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Peanut Island: Exceptional park for snorkeling, camping, kayaking

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. 

Peanut Island and its gorgeous blue-green clear water. (Photo: David Blasco)
Peanut Island and its gorgeous blue-green clear water. (Photo: David Blasco)

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.

Peanut Island has many picnic tables, most with great views of the water; others under chickee hut shelters. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Peanut Island has many picnic tables with great views of the water; other picnic tables are under chickee hut shelters. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

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.                                                                                  

The lagoon on Peanut Island is popular with manatees in the winter. On a January afternoon, we watched two loll around peacefully. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
The lagoon on Peanut Island is popular with manatees in the winter. On a January afternoon, we watched two loll around peacefully. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Peanut Island snorkeling

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.

Peanut Island beach along the northern shore. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Peanut Island beach along the northern shore. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

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.

Peanut Island is an easy kayak paddle from here, the paddlecraft launch area of the Riviera Beach marina. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Peanut Island is an easy kayak paddle from here, the paddlecraft launch area of the Riviera Beach Marina. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

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.

The snorkeling lagoon on Peanut Island. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
The snorkeling lagoon on Peanut Island. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

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 is a popular destination for partying boats. This floating tiki bar brought a sunset celebration to the shoreline. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Peanut Island is a popular destination for partying boats. This floating tiki bar brought a sunset celebration to the shoreline on a Friday night. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

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.

Here is complete information on Peanut Island camping.

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.)

Peanut Island is the site of a Cold War fallout shelter built for President John F. Kennedy. It is no longer open to the public to tour nor is there any signage about it, but it's not difficult to find. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Peanut Island is the site of a Cold War fallout shelter built for President John F. Kennedy. It is no longer open to the public to tour nor is there any signage, but it’s not difficult to find. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

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 is ringed by a mile-long walkway with scenic views in every direction. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Peanut Island is ringed by a mile-long walkway with scenic views in every direction. With the Port of Palm Beach so close, you can see anything from mega-yachts to freighters go by. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

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

What’s near Peanut Island

A note from the editor:

The information in this article was accurate when published but can change without notice. Please confirm details when planning your trip by following the links in this article.

This article is the property of FloridaRambler.com and is protected by U.S. Copyright Law. Re-publication without written permission is against the law.


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cindy

Saturday 1st of May 2021

Can you launch a kayak from Phil Foster park and just paddle to Peanut Island?

Bonnie Gross

Saturday 1st of May 2021

Yes. There is a boat ramp and parking and it's an easy paddle to Peanut Island. The only issue is parking. On weekends, the lot can fill up. It's popular not only for boating, but also for the wonderful snorkeling trail: https://www.floridarambler.com/florida-snorkeling/phil-foster-park-snorkel-trail/ If you're going on a weekend, I'd recommend you arrive early. Also, some people drop off a member of their party and their gear at Phil Foster Park and then park the car at the Riviera Beach public beach on Singer Island. This is about a 10 minute walk back to the park. (And that beach also has good snorkeling, I've been told.)

John J Serko

Wednesday 3rd of February 2021

Great article as always, Bonnie!

I just wanted to expand a bit on snorkeling there. As you said, snorkeling is best at high tide, but the few hours preceding the high tide are also excellent times to view sealife. But once the tide turns and starts retreating, it's a very short time until you're swimming in pea soup.

But when the water is clear, wow, is it spectacular! Be smart and check the tide tables for Port Of Palm Beach before you go. I use a tide app on my smartphone.

Also, don't forget your dive flag. On busy days, careless boaters are everywhere.

An excellent option if you get there and the tide is coming in is the Riviera Public Beach. The water there is ALWAYS gin-clear. There are a few artificial reefs placed close enough offshore that just about everyone can make the swim.

Regards,

John

Bonnie Gross

Wednesday 3rd of February 2021

John: Thanks for those excellent tips. I did not know the Riviera Public Beach was such a good snorkeling destination. I'll have to check that out (when the water is warmer.)

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