Chelsea Susan Bednar
Beaches of Key West
While Key West is surrounded by water, it isn’t particularly well known for its beaches. The locations you can visit are quite incredible, and are designated into three spots on the island: Fort Zachary Taylor, Smathers Beach, and Higgs Memorial Beach Park (attached to the smaller Higgs dog beach). Since these locations have notable differences, we broke them down for you below to aid in planning your beach day trip.
Fort Zachary Taylor
Cost: $6/ 8 person- vehicle, $4.50/single occupancy vehicle, $2.50 pedestrian/bike
Hours: 8am - sundown
Parking: included in cost
Food: Allowed | Cayo Hueso Café on site 10:00 am to 6:00 pm daily
Dog Friendly: Pets allowed on leashes
The most popular beach in Key West is Fort Zachary Taylor, where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Gulf of Mexico. Fort Zachary has it all: swimming, waterside rentals, a picturesque rock jetty, a cafe, a gift shop, fishing spots, picnic areas and more. If you’re planning to snorkel off the beach (rather than with a boating service), this beach is the place to do so. There’s much to see of the Tropical marine life in this area, including parrot fish, schools of yellow snapper, soft corals, and more. Bring an underwater camera to capture your experience! Gear is for rent on site, including snorkels, fins, masks, and floating rafts. Fishing is permitted ONLY on the West side of the park near the West Shipping Channel.
This beach has sandy shores and clear blue waters, but a rocky bottom so beach shoes are suggested. Didn’t pack any? No worries, the gift shop sells them. For those that want to chill out away from the sun, there are shaded grassy picnicking areas under native palm trees, along with umbrellas & chairs for rent on the shore.
Don’t feel like sitting around sandy shores? Bike the tree lined 54 acres of trails that run parallel to the shore. The preservation of these woods played a crucial role in Florida’s early development, and are marked as a National Historic Landmark to this day. Listen to the native birds sing as you make your way along the Key West Shipping Channel, past the Historic Fort Zachary. Narrated history tours are available on site.
Getting hitched in Key West? Book your wedding here! Fort Zachary offers various wedding packages (see them here).
Location: South Side, starting at mile marker 0 & runs along Atlantic Ocean and State Road A1A
Parking: $5/hour Monday-Saturday 12PM-12AM Sundays
Dog Friendly: Only in fenced dog park.
Not too far away from Fort Zachary is the largest shore in Key West, Smathers Beach. The half-mile long sandy shoreline attracts families and spring breakers alike, making its south-side beach a very popular destination. This location begins at the mile marker zero (which is directly outside of Marrero’s)!
Have fun in the sun and enjoy activities like swimming, beach volleyball, snorkeling, kayaking, and parasailing. Volleyball nets & courts are an amenity provided at the facility, along with access to jet ski rentals, public restrooms, and the shower facilities. Overnight parking is NOT permitted. The only place dogs are permitted on this beach is in the fenced-in beachside dog park.
Higgs Memorial Beach Park
Location: 1000 Atlantic Blvd, Key West, FL 33040
Parking: Extremely Limited
Food: Allowed, restaurants nearby.
Dog Friendly: Yes, in the designated Higgs Dog Park Area
Higgs Memorial Beach Park is the location of the African Cemetery of 1860. In 2001, unmarked graves were revealed on site, African Tribal Dignitaries consecrated the grounds, giving the deceased the respect they deserved. The Key West African Memorial Committee and the Old Island Restoration Foundation added historic bronze plaques to commemorate the site. As of 2012 this site was added to the National Register of Historic Places, forever protecting it’s historical importance of the travesty that was the African Slave Trade & commemoration of the captive souls who endured it.
Today, this site is open as a public beach, where you can visit the memorial site, enjoy a day at the beach, and walk the White Street Pier that stretches so far out it’s known as the "Road To Cuba”, as if reaching all the way across the waters connecting Key West & Cuba.
The Tropical Water sports Key West Concierge offers services at the beach. The $30 flat fee rentals package includes two lounge chairs and an umbrella, use of all equipment (snorkeling gear, Paddle Boards, Volleyball nets/balls) and access to WiFi. From this location you can also book activities like Parasailing, Snorkeling trips, Jet Ski Tours , and Dolphin Tours. On site there is an public restroom, outdoor shower & rinsing station.