4 Best Key West Beaches & A Guide To Fort Zachary Taylor State Park!

Last Updated on August 6, 2022

Yay! You’ve made it to Key West, the Southernmost point in the USA!  It’s a stones throw away from Cuba, there’s palm trees, cocktails everywhere, pies made from lime, all that’s left is to relax on the beach right?!  In this post I share with you some of the Key West beaches that you’ll find on this island!

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Key West Beaches

Now for the science part, Key West isn’t naturally a beach island.  It’s a coral island so is essentially a big hard rock in the sea (they can’t even dig that far into the ground to bury people in the cemetery).  My tour guide told me that all the sand in Key West is actually transported down from Miami and so man-made beaches have been created!

The Best Beach in Key West: Fort Zachary Beach

In my opinion, the best beach in Key West is Fort Zachary Beach, which can be found in Fort Zachary Taylor State Park.  It’s a popular spot with cruise passengers due to the close walking distance from the port.

Key West Fort Zachary Taylor
(I spy a cruise ship!)

There is an entrance fee to the State Park that varies depending on your mode of transport.  If you are walking or cycling, it’s $2.50 per person or if you plan to drive and park, 1 person in a vehicle is $4.50, $7 for 2 and $0.50 for each extra person.  This still works out to be a fairly cheap parking option in Key West, if you plan on being parked there for most of the day.

Key West Fort Zachary Beach
Fort Zachary Taylor Beach

What I love about Fort Zachary Taylor Beach is that it LOOKS like a desert island beach.  It’s away from the main roads and traffic on the island.  You have to walk through a small woodland area, there aren’t any big imposing buildings, you can’t even really see Fort Zachary Taylor (an actual giant fort!) until you are pretty much standing right next to it, and of course the sea is a lovely blue colour!

key west beach fort zachary
The path to Fort Zachary Taylor Beach

Chickee Hut Beach Rentals

There are plenty of public picnic benches in the shade, that you are free to use, or if you want to get a little more comfortable, sun loungers and umbrellas are available to rent.

Sun lounger $10

Umbrellas $15

Or if rented as a package: 1x lounger plus an umbrella – $20, 2x loungers plus an umbrella – $30

Fort Zachary Beach is also said to be the best beach in Key West to go snorkelling.  However typically on the day that I visited, it was really windy so the usual ‘calm waters’ didn’t exist so I didn’t attempt to snorkel.

If all else fails, you could go on a Key West snorkelling tour instead!

Key West Fort Zachary Taylor

I’d also advise you to take those attractive items of footwear, water shoes.  As it is a coral island, the sea bed around Key West can be quite rocky.  Part of the reason I didn’t try to go snorkelling, was because it was just too damn painful…trying to find pain-free footing while getting battered by waves was a battle that defeated me.  I got out as far as my knees and gave up!

I took my own snorkel, but you can also rent them (along with fins) from the Chickee Hut Beach Rentals, the same place that rents the sun loungers.  There’s also a concession stand selling snacks and drinks as well as toilet facilities.

Key West Fort Zachary Taylor State Park Beach

Fort Zachary Taylor

With entrance to the State Park, you can also visit Fort Zachary Taylor for free too!  It’s self guided unless you join the free daily 11am walking tour with a guide.  The fort dates back to 1845 and acted as first defence/protection for other ports within the Gulf of Mexico.  The fort never came under attack but it did have cannons with a 3 mile radius which helped keep it safe!

Key West Fort Zachary Taylor State Park

Fort Zachary Taylor

On a side note, something that did surprise me (but in reality probably shouldn’t have due to its location) was how much of Key West is taken up by the ‘military’.  You think of it being a ‘vacation’ destination but there’s Naval airstrips, multi navy bases/barracks that are of course closed off to the public (and not going to lie, ugly looking).

I was annoyed to discover once it was too late, that there are daily yoga classes on the beach!  Drop in classes are $18 and start at 8.15am.  The entrance fee to Fort Zachary Taylor State Park is included in the cost of the class and mats and equipment are available to use.

Related Reading5 Oahu Beaches You Should Add To Your Bucket List!

South Beach

South Beach claims to be the Southernmost beach in the USA!  This Key West beach is located at the end of Duval Street, a block away from the giant ‘Southernmost Point’ marker!

Key West Beaches. South Beach, the southernmost beach in the USA!

The water looked a bit seaweedy (I blame the wind and choppy sea) but there’s sand and  sun lounger/chair rentals.  Plus a beachfront cafe that opens from 7am!

Higgs Beach

I only passed Higgs Beach while on the Conch Tour Train, so I was unable to stop for photos.  However the great thing about this beach, is that it’s home to one of Key West’s FREE public parking lots, yay!  A rare find in Key West!

You’ll find volleyball nets, toilets, rentals (from what I gather there are paddle board rentals too as well as sun loungers etc) and a restaurant.  There’s also an old civil war fort which is now home to the Key West Garden Club, a free scenic garden that’s open to the public 7 days a week.

Smathers Beach

Unfortunately I didn’t have time to visit Smathers Beach which is one of the largest of the Key West beaches.  Just like Higgs Beach, it also has free parking along with toilet facilities, volleyball courts and water sport rentals.  It is further away from the main downtown area, next to the Key West International Airport.

Key West Beachfront Hotels

Ibis Bay Beach Resort

Ibis Bay Beach Resort Key West Beachfront Hotels

I stayed at the Ibis Bay Beach Resort while in Key West.  In terms of beaches, it felt very much like a man-made beach, but don’t get me wrong, it was absolutely perfect for what I wanted!  I was lucky enough to even get an upgrade to a beachfront room as it was my birthday, so I could see the beach and the water right from my room!

Ibis Bay Beach Resort Key West beachfront hotels

Each room had a bit of a patio area with tables and chairs, but the main beach area had sun loungers that were available for all guests to use.

My favourite part was the hammock, although I’m not sure if these were just meant for the use of the guests in the rooms nearby.  They were quite close to the room doors so I think I’d have felt a little weird if a stranger was hanging out that close to my room!  Other hammocks were definitely more ‘public’ around the property though.

Key West Ibis Bay Beach

The hotel also offered water sport rentals and tours, including glass bottom kayaks and LED paddle boards for night tours!

Other Key West Hotels on the Beach

Something I learnt quite quickly about Key West, is that there aren’t too many budget hotels, especially budget beachfront hotels.  Ibis Bay Beach Resort was definitely more at the budget end of the scale, however there are more luxury options (think $250 a night MORE than the Ibis Bay) if you are looking for Key West hotels on the beach.  A couple of examples are The Reach and the Casa Marina.  These are both Hilton properties that have private beaches.

Other Florida Keys posts you may enjoy!

Key West In December: A Winter Sun Getaway in Florida, USA!

6 Must See Stops On A Marathon to Key West Florida Road Trip!

Rescue, Rehabilitation, Release: Visiting The Turtle Hospital, Marathon FL

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Disclosure: Please note some of the links in this post are affiliate links, which means I will receive a small commission if you make a purchase after clicking and it comes at no extra cost to you!  As always, opinions are my own.

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