As a whole package, Fort Zachary Taylor State Park is a really cool place to visit. How many beaches have a civil war era fort to go with it? The only other one I can think of is about 70 miles west of this one.
The amenities here are excellent, particularly compared to a lot of the other Florida State Park beaches (I’m looking at you, Pennekamp!). The snack bar has surprisingly excellent food-better than most “fast food” places. You can rent umbrellas and beach chairs and they’ll set it up for you.
Umbrella and beach chair taken care of, you can just chill. It’s pretty quiet and family friendly here. It’s not a party beach like Smathers. You can relax, take a snooze, take in the view, think about whether you want to get a burger or nachos from the snack bar, and think about going to walk around the old fort on the grounds. Or you can rent some snorkeling gear and go check out the rocky areas in the water that should have lots of fish to look at.
And that’s where it starts to fall apart., because this is not much different from a lot of the other beaches in the Keys in that to get to the best water, you need access to a boat. On your way to the water, you have to walk over a major rocky section. These aren’t smooth rocks either. You really need beach shoes, because these will hurt your feet. Once you get in the water, you need to hope it’s a clear visibility day. I was told by the staff that some days the water has good visibility, but on July 4th weekend, it did not. I was lucky to have 3 or 4 feet of visibility. It seemed a little better as you went deeper near the rocks, but not much, Incidentally, deeper meant around 7-8’ of water. So swimming and snorkeling here-big disappointment, especially since being in the water is my main purpose to go to a beach!
The fort was quite cool to walk around in. You can climb up to the top and get a great view of the area, and then just walk around through the nooks, crannies and stairs. It is quite sparse inside though. There are no real objects to stare at or play with except for a few displays of the fort’s history. But really, walking up some circular stairs in a tower to gain access to the top is pretty neat!
All in all, we had a pretty good time here spending around 2-3 hours total. I feel like it should be on a person’s secondary list of things to do in Key West. If you’re spending 3-4 days in the Key West area, give it a shot. I don’t know if it’s time (or money) well spent on a regular length weekend, so if you feel the need to jump into the ocean, just run down Duval Street to Southernmost Beach for a bit and run back up to the bars.
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