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Best snorkeling in Florida without a boat

Where can you go snorkeling in Florida if you don’t own a boat?

Over the years, I’ve discovered a number of right-from-the-beach snorkeling spots I love. While you need a boat to access full reefs in Florida, 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.

Snorkeling in the Florida Keys

You can have fun snorkeling almost anywhere in the Keys — any dock or pier here will attract some fish around its pilings. But I’ve particularly enjoyed snorkeling in these spots:

snorkeling in florida pennekamp cannon beach flickr Best snorkeling in Florida without a boat
Snorkeling in Florida: A school of snapper take shelter under a cannon at Cannon Beach at Pennekamp State Park. Photo by Phil’s 1stPix via Flickr.

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. The Flickr photographer of the above photo writes: “This is a great snorkeling spot, although the viz isn’t always great. I’ve also seen barracuda, rays, mackerel, and there is a huge school of tarpon in the area. A manatee swam right up to me once right where this shot was taken within about 100 yards of the beach.”

Indian Key Historic State Park

Snorkeling at Indian Key State Park is excellent. (Photo: David Blasco)
Snorkeling in Florida: We love snorkeling from shore at Indian Key State Park in the Florida Keys is excellent. (Photo: David Blasco)

Visiting Indian Key is one of my favorite things to do in the Florida Keys. It’s an island, but it is 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, like all of the Florida Keys, 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.

Pigeon Key

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 admission just to snorkel, but if you do visit the island, you can 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 good 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, but spaces can fill up at key times.

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.

Snorkeling in 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 $50 to park here on weekends and holidays; $35 on weekdays. There is a metered parking lot across the street at the public golf course, however, where parking is $3 an hour. If you’re heading here, be sure to check conditions before deciding to pay.

What’s so special here? An extensive set of 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.

A note about snorkeling at Red Reef: For several years, much of the reef had been covered with sand and the snorkeling was not as great as it once was. In 2021, the city constructed a new recreational snorkel reef at Red Reef Park. The beach already had six artificial reef modules just offshore in the southern end of the park. The new reef added 14 more modules constructed of limestone boulders. The best snorkeling is on the southern end.

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. You must reach the island by boat, so pack a picnic and make a day of visiting. It’s easy to kayak or take a SUP there too.

Phil Foster Park Snorkel Trail

Shark sculpture along snorkel trail at Phil Foster Park in Riviera Beach. Michael Scott Photography,
Snorkeling in Florida: Shark sculpture along snorkel trail at Phil Foster Park in Riviera Beach. Michael Scott Photography,

People have always used snorkel masks and scuba gear to explore around the Blue Heron Bridge. The water here is crystal clear at high tide because it is located a mile from the Lake Worth Inlet. But then, the snorkeling got even better.

A few years ago, the county completed a novel project at Phil Foster Park, which is an island on the Blue Heron Bridge — a snorkeling trail. Workers built a man-made 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.

John D. MacArthur Beach State Park

John D. MacArthur Beach State Park and its rocky shoreline
Snorkeling in Florida: Rocky outcroppings at John D. MacArthur Beach State Park attract fish and sea life.  (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

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.

To learn the locations of snorkeling spots, ask at the ranger station or gift shop. Always use a dive flags, available for rent at the gift shop, because boats also approach the reef.

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 (below) 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.

The snorkeling lagoon at DuBoise Park inside the Jupiter Inlet. (Photo: David Blasco)
The snorkeling lagoon at DuBoise Park inside the Jupiter Inlet. (Photo: David Blasco)

DuBois Park, Jupiter

Beloved by locals, Dubois Park is a delightful park with a snorkeling lagoon, sandy beach and picnic areas along the clear waters at the Jupiter Inlet. Parents like the shallow, sandy areas without waves where younger kids are safe. With clear water and fish from the inlet and ocean, the snorkeling is good at high tide. Admission is free and the place gets crowded on weekends; arrive early or come later in the day.

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.

Snorkeling in Florida shipwrecks from the beaches of the Atlantic Coast

Most shipwrecks must be reached by boat, but these two can be reached from the beach by strong swimmers and those with kayaks or paddleboards. A few safety notes: These are more ambitious snorkeling outings. You must have a dive flag to venture to these wrecks. Don’t go alone. 

  • The Breconshire Shipwreck off Vero Beach is the remains of a steamer wrecked in 1894. The boilers are visible at the site a quarter mile off the beach behind the well-known Driftwood Inn. At low tide, parts of the ship are only a foot or two underwater. Here’s some background.
  • The wreck of the Georges Valentine off Stuart is now a popular snorkeling and scuba-diving site located about 100 yards off shore from the Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge, a museum that preserves the last house of refuge of 10 originally built in the 1800s along Florida’s coast to aid shipwreck victims. The wreck sits in shallow water and the museum site says it’s easy to swim to the wreck, which also abounds in marine life. Here are details..
The swimming area at Alexander Springs in Ocala National Forest is excellent -- if you like 72 degree water. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Snorkeling in Florida: The swimming area at Alexander Springs in Ocala National Forest is excellent — if you like 72 degree water. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Snorkeling in Florida springs

Our favorites listed so far on this page are all salt-water snorkeling excursions. We also highly recommend snorkeling in Florida’s fresh-water springs, which have crystal-clear cold water and are full of fish and turtles and other things to see. They are located in Central Florida and North Florida. 

Here are a few particularly good springs for snorkeling about which Florida Rambler has written: 

Here’s a comprehensive guide to snorkeling in springs.

Snorkeling in Florida: A few locations along Gulf Coast beaches

The Gulf Coast does not have the reef structure and hard bottom found along the Atlantic so it is less conducive to snorkeling. There are a few spots that are popular, however:

Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park has a hard bottom reef that runs parallel to the beach near parking areas one and two. It’s in about 8 or 10 feet of water.

Egmont Key, an island reachable by ferry from St. Pete Beach, has ruins of some parts of an 1898 fort that are now underwater. 

Point of Rocks at Crescent Beach on Siesta Key is recommended for Gulf Coast snorkeling.

Important tips for snorkeling in Florida

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.

If you’re interested in snorkeling in Florida by boat to coral reefs, consider these outstanding parks:

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Moises Beltran

Sunday 15th of August 2021

Hi, i want to know what you can offer me for snorkeling by 09/10 in Orlando for two persons,

Bonnie Gross

Sunday 15th of August 2021

We write about snorkeling, but we do not operate a snorkeling business.

Rick Cunningham

Tuesday 10th of August 2021

Went to Coral Cove in mid-July and was very disappointed. Had been there a few years ago and it was great but they have re-plenished the beach. So, the sand is that soft gray stuff and some portion of it has washed away on to the rocks offshore. Very cloudy on a calm day and could see very little.

Has Bathtub Beach re-opened?

Bonnie Gross

Wednesday 11th of August 2021

Thanks for the update. That's disappointing to hear about Coral Cove, although conditions at beaches do vary a lot from week to week with currents, wind patterns, etc. I have not visited there recently. Yes, Bathtub Beach reopened in May 2021.

Cheyenne C

Thursday 8th of October 2020

Me and my Husband are planning a snorkel trip throughout Florida. Do you know any shops the rent snorkel gear and wet suits?

Bob Rountree

Thursday 8th of October 2020

There are snorkel and dive shops everywhere in Florida. You won't have any problem finding one.

Shannon Morgan

Saturday 12th of September 2020

What about on central West coast of Florida? Like from Hudson south to Venice?


Tuesday 14th of July 2020

If you go to visit Phil Foster Park or Peanut Island, and the tide is out and the water is murky, there's another alternative very close by. Riviera City Beach (behind Wings and Mulligan's at the East end of Blue Heron blvd) is the jump in point for a beautiful man-made artificial reef that is a short swim north from the City Beach behind the Ritz-Carlton, but still inside the safe swimming area buoys. The water here is ALWAYS gin-clear but can get rough if there are lots of boats, but we've seen dozens of species of fish, stingrays, and even lobster under the rocks. Use the satellite view of Google Maps and the reef is easy to locate.

Bonnie Gross

Saturday 18th of July 2020

Thanks, John. This is a great tip! Will check it out.

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