There are few domestic destinations dreamier than the Florida Keys. This breezy, sun-soaked archipelago is the very picture of a tropical retreat, with palm trees, clear blue waters, colorful kitsch, and a laid-back lifestyle that’s practically foreign on the mainland.
However, there’s one major vacation component missing from the overall Florida Keys schema: the beach. The idea that the destination is full of sandy stretches is a misconception; instead, the MO here is boating, snorkeling, and diving, not hitting the beach. Still, there are a few spots where you can clock in some time on the sand. Here are the best beaches in the Florida Keys.
Life's all about the simple pleasures. It's not an abundance of amenities that makes Sunset Park Beach special — you'll only see a few benches, tables, and bathrooms here — but what you will find is a nightly sunset spectacular. Located in Key Colony Beach, this beach is an ideal spot to relax and close out another day in paradise.
A national park may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a Florida Keys vacation, but you won’t want to miss Dry Tortugas National Park. It’s 99% underwater, which means the beaches it does have across its seven islands provide a stunning contrast between the pristine turquoise of the ocean and the sun-bleached white of the sand. The park is only accessible by seaplane or ferry, so you’ll need to camp if you want more than a day trip to this gorgeous spot.
This beach isn’t open to the public, but it’s one of the best in the Keys (think Swiss Family Robinson vibes, but make it luxe). Little Palm Island is the only private island resort in the U.S., and its poolside beach is one of the hot spots (though you’ll likely have it all to yourself).
Smathers Beach is the biggest public beach in Key West and, understandably, one of the most popular in the Keys. In addition to sunning, you can play volleyball on the sand or try water sports like kayaking, jet skiing, windsurfing, and kitesurfing. There are also food trucks nearby where you can grab a snack.
While John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is best known for its under-the-sea attractions — it's home to the famous Christ of the Abyss statue, beautiful coral reefs, and plentiful marine life — landlubbers will find a lot to love here, too. There are quiet, hidden beaches where you can relax in peace, and its Key Largo location means you don't have to drive all the way south to Key West to enjoy the beach.
Another Florida Keys beach open to hotel guests only, the sandy stretch at Isla Bella Beach Resort is worth checking in for. Because beaches in the Florida Keys are a rarity, the 24-acre stretch at Isla Bella is a major draw. Guests can rest in any of the numerous lounge chairs lining the coral-specked sand, eat at the outdoor Beach Bar, or relax in one of the five sparkling pools.
Calusa Beach is another popular option in the Keys. Located within Bahia Honda State Park, between Big Pine Key and Marathon, it's about halfway down the 180-mile Florida Keys archipelago. It's on the Gulf side, which means its waters are sheltered and calm (perfect for families with children), plus there's ample parking and covered areas for picnicking. In addition to swimming and sunbathing, there's an offshore coral reef for snorkeling.
Located in Marathon, Sombrero Beach has everything you want — swaying palm trees, white sand, and beautiful water in varying shades of blue — and some you didn't know you needed, including picnic pavilions, volleyball nets, a pier, restrooms, and public showers. You can even snorkel here, so it's a great spot for the adventurous and languorous alike. Just watch where you step from April through October — that's nesting season for endangered loggerhead sea turtles, and this beach is one of their favorites, too.
Located in southern Key West, this sun-soaked spot puts you halfway to the Caribbean. Here, you can picnic, swim, snorkel, paddle, fish, and even squeeze in a little history: Fort Taylor, a National Historic Monument, predates the Civil War and is worth checking out, especially on the third weekend of each month, when you can catch historical reenactments. The park is open every day from 8 a.m. until sundown, and admission costs $6 per vehicle.
Another Key West favorite, Higgs Beach has a cafe and some strikingly clear water. Swimming, snorkeling, sunbathing, volleyball, tennis, and pickleball are all options here, and there's also a beachside playground for kids. Beach accessories like chairs, umbrellas, kayaks, and paddleboards are also available for rent.
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