By VISIT FLORIDA staff
The Florida Keys are a chain of barrier islands extending off the southern tip of Florida in warm, tropical waters.
Though the Keys don't boast the wide, expansive stretches of beach that other parts of the state are famous for, there is an abundance of small, sandy beaches shaded by palms. Scuba diving, snorkeling and fishing are the most popular activities in the Keys beaches.
These public beaches and parks are listed geographically, from northeast to southwest.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park features three swimming areas, one of which is Cannon Beach, where the remnants of an early Spanish shipwreck can be found about 100 feet offshore. Far Beach is the place to relax beneath palm trees and swim in calm waters. Camping, fishing and picnicking are fun pastimes here as well, but the main attraction is the underwater park, the first of its kind. Explore the coral reefs and sea grass beds by snorkeling, scuba diving, or taking a glass-bottom boat tour.
The beach at Harry Harris Park in Tavernier features a man-made lagoon with clear ocean water for swimming, a playground, restrooms, picnic tables and barbecue grills.
Located off the north shore of Lower Matecumbe Key, this park is slightly more than 10 acres, but presents a wealth of history. It was the first home of Dade County government and foundations of those buildings can be found here. Canoeing and scuba diving are popular offshore activities. Some local marinas offer tours of the area with stops for snorkeling.
Anne's Beach is set at the southern tip of Lower Matecumbe Key, in Islamorada. It is dedicated to local environmentalist Anne Eaton and features a shallow swimming area, covered picnic tables, a boardwalk and restrooms. Located on the Atlantic Ocean, you can enjoy the clear and warm waters year round.
Long Key is a park known for a variety of activities, including diving to offshore shipwrecks, fantastic fishing and overnight camping. It also contains the remains of ancient coral reefs that were formed 100,000 years ago when the sea level was 20 to 30 feet higher. There are three nature trails, one of which is a canoe trail you can paddle through the park. You can also spend a night at the campgrounds, or just spend time enjoying a leisurely picnic.
This 12.6-acre public beach is located about 3/4 of the way down the keys in Marathon and slopes gradually into the Atlantic Ocean. The park features picnic tables, a playground, restrooms, covered shelters and a protected cove at the west end for children.
Bahia Honda is home to the best beaches in the Florida Keys. Beach expert Stephen Leatherman, also known as Dr. Beach, chose the Park’s Sandspur Beach as the 1992 National Winner, noting its crystal clear, turquoise water and white coral beach lined with coconut palms.
Calusa Beach, a part of Bahia Honda State Park and adjacent to the Bahia Honda Bridge, is a feast for the eyes as well as the toes.
Once you've had enough time on on Calusa Beach, you can fish, camp, bird-watch, walk the nature trails or kick back in the butterfly garden.
Found just over the Seven Mile Bridge, this 1,400-foot beach is perfect if you want to take a break from your drive along U.S. 1, watch the water and rub your toes in the sand. There are picnic shelters and restrooms are available.
Located on Key West, this 56-acre park is a perfect place to learn about Civil War history. Today, the park boasts a pretty beach, nature trails, snorkeling, fishing, guided tours, picnic areas, showers, scuba diving and restrooms. It's also one the best places to watch a stunning Key West sunset.
There are lots of beautiful beaches in Key West to choose from. Smathers Beach is a 3,000-foot stretch of beach, one of Key West's longest. It features a variety of water sports rentals, providing you with more than you need for a fun day on the beach. There are also volleyball nets, picnic areas and restrooms. Early risers can view sunrises as spectacular as Key West's famed sunsets. South Beach is located just east of the official southernmost point in the continental United States. It features 200 feet of white sand beach and sparkling blue water, just steps from busy Duval Street. Rest Beach/C.B. Harvey Park is a beachfront park that features a picnic area and boardwalk. The shoreline is perfect for wading and shelling. Clarence S. Higgs Memorial Beach is set between White Street and Reynolds piers. It's a busy area with 300 feet of beach lining the Atlantic Ocean.
This area lies 30 miles west of Key West and is accessible only by boat. The refuge is comprised mostly of mangrove islands; however, a few small beaches can be found. The waters around the islands and flats are prime locations for fishing, snorkeling and wildlife observation.
This park is a cluster of seven islands, accessible only by boat or seaplane, set about 70 miles southwest of Key West. Fort Jefferson National Monument is a historic U.S military installation nestled in these islands. The islands are made of coral reefs and sand and are considered a top scuba and snorkeling site in the area. The islands are also famous for its bird and marine life, and legends of pirates and sunken gold.