By Jodi Mailander Farrell
One of the best-kept beach secrets in the Florida Keys, Sombrero Beach on Marathon Key is a cozy backyard playground for islanders.
The Keys is most acclaimed for its bars, sunsets and sea adventures, so mangrove-free Sombrero Beach is a lucky find. With its soft sand and turquoise waters, the Middle Keys gem serves locals and in-the-know visitors. Turn off U.S. 1 toward the Atlantic Ocean side at Mile Marker 50 and wind along Sombrero Beach Road past homes on stilts and Marathon High School to find the serene, manmade retreat favored by young families, Miami women on girls-only getaways, and savvy travelers.
“Wow, what a cute beach!” said Jennifer Jones Kruse, who flew into Fort Lauderdale from Houston and drove 2½ hours with two teenagers for a stay in the heart of the Florida Keys. “This is a nice little set-up, and it’s easy to get to.”
Jan and Annika Svensson’s two children, ages 11 and 13, ran straight into the ocean as the family from Sweden concluded a coastal road trip from New York at Sombrero Beach.
“It’s beautiful, it’s clean, it has a great view,” Annika Svensson said. “We heard only locals know about it so we had to check it out. I love seeing the sailing boats go by.”
Along with free, adjacent parking, the beach has other perks, including handicap access on a wide, flat path, a picnic pavilion, children’s playground, volleyball court, restrooms and showers. Dogs on leashes are allowed. The sandy strip is a perfect perch for sunning, snorkeling in the gentle surf and fishing in the shallow water during the park’s hours between 7:30 a.m. and dusk.
Marathon is a 10-mile-long, family-oriented island community between Key Largo and Key West, so there is plenty to do. It’s near the Dolphin Research Center, a nonprofit education and research facility that is open to the public. The 90,000-square-foot series of saltwater lagoons offers in- and out-of-water dolphin encounters for all ages and abilities.
There are tours of Turtle Hospital, where sick and injured sea turtles are nursed back to health and released. The hospital regularly schedules public releases of rehabilitated sea turtles on Sombrero Beach. From April through October, the beach is one of Florida’s many designated sea turtle nesting zones. Loggerheads drag themselves up onto the beach at night to lay eggs in the sand. (Steer clear of marked nests. The eggs take 55 to 60 days to hatch.)
Yoga practitioners also often inhabit the beach. Island Yoga in Marathon periodically hosts yoga classes on Sombrero Beach in addition to its weekly studio classes.
Since 1982, the Seven Mile Bridge Run has attracted 1,500 runners from all over the world to Marathon Key every spring. One of the longest segmental bridges in the world, the Seven Mile Bridge spans the channel between Knight’s Key and Little Duck Key. It’s temporarily closed between 6:45 a.m. and 9 a.m. for the annual race, which is one of the few that takes place entirely over water. Less ambitious runners can opt for the Sombrero Beach Run, hosted every March by the Southernmost Runners Club. The event has a 5k walk and run, a 10k run and a 15k challenge, with refreshments on the beach afterward.
The Keys offers great hotels for every kind of traveler. For an authentic stay near Sombrero Beach, check out Banana Bay Resort & Marina, an Old Florida, 10-acre lush property upgraded with modern conveniences, including an outdoor tiki bar perfectly positioned on the water for sunset drinks, a 34-slip marina, bike and paddleboard rentals and complimentary breakfast. If you promise to keep the secret, the front desk clerk will share directions to Sombrero Beach.
Another resource for activities and other local sights is the Monroe County Tourist Development Council’s website.
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