The archipelago that juts off the end of South Florida, peppering the Atlantic with 1,700 islands, is the famous Florida Keys. For years, this chain of islands has welcomed visitors, boasting white-sand beaches, sportfishing, abundant seafood, and plenty of water sports to keep the entire family entertained.
While a majority of the islands are small and uninhabited, the stretch of Keys that runs south is jam-packed with year-round activities, exquisite hotels, and of course, a relaxing island environment.
Due to its expansive offshore coral reefs and shipwrecks, the Florida Keys are a favorite among scuba divers, snorkelers, and anglers, with Islamorada being the sportfishing capital of the world. Additionally, the Keys are home to fun cultural events like the Fantasy Festival, and iconic destinations like the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum.
When it comes to beaches, though, you may be surprised to find out that one of the Florida Keys‘ driving forces in tourism also comes with a catch.
The numerous coral reefs on the island’s shores, known for their abundance of tropical marine life, not only protect the coast from the Atlantic’s rough surf but also limits the amount of sand that can be dispersed. This means that while you might expect each island to be teeming with wide, lush shorelines, you will mostly find rocky, narrow strips of sand.
While this may seem like a downside, unlike the tourist-dominated beaches near Miami, you can easily find a few magical places in the Keys to set up for a day in the sun. No matter what you are looking for, taking a trip to any of these destinations is sure to round out your Florida vacation.
Here are some of the best beaches in the Florida Keys:
Anne’s Beach, Lower Matecumbe Key
At the lower end of Upper Matecumbe Key, just past mile marker 73, you’ll find one of the Florida Keys’ few natural sandy beaches. Anne’s Beach is a popular beach destination with excellent facilities and amenities.
Take a walk down the 1,300-foot boardwalk that connects the two parking lots and be greeted by an immersive adventure through the mangrove trees. The beach itself is home to shallow turquoise waters, great if you want to wade out into the surf and explore.
The area is famous for windsurfing, and, on a breezy day, you can see riders charging through the water at incredible speeds. Beachside, you can expect to find a few places to relax in the sand, but, if you are looking for a bit of adventure, there are plenty of areas to explore on foot.
Long Key State Park, Long Key
Originally, Long Key State Park was a popular tourist destination for the rich and famous during the 19th and 20th centuries. However, after the great Labour Day hurricane of 1935, the facilities were destroyed and never reopened. Today, the land is a tranquil haven for adventurers and sightseers looking to explore the park’s natural wonders.
The park is best explored by kayak, but if you’re simply here to relax, you can catch some rays on the beach. Long Key State Park is recognized on The Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail and is a fantastic place to catch a glimpse of the variety of shorebirds that call this beach their home.
Additionally, visitors can go hiking, camping, paddle boarding, swimming, and, at night, star gazing.
Much like other areas in the Keys, Long Key sustained substantial damage from Hurricane Irma in 2017. While efforts to rebuild areas of the park are underway, there is still a lot to be done.
Sombrero Beach – Marathon, Vaca Key
On the Atlantic side of Marathon Key, just a bit past mile marker 50 on US 1, you’ll find one of the best-kept, local secrets of the area: Sombrero Beach. The atypical classic vibe at Sombrero Beach provides in-the-know visitors with one of the best stretches of sand in all of the Florida Keys.
Sombrero Beach’s soft, golden sand and nearly crystal clear water is perfect for a day of lounging, snorkeling, or catching a game of volleyball. It has plenty of amenities, with bathrooms, showers, a picnic pavilion, and a playground.
On the 10-miles of land that makes up Maraton Key, you can find some fantastic experiences too. While the area is known for its bright collection of restaurants and bars, there is much to choose from for those looking for a more intimate adventure.
Just a bit farther inland and you can experience the incredible natural history of the islands at Crane Point Museum. Explore the cultural history of the Keys and discover the many peoples that have fought and inhabited the land over the years.
Calusa Beach – Bahia Honda State Park, Big Pine Key
Nestled in Bahia Honda State Park on Big Pine Key, you’ll find one of the area’s best little beaches, Calusa Beach.
While the park has several sandy spots to choose from, Calusa Beach sits on the Key’s interior side and offers guests calmer waters and a more relaxed environment, making it, undoubtedly, the most popular in the area. The beach offers guests access to the park’s amenities, where there is a nature center, picnic areas, and even a souvenir shop.
The white sand and dense natural surrounding contrasts with the expanding clear blue water, perfect for all kinds of water activities. Go swimming, snorkeling, paddle boarding, or take a boat trip to one of the breathtaking coral reefs offshore.
Because the beach is housed inside a sprawling state park, you can expect to see some fantastic wildlife. Birding is a popular activity here, and you can see a great many variations of shore and wading birds. Furthermore, when the tide is low, you can catch them feeding off the sandbars that pop up off the coasts.
Curry Hammock State Park, Big Pine Key
If you are looking for seclusion on the massively developed stretches of land in the Florida Keys, Curry Hammock State Park might be worth visiting. This site is a popular destination among campers and comes with a wealth of facilities and amenities for you and your crew to enjoy.
The park sits right in between Key Largo and Key West, offering a breathtaking experience, even for those who think they’ve seen it all. The 1,000 acres of protected land is home to a staggering array of diverse ecosystems.
Walk among the Rockland Hammocks, discover the dense mangrove swamps, or explore the seagrass beds and wetlands. This park’s raw natural beauty boasts high biodiversity, so you can find all sorts of animal and plant life here.
Curry Hammock State Park is also a great place to camp. With around 28 spots available, you can nestle along the shoreline and wake up to spectacular ocean views. Facilities and amenities in the park include showers, outdoor grills, bathrooms, and picnic pavilions.
Smathers Beach, Key West
On the southern shores of Key West, you’ll find one of the Florida Keys’ largest beaches. At about 2-miles long, Smathers Beach is a perfect destination to spend an afternoon. The shallow, temperate waters are ideal for swimming and snorkeling but plan to leave your surfboard at home since the waves crash on the sandbars and coral reefs.
While the shores at Smathers Beach may seem a bit out of place in the Keys, especially since the sand itself often gets torn away during storms, they are replenished frequently to maintain their appeal.
The beach itself offers picnic areas and bathroom facilities, with food trucks and other vendors lining the streets of South Roosevelt. You can watch jet skiers jump over waves and kiteboarders flying high all while enjoying a local meal.
Fort Zachary Taylor State Park, Key West
With a genuinely exciting blend of natural beauty and U.S History, Fort Zachary Taylor State Park has a few fantastic beaches and, of course, an expansive military fort that offers daily tours throughout the year.
The beach is an excellent place to swim and snorkel and much like other areas in the Keys, you can find a wonderful assortment of exotic tropical marine life as well as wooded nature trails in the interior.
History is undoubtedly the star at this park as Fort Zachary provides visitors with a glimpse into the Civil War era garrison and what life was like for the soldiers defending the southern coast.
Higgs Beach, Key West
While not as glamorous as Smathers Beach, Higgs Beach is another man-made beach that should be on your radar. Located just a short drive away from Smathers, you’ll find a relaxing oasis filled with swaying palm trees and imported sand from the Caribbean.
The area is a haven for snorkeling, offering visitors access to an underwater marine park. With its clear waters and calm surf, Higgs Beach boasts an environment that is prime for snorkelers of all skill levels to discover life under the sea.
If you have any history buffs in your group or are just curious about the surrounding area, Higgs Beach is home to an old Civil War battlement. Called the West Martello Towers, this historic spot is an excellent area to explore and soak up the history of Higgs Beach and Key West.
Cannon Beach, Key Largo
Within the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, you’ll find the calm and tranquil waters of Cannon Beach. Named for the iconic 17th-century artillery that still calls this stretch of beach home, this beautiful spot offers amazing underwater views and well-maintained amenities.
The sand at Cannon Beach is soft to the touch and wonderful to explore by foot, but water shoes are recommended due to the rocky underwater terrain. There is a designated swimming area, outdoor showers, and restrooms available for use as well as picnic areas and places to rent water gear.
Snorkeling is a popular activity here, and if you are a diver, you can move farther offshore and explore a great Spanish shipwreck.
Founders Park Beach, Islamorada
Besides being a sportfishing haven, Islamorada is known for its 40-acre recreational park, Founders Park Beach. The swaying palm trees at this site welcome visitors to the pristine stretch of sand that is certainly one of the park’s main attractions. Snorkeling, paddleboarding, kayaking, and swimming are preferred activities at this beach.
Founders Park Beach provides guests with restrooms, showers, and picnic areas in addition to the events and classes hosted year-round, such as beachside yoga. The recreation facilities and Olympic sized pool are also worth noting.
Whether you are looking for somewhere to lounge in the sun, cast a line, or explore coral reefs, a trip to the Florida Keys is sure to help you relax and unwind. Boasting white-sand beaches, top-notch sportfishing, and opportunities for snorkeling and diving, you can’t go wrong visiting any of these locations!