If you’re searching for the best beaches in Key West, there are truly only four beaches on the island worth visiting.
Key West is known as the Southernmost City in the United States, reaching far out from the mainland splitting the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean. It’s closer to Cuba than it is to Miami.
There are so many things to do in Key West. An island packed full of restaurants, bars, resorts, quirky characters and a rich history. But, if you’re looking for the perfect spot to dig your toes in the sand, here are the best beaches in Key West.
1. Fort Zachary Taylor
Address: 601 Howard England Way, Key West, FL 33040
Fort Zachary Taylor is the laid back beach. Large enough to take in a stroll and ample room to claim your spot in the sand on most days.
Located beyond the Truman Annex, you’ll enter through Southard St. continuing through the residential area, follow until greeted by a park attendant.
The fees are quite reasonable: $2.50 for walker/biker and $7+ per car (depends on the number of people in the car).
The busiest area is near the snack shack where beach chair and umbrella rentals are offered. If you’re looking for less traffic, simply meander down the beach.
The entire park is over 50 acres with several trails and a number of shaded picnic tables. The lack of water sport rentals and no alcohol policy (plus an entrance fee) are contributing factors to a more peaceful atmosphere.
One of the few beaches where the soft sand stretches from the beach out into the water making it easy to swim.
The best feature are the sunset views. At the very end of the beach a jetty lines the channel side of the park. This is the finest place in all of Key West to watch a sunset (see all our favorite Key West sunset spots). Here you can listen to the water lap along the rocks and watch the boats sail across your unobstructed view of the sunset.
2. South Beach
Address: 1405 Duval St, Key West, FL 33040-3133
If you’re looking for a place to lounge with attentive service, fun atmosphere and crowds of people to meet, then Key West’s South Beach is a great choice.
Easy to find at the end of Duval St. (south end), it’s a small patch of sand between a pier and a neighboring hotel bulkhead.
Although seaweed washing ashore is common place on Key West beaches, it seems more dense here and on windy weather days the water can be murky from churning in this small cove. Despite these drawbacks, South Beach can be the place where you have the most fun on your trip to the island.
The beach chair rental company on South Beach provides amenities worthy of spending hours lounging in the sun or shade. I rented 2 chairs and an umbrella for somewhere around $20, which also provided access to the neighboring hotel’s outdoor shower and pool.
Throughout the day, the rental attendants bring all sorts of goodies to you! A frozen hand towel for cooling off, a chilled fruit snack and even a small slushy fruit drink. As the sun travels overhead, the attendants happily re-arrange your chairs and umbrellas to your liking.
You can bring your own chairs or simply lie on your towel in the sand, but it’s the added service and pool access that makes the day.
Purchase your drinks at the Southernmost Beach Cafe which is directly on the beach. Convenient for ordering food and drinks “to go” so you may savor them in your beach chairs. They also have one of the top 5 Happy Hours in Key West!
3. Key West’s Higgs Beach
Mix the two atmospheres of Fort Zachary Taylor and South Beach and you’ll be at Clarence Higgs Beach Park, a free public beach adjacent to the Casa Marina hotel.
Activities and people are abundant on one end of the beach. Offering water sport rentals, beach chair / umbrella rentals, volleyball court, covered pavilions for rent and a large jungle gym playground area for the kids.
Along with enjoying the expansive beach there are other attractions that makes Higgs Beach appealing for a fun day. One of the best Key West restaurants sits right at the edge of the sand. Salute! offers top-notch food choices, outdoor dining along with a bar where you can enjoy an alcoholic beverage.
The West Martello Tower (historical fort) is within easy walking distance from anywhere on the beach. The fort is a free self guided tour maintained by the Key West Garden Club. A nice break from the hot sun since most of the grounds are under a canopy of trees. I’ve seen better gardens, but following the meandering trails is relaxing and provides several nice overlooks with views of the sea.
Higgs Beach flows all the way to White Street Pier. I’ve found the beach completely empty on many occasions just beyond the fort and before the pier.
Note: If you keep walking past the large concrete pier (White Pier), the beach narrows significantly and is kept in a more natural state. A meandering trail runs along the beach with several enclaves along the path where small picnic tables are available. This is known as Rest Beach or the full name is C.B. Harvey Rest Beach Park.
If you’ve been researching the best beaches in Key West, you’ve surely seen this beach listed (as most of these articles list every spit of sand in Key West, with no regard to the quality of the beach). Rest Beach is a nice, quiet area with a few feet of sand running along the shoreline. It is a great spot to eat a peaceful to-go lunch, but this area should barely be considered a beach.
Stick with Higgs Beach if you enjoy a little people action and close amenities.
4. Smathers Beach
Address: 2601 S. Roosevelt Blvd, Key West, FL 33040
By far the biggest beach in Key West is Smathers Beach. It’s a long beach with just a few palm trees for shade.
If you’re spending the day at Smathers Beach bring an umbrella for shade or rent one. The palm trees only provide a little shade and are often taken quickly.
If you have a car, free parking along the roadway makes it convenient. If you are staying close to this area (on South Roosevelt, out by the airport), this beach is easily accessible, but it is too far to walk from the Old Town area.
Water sport rentals and beach chair rentals are available, plus several food trucks are typically parked here.
This beach is often less crowded than other Key West beaches simply because the cruise ship passengers don’t typically make it out this far from the port.
Smathers Beach is also the popular place for beach weddings. If you’re here closer to dusk on the weekends, you might see several small wedding ceremonies.
Of course, the best Key West beach for you might be the one right outside your hotel. But if you’re staying inland, one of these Key West beaches should satisfy your sandy soul.
More Information About Vacationing In Key West:
Top 5 Places for Shopping in Key West
Key West Cemetery Self Guided Tour
Best Key West Happy Hours
Best Lunch in Key West and it’s On The Beach!
Top 5 Places to See a Key West Sunset (Better Than Mallory Square)
Best Place for Breakfast in Key West
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