One of the great pleasures of a Florida summer is snorkeling in the the warm, calm waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
Over the years, I’ve discovered a number of right-from-the-beach snorkeling spots I love to visit in South Florida. While I like an occasional boat trip to the reef, some of my favorite snorkeling outings have been “shore dives” — places where I can touch the bottom and stand to clear my mask. This sort of snorkeling is good for kids and beginners, too.
Here are some of my favorites. (Please use the comment field at the bottom to share yours; we’re always looking to discover new places.)
The Florida Keys
You can have fun snorkeling in dozens of spots in the Keys — almost any dock or pier here will attract some fish around its pilings. But I’ve particularly enjoyed snorkeling in these spots:
Cannon Beach at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
Most visitors to Pennekamp State Park head out on the tour boats to snorkel the real reefs, and, truly, there’s no snorkeling off the beach that compares with that. But it’s worth your time to snorkel at Cannon Beach. The park has placed remnants of an early Spanish shipwreck about 100 feet off the beach. Fish congregate under and round the sea-life encrusted cannons and anchor. Snorkelers have seen a variety of creatures, including large barracuda and tarpon.
- Florida Rambler guide to exploring John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
- Official site for Pennkamp Coral Reef State Park
Indian Key Historic State Park
Visiting Indian Key is one of my favorite things to do in the Florida Keys. It’s an island, easily reached by kayak or canoe. You can rent a kayak at nearby Robbie’s Marina;here’s my complete trip report about visiting Indian Key. The island is an ancient coral reef and its shores are sharp, craggy coral rocks that make excellent homes for marine life. To snorkel here, look for a shell-encrusted bench across the small island from the dock. That’s a good place to get in and out of the water when snorkeling.
- Florida Rambler guide to Indian Key Historic State Park
- Official site for Indian Key Historic State Park
Pigeon Key, a history-filled island in the middle of the Old Seven Mile Bridge, is worth visiting for its unique site and story. You probably won’t want to pay the $11 admission just to snorkel, but if you do visit the island, bring your gear along. On a sultry summer day, we snorkeled the waters around the Pigeon Key dock. We saw schools of colorful fish, but what we liked best was finding remnants of history in the water — stones that were obviously building materials from the era of the railroad tracks’ construction, pieces of metal encrusted with barnacles. Here’s a Florida Rambler report on visiting Pigeon Key. (“Treasures” from the water, by the way, are added to a colorful cart of found stuff on Pigeon Key rather than being removed.)
Sombrero Beach in Marathon
This beach is popular with locals and it’s also free. The beach is a white sand with palm trees and lots of amenities: changing rooms, restrooms, showers, picnic tables and grills plus a playground. This is a good place to do a little snorkeling from shore, particularly where there are rocks along the shore. These spiny rocks — once parts of a living coral reef — are magnets for fish and all kinds of sea life. The beach is two miles off the main road. To find it, turn south at MM 50 at the light (Publix Shopping Center) and follow Sombrero Beach Road for about two miles to the end. There is plenty of parking.
Fort Zachary Taylor State Park and Beach, Key West
Zachary Taylor Beach is located where Gulf waters meet the Atlantic in Key West. The water here is generally clear and the bottom is rocky, which makes this a good place to snorkel and see a variety of tropical fish and live coral. (Because of those rocks, it’s smart to bring water shoes.) The state park offers shady areas to relax and the historic fort is well worth exploring. Parking is hard to find in Key West, and so it’s good to know you CAN park here.
Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast
While I live in Broward and I often bring my snorkel gear to the beach, the best spots for seeing fish and other sea life are north of here.
Red Reef Park
This City of Boca Raton park is a gem, and Boca residents know it. Non-residents pay $16 on weekdays and $18 on weekends to park here. (If you’re heading here, be sure to check conditions before deciding to pay.) What’s special here is an extensive set of natural coral rocks right off the beach in four to six feet of water. These red rocks teem with blue tangs, parrotfish, snappers, sergeant majors and an occasional barracuda or two. It’s among the best shore snorkeling I’ve experienced. The park itself is a lush shady hammock, with a boardwalk to explore and picnic tables and shelters.
- Official site for Red Reef Park
- Check conditions at Red Reef Park
- Here’s a YouTube video from snorkelers at Red Reef Park.
Peanut Island, Riviera Beach
Peanut Island is a man-made island in the middle of the Port of Palm Beach. Its rocky shoreline and its location directly in the mouth of the inlet make it a magnet for colorful fish and creatures, from rays to manatees to small sharks. It is well-known for having some of the best easy-access snorkeling in South Florida.
- Florida Rambler on snorkeling Peanut Island plus the island’s other fascinating features.
- Official site for Peanut Island Park
Phil Foster Park Snorkel Trail
Not far from Peanut Island is a snorkeling site that was always popular but has now gotten even better. Phil Foster Park, a Palm Beach County park, is an island on the Blue Heron Bridge over Lake Worth/the Intracoastal Waterway. It benefits from the clear water that washes in through Lake Worth Inlet a mile away. Offshore, the Gulfstream is only four miles out.
In August 2012, the county completed a novel idea — a snorkeling trail, a manmade reef in 6 to 10 feet of water right off the beach. It is about 800 feet long and is located in front of a lifeguard stand. The reef was constructed with 600 tons of rock and six manmade concrete reef modules. The structures, each of which weighs two tons, have ledges and small habitat spaces ideal for fish, octopus, sea horses and other creatures.
This snorkeling site is well-known for the diversity of species. Squid, octopus, spotted rays, and starfish are regularly seen.
If you plan to go, the best time is a half hour before high tide. Because the park is so popular with divers, parking can be an issue.
Phil Foster Park
900 E. Blue Heron Blvd.
Riviera Beach, Florida
John D. MacArthur Beach State Park
This spectacular property has so much going for it; it’s great to explore on foot, by boat or underwater. To reach the expansive beach, you walk or take a tram over a long boardwalk over the picturesque saltwater lagoon. At the beach, there are large rock formations visible at low tide and a worm rock reef just off-shore. These features attract a great variety of sea creatures including stringrays and sea turtles.
A park ranger leads a guided tour of the reef on Saturdays from June through August at 10 a.m.
- Florida Rambler report on John D. MacArthur Beach State Park
- Official website for John D. MacArthur Beach State Park
Coral Cove Park, Jupiter
This park, about a half mile north of the Jupiter Inlet, is home to extensive natural limestone rock formations right at the beach, making it ideal for snorkeling. The same geological formations at play at nearby Blowing Rocks Preserve are evident here, with similar results in attracting sea life. You can walk along the beach between Blowing Rocks and Coral Cove. The park has 600 feet of lifeguard-watched beach, picnic areas, playgrounds and free parking.
Blowing Rocks, Jupiter
Dramatic, cliff-like rocks extend into the water and, on calm days, provide an excellent snorkeling location. There are enough sharp-edged rocks that you should think twice about snorkeling if there are waves to buffet you. This park is owned and managed by the Nature Conservancy, which has created some appealing nature walks and a nature center across A1A on the Intracoastal side of the park. Because it is a preserve, nearby Coral Cove Park is the place to have your picnic.
Bathtub Reef Park, Hutchinson Island
An unusual “worm reef” protects an idyllic lagoon and creates a perfect home for marine life. The reef was created by sabellariid or “honeycomb” worms that cement together sand and bits of shell to form porous rocks and ledges. The reef attracts a good variety of fish and sea creatures — perfect for snorkelers, particularly young ones, because the reef protects kids from waves. Get there early on weekends because the parking lot fills up. There’s a bathhouse with showers and pavilions for picnicking. Bathtub beach is located on South Hutchinson Island on MacArthur Boulevard, which branches south off A1A at the southernmost bridge access in Stuart. 1585 SE MacArthur Blvd., Stuart.
Dade and Broward counties
Important snorkeling tips:
Considering a snorkeling outing? Keep in mind: Good snorkeling requires good conditions.
- Less wind is good.
- Recent heavy rain is bad. (It may make the water murky.)
- Visibility is best at high tide, particularly as the tide comes in.
- Do not step or stand on living coral or worm reefs; do not touch any marine life.
- Don’t snorkel alone.
- Be aware of your surroundings; don’t snorkel too close to rocks when there are waves.