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Destinations  •  September 13, 2022

The 7 Best Key West Beaches for a Relaxing Island Vacation

Danielle Vito
Danielle Vito

As Senior Social Media Manager, Danielle manages AvantStay's social media platforms and writes content for the Atlas blog. Previously, Danielle was the Social Media Producer at The Points Guy where she ran TPG's Instagram and wrote articles on the most social media-worthy destinations, and tips on hacking your travels by using credit cards.

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Key West, the westernmost of the Florida Keys islands, is an amazing vacation destination with beautiful beaches between the Atlantic Ocean and the gulf of Mexico. The white sands, palm trees, coral reefs, water sports rentals, beautiful sunrises, and sparkling blue water make Key West a great place to relax. 

Key West can make for an exciting stop on a trip to Florida, as it is easy to travel to from places like Fort Jefferson, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami. It is a popular travel destination, so make sure you plan your trip early, especially if you want to visit during the summer months.

Since Key West is an island, it is surrounded by sand and ocean. With so many options of beaches to choose from, it is sometimes hard to know which ones are the best, even if you’re a local of the area.

So, we’ll give you the 7 best Key West beaches to make your stay as relaxing and fun as possible. The best beaches have everything, from nature to history, to clear, blue waters that you won’t be able to help but jump into.

Fort Zachary Taylor Historic Park beach

State park beaches are some of the best to visit because they have high standards of maintenance. States often try to protect their nature, scenery, and wildlife, and Fort Zachary Taylor Historic Park beach is no exception.

This beach is a great place to relax and lay in the sun, but it also provides guests with the possibility of practicing water sports like swimming and snorkeling. There is lots of well-preserved coral at this beach, so it is ideal for those who enjoy looking at ocean wildlife. 

If you get hungry during your beach day, you can always bring food for a picnic, but the beach also has food available for purchase. You can also rent a hut for a day if you prefer a private place to relax.

Be aware, though, that many parts of this beach are a bit rocky. So, it is best to be careful where you decide to place your things. It is also best to wear shoes on many parts of the beach or to invest in water shoes if you plan on swimming in the ocean.

This beach is also an ideal location for history buffs. Fort Zachary Taylor is a great place to learn about Civil War history. 

The beach is located close to Key West’s downtown area, Duval Street. It is also within walking distance of gorgeous condos that you can rent for the duration of your stay.

Since the beach is a state park, you will have to pay for entrance, but it is well worth it to enjoy the gorgeous ocean and preserve the wildlife there.

Smathers beach

Smathers beach is the largest beach in Key West. Although it is extremely popular and tends to attract crowds, the large size of the beach makes it, so there is plenty of space to spread out.

The beach is public, meaning you can access it for free. You may have to pay for other things, like parking, paddle boards, umbrellas, and food.

Smathers beach is a typical sandy beach, perfect for building sandcastles and relaxing in the sun. The water is clear and shallow, so it’s the perfect place to bring the whole family to swim and look at sea creatures that might come near the shore.

The scenery is gorgeous, and it is exactly what you would expect from a Florida beach. The sand is soft, the water is crystal clear, and palm trees are always swaying in the breeze. If you’re looking for a tropical getaway, Smathers beach is perfect for you.

Because Smathers beach is so large, it is easy to book accommodations that are close to it. Many homes in Key West are located right next to this beach, and many are available as vacation rentals.

Higgs Memorial beach park

Higgs Memorial beach park is more than a gorgeous beach. The park also includes a dog park, pier, restaurant, and historic site.

This is another white sand Key West beach with crystal clear waters, so it’s perfect for swimming and jet skiing. If you like to play sports, you can usually find a beach volleyball game on the sand. Or, if sports aren’t your thing, soak up the sun and sit at the picnic tables.

Higgs beach itself is public, and parking is free, so you can make enjoying your day there inexpensive. If you want to splurge a little bit, there is a sit-down restaurant on-site, so you can enjoy a little break from the sand if you desire.

Located close to the beach area are monuments that memorialize many enslaved African Americans buried in the cemetery near the site. 

This larger beach and park is also an ideal place to anchor yourself. Many see it as their primary destination on a trip to Key West, so you may desire to stay near the beach to make sure you see all it has to offer.

Simonton beach

Simonton beach is a smaller beach near Mallory Square and isn’t as popular as some of the other ones on this list. However, that may work in your favor. There tend to be fewer crowds here than at some of the more well-known beaches.

While most of Key West’s beaches are located on its south shore, this one is located on the northwest side of the island. So, if you’re looking to explore more of Key West natural beaches, this beach is great to try.

This beach is sandy with a few rocks, and the water is clear, making the beach-going experience very relaxing. There is no need to worry about seaweed and trash here.

The only downside to such a secluded beach is that you have to be extra careful when swimming, as fewer people are around to assist with emergencies.

There is a pier with restaurants nearby, so you have plenty of food options if you get hungry while taking a swim at this hidden gem.

Dog beach

If you enjoy bringing your furry friends with you on vacation, Dog beach is the perfect place for you. Dogs have the run of this beach, so they are free to run around and frolic in the waves. Owners are welcome to do the same.

The beach has plenty of shady areas where you and your pup can cool off on warm days. There’s also a restaurant very close to the beach. So, you can stop for a bite to eat after letting your dog run around.

This beach is small and in a more secluded area, so it can be a bit difficult to find. If you’re ever having trouble finding the location, other dog owners can help guide you.

It’s important to note that this beach is very much a dog beach. There will be lots of pups running around, so those without canine companions may not find the area enjoyable.

County beach

If you’re looking for smaller beaches, County beach may be the perfect stop for your trip. Like Simonton beach and Rest beach, this beach is another hidden gem. Like many of the beaches on this list, it is a public beach, so you won’t have to pay for a more private experience.

County beach is close to Rest beach and Higgs Memorial beach but is the least known of the three. So, if you find that the other two become too crowded, County beach is the perfect place to dodge the multitudes of visitors.

You can sit in your beach chair and enjoy the soft sand and views of gorgeous palm trees and water while relaxing away from the crowds.

South beach

South beach is most famous for being the place where Tennessee Williams swam every day. It’s also the smallest beach in Key West and the southernmost beach in the continental United States.

It’s located at the end of Duval Street and very close to the city center. There’s a cafe nearby where you can grab some food or walk a little further and pick one of the seafood restaurants, since coolers aren’t allowed.

Chairs are available to rent, but there aren’t any public restrooms.

Bahia Honda state park

You have access to much more than a beach at Bahia Honda State Park. The activities available are endless, such as boating, snorkeling, bird watching, kayaking, yoga, swimming, or paddling. So you certainly won’t be bored, and there’s something for everyone.

The state park is equipped for people with disabilities, and there are restaurants, public restrooms, and a shower station. Pets are allowed, and you if your are a fan of RVs, you can park your vehicle here.

Bahia Honda is perfect for those who love the beach and nature and don’t enjoy just lying in a beach towel all day.

Final thoughts

Hopefully, knowing about the many beautiful beaches in Key West has made you excited to plan your visit to the beautiful island. Or, if you’re a local, we hope we have given you some new beaches to try out on a day trip.

Whether you’re looking to see nature, want to go parasailing, want to explore the nature trails, want to have fun splashing around in the water, or want to lay out on soft sand, the beaches of Key West have it all. There is truly something for every beach lover on the island.

Danielle Vito
Danielle Vito

As Senior Social Media Manager, Danielle manages AvantStay's social media platforms and writes content for the Atlas blog. Previously, Danielle was the Social Media Producer at The Points Guy where she ran TPG's Instagram and wrote articles on the most social media-worthy destinations, and tips on hacking your travels by using credit cards.

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