If you’re planning a South Florida vacation, scooting over to Key West is a must. The westernmost island in the Florida Keys is famed for its rich heritage and Caribbean vibes. And, of course, any vacation to the island is incomplete without hanging out on the best beaches in Key West.
Perched on the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, Key West is surrounded by beautiful sandy beaches and warm water. For couples and families alike, the island city offers the perfect mix of historical sites and tropical splendor. Hitting Key West’s shores, you’ll enjoy relaxing water activities like swimming and snorkeling. Or you can get the adrenaline pumping with exciting water sports like jet skiing and parasailing.
Ready to plan the perfect Key West beach vacation? Find your tropical bliss on one of these favorite Key West beaches.
Looking for more vacation ideas? Check out all our other beach guides and our Florida Travel Guide for more recommendations on when to visit, where to go & what to do!
Top-rated Key West beaches
Only got 24 hours in Key West and want to experience its seaside splendor? Jet over to Smathers Beach. The public beach stretches two miles along South Roosevelt Boulevard. It’s famed for its blissful white sand, crystal blue water, and water sports.
Among visitors, Smathers Beach is Key West’s most popular beach. The stretch of sand hits its peak during spring break as beach bums from around the United States descend. Although not as famous as Daytona Beach or Panama City Beach, Smathers Beach offers an excellent alternative to Florida’s other spring break destinations.
Outside of spring break, visitors hit up Key West’s largest beach to partake in exciting water activities. Rent some water sports equipment to try out snorkeling, kayaking, jet-skiing, or parasailing. For a more relaxed visit, grab a seat at the picnic tables for a seaside lunch.
Smathers Beach is also one of the best places to catch superb sunrise views in Key West. Enjoy the blazing sun soaring above the Atlantic Ocean under the sway of palm trees for the perfect start to your day.
Also known as Clarence Higgs Memorial Beach Park, Higgs Beach is one of Key West’s most popular stretches of sand. The park sprawls out almost 17 acres on the southern shores near the bottom of White Street. Thanks to its picturesque shoreline and historic sites, Higgs Beach is one of the top places to go in Key West.
For visitors, snorkeling is one of the most popular activities at Higgs Beach. The sandy palm-fringed man-made beach is home to the only shore-accessible marine park in the United States. Slide on a mask and a snorkel to scope out its colorful array of tropical fish.
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For chillin’ out onshore, Higgs Beach offers beach chairs, umbrellas, and volleyball nets. The park is also home to several interesting historical sites. Climb West Martello Tower for fantastic views over the shoreline and enjoy rambling in its garden. Or grab a fishing rod and cast a line off its historic wooden pier.
PRO TIP: Looking to experience Key West’s amazing sealife? Book yourself onto a Double Dip Reef Snorkeling Trip. The 3-hour tour includes two snorkeling stops and complimentary drinks on the return trip.
Located at the southern end of Duval Street, South Beach is one of Key West’s most accessible stretches of sand. It’s within walking distance of many of the island city’s top boutique shops, restaurants, and bars.
Despite its lack of public restrooms or outdoor showers, South Beach is a favorite for families. The shoreline laps in shallow waters and a gentle Atlantic Ocean surf. Along the short 200-foot stretch, it’s easy for parents to keep an eye on the tots.
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South Beach is also close to some of Key West’s most famous landmarks. Be sure to snap a selfie with the Southernmost Point of the Continental United States. The colorful buoy marks the southern limit of Key West, the southernmost city in the U.S. Although it’s a bit kitschy, it’s a Key West must-see.
Bahia Honda State Park
Need to escape the buzz of central Key West? Skip over to Bahia Honda State Park. The park is located a 35-minute drive away on Big Pine Key, between Key West and Key Largo. The uninhabited island is famed for its beautiful beaches, fringed with coconut palms and turquoise water.
Most travelers start their Bahia Honda State Park day trip at Calusa Beach. Located on the eastern side of Big Pine Key, Calusa Beach is popular among swimmers, snorkelers, and kayakers. There’s also a campground nearby if you wanted to turn your visit into a full-on island adventure.
Even more compelling is Sandspur Beach. The mile-long white-sand & coral beach sits on the southern shores of Bahia Honda State Park. It’s often tagged as one of the most beautiful beaches in the Florida Keys and even one of America’s loveliest beaches.
To maximize your Sandspur Beach experience, don’t forget to bring along your snorkeling gear. The area teems with colorful marine life. In this tropical island paradise, you can swim alongside nurse sharks, reef fish, and rays.
Fort Zachary Taylor State Park
For both history buffs and beach bums, Fort Zachary Taylor State Park is a Key West must-see. One of the loveliest state parks in the Florida Keys, it centers around Fort Zachary Taylor, a pre-Civil War military fortress. Although the fort draws plenty of military history connoisseurs, the park is just as famous for its picturesque natural beach.
Often dubbed Key West’s favorite beach, Fort Zachary Taylor’s stretch of sand offers a little something for everyone. Swimmers will love frolicking in the calm waters. Snorkelers and divers will delight in roaming off-shore to catch views of tropical fish and coral reefs. Back onshore, you’ll enjoy an array of amenities, including a shower area, picnic tables, and restrooms.
With its western exposure, Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park is also famed for its sunsets. Pull up a blanket in the evening and enjoy beautiful views as the sun dips below the Gulf.
Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park is a 30-minute walk from the top of Duval Street in Downtown Key West. If you’re driving, there’s ample parking at the historic site.
PRO TIP: Be sure to wear water shoes while swimming at Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park. This authentic shoreline is a mix of sand and ground coral. In some areas, it can get sharp on the feet!
Dry Tortugas National Park
Looking for the ultimate Key West island adventure? Hop on a ferry to Dry Tortugas National Park. Located 70 miles west of the island city, Dry Tortugas is one of the top Key West day trips. The national park spans a chain of seven uninhabited islands.
Most visitors access Dry Tortugas via Garden Key, the only island accessible by ferry. Garden Key is home to the national park’s most famous site, Fort Jefferson. Built in the mid-19th century, Fort Jefferson is the third-biggest military in the United States. Although it was never finished, the fort is a must-see for military history buffs.
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Of course, the real reason to jet over to the remote archipelago is for its beaches. Dry Tortugas National Park is home to some of the best snorkeling spots around Key West. Strap on your snorkeling gear and check out its colorful marine life and coral reefs.
Visiting Key West as a couple? Zip over to Sunset Key. Located 500 yards from the harborfront, the small island is home to a 27-acre private resort. The resort’s private beach charms with its soft sand, palm tree rows, and distinctive tiki huts.
To spend time on Sunset Key, you’ll need to book a night at the luxury resort. Non-guests can still enjoy its beautiful sunsets and inspired Caribbean fare at the Latitude Café. If you’re visiting as a couple, you can also book yourself into the day spa for proper pampering.
Simonton Street Beach
Located on the island’s northern shores, Simonton Street Beach is the closest stretch of sand to the heart of Downtown Key West. This sandy shoreline is located at the end of Simonton Street, just a few blocks from Mallory Square.
With its small stature, it can be difficult to secure your spot on the sands. Set out early to land the perfect plot for your Key West beach adventure.
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Looking for more excitement? Nearby Lagerheads Beach Bar & Watersports offers water sports rentals, including jet skis and boats. From here, you can also book yourself onto a sunset cruise or a dolphin-watching adventure. (Or just enjoy the bar’s popular happy hour to beautiful Gulf views.)
Located in C.B. Harvey Rest Beach Park, east of Higgs Beach, Rest Beach is another Key West favorite. The shore itself stretches only 300 yards. Although it’s a tight squeeze for sun-worshippers, Rest Beach is a hotspot for viewing Atlantic Ocean sunsets and sunrises.
While visiting the small stretch of sand, stroll to the end of the White Street Pier to enjoy views over the shoreline or cast a line into the water. For the perfect end to the day, plunk down on the yoga deck for a stretch.
Got your pooch in tow? Let them run amok at Dog Beach. The tiny dog-friendly beach is located at the end of Vernon Street on the southern shore of the island. It’s the perfect place for your furry friends to enjoy their own Key West beach adventure.
After enjoying the shoreline, slow down at nearby Louie’s Backyard. The long-running beachfront restaurant serves some of the island’s finest Caribbean cuisine.
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Your pooches are even welcome to relax with you at the restaurant’s Afterdeck Bar until 5 pm!