By enjoyFloridaBeaches.com Staff October 5, 2015
Key West, Florida is the southernmost point in Florida and the United States. You can get to Key West by airplane, car, or boat. However, driving the Overseas Highway can be the most fun, because it allows you to stop along the way to enjoy the breathtaking views.
Key West is more known for being a diving, snorkeling, and fishing destination than for its beaches. However, there are several unique and beautiful beaches to enjoy in Key West.
Key West Beaches
Key West beaches are rather unique, with many of them composed of ground coral or tiny pebbles and surrounded by mangroves.
Although each beach is different, most Key West beaches offer one or more of the following ways to enjoy the water.
- Snorkeling and diving are popular activities because the world’s third-largest living coral reef is about six miles offshore from Key West. The reef acts as a wave barrier to the island and is the reason the nearshore waters of Key West are flat and calm.
- Parasailing is an easy way to get a birds-eye view of the entire island, while also enjoying a thrilling adventure. You can even parasail in “tandem” with another person.
- Sailing, especially at sunset, is an excellent way to explore the waters surrounding Key West. It’s almost mandatory to see the sunset from Mallory Square at least once; however, experiencing the sunset’s deeply-hued colors aboard a sailboat is one of life’s special pleasures.
- Fishing. Key West is one of the most diverse fisheries in the world, offering the chance to catch a hundred different species, such as marlin, sailfish, barracuda, sharks, and many others.
- Waverunner and Jet Ski tours. A thrilling way to tour Key West’s coastline is aboard a waverunner or jet ski. Guided tours are available, so you can get the most of your time on the water.
Fort Zachary Taylor Beach
Fort Zachary Taylor is a pre-Civil War fort in a 54-acre state park (Fort Zachary Taylor State Park) and has one of the best beaches in Key West. The beach is naturally made of ground coral rather than white sand, so wearing water shoes or flip flops is a must. And since the beach is in a state park, there is a small admission fee.
While in the park, you can swim and snorkel to experience the abundant tropical marine life. Fishing is also permitted on the west side of the park, along the Key West Shipping Channel (certain restrictions and licensing apply). Perhaps the best feature of the beach and park is the chance to witness Key West’s spectacular sunsets where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Gulf of Mexico.
Picnic tables and grills are available throughout the park for enjoying meals, in addition to Cayo Hueso Café. Public restrooms are also available, as well as a food/drink kiosk, and chair rentals.
Entrance to the state park and beach is through the Truman Annex at Southard Street.
A local favorite, South Beach is a very small beach that may not appear on some tourist maps. It’s located at the southern end of Duval Street on the Atlantic Ocean and features a sandy beach with shallow waters and a concrete pier.
If your idea of a day at the beach is privately lounging on the sand, this is probably not the beach for you. The main attraction at South Beach is the large buoy at the end of the concrete pier, where you can capture a picture to document your travels to the official "Southernmost Point" in the United States.
South Beach is surrounded by gorgeous Victorian inns that are classic fixtures of historic Key West. Parking is free but limited at the beach. There are no restrooms or facilities at the beach, but there is a café, and you can have a picnic at one of the tables in the area.
Dog Beach is the only Key West beach that is dog friendly. This little, rocky beach is a fun and safe place for your dog to exercise. Then when you’re ready for a bite to eat, pop over to Louie’s Backyard, a nearby dog-friendly restaurant that features incredible cuisine and a spectacular oceanfront setting.
Be aware, though, that there are no "Dog Beach" signs in Key West. Follow a map and look for Louie’s Backyard, located at 700 Waddell Avenue. Also, don’t confuse Higgs Beach, known to locals as “Dog Beach Dog Park,” which features a dog park, but does not have a dog-friendly beach.
Higg’s Beach is a wide sandy beach with a long wooden pier, not far from Smathers Beach. This beach has a tropical feel, with the palm trees you expect to find in Florida.
Higg’s Beach has restroom facilities, a pier, and covered picnic tables. You’ll also find a full-service restaurant, chair rentals, rafts, and watersports rentals.
There’s a children’s playground, should the little ones become bored with the beach. And, if the adults want a change of pace, the West Martello Tower Gardens are just across the street.
Higg’s Beach is located at White Street & Atlantic Blvd., and it has a dog park with separate runs for small and large dogs.
Rest Beach is a soft sand beach with natural vegetation and is probably one of the smallest beaches in Key West at about 300 yards long. Because of its location, Rest Beach comes alive in the morning. Here, you can witness one of nature’s greatest breath-taking displays, the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean.
The beach is adjacent to the White Pier, a great fishing pier, also known as the unfinished road to Cuba. Rest Beach has picnic tables, and nearby public restrooms are within walking distance. The beach is wheelchair accessible and has a yoga deck where classes are regularly held.
Located at the end of White Street on the Atlantic Ocean, locals may refer to Rest Beach as C.B Harvey's, because the full name of the beach is C.B. Harvey Rest Beach Park.
As one of the larger beaches, Smathers Beach is on the southern shore of Key West. It’s a sandy half-mile long, man-made beach, with sand trucked in from the Bahamas.
Smathers Beach is ideal for children because beachgoers can comfortably wade in the water due to a gentle coastal slope. The area is also perfect for snorkelers and features a nice swimming area for checking out the marine life. And since there is not a strong current to cause an undertow, it’s perfect for kayaking.
Smathers Beach has restroom facilities, concession stands, and chair rentals. You can also rent watersport gear for jet skiing, parasailing, and windsurfing. Visitors also enjoy trails for cycling, picnic tables, and volleyball nets.
Key West Attractions
Most Key West attractions are in historic “Old Town,” which is in the western half of the city. Duval Street is considered the main drag to Old Town and features a variety of restaurants, shops, and other attractions.
Mallory Square is a plaza on the waterfront in Key West's historic Old Town, just west of the northern end of Duval Street, and facing the Gulf of Mexico. A must-see is the sunset celebration held each evening. The celebration events include performances by tightrope walkers, jugglers, and animal acts, as the sun sets over the Gulf of Mexico. There are also artists and food vendors, as well as musicians.
Fort Zachary Taylor
Fort Zach, as the locals call it, was a real-life fort that was surrounded by water at one time. Construction began in 1845 and was completed in 1866. The fort had a role in reducing the length of the Civil War. Fort Zachary Taylor has the largest collection of Civil War cannons in the United States and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. It is also a National Historic Landmark.
You can explore the fort and experience Civil War history first hand. There are daily guided tours, or you can take your own self-guided tour to learn the fort’s fascinating history. In addition, Fort Zachary Taylor has bike paths and two wooded nature trails, where you might spot rare birds and discover native plant life.
The Truman Annex was originally part of Fort Zachary Taylor in 1845, as a U.S. Army installation. New docks were added in 1932 to make it a submarine base. The base was eventually taken over in 1947 as the "Fort Zachary Taylor Annex" to Naval Station Key West.
During his presidency, Harry S. Truman made the commandant's house his winter White House. Later, it was renamed the Truman Annex. Decommissioned in 1974, there are still a few government offices at the base, including a NOAA Hurricane Forecasting Center.
West Martello Tower
The West Martello Tower is a historic fort constructed in 1862 that is now a part of the Key West Garden Club, Joe Allen Garden Center. The beautiful, peaceful gardens feature rare collections of native and exotic trees and plants, which visitors enjoy while on a self-guided tour.
Admission is free to West Martello Tower, which was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1976.
At the entrance to the island of Key West is the unique, Key West Golf Club's 18-hole course that encompasses over 200 acres of native foliage and wildlife. Golf legend Rees Jones designed the 6,500-yard course as a challenge for players of all abilities.
As the only Caribbean golf course in the United States, the Key West Golf Club offers activities for all ages, including award-winning restaurants, nightlife, diving, fishing and much more.
Conch Style - Architecture & Walking Tours
Walking tours of Key West are the best way to see some of the island's most charming architecture, along with courtyards, gardens, and hidden pathways.
Ride a bike and re-awaken your inner child with a leisurely ride around the historic district known as Old Town. Wood-framed homes, lush tropical landscapes, and easy riding make time on a bicycle rewarding and fun.
There are three historical museums in Key West, in addition to family-friendly museums like the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center and the Key West Aquarium.
Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum is in Old Town and was the home of Ernest Hemingway when he lived and wrote in Key West. Visitors are permitted to tour the house and gardens. Guided tours include insightful narratives by guides who enjoy answering questions.
Key West Aquarium is one of Key West’s most popular attractions. The aquarium features guided tours, animal feedings, and a touch tank with a variety of marine creatures.
Florida Keys Eco-Discover Center is a kid-friendly museum that helps explain the wildlife and eco-system of Key West. It features over 6,000 square feet of interactive and dynamic exhibits, including a mock-up of Aquarius, the world's only underwater ocean laboratory. Admission is free.
Mel Fisher Maritime Museum features treasures of the Spanish galleons discovered by Mel Fisher and his crew, and include artifacts from 17th century shipwrecks, such as the Henrietta Marie, Nuestra Señora de Atocha, and Santa Margarita.
Key West Shipwreck Museum combines actors, films, and artifacts from the 1985 rediscovery of Isaac Allerton, which sank off Key West in 1856, to tell the story of shipwreck salvage in the Florida Keys.
Key West's award-winning restaurants combine casual elegance with decadent fare and menus that are as diverse as the island’s population. Steak and seafood eateries are abundant, in addition to cuisine from family-owned Cuban restaurants to cozy Italian bistros and sushi bars. And most of all, you’ll love the key lime pie!
For a taste of the Caribbean, visit the highly-rated Bien Key West, which is located on Eaton Street. They have generous sandwiches that are reasonably priced and are famous for their Fire Roasted Corn.
Blue Haven is one of the more casual restaurants in Key West. It’s located in the historic Bahama Village and serves American, Caribbean, and Vegetarian cuisine for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
And while in Key West, be sure to visit Sloppy Joe’s, a favorite hangout of novelist Ernest Hemingway. It features good American food and entertainment and is located on Duval Street.
You’ll find hundreds of vacation rentals in Key West, including condos, apartments, and houses.
If you’re looking for a full-service resort, visit the Pier House Resort and Spa. The resort has its own private white-sand beach on the north side of the island at the end of Duval Street. The Pier House features a swimming pool, fitness center, and a spa for massage, facials and body treatments.
Other great options to consider while in Key West include H2O Suites, which is an all one-bedroom suites hotel, close to the energy of downtown Key West. And for an intimate stay, the Almond Tree Inn is a small, 22-room inn, surrounded by a privacy wall.
If it’s funny, whimsical, tropical, and colorful, you’ll find it in one of Key West’s many shops and boutiques. Key West’s main street, Duval Street, is where some of the best shops are located on the island.
Save yourself the trouble of scouring the beach for that unique shell. Shop the Shell Warehouse in Mallory Square to see rare shells from around the world. If you like using a natural sponge, the Key West Sponge Market in Mallory Square is the place for natural sponges, nautical gifts, and Key West collectibles. And if you’re looking to fit in with the locals, shop Local Color for jewelry and resort wear.
With incredible weather all year long, Key West is the perfect place to start a life together. What could be more romantic than a beach wedding?
There are numerous wedding planners in the area that are eager to help plan your special day. Whether you’re looking for a beach wedding or a formal indoor affair, Key West is ready to meet every desire of the bride-to-be.
Since 1920, the legendary Casa Marina has hosted weddings in their indoor and outdoor venues. If your desire is a beach wedding, the Casa Marina invites you to the soft sands of their 1,100-square foot private beach, alongside the lapping waves of the Atlantic Ocean.
For a more intimate outdoor venue, the Audubon House and Tropical Gardens offers a slice of mid-19th century Key West life. The period architecture and lush gardens offer a historic, yet romantic place for your wedding, brimming with orchids and rare palms that attract beautiful butterflies and splendid tropical birds.
Other unique wedding venues in Key West include Fort Zachary Taylor State Park and the Hemingway Home.