The clear Caribbean blue color of the water around Peanut Island Park in Riviera Beach is like nothing else nearby.
This little island, an exceptional county park, is located in the mouth of the inlet to the Port of Palm Beach, so the water is direct from the ocean, flushed thoroughly with each tide.
As a result of this clear ocean water, Peanut Island is an excellent place for snorkeling, kayaking, paddleboards and other water-related activity.
But this beautifully landscaped gem offers even more. Accessible only by ferry, water taxi or private boat, it makes a terrific destination for a picnic or easy in-town camping. And there is a fascinating historic site here – the Kennedy Bunker, a Cold War fallout shelter for the 35th president — no longer open to the public, but still intriguing.
The story of Peanut Island
The 80-acre park is man-made, built from earth piled here during dredging for the port in 1918. The only peanuts ever here were part of a visitor’s picnic! The “peanut” in the name comes from unfulfilled plans to ship peanut oil from here.
In 2005, the island was developed into a county park, and it has been improved over the years, with the addition of a very scenic 1.25-mile-long walking trail around the entire island, a snorkeling lagoon, a short boardwalk through the mangroves and a small marina where boats can tie up.
Because we visited on a quiet weekday, we know we saw a quieter side to Peanut Island. On weekends, Peanut Island is full of dozens of boaters who moor off the beaches for swimming, snorkeling and partying. Whether you love the festive atmosphere or you find someone else’s music annoying, I can assure you, if it’s a sunny weekend, you won’t be alone here.
Peanut Island snorkeling lagoon
Peanut Island has long been on my list of best places to snorkel in Florida without a boat. Its rocky shoreline and its location at the mouth of the inlet make it a magnet for colorful fish and creatures, from rays to manatees to small sharks. Most commonly, snorkelers see sergeant majors, parrot fish and angel fish.
The best snorkeling is along the eastern shore facing the inlet, where rocks are piled in breakwaters, providing structure that attracts sea life. Adjacent to here and along the southern shore, a snorkeling lagoon has been constructed. It is ringed by a walkway and picnic shelters.
The lagoon is popular in winter with manatees. We were lucky enough to see two manatees drifting peacefully in the lagoon on a sunny January afternoon. Several snorkelers happened to be in the area and kept a respectful distance observing them.
A few random tips: Snorkeling is best at high tide. The beach is sandy but some area have a few rocks; water shoes might be helpful. The picnic shelters are lovely; they are available on a first-come-first-serve basis.
Kayaking at Peanut Island
Ten years ago when we first kayaked to Peanut Island, there was no good put-in spot and we were the only paddlers in the area. Now, the Riviera Beach Marina has become a a great base for paddlers; kayaks and SUPs were everywhere.
The newly redeveloped and impressive Riviera Beach Marina is located a 10-minute paddle from Peanut Island. On its northern end, a sandy beach has been developed, where you are free to put in your kayaks. There are two rental operations on this beach, offering kayaks, SUPs and wave runners — Nautical Ventures and Blue Water Boat Rental.
Many kayakers circumnavigate the island, perhaps stopping to snorkel or picnic. From our kayak, even before we left the marina, we peered into the clear water and saw both a small shark and a large sea star.
There is ample free parking near the marina. You will have to drop off your boat and then park your car, and I will warn you that getting your kayak from the drop-off point to the sand is a pain. It’s not far, but it involves either taking turns that are tight for a long kayak or going down a few steps. If you have a wheeled cart, bring it.
Peanut Island camping
Peanut Island closes at sunset, except for the lucky folks who brought their tents and are toasting marshmallows over a large communal fire pit in the small campground.
There are 17 campsites. They are set behind a picket fence that gives them privacy and separates them from the day-trippers. Here is a map of the Peanut Island campground.
Peanut Island campsites are understandably popular, so booking weekend dates is a challenge. Palm Beach County requires you book by phone no earlier than 90 days in advance, and most weekends book up at the 90-day-out point. Sunday nights and weeknights are slightly more accessible.
Peanut Island limits campers to three nights and only one three-night stay every two months. There is no electricity. Campsites are $28 a night with a six camper maximum occupancy. The park says no alcohol is allowed; we have heard this is enforced only if campers get rowdy.
Peanut Island campers must arrange to reach the island by boat. The Peanut Island shuttle charges $20 per camper and allows each to bring one or two bags, tent and a cooler per person. The shuttle operator also rents tents for $65 per night. (I might point out you can buy a pretty nice tent on Amazon for that price.)
Kennedy Bunker at Peanut Island
Hidden on Peanut Island is an underground fallout shelter built in December 1961 as a safe haven for President John F. Kennedy, whose family’s Palm Beach compound was minutes away across the water.
The Kennedy Bunker closed indefinitely in 2017. The non-profit that managed the facility lost its lease with the county after several years of conflict. The county has not determined the future of the bunker or the historic Coast Guard station located on the island.
We loved touring the bunker, and brought visiting guests there on several occasions, so I was curious to see its entrance now. The entrance is unchanged, except for the “no trespassing” sign out front. There is no signage or reference to the bunker anywhere, but an overgrown brick pathway leads from near the Coast Guard building back to the bunker entrance, if you’re curious.
Here’s a story from Florida Rambler about visiting the bunker when it was open for tours.
Peanut Island ferry and getting to the island
The Peanut Island Shuttle Boat from Riviera Beach Marina is $12 roundtrip ($6 for kids 6 and younger.)
Snorkel gear can be rented from the shuttle operators.
Another shuttle is offered from Sailfish Marina, on the east side of the Intracoastal. It costs $15 roundtrip.
Useful links for visiting Peanut Island
- Peanut Island, a Palm Beach County Park
- Peanut Island Shuttle from Riviera Beach
- Shuttle from Sailfish Marina
- Information on camping.
- Riviera Beach Marina Village
- Florida Rambler on touring the Kennedy Bunker before 2017
What’s near Peanut Island
- Ten ways to enjoy the tony Town of Palm Beach
- A great beach at MacArthur State Park
- Kayak to Munyon Island in 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
- Hiking and bike trails at Grassy Waters Preserve, West Palm Beach
- Great birding at Wakodahatchee and Green Cay Preserves
- Hiking and wildlife at Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge
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The author, Bonnie Gross, travels with her husband David Blasco, discovering off-the-beaten path places to hike, kayak, bike, swim and explore. Florida Rambler was founded in 2010 by Bonnie and fellow journalist Bob Rountree, two long-time Florida residents who have spent decades exploring the Florida outdoors. Their articles have been published in the Sun Sentinel, the Miami Herald, the Orlando Sentinel, The Guardian and Visit Florida.