When thinking of beaches in the Florida Keys, most people picture swaying palm trees and endless stretches of powdery white sand. But that’s not quite accurate.

The Florida Keys are set amidst the Florida Reef, the third largest coral barrier reef system on the planet. That’s great for snorkeling and scuba diving. But not so great for beaches. The reef actually prevents the erosion and sand build-up that makes sandy beaches sandy.

Because of that, Florida Keys beaches are typically either rocky or muddy. There’s also a ton of seaweed, which washes onto the shore and makes those fabled long walks on the beach a bit squishy.

But it’s still possible to find some beautiful sandy beaches in the Keys. You just have to know where to look.

Florida Keys Beaches


1. Smathers Beach – Key West

The largest public beach in Key West, Smathers is overflowing with action. The adjacent sidewalk is filled with bikers, skaters and joggers, while the water is brimming with windsurfers, kayakers and jet skiers. This is arguably the most popular beach in the Florida Keys. Although it has a reputation for being a party beach, the soft sand and swaying palms make it feel like a tropical oasis.

  • Beach volleyball
  • Bike path
  • Equipment rentals
  • Picnic areas
  • Public restrooms

Smathers Beach Florida Keys


2. Fort Zachary Taylor State Park Beach – Key West

Fort Zach has nearly as much to do as Smathers, but being a state park, the vibe is more relaxed. There are nature trails, shady picnic areas with grills, public bathrooms with showers and a sweet cafe overlooking the beach. But the best reason to visit Fort Zach is the clear, blue water. The park is at the southern tip of Key West, where the Gulf waters meet the Atlantic. That means the currents keep the water crystal clear, making this the best spot in Key West for swimming and snorkeling. You can rent snorkeling equipment right in the park, and see tropical fish and live coral right off the beach.

  • Boat launch
  • Cafe
  • Equipment rentals
  • Nature trails
  • Picnic areas
  • Public restrooms

Fort Zachary Taylor Beach


3. Sandspur Beach – Bahia Honda State Park, Big Pine Key

Sandspur is one of the most gorgeous Florida Keys beaches, and was once named America’s Best Beach by Dr. Beach himself. It’s lined with palm trees, and the crystal clear, turquoise seas are shallow and calm. There’s a reef just offshore, so it’s a great spot for snorkeling. You can rent kayaks in the park or simply enjoy the tropical breezes from the mile-long stretch of sand.

  • Bike paths
  • Camping
  • Equipment rentals
  • Picnic areas
  • Public restrooms
  • Snack bar

Sandspur Beach Florida Keys


4. Calusa Beach – Bahia Honda State Park, Big Pine Key

What makes Calusa Beach stand out from Sandspur Beach is the awesome view of the old and new bridges converging over the turquoise waters. That view makes it one of the most photographed beaches in the Florida Keys. The water is calm and clear, making it another great spot for swimming and snorkeling. But be careful – the shore slopes downward rather quickly. The nature center is a great spot to learn about local plants and animals.

  • Concession/souvenir shop
  • Marina
  • Nature center
  • Picnic areas

Calusa Beach Florida Keys


5. Sombrero Beach – Marathon

Located on the ocean side of Marathon, Sombrero suffered major damage from Hurricane Irma. But restoration efforts have made it better than ever. It’s a beautiful white sandy stretch with grassy areas shaded by palms swaying in the sea breeze. There are rocky areas in the water that are great for snorkeling. Plus, it’s less touristy than most beaches in the Keys since it’s a couple of miles from the Overseas Highway. It’s perfect for those looking for a peaceful, less crowded alternative.

  • Grills
  • Picnic areas
  • Playground
  • Public restrooms

Sombrero Beach Florida Keys


6. Curry Hammock State Park Beach – Marathon

Another beautiful state park beach with 1,200 feet of sand and calm, clear water. The seabed has a bit more of a slope than many beaches in the Keys and it’s covered in seagrass teeming with fish. That means snorkeling here is a different experience than the common tropical reef marine life you’ll see throughout the Keys. Kayaking is also a great way to explore Curry Hammock. You can rent kayaks in the park and explore the shaded mangrove trail or the offshore islands.

  • Campground
  • Equipment rentals
  • Nature trail
  • Picnic areas
  • Playground
  • Public restrooms

Curry Hammock Beach Florida Keys


7. Harry Harris Park – Key Largo

Harry Harris is quiet and laid back for a Florida Keys beach, with beautiful white sand and an awesome tidal pool. There’s a coral rock barrier just off the beach, which protects if from waves and large fish. That makes this a great beach for kids. Although there are no concessions, everything is clean and well cared for.

  • Boat ramp
  • Picnic areas
  • Playground
  • Public restrooms

Harry Harris Beach Florida Keys


8. Cannon Beach – John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Key Largo

Although the sandy portion of the beach is nice, the best thing about Cannon Beach is what’s in the water. The park service has placed a Spanish shipwreck about 100 feet offshore, making this one of the best places in the Keys to go snorkeling. The ship attracts a variety of sea life. You’ll find everything from starfish to barracuda.

  • Boat ramp
  • Campground
  • Picnic areas
  • Playground
  • Public restrooms

John Pennenkamp Beach Florida Keys