Fort Zachary Taylor State Park is the ultimate hidden gem and local hotspot of Key West, Florida plus it happens to be the southernmost state park in the US! I lived and worked in Key West for a summer and Fort Zach (as the locals call it) was one of my favorite places to go. I have since returned to Key West with my husband on a Florida roadtrip. Even though we only had a short time in the Florida Keys, we were sure to visit Fort Zachary Taylor.
If you want to know ALL of my favorite things to do in Key West, check out my Ultimate Key West Bucket List. While working in Key West, I spent my time finding the best food in Key West and especially finding the best places to try Key Lime Pie in Key West. Then I’d head over to snorkel and lay on the beach at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park.
This state park in Key West is known for an old Civil War Fort you can tour, a white sandy beach (but be careful it gets very rocky near and in the water), great snorkeling spots, perfect fishing spots, and relaxing shady trails.
It’s one of those places that is perfect to visit during a long stay on the island or even for a short cruise-ship stop. It can be reached in just a 30-minute walk from the cruise ship dock, which is totally doable or you can drive or bike into the park. The entrance fee is very minimal at only $4 per vehicle or $2.50 per pedestrian or bike.
No matter how much time you have in Key West, I definitely recommend spending some of it at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park. I’ve even included it in my Ultimate Itinerary for a Day Trip to Key West if you only have one day!
Visiting this state park is definitely one of those things you need to know before visiting Key West. And in this post, you’ll find the 10 best things to do while at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park.
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1. Rent snorkel gear and snorkel from Fort Zachary Taylor State Park’s beach
Fort Zachary Taylor State Park offers the best snorkeling experience from the shores of Key West. There are two rocky jetties on either side of the beach that make a great home for lots of colorful fish and the water is a pretty blue/green color.
When I worked for a summer in Key West, snorkeling at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park was by far one of my favorite things to do. The best part is, if you don’t have your own snorkel gear (I mean, who is packing that in their luggage) you can rent fins, a mask and a snorkel from a shack right on the beach for only about $15.
The only other good option for snorkeling in Key West is to check out the amazing snorkel tours to the Florida Barrier Reef just a short boat ride from the shore. This reef is actually the only living barrier reef in the continental United States which is pretty cool and also worth a visit.
check this post out: 8 Best Places to Try Key Lime Pie in Key West
2. Rent a chair and umbrellas to lay back and relax
Fort Zachary Taylor State Park has one of the nicest white sand beaches in Key West (however once you reach the water it is quite rocky so you’ll want to bring some good water shoes). One of the best ways to enjoy the beach is to rent an umbrella and lounge chair from the chickee hut on the beach. You can rent just an umbrella, just a lounge chair or both! Spend time admiring amazing fish while snorkeling and then lay back and relax on your own lounge chair on the beach.
3. Grill up a picnic at one of the tables under the trees at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park
Fort Zachary Taylor State Park has a lovely area of wooded nature trails with picnic tables between the beach and the actual civil war fort. Bring a picnic lunch or use the grills for a great cookout at the beach. It’s one of the very few places on any Key West beach with shady spots! And there is lots of shade.
related post: Ultimate Key West Food Guide | 19 Places You Must Try
4. Participate in a rejuvenating yoga class on the beach
One of my favorite things I have done at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park is participating in an awesome yoga class on the beach. A local yoga studio leads classes right on Fort Zachary Taylor’s beach (plus at other outdoor locations in Key West). You can pay a one-time, drop-in fee or purchase a punch card if you know you will be looking forward to daily, beach yoga during your stay in Key West.
5. Eat at Cayo Hueso Cafe
If you’re not in the mood to bring a picnic lunch or grill something up on the beach, no worries! Fort Zachary Taylor State Park is home to a chill, walk-up food, joint right on the beach called Cayo Hueso Cafe. They are open 10 am-6 pm daily, offering sandwiches, wraps, salads.
Try their Traditional Cuban for an authentic Key West taste. Then you can grab a seat in the shade on the cafe deck, or take your food to a picnic table or lounge chair to enjoy.
check out this post: The Ultimate Key West, Florida Bucket List | 98 Things to Do
6. Explore Fort Zachary Taylor and see Civil War Cannons
Be sure to spend some time exploring the namesake fort of Fort Zachary Taylor State Park. The fort is a Civil War-era fort built to help guard the Key West harbor and was used in multiple wars from the Civil War to the Cuban Missile Crisis. You can stroll through red brick arches, see Civil War cannons and a large collection of seacoast guns. Either participate in the daily guided tour at 11 am or explore on your own using informative panels and a brochure.
7. Walk or bike along the wooden nature trails
Fort Zachary Taylor State is 56-acres large from the civil war fort to the beach with a great trail system perfect for nature walks or bike rides. The nature trails are a perfect way to get from the beach to the fort while enjoying wildlife along the way.
8. Watch the Key West speedboat races from the beach
Every year, Key West hosts awesome, off-shore speedboat races and Fort Zachary Taylor State Park is a great spot to view those races. The last time we were in Key West, it was right as the speedboat racers were arriving and we were lucky enough to see a parade down Duval of all the amazing boats.
Unfortunately, we weren’t lucky enough to see any races 😕. However, I’ve heard the best place at Fort Zachary Taylor to watch the speedboat races is all the way to the right of the beach, along the rock wall.
9. Watch the sunset where the locals go
I really do love Key West’s Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square full of vendors, performers, and crowds (so I think you’ve got to experience that). However, after you’ve experienced the Sunset Celebration, head to Fort Zachary Taylor Beach for your next sunset. You’ll find a quieter and more local experience at the beach and still see the same, stunning orange sunset. And if you are looking for other great Key West sunset spots, check out my 7 Most Beautiful Places You Need Watch the Sunset in Key West post!
check out this post: 10 Amazing Florida Roadtrip Stops with Kids
10. Bring a pole to fish from the Fort Zachary Taylor State Park beach’s rock jetty
The rock jetty from the beach at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park makes a great spot fishing spot. Fishing is allowed from the rock jetty adjacent to the main shipping channel and you can find grouper, snapper, jacks, tarpon and many other local favorites. You will need to bring your own fishing pole and fishing license if you want to fish here.
You can easily find more information about obtaining a fishing license through the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission. And if you need a pole, try Key West Bait and Tackle for rentals or purchasing an inexpensive pole from a local grocery store.
And those are the 10 best things to do at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park in Key West, Florida! Please let me know if you have any questions about this Key West state park or about visiting Key West in general. I’m a real person that loves to talk travel.
Check out these other posts, I know you’ll love them:
- The Ultimate Key West, Florida Bucket List | 98 Things to Do
- The Ultimate Itinerary for a Day Trip to Key West
- 17 Things You Need to Know Before Visiting Key West, Florida
- Ultimate Key West Food Guide | 19 Places You Must Try
- 8 Best Places to Try Key Lime Pie in Key West
- 8 Key West Excursions Definitely Worth the Money
- The 7 Most Beautiful Places You Need Watch the Sunset in Key West
- 5 Reasons You Need to Rent Jet Skis in Key West + How to Rent