Last updated on June 14th, 2021 at 12:26 pm
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 to visit in South Florida. 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:
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.”
- 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, 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.
- 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 $15 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.
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 $20 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.
A note about snorkeling at Red Reef: From time to time, parts of the reef are covered by sand. Boca parks folks say: “Snorkeling at Red Reef Park (near lifeguard tower 9) varies from wonderful to poor depending on the beach conditions (waves, current and wind).”
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.
- Florida Rambler on snorkeling Peanut Island plus the island’s other fascinating features.
- Official site for Peanut Island Park
Phil Foster Park Snorkel Trail
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. 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
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 (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.
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 shipwrecks from the beaches of the Atlantic Coast
Most shipwrecks must be reached by boat, but these three 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 wreck of the SS Copenhagen off Lauderdale By The Sea rests on the ledge of a reef in 15- to 30-feet of water about 100 yards off the beach at Datura Street. It is located within a Florida Underwater Archaeological Preserve, Here are details.
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:
- Gilchrist Spring and Ginnie Springs on the Santa Fe River north of Gainesville
- Alexander Springs in Ocala National Forest east of Ocala
- Rainbow River near Dunnellon
- Three Sisters Spring and other springs in the Crystal River area (famous for manatees in winter)
Snorkeling on Florida’s 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.
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.
If you’re interested in snorkeling trips by boat to coral reefs, consider these outstanding parks:
- Biscayne National Park, which also offers snorkel trips to shipwrecks
- John D. Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
- Bahia Honda State Park
From the Editor:
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