Key West is a year-round destination known for its tropical vibe. But Key West is a little different than other beach towns. In fact, if you’ve come only for the beaches, you might be a little disappointed by what you find around town. To really enjoy the tropical Key West beach of your dreams, you’ll want to go on a Key West Sandbar Excursion.
Key West, Beaches, and Sandbars
Before diving into where the best beach hangouts are and how to get to them, stick with me for a quick geology lesson. Trust me–it will be worth it.
The islands that make up the Florida Keys are what remains of an ancient, underwater coral reef. The island’s bones, so to speak, are made of a hard limestone called Miami Oolite. It’s basically packed down, rock-hard coral dust. Beyond this, there’s very little soil, dirt, or sand here. If there was, most of it would simply wash away during rainstorms or hurricanes.
These islands aren’t exactly a fertile growing region, but there are some hardy tropical species of trees and plants that do very well. Mangroves, for one, thrive in the salt and brackish water around the Keys. Their elaborate root structures, which have become symbolic of the Keys, hold the islands together and prevent erosion.
Driving along US 1, you might find a small sandy spot in the sun here and there. But you aren’t going to find miles-long barrier islands filled with stunning beaches like you will in the rest of the Florida peninsula.
Why Visit a Key West Sandbar?
In town, you’ll find a few small beaches. A few are even manmade, replenished with sand every few years to keep them from disappearing. And because the beaches are small, they can get crowded.
Sandbars offer a completely different experience. Depending on the location and the time of day, sandbars offer everything from a quiet wilderness adventure to a beach party extravaganza. They require a little more effort to find and get to, but the experience is totally worth it.
Sandbars are the best way to explore a real Key West beach. But, to get there, you’ll have to hop on a boat! The sandbars are a ways from town and well off the highway in the backcountry. On a Key West sandbar, you’ll experience endless vistas, clear water, and picture-perfect scenery that feels like your own little private island.
There’s nothing like a sandbar party! You can set your party’s tone on a private charter to a Key West sandbar. So whether you want to relax in a beach chair with a book, play music, swim, or enjoy competitions with your friends, you’ll love experiencing a Key West sandbar party.
What are the Best Key West Sandbars?
Sandbars are basically beaches that lie underwater. As the tide pushes water through the islands day in and day out, sand moves around and spreads out around the natural channels and ocean inlets. Most of these are far from town, deep in the backcountry. If you look at a satellite photo of the Keys, you can see how the water carves deep channels between the islands.
Sandbars are best visited at low tide–this is when you’ll find the best access and the most places to explore. There are more sandy stretches to explore during low tide. Water depths will range from high and dry to a few feet deep. At high tide, the same spots might be completely underwater.
Where are the Best Key West Sandbars?
There are three ways to get to Key West’s best sandbars. You could take your own boat or rent one, hop on a big tour boat, or book a private charter. But the best way to get there, in my opinion, is to take a private charter boat.
Sandbars in Key West are located in the Gulf of Mexico. In Key West, this area is known as the backcountry. This special area is home to dozens of sandy, uninhabited islands. The backcountry is a fisherman’s dream come true as you’ll find bonefish, permit, tarpon, and flats that go on forever.
The boat ride to Key West’s sandbars is about 45 minutes. Navigating through the wild backcountry of the Keys is not for the faint of heart–or the novice skipper. The backcountry is full of shallows, rocky bars, and confusing navigation. However, on a private charter, your captain can take care of the navigation and get you to the best spots while you can just relax and enjoy the ride. You’ll usually spend over two hours on the sandbar to explore, relax, and watch for critters like stingrays, conch, and dolphins.
There are many great sandbar options all around Key West. Some lie east, in the Marquesas Keys and the Key West National Wildlife Refuge, and some lie to the west, in the Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge. No matter where you wind up, you’ll get to see Key West from a whole new perspective and enjoy the immense and beautiful backcountry.
Experience Far Out Sandbars
The journey is part of the experience when you take a charter to a far out sandbar. Along the way, you might see dolphins, manatees, and a variety of fish and sea creatures. You can enjoy the captain’s music, bring your own mix, or simply listen for different bird calls.
Visit Empty Sandbars
When you pull up to an empty sandbar, you’ll feel like a movie star. Frolick in the shallows, lounge on a float or play beach volleyball. Empty sandbars are the best places for photography and showing your friends back home what they are missing.
When is the Best Time to Visit a Key West Sandbar?
Morning trips are often quiet and great for those who want to watch for wildlife and enjoy nature. You can stroll along the flats and watch for sand dollars, sea stars, stingrays, and bonefish.
Afternoons have a livelier vibe, and visitors often enjoy floating in the warm water, enjoying cold beverages, and listening to music. Busy holiday weekends can feel like a festival with everyone enjoying the party.
Folks enjoy visiting the sandbars here year-round. During the summer, the tropical heat can cause afternoon showers or thunderstorms. This is the time of the year when the best thing to do is float in the cool water with a frosty beverage! You might want a light jacket in the winter as it can feel cool on the boat ride. The water is cooler but no less inviting, and the fresh air means hours of exploring and wading.
Enjoy The Key West Sandbar Experience
As you can tell, a Key West sandbar is nothing short of an experience–an authentic excursion into the Keys wilderness, just like the locals do. It’s not so much a “quick stop at the beach” as an all-day adventure–boating, swimming, snorkeling, wildlife watching, and wading on postcard-perfect beaches.
One of the great things about booking a private sandbar charter is combining multiple activities into one trip. For example, your captain can take you to snorkel sites on the way to a sandbar. Or, you can head to the sandbar in the afternoon and enjoy a Key West sunset on the water during the return trip.