Beach days are never long enough when the beaches are this beautiful. It’s not surprising that Bahia Honda is consistently called one of the top ten beaches in Florida – it boasts more than a few stretches of lovely sand, it offers fishing, kayaking, camping, hiking, snorkeling, pavilions and the unparalleled natural beauty of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.
One of the top “nature” beaches anywhere, Bahia Honda boasts miles of natural shoreline. There’s plenty of white sand, but if you expect a sandy shore with no seagrass in sight, you’ll need to time your visit following a storm that blows from west to east. Low tide will also offer wider, sandier expanses. But don’t fret the seaweed; it’s part of the natural habitat of the park.
The centerpiece of this Florida State Park is not a beach at all, but the relic of one of the great engineering feats of the world. Just a little more than 100 years ago, Henry Flagler built the “Railroad that Went to Sea” to connect the Florida mainland with Key West. The trestle bridge – the only span of its kind in the railway – still stands in Bahia Honda’s deep water harbor. A portion of the trestle bridge was removed to allow the masts of sailboats to find refuge in the lee of the island.
The Old Bahia Honda bridge on the left. Photo by Haans Gruber.
The railroad was washed out by the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 – a tragedy that claimed more than a few lives in the Florida Keys. The state of Florida bought the railbed and a few years later you could drive from the mainland to Key West without using any ferries. The old trestle bridge was too narrow to accommodate two lanes so the road bed was laid on top of the entire bridge. Visitors to the park can walk out along that old road and get a sense of the harrowingly narrow lanes that cars once faced on the drive across.
Bahia Honda is part of the National Birding Trail –and visitors can expect to see a variety of land birds and water fowl – from magnificent frigates and ordinary terns and gulls, to plovers and turnstones, ibis, snowy egrets a wide variety of herons. A recent visit captured this juvenile yellow night heron wandering along the Silver Palm Nature Trail.
A brown pelican dives for dinner:
A concession close to the bridge has a snack bar and a wide variety of things beachgoers need – from sunscreen to beach chairs, water shoes and snorkeling equipment – plus tee shirts and other souvenirs, of course! You can also rent kayaks and paddle the area or rent snorkeling equipment to get a fish eye view of the local sea life – colorful tropical fish, such as cowfish and sergeant majors, angel fish, conch, starfish, rays, crabs and lobster.
You can also sign up for a boat trip to the coral reef – Looe Key – part of the only living barrier reef in North America where you can dive or snorkel. Looe Key is fairly shallow in places and no deeper than 25 feet so the great water clarity means snorkelers and divers will both be happy.
There are several gorgeous, natural sandy beaches – the smallest, Calusa on the west side of the island has picnic pavilions and outdoor, fresh water showers. The shallowest, Loggerhead is on the southwest side of the island. The large shallow sand bar just a few feet offshore make it popular with families with small children. The largest beach, Sandspur runs along the southern shore of the island. Three large picnic pavilions offer shade and an area to congregate and there are restrooms and outdoor, fresh water showers.
The old railway bridge frames the beach. (Photo by Joyosity.)
Stairs over the dunes lead to Sandspur Beach.
No matter what part of the beach you choose for your headquarters, you will want to walk the length of the beach and see the rest of the park. If you collect some shells along the way (to admire not take, naturally) you will find there are “shell trees” other visitors have decorated with small conchs and clams.
What others say about Bahia Honda State Park and Beaches
From the local CBS station:
This regularly ranks as one of the top ten beaches in the US published by Dr. Beach, and once you’ve visited here, you’ll know why. The beach is in a state park that features as a highlight one of the most unique bridges created for Henry Flagler’s Overseas Railroad. No longer used, it’s a fascinating piece of old Florida, at the south end of the state park. The beach itself is meticulously preserved, with mangroves, sea oats, and a huge, sandy area that parades into the bluest water imaginable. At times, the surf can be brisk, but those are the days para-sailers, surfers, and kite surfers come out. … (T)he park has several beaches. Most have a wild, feel. The beach offers wading-birds galore, and if you camp here, make sure you get up for sunrise; it’s breathtaking.
Livestrong called it a “Tropical Haven"
“Florida Rambler” picked Bahia Honda State Park Beach as its No. 1 beach in the state. With turquoise waters and two sections divided between groves of coconut palms, Bahia Honda offers a picture of a Caribbean hideaway. A lack of waves makes the beach comfortable for bathers and children, and the water remains temperate all year."
More on the Best Beaches in the Florida Keys.
Photos by M.-J. Taylor (except where otherwise noted).