Spanning 125 miles of dynamic island bliss, there is no shortage of turquoise waters, white sands and outdoor delights in the Florida Keys. To experience such a subtropical climate and year-round warmth, one may not think it is accessible in the contiguous United States. But it most certainly is.
The Florida Keys – stretching from Key Largo south to Key West (and well beyond) – is loaded with beach options for everyone, whether you're into eco-adventures or delicious tropical cuisine. So, grab your shades and swimsuit – it’s time you find the perfect beach for your Florida Keys adventure.
Bahia Honda State Park
Best beach for bird watching
A prized stop on the Florida Birding Trail, Bahia Honda State Park is loaded with wildlife and vantage points for taking it all in. On a given day, dozens of species of wood warblers, great white herons, sandpipers and more are visible from its confines situated between Big Pine Key and Marathon. For the best vantage point, take a stroll on the Old Bahia Honda Railroad Bridge.
No longer in commission with part of it still accessible to the public, the bridge eerily juts into the water from the park’s most southwestern shore and provides panoramic views of the winged critters within the park’s confines. In addition to the iconic bridge, the park offers a snorkeling tour, camping and kayak rentals for different vantage points, too.
Curry Hammock State Park
Best beach for kayaking and paddle boarding
If the lively hustle and bustle of Key West isn’t striking the right chord, the untouched beauty of Curry Hammock State Park will. Located between Duck Key and Marathon, this park has 1000 lush acres that are primed for outdoor adventures.
In addition to campsites, a 1.5-mile nature trail and four pavilions for picnicking, this is the park for a day of paddling. There are two beloved kayak paths here, with the most popular being a 1.5-mile loop around Little Crawl Key that takes you through a mangrove tunnel, deep water lagoon and sandbars.
Dry Tortugas National Park
Best beach for a totally isolated retreat
Key West may have “west” in its name, but it’s actually not the most western attraction in the Keys. Situated in the heart of the Gulf of Mexico, that honor goes to Dry Tortugas National Park. It is comprised of seven islands and is perhaps the most isolated destination within the entire US National Park System. Getting there will require a two-plus hour ferry ride via the Yankee Freedom III, a private boat charter or seaplane ride, all of which should be booked well in advance. But, once you’re there, vivid coral reefs, a massive Civil War-era fortress (Fort Jefferson) and secluded beaches like no other await.
Best beach for animal lovers
If Fido has tagged along for your Key West adventure (or if you want to watch puppies play on the beach), Higgs Beach has one of the best dog parks around. Adjacent to the park is the Key West Wildlife Center, where local birds, sea turtles and other creatures are rehabilitated. The center is open to the public for tours six days a week (except Wednesdays). Beyond the animals and along its white sand shores, Higgs Beach also has six picnic tiki huts and a historic military lookout – West Martello Tower – with Insta-worthy gardens adjacent to it.
Fort Zachary Taylor State Park
Best beach for history buffs
If you’re a history lover that happens to be in Key West on the third weekend of the month, you’re in luck. Nestled on the southwest tip of Key West, Fort Zachary Taylor Park hosts a monthly Civil War reenactment (the fort remained in Union hands throughout the conflict).
There are plenty of other historical attractions within the park year-round, too, including tours of the brick-clad fort and its extensive collection of seaside-positioned cannons and artillery. Beyond its historical allure, the park is a stellar spot for a swim, with shallow and often serene waters. It can be a little rocky, so some water shoes may help here.
John Pennekamp State Park
Best beach for a marine life encounter
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, John Pennekamp State Park features nearly 200 nautical square miles of coral reefs and marine life, regularly including great barracudas, parrotfish and more. For a memorable view of it all, the park offers numerous boat tours throughout the day. Go for the glass-bottom boat which departs three times daily, every single day of the year. Back on land, check out the park’s visitor center, which has a 30,000-gallon aquarium.
Best white sand beach
When you envision a South Florida beach, it’s flat with white sand that stretches along the coast for as far as the eye can see. Smathers Beach is just that. Tucked on Key West’s southern coast, there is plenty of space for lounging or adventure.
Among its attractions are volleyball courts, food trucks and watersport companies offering parasailing, jet ski rentals, kayak excursions and more. A must: walking out to a sandbar beyond the shore (don’t worry, the waters are typically shallow and calm).
Best beach for a family-friendly adventure
There is never a shortage of oceanside fun for the whole family at Sombrero Beach. Situated in Marathon, this tranquil beach (with typically tranquil waters!) has shaded picnic spots, barbecue pits, a playground, volleyball courts and plenty of space to unwind. From April through October, the beach is a Loggerhead Turtle nesting hotspot as well, which is bound to be a memorable sight for those of all ages.
You might also like:
First-time Florida Keys: island hopping along the Overseas Highway
On Election Day, Key West voted to ban large cruise ships
Hooking a good meal in the Florida Keys