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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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?