Strung out from the southern tip of the Florida peninsula into the Gulf of Mexico like a string of pearls, the chain of barrier islands known as the Florida Keys are a delight. Surrounded by warm, tropical waters, they offer an amazing island experience, joined together by the iconic Overseas Highway and its 42 bridges.
When it comes to beautiful beaches, the Keys offer something a little different than the rest of the state. You won’t find the long, wide, expansive stretches of sand that the rest of Florida is known for – this isn’t Hollywood Beach! What you will find is a huge selection of cute, pocket-sized beaches fringed with palm trees, clear blue waters, and some of the best watersports, snorkeling, and scuba diving in the US.
So if you feel like a beach vacation that’s a little different, and want to have the island experience without actually leaving the state, let alone the country, here are the best beaches to head to in the Florida Keys.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
The first entry on this list is a bit of a cheat, as there are actually two beaches in John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park on Key Largo. Far Beach is a delightful little spot, the perfect place to relax in the shade of palm trees and take a dip in the warm, clear waters. But this state park is really all about what’s under the water, and here the main event is Cannon Beach. A Spanish shipwreck lies on the bottom of the sea about 100 feet offshore and offers an exciting option for both snorkelers and divers. There are plenty of coral reefs and seagrass beds easily accessible from the beach as well, which makes John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park particularly special.
Right on the Atlantic Ocean side of Lower Matecumbe Key in Islamorada, Anne’s Beach is named after the local environmentalist Anne Eaton. It’s a wide, natural beach with shallow waters that stretch way out into the gulf, and offers a scenic boardwalk that winds its way through mangroves, offering several open spots for picnicking as well.
Long Key State Park
Long Key State Park is another spot that’s all about the beach activities, with wonderful opportunities for fishing, some first-rate campgrounds, and a number of sunken ships lying in easy reach of the shore. There are also some spectacular and ancient corals for underwater adventurers to explore. If your tastes are focused more on what’s above the water, there are plenty of short hiking trails that let you explore a chunk of the picturesque park.
Bahia Honda State Park
Generally considered to be home to the best of the Florida Keys beaches, Bahia Honda State Park on Big Pine Key is a bit of a hidden gem in Florida. In fact, the 2.5 mile-long stretch of Sandspur Beach was once voted the best beach in America! Punching with the best beaches in the Caribbean, Bahia Honda offers crystal-clear turquoise waters, gorgeous sugar-soft white sand, and a picturesque backdrop of coconut palms. There are also plenty of concessions, rentals, restaurants, and picnic areas, as well as a souvenir shop and a nature center. Plenty to keep the whole family occupied all day long. And if you’re looking for another beach in Florida to take the family, check out my other post on the best beaches in Florida for kiddos!
Curry Hammock State Park
With 1,200 feet of beach and a sharper gradient than many of the other offerings in the keys, Curry Hammock Public Beach is a great place for visitors who like to get into the water. With a kayak launch on the beach, it’s the perfect place for a paddle, and there are a number of tiny little islands and hidden coves to discover. There’s also an offshore sandbar that only appears when the tide is out, another exciting little hidden treasure of this neat beach on Marathon.
Coco Plum Beach
For something a little bit more off the beaten track, Coco Plum Beach is perfect. A local favorite, but almost unknown to visitors, Coco Plum Beach can be found near Mile Marker 54, just before Key Colony Beach and Marathon. Down a small road (Coco Plum Drive) by a traffic light, it is tucked away with only a fenced-off car park to indicate that anyone else might be here! It is hugely popular with kite surfers in the know, but it’s a decent size and there’s loads of space for swimmers, sunbathers, and kayakers as well. Given its hidden location and locals-only vibe, you are almost guaranteed a day of peace and tranquility.
Fort Zachary Taylor State Park and Beach
Considered by many to be the best beach in Key West, Fort Zachary Taylor Beach offers a double-whammy of a great day out at the beach and some exciting Civil War history! The park itself is 56 acres of nature trails and picnic tables, with excellent facilities including showers and restrooms. The soft sand beach is gorgeous, with clear water and a rocky bottom making it a great spot to get your face in the water and discover the amazing marine life under the sea. The fort has been reimagined as a museum, explaining the Civil War history of the area, as well as the fort’s role in the Spanish-American War. Finally, the beach offers one of the best places to watch a famous Key West sunset, a stunning experience that should not be missed.
Smathers Beach is the longest beach in Key West, 3,000 feet of gorgeous (albeit imported!) sand fringed with swaying palms. As it is right in the center of town, it is a vibrant, lively spot with loads of activities, from parasailing and windsurfing to paddle boarding, kayaking, and volleyball. It is a bit of a party spot, and during the season it is popular with the Spring Break crowd. That said, it is also a favorite spot for beach weddings! Its location on the Atlantic side also means that early birds can catch the sunrise here, which can be almost as spectacular as the sunset on the other side of the island!
Looking for Other Florida Beach Spots?
If you’re looking for other recommendations for some of the best beaches in Florida, I’d highly recommend checking out Grayton Beach State Park, Destin, or Caspersen Beach in Venice Florida! I promise if you visit any one of these beaches you will not be disappointed!