must purchase a pass at the Margaritaville Resort & Marina. The pass is good for the entire day, which is easily spent lounging on the chairs, swimming in the ocean, dining at Latitudes restaurant and then indulging in sundowners as you watch for the green flash as the sun appears to take its final dip into the Gulf. Now that is a day even Oprah would approve of.

Bahia Honda State Park
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5. Bahia Honda State Park

Where: U.S. 1, Big Pine Key

If you don’t mind a drive, head to one of the most beautiful beachfront areas you’ve ever seen to swim or lounge between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. In addition to choosing the waters in which to take a dip, there are many things for you to do in Bahia Honda, which is on Big Pine Key, about 40 minutes’ drive from Key West. This state park is also home to campsites and vacation cabins, offers kayak, snorkeling and watersports-related rentals, guided nature walks and charter boat excursions. One of the most stunning features is the remnants of one of the many railroad bridges built in the early 1900s that connected the Florida Keys to the mainland.

Simonton Street Beach
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Darlene D.

6. Simonton Street Beach

Where: 0 Simonton Street

Rent a chaise lounge, book a guided tour on a hydrobike, play cornhole or just relax while listening to live music and toasting the sunset with a cold beverage from Lagerheads Beach Bar. There is also a small swimming area next to a concrete dock that offers stunning sunset views. If you are hungry, you can grab an excellent fish taco at Lagerheads until sundown. All these activities are available to you at tiny Simonton Beach. The boat launch and parking lot on premise are a welcome touch.

South Beach
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7. South Beach

Where: Southern end of Duval Street

The land between the Southernmost House and the Southernmost Hotel is known as South Beach. This is not the beach to go to for watersports but, rather, the ideal destination for serious lounging, sunbathing and swimming – we prefer floating here – in the Atlantic Ocean. The sand is soft and the waters are shallow, making this a prime spot for the aforementioned floating, and the Southernmost Beach Cafe is on hand to suit your need for nourishment. South Beach is a public beach, but guests at the nearby Southernmost Beach Resort have priority access to the complimentary loungers, umbrellas and beach towels available for reservations through the resort.

Pier House Resort and Spa
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8. Pier House Resort and Spa

Where: 1 Duval Street

Taking in the sunset at the tiny Pier House Beach looking out over Key West Harbor and the aptly named Sunset Key is a sight that is not-to-be-missed. For the best sunset views, we recommend swimming your cocktail right up to and perching on the floating dock in the roped-off Gulf swimming area.

Smathers Beach
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9. Smathers Beach

Where: South Roosevelt Blvd.

Smathers is the most popular spring break site in all of Key West and easily accessible given the numerous hotels located across the street. (There is also ample street parking.) It is often windy in the late afternoon, which makes it a haven for kiteboarders and those who love to watch them. But there is so much more available than kiteboarding here: Smathers is home to Sunset Watersports, where you can rent just about anything seaworthy including paddleboards, kayaks, jet skis and even small Hobie Cat sailboats. There are also food trucks, restrooms and shower facilities available. Smathers happens to be a popular wedding spot, so if you hang out into the sunset hours, you can typically spot folks tying the knot on the jetty.

Dog Beach
Photograph: Shutterstock

10. Dog Beach

Where: At the corner of Wadell Street and Vernon Avenue

Dogs need beach time too, and all are welcome at this tiny spit of land located right next to Louie’s Backyard. The intimate spot is well-shaded by the numerous palm trees and the water is shallow for a long way out. Locals bring their dogs and throw balls and other objects for them to retrieve in the water or place their pooches on their own personal flotation devices (including paddleboards) for a fun time on the water.

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