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Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park

Fort Zachary Taylor State Beach Park

It's A Secret. The Best Beach in Key West is at Fort Zachary Taylor

by Barbara Weibel at Hole In The Donut Travels

Visitors are often surprised to discover that, unlike other tropical destinations, Key West has few beaches. The Florida Keys are home to the only living coral reef in the continental U.S. While this is a boon for divers and snorkelers, the reef also acts as a barrier, preventing Atlantic waves from carrying sand in to shore to create natural beaches.

Still, there are a few good man-made beaches and enhanced tidal flats in Key West. Tourists usually head for the better-known beaches, which are often crowded and in some cases back up to busy roadways. Locals, on the other hand, almost always choose the beach at Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park.

The first thing most visitors to Fort Zach notice are the stately, tall Australian Pines that provide welcome shade in the blistering summer heat. Beneath the trees, picnic tables and grills share space with sculpture by artists from around the world, making for an interesting stroll through this wispy forest. From the tree line, a wide sandy beach descends to a gently sloping sheltered cove that is perfect for families with small children.

Rocky arms enclosing the cove support a variety of tropical fish and are an ideal snorkeling spot. There is also a short nature trail within the park and bicycling is strongly encouraged, although bikes are restricted from the beach and picnic areas for safety. The excellent facilities include a well-stocked food concession, gift store, equipment rentals, and well-maintained restrooms.

The historic fort provides a welcome respite from the midday heat. Located just a short stroll from the beach, the citadel covers several acres. Self-guiding markers leads past enormous black canons enclosed in ground floor brick crypts and up to roof, which affords a great view of the entire south side of the island. Guided tours, conducted daily at 12:00 Noon and 2:00 p.m., explain how Fort Taylor shortened the Civil war and why it was reduced from three stories to one.

While the beach at Fort Zachary Taylor is not necessarily a secret, locals are not particularly forthcoming about it; more often than not, they will direct visitors elsewhere, reserving Fort Zach for themselves. But make no mistake - this is undoubtedly the best beach on the island.

To reach the park, drive south on Southard Street and into Truman Annex. The road ends at a guard shack, where a small entrance fee is collected. The beach is half a mile further on well-paved roads, with ample parking available right at the ocean. Key West is an exciting vacation destination, not only because the Florida Keys are the only truly tropical climate in the continental U.S. but also because of its quirky, unique qualities and wide range of attractions and events. For more information about Key West activities, check out