Key West Beaches


Smather’s Beach, Key West

Key West is known for many things, including its Caribbean atmosphere, its crazy nightlife, and incredible seafood, but its beaches aren’t typically on a tourists’ Top Ten List when planning a trip to the Florida Keys’ southwesternmost island. Having grown up with lake beaches made of rock and/or dirt, maybe my expectations are less than people accustomed to ocean beaches. Whatever the case, I was pleasantly surprised by my first glimpse at three of Conch Republic’s public beaches. Fort Zachary Taylor, Southernmost, and Smather’s beaches each offer a slightly different experience on a Key West getaway.

Beachside views on bike trail

Fort Zachary Taylor Beach, located in Truman Annex, is wonderful not only for beach goers, but for bike enthusiasts and history buffs as well. There is a park fee, less for bikers or walkers than for cars.

We rode our Conch Cruisers to Fort Zach, where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Gulf of Mexico, and on its sandy trails. Surrounded only by the tranquil beauty of beach grasses and azure waters made me feel as if we were the only two souls on earth–a scene I won’t soon forget.

Fort Zach Beach, Key West

Tours of the beach’s namesake are held daily at noon. As for the beach itself, we brought the usual gear. People either lie on towels or rent chairs. I enjoy sunning and floating here. Fort Zach’s seafloor is quite rocky, making wading uncomfortable. I’ve heard the currents can make it difficult for snorklers to find much sealife, but those we talked to said they saw parrot fish and yellowtail snapper.

Southernmost Beach, Key West

Southernmost Beach, named because of its location at the southern end of Duval Street, is tiny and flanked luxury resorts. This is a great place for social butterflies, with a friendly, open-air restaurant where locals and tourists mix.

Smather’s Beach, Key West

Chairs are available to rent here, too. I don’t like wading at Southernmost Beach because the seafloor has the consistency of oatmeal, but it’s fun to float in the warm water. Be aware:  This beach sometimes closes early for a late afternoon or evening wedding. Isn’t that romantic!

Smather’s Beach is located on South Roosevelt Boulevard on the Atlantic Ocean. For tourists staying at the Sheraton Suites, it’s right across the street. If staying in Old Town, it’s too far to walk but is a pleasant bike or scooter ride away. Smather’s sand was imported from the Bahamas in 1961.

This beach is huge compared to the other two, and offers the greatest variety of water sports, including parasailing and kayaking. As for swimming, the only complaint I’ve heard is encountering the occasional clump of seaweed. Otherwise, the water is crystal clear. The video below is a good depiction of Smather’s Beach during peak season:

Of these three beaches, I prefer Smather’s. I love its silky sand, the freedom to lounge apart from the crowd or be part of it, socializing and people-watching. We like to rent a kayak and explore the shallow waters as we enjoy each other’s company–away from the daily stresses of work and home.

Key West’s beaches may not compare to the pink sands of Bermuda or black sands of Hawaii, but I believe they are well worth the bike ride to enjoy the views, the sun, the activity, and interesting people.

Do you have a favorite beach experience?

Ocean life up close!

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22 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Catie Rhodes
    Sep 12, 2011 @ 09:22:25

    Ooooh, looks gorgeous. I love pretty beaches. My favorites are the ones that are a little off the beaten path. The crowded ones are just like being in suburbia. One of my favorite fantasies is stumbling on a place like The Beach (the film with Leo Dicaprio). You know I’m going to hit you up for travel advice if we ever go to Key West. 😀

  2. alicamckennajohnson
    Sep 12, 2011 @ 11:16:15

    They are beautiful beaches. My cousin Ann runs a travel magazine for Florida. 🙂 Someday I will have to go and check them out. My favorite beach was when I was 8 and we went to Hawaii- I was sitting in the waves and it looked like someone had spilled fruit loops I scooped some up and found they were baby sea urchin shells!

    • Jolyse Barnett
      Sep 12, 2011 @ 16:54:09

      Hi Alica,

      Yes, visit your cousin and take a trip to the keys for a few days. 🙂

      How exciting it must have been to discover those pretty sea urchin shells. I adore abalone’s silvers and pastels.

  3. Trisha
    Sep 12, 2011 @ 11:43:05

    One of my favorite beach experiences was when we made an unexpected stop on a cruise in Cozumel. The main tourist beaches were closed due to high winds and waves so we went to the other side of the island where the locals hang out to a beach called Chen Rio. Absolutely beautiful with great food and company to go along with it. It was one day I will never forget.

    • Jolyse Barnett
      Sep 12, 2011 @ 17:14:47

      Hi Trisha! Thanks for stopping by. Isn’t it wonderful how the unexpected can turn out to be the most fun? We try to find the locals’ hang-outs as much as possible, to get a real taste of our destination. We’ve been to Cozumel once, and enjoyed every moment. Now you have me thinking about planning that getaway.

  4. darcyflynn
    Sep 12, 2011 @ 21:28:57

    Jolyse, Love your pics, and hearing about your experiences in Key West! Beaches are my favorite places on the planet! I’m in Seaside, Fl for a few days right now, to relax, read and write. Today was a perfect day. Calm emerald green water, white sand and several great reads! I’ve visited Key West a couple of years ago. I loved the atmosphere there, it reminded me so much of my home town- New Orleans! The lighthouse in Key West is really beautiful. If I lived there, I’d certainly be their most faithful volunteer! I have a thing for lighthouses 🙂

    • Jolyse Barnett
      Sep 12, 2011 @ 21:36:48

      Thanks, Darcy. I’m so happy you enjoy the Key West posts! Better yet, I’m thrilled you experienced a beautiful beach of your own today. I’ve never been to New Orleans, but my sister tells me it’s incredible–the sights, the food, and the people.

      I like lighthouses, too. My favorite is in Bermuda, the first one I was brave enough to climb.

  5. Marcia
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 12:22:15

    Gorgeous photos! I love the ocean and it’s beaches. Each beach is a bit different and haven’t found one, yet, I didn’t like. I’ve never been to Key West but intend to go one day. Have you been to the coast of Maine? It’s very rocky but some areas have beaches and my favorite was in Wells. The sand was hard-packed, so it was very easy walking, and you could go for miles. Thanks for sharing your pics and experiences, Jolyse!

    • Jolyse Barnett
      Sep 13, 2011 @ 16:39:35

      Hi Marcia! I agree that it’s hard to find a “bad” beach. Yes, I’ve visited Maine. We didn’t really go to any beaches. Instead, we went to Pemaquid Point Lighthouse. I remember the rocks, cliffs, and crashing waves. It was beautiful. My aunt and uncle used to vacation in Wells each summer. They loved it!

  6. Patricia Yager Delagrange
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 19:04:54

    I loved your pictures and video, Jolyse. What a great vacation. I went to a black sand beach once in the Canary Islands when I was a junior in college. That was really cool.
    Patti

    • Jolyse Barnett
      Sep 13, 2011 @ 20:11:10

      Thanks, Patti! I imagine black sand to be more luxurious (as far as sand is concerned) than other beaches–maybe because it reminds me of black satin. Thanks for taking the time to stop by and relax with me for a bit. 🙂

  7. Patty Blount
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 19:41:17

    Beautiful pics!

    We spent a week on Rhode Island’s Roy Carpenter’s Beach, in a tiny little bungalow. Loved it so much, I used it in a novel setting. 🙂

  8. Jeannie Moon
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 21:40:55

    On the Dutch side of St. Maarten is a beach on the Atlantic called Dawn Beach. It’s not a touristy beach, but not deserted either. We spent our honeymoon there at a resort tucked into the side of a mountain. To this day, it’s beachy perfection.

    • Jolyse Barnett
      Sep 14, 2011 @ 06:42:30

      Sounds lovely, Jeannie. You must have beautiful memories of it. I adored St. Maarten and would love to return there for more shopping and beach time.

  9. jayne ormerod
    Sep 16, 2011 @ 09:49:30

    “bad beach” is an oxymoron along the lines of “pretty ugly.”

    I think the prettiest beachs are the ones that aren’t crowded with people! I like the “nature” part of the experience, and enjoy walking for hours and hours witht he sound of the waves crashing just a few feet away.

    Gorgeous pictures!

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  12. Tom Geraghty
    Mar 02, 2013 @ 17:39:49

    Was in key west last year in may.Went with my wife.She said she really did not want to go.When we hit a couple of beaches and had dinner a few days ina row I found that she was very relaxed and was having a wounderful time.She loved it so much that were coming back.This time were bringing the kids and there very excited about going.Just fell in love with this city.

    • Jolyse Barnett
      Mar 03, 2013 @ 16:26:24

      Hi Tom! Key West has a way of making converts out of us. It was my husband’s idea to travel there too, and I’m so thankful he did. We have so many incredible memories of our many getaways there, and always look forward to going back. There’s always something new to see and do, activities for singles, couples and families. I wish you and your family many wonderful memories of the Conch Republic. 🙂

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