15 Oct Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park in Key West, FL
An almost hidden beach next to a fort from the Civil War era does not sound like the typical Key West scenery, but that’s exactly what Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park is. Expansive beaches are surprisingly few and far between throughout the Keys, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any beaches at all; it just means they are oftentimes smaller and not always the white sugar sand beach one envisions when thinking of someplace tropical.
The main beach in Key West is Smathers Beach and even though it’s gorgeous, I have never been too enthralled with it. So, when I found out about another beach at Fort Zachary, I just had to check it out. This beach is not abandoned nor filled with super soft sand, but only those in the know stop there as it is very out of the way. It would be difficult to stumble across the beach without knowing about it as it is hidden behind the Truman Annex residential neighborhood and beyond what looks like a restricted access area. Once you make it to the park, you have to pay a small entrance fee and are then free to explore.
If you are interested in history, make sure to stop by the old fort for a glimpse into the past. During the Civil War, Fort Zachary Taylor was under Union hands and served as a Navy fort, and the powerful cannons with a range of 3 miles were successful in deterring the Confederate Navy from taking over Key West. The fort was also used in the Spanish-American war before eventually being turned over to the Navy. Tours are held at 12pm daily, but you are also free to roam at your own discretion.
After exploring the fort, especially in hot and muggy conditions, the beach will be a welcome treat. Even though the beach is not sugar smooth sand and it is rocky in places, the water is crystal clear and absolutely beautiful. I heard the water is more clear here because it is where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Gulf of Mexico. In my opinion, the water clarity and semi seclusion is what makes this spot top Smathers Beach which is the Atlantic Ocean side of the island. The off beach snorkeling is also supposed to be excellent here, and I can see why; if you don’t have your own gear don’t fret as you can rent it on site.
There are shaded picnic tables and grills overlooking the ocean as well, so bring a picnic lunch to enjoy–there is plenty of space throughout the 54 acre park. Or, if you don’t feel like cooking, you are at the beach after all, stop over at the Cayo Hueso Cafe for a bite to eat instead. At the cafe, views of the ocean are sprawling and food such as sandwiches, soup, pizza and ice cream are served.
You can also bike, fish and explore the nature trails if you have had enough beach time and are looking for something a bit different. Then wind down the day with a famous Key West sunset overlooking the sparkling ocean. The park also hosts special events throughout the year–one such event is a week-long civil war reenactment and another is a civil war themed haunted house that is open around Halloween.
We really enjoyed exploring Fort Zachary and learning more about the history of the island of Key West. My only complaint is that we didn’t allocate enough time to spend at the park. You really do feel like you are away from it all!
Do you like more secluded natural beaches or would you rather join a party in the sun?