Historic / Southeast Florida

Secret Kennedy Bunker on Peanut Island: Hidden treasure, historic site


You enter the bunker through a tunnel. The cat at the end is either Jack, Jackie or Marilyn, the three feral cats who live on the island.

You enter the Kennedy bunker through a tunnel. The cat at the end is either Jack, Jackie or Marilyn, the three feral cats who live on the island. (Photo by Erin Blasco)

Hidden on an island best known for boats and bikinis is a  fascinating relic of another era in South Florida —  the Kennedy Bunker,  the underground fallout shelter built in December 1961 as a safe haven for President John F. Kennedy, whose family’s Palm Beach compound is minutes away across the water.

John F. Kennedy bunker in Peanut Island, Palm Beach, Florida

Entrance to Kennedy bunker on Peanut Island

The bunker was constructed quickly and secretly during the run up to the Cuban Missile Crisis. Hidden in the woods and underground, it fell into disrepair until restored by the museum in 1999.

At the entrance to the bunker is a the fallout shelter sign, which will be familiar to Baby Boomers.

At the entrance to the bunker is a the fallout shelter sign, which will be familiar to Baby Boomers.

Inside the Kennedy Bunker, the president's desk would be equipped with the red phone, a hotline to Moscow.

Inside the Kennedy Bunker, the president’s desk would be equipped with the red phone, a hotline to Moscow.

The historic Coast Guard Station on Peanut Island is part of the tour of the Kennedy Bunker.

The historic Coast Guard Station on Peanut Island is part of the tour of the Kennedy Bunker.

Peanut Island, with a view of the Palm Beach Inlet.

Peanut Island, with a view of the Palm Beach Inlet.

At the Palm Beach Maritime Museum on Peanut Island, you can tour the historic Coast Guard station, where the guide explains how this survival suit worked.

At the Palm Beach Maritime Museum on Peanut Island, you can tour the historic Coast Guard station, where the guide explains how this survival suit worked.

The bunker is located on Peanut Island, a Palm Beach County park accessible only by boat, that is usually surrounded by partiers on boats.

The bunker is operated by the Palm Beach Maritime Museum, which also runs the adjacent Historic Former Coast Guard Station museum.

The bunker is the real deal. The museums site says:

“With the exception of a presidential seal, added as a modern enhancement, the declassified, decommissioned bunker is very close to the original. The structure is covered with earth and many layers of concrete and rebar. Entry is via a blast-hardened tunnel, with a 90 degree angle to minimize shock effects from a nuclear explosion. Entry is through a secure decontamination area, which was, however, and interestingly, made of plywood.”

While a few folks around Palm Beach County know about the Kennedy Bunker and Peanut Island, it still ranks as one of Florida’s hidden treasures. It’s likely to stay that way, however: Since it is located on an island, visiting it will always require taking a water taxi, private boat or a kayak — which is part of why we love it in the first place.

The bunker itself is quite small. Shelves are stocked with containers of drinking water, Army K-rations and gas masks. There’s a rocking chair — the seat of choice for a president with a bad back, and a ham radio reminds us of life before cell phones.

It’s a spooky space. You know that if this bunker were ever actually used, it would be something close to the end of the world.

More practical matters, however, are also discussed. There is no bathroom. How would that work?

The answer: You used a bucket, filled it and sealed it.

Before touring the bunker, visitors are taken through the historic Coast Guard Station. The tour is short and modest, but you see some interesting items.

Kennedy Bunker on Peanut Island: Emergency supplies. (VISIT FLORIDA photo by Pete Cross)

Kennedy Bunker on Peanut Island: Emergency supplies. (VISIT FLORIDA photo by Pete Cross)

An interesting piece in the New York Times tells how JFK had a similar shelter built on another vacation destination, Nantucket Island. That shelter has never been open to the public.

Visiting the Kennedy Bunker

Admission: $25 for a VIP tour; $14 for adults; $12, seniors; $8 children 5- 17; special rates for schools groups and families. This includes both the bunker and the maritime museum in the Coast Guard station, but does not include transportation to the island.

Hours of operation and details: Palm Beach Maritime Museum

Peanut Island is also a great outing for snorkeling, picnics and even camping. For details see the Florida Rambler guide to visiting Peanut Island.

Two companies provide water taxis to the island:

The taxi from Riviera Beach is the shortest, but we love leaving from Sailfish Marina because the docks there have clear turquoise water filled with schools of fish — jacks, parrot fish and more. You can buy shrimp here to feed the fish.

The ferry to the island takes about a minute, but it’s scenic and the island beckons to you with its palm trees and boats.

You also can kayak to the island.  To kayak, we parked and put in our boat at Riviera Beach Marina, 200 E. 13th St. Riviera Beach, and enjoyed the fresh fish at the Tiki Waterfront Sea Grille located there. It’s a fun, open-air place overlooking the marina and makes a great start or end to the day.

More things to do in Palm Beach County and nearby:

 

 

 

Send to Kindle

One Comment

  1. Unique indeed. Guess Kennedy never had to use it, huh?

Comment on this article

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*


two + = 7

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Web Analytics