One of the best road trips in the United States is down the 115 miles down the Overseas Highway of the Florida Keys. Known as the only option for vacationers looking for a tropical vacation in the United States, the Florida Keys give you all the beauty of the tropics without the hassle of international travel. Some may not have the time to take that long of a trip on their vacation, but luckily there are lots of beaches along the way that will meet any traveler’s needs. I’ve found that around the halfway mark is where many travelers like to stop and at least stretch their legs, so this article is dedicated to the best beaches in the middle Florida Keys and Key West. This article includes convenient beaches that are right along the road. It also includes beaches that you can only get to by private charter, ferry or sea plane.
This is the first public beach available along the road trip down the Keys. It's also fairly close to the mainland (less than an hour from the Monroe County line) so it can be popular with Miami day-trippers. Do not come here if you are looking for an isolated beach with a mellow crowd. If you are interested in locals having a good time this is a perfect party spot for beach goers. Just as a note it does get a little quieter during the week days for those who are looking for a less crowded experience.
The boardwalk along the lower end of Anne's Beach. Image by UberZombie.
Despite the weekend crowds, the shallow and mellow waters of Anne’s Beach are perfect for families with small children. This way parents don’t need to worry every time little Johnny or Sue runs out in the water – there aren't huge waves or strong currents to drag them away from shore, and it's too shallow for boat traffic. . For families looking for a picnic spot on the beach, Anne’s Beach also offers a boardwalk that wind through preserved mangrove thickets that leads to picnic areas with grills. If you want to claim one of the picnic spots you need to get here early, because usually on the weekends by 11:00 am all of these spots are claimed.
Sombrero Beach on Marathon is the loveliest beach in the middle Florida Keys, and many say second only to Bahia Honda in the entire island chain of those accessible by car. There is a long crescent-shaped white sand beach studded with tall, swaying coconut palms. The beach is fenced, making it very safe for families, and there are excellent amenities: clean restrooms, covered pavilions for picnicking, playground equipment; there’s even a kayak launch next to a small dock. The water depth is deeper than average so the swimming is good.
Sparkling white sand and palms line Sombrero Beach. Photo by Judy Cinque.
Key Colony Beach Cabana Club
For visitors to Key Colony Beach, the Cabana Clubs beach and amenities offer a great way to enjoy the Atlantic Ocean. There's a heated, sparkling pool , a lounge and restaurant, showers and a game room. The club even offers a shuttle to make it easy for visitors to get to the club. Many of the vacation homes offered my Key Colony Beach Realty offer membership privileges to rental guests.
The beach at Bahia Honda frequently makes the list of top ten beaches in the world. To get into this 500-acre Florida State park there is a $2.50 per person fee, but every penny is worth it to get into this paradise. The park features camp grounds, water sport rentals, eco-tours, concessions and more. You are obligated to try out one of the frozen key lime pie bars from the concession due to the fact you just read this, because if you skip it you are truly missing out on one of the more delicious experiences to be found in the Keys.
The western end of Bahia Honda. Photo by Joy.
Most importantly, Bahia Honda gives you direct beach access that you can shoot to straight from the entrance. Besides the perfect white sandy beaches, clear waters and idyllic setting there are modern ruins to check out. Explore the recent ancient relic of a railway bridge that once spanned the deep water channel. A 20 foot surge from the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 wiped out large sections of the railway that was the first land connection between Miami and Key West. You can walk up to the edge where a section of the bridge has been removed to allow tall masted sailboats to enter the harbor. It is probably one of the most photographed bridges in the tropics, so if you get the feeling this bridge seems familiar you can take a guess as to why. This is a great spot for a sunset photo.
By Boat and/or Sea Plane
Closer to Cuba than the main land United States, Dry Tortugas Nation Park lies 70 miles of Key West. Just as a warning the boat ride out here is usually rough, and it last 2.5 and 3 hours. Not recommended for those who experience sea sickness, but alternatively you can take a sea plane to get to the Dry Tortugas.
This 100 square mile park is a perfect destination for eco lovers and history buffs. It is home to Fort Jefferson, which is the largest building in the world made from bricks, and it is fascinating to see these bricks walls emerge from the perfectly blue waters. To really experience the Fort we recommend a tour that offers fascinating insight into one of the more interesting forts in the world. Camping is available, but make sure to plan for the variable logistics. The camping spots do get taken up quick, so it is best to reserve a spot if at all possible. If not, try to get there as early as possible.
The snorkeling here is the best in the Florida Keys by many estimations. The waters are crystal clear, and the corals and sea life have been thriving on the walls of the fort since the Civil War era.
Imagine snorkeling next to a Civil War fort. Photo by Ryan Schreiber.
This island is located 14 miles west of Key West. One of the best ways to access it is by charter boat with Captain Tom. Boca Grande Key is great for those who are fascinated by the Key West National Wildlife Refuge, because it largely reserved by this organization. A large part of the beach is closed off for preservation, but the part that is open to anchorage contains some of the most natural beaches available in Florida.
This deserted beach at Boca Grande is reached only by boat. Photo by M.-J. Taylor.
This is a perfect place for birdwatcher, who should make sure to bring their binoculars to capture glimpses of the wide array of species that live on this island. Many of these species are considered endangered or threatened by the US federal government, so this is one of the only places to see many of these birds.
White Pelicans at Wilma Key, just off Boca Grande. Photo by M.-J. Taylor
The Mud Keys
This beautiful group of Islands to the north of Key West offers a small beach at Mud Key (barely visible behind the Mangroves in the photo below. The island was the home site of the Calusa Indians in the 1600s. The beach there is sandy, but another nearby beach bears the white clay-like mud that gave the islands their name. The Native Americans used the mud to repel mosquitoes. Today, people visit the islands to slather their skin in the mud for a natural spa treatment.
The approach to the beach on Mud Key. Photo by M.-J. Taylor.