Saturday, October 29, 2011

Best beaches in Key West featuring Fort Zach beach

Key West is not famous for its beaches but there is one exceptional beach at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park – which everyone calls Fort Zach beach.

Here’s all the essential information about beaches in Key West and about visiting Fort Zach and then lots of photos.

If I don’t like Fort Zach what are the other options?

The only other beach really is Smathers Beach which is 500 feet long and has lots of commercial water sports companies there.  It’s got nice sand and it’s fine if a bit boring.  It’s a 5/10 beach where Fort Zach is a 8/10 beach. 

After Fort Zach beach and Smathers Beach you've used up all your Key West beach options.  That's it.  Then you need to go out of Key West and up the Keys.  The best beach anywhere in the Keys is Bahia Honda which has won ‘best beach in the USA’ awards and is fantastic – a classic blue sea, sandy Caribbean beach. 
Bahia Honda beach is at mile marker 36.8 oceanside (that is, it’s 36 miles from Key West – about an hour’s drive.

So, now let's return to the best Key West beach: Zach Taylor beach.

How do I get there?
It’s fairly close to Duval and the main downtown area – just less than a mile.  It’s great to cycle there (10 mins from Duval), or walk (30 mins - hot and sweaty walk in the summer, but still rewarding if you are a walking kind of person) or drive.  There is a big car park just by the beach.

So while it’s not far from the centre of town it is away from all shops – there is only a small café at the beach.  So basically bring everything you’ll need as you can’t ‘pop’ to the supermarket!

Do I have to pay an entrance charge?
Yes, it’s a state park – the charge is from $4.50 for a car, $2.50 if walking.

Is the walk from town to the beach nice?
Yes it’s great.  I recommend you visit the Eco centre on the way (free) to learn about Keys sea life.  Some great exhibits there and pretty educational.
Also go to the Fort itself – see next.

So what about the Fort itself?
It’s a surprisingly impressive / big (i.e. at least 500 yards long, the whole park covers 87 acres) fort well worth visiting. And historic - building work started in 1845.  And there are lots of massive Civil War cannons.

It’ll only take 15 minutes to see the whole thing.  Once you have paid to get into the park, visiting the fort is free.

What’s the beach like?
Amazing Australian pines surrounding the park.  Beach runs for 500 metres. The sand can be more ‘pebble like’ and sharp up one end of the east-west beach (the east end), so that end is less busy as a result.  If you don’t like the rough sand go up the other end where it’s softer (ie more like sand!).

Does it get busy?
Yes, it’s the local’s favourite too so go during the week if you can.

Is there a café or restaurant?
There is a friendly café serving water, basic cooked food and snacks and ice cream etc.  Nothing fancy.

What do you recommend for food?
Come after lunch or bring your own picnic.  There are many tables, sheltered under the Australian pine tress, with BBQs too.

What is there to do at Fort Zach beach?
  • Walk to the Fort itself (5 minutes to the Fort from the beach)
  • Snorkel is good idea – when I was there a snorkeller saw a barracuda in the very shallow water very near the water line
  • Walk along the Australian pine wood and back (only takes 10 minutes but you see lovely views out to the reef and of Key West harbour).
  • Enjoy the sun, of course!
Can you see the sunset?
Yes, it’s a great place to see the sunset.

What are the facilities?
There is a decent toilet with running water, where you can change.
There are full height showers in 2 or 3 places dotted in the park.
There is a chair and towel hire service – for about $30 per day for the lot.

What’s the swimming like and the water.
It’s fine and loads of people are in the water.
The water is shallow for a bit and then gets deeper.  It’s absolutely NOT Caribbean ideal sand and blue water though – actually pebbles and sharp coral, which makes getting into the water a bit slow and painful, then seaweed.  
The water near the shore is really hot so you’ll need to go a bit out for a more refreshing temperature.

How good is it really?
It’s great, a really beautiful beach.  Lovely views out to the horizon of... nothing!  
If you are in Key West for longer than 3 days then it’s worth a visit for half a day or a few hours.  Definitely add a visit to the eco center and the fort itself as well as the beach, they are both on the way.

More tips
If you've visited Fort Zach beach or you are an experienced local then please leave a comment, below. Many thanks.

Hope you enjoy my photos - all taken by me in September 2011.

At the entrance to  Fort Zach park. 

Fort Zach park sign at entrance

Fort Zach directions - check out the Fort to the right as part of your visit to the beach.

Inside Fort Zach - looking towards the harbor.

From the ramparts of Fort Zach itself out to the reef.

The walls and moat of Fort Zach

Fabulous brickwork of Fort Zach.  Not sure how old these bricks are but the construction work started in 1845.

The cafe at Fort Zach beach and the food on offer.

A weekday at 5pm in September at Fort Zach beach - pretty quiet.  It's not always like this!

Fort Zach beach up one end can be a bit sharp and not soft sand.

The Australian pines at Fort Zach beach.

One third of Fort Zach beach.

Fort Zach beach - does what it says on the tin! - Fishing, Picnic and Sunset