As the world marks the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination Nov. 22, it’s a good time to discover a fascinating relic of that 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.
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.
The bunker is located on Peanut Island, a Palm Beach County park accessible only by boat. 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.
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 are here: 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:
- Water taxi from Sailfish Marina: 98 Lake Drive, Palm Beach Shores.
- Water taxi from Riviera Beach Marina: Slip 522, 200 E. 13th St. Riviera Beach.
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:
- A great beach and kayaking spot, MacArthur State Park
- Howley’s, an authentic 1950s diner in West Palm Beach
- Lake Trail, a bike trail on the elite island of Palm Beach
- Bike trails at Riverbend Park in Jupiter
- Kayaking and canoeing the Loxahatchee