In this installment in our series on Key West public beaches, we head west from Higgs Beach along the Atlantic shore to South Beach, one of the smallest of Key West public beaches. A 200-foot-long pocket beach tucked away at the lower end of Duval Street, South Beach is bounded by the back wall of a resort development on the east end and the South Beach Pier on the west. The primary features of South beach are the Southernmost Beach Café and the many tourists who make their way over to the beach and pier after visiting the Southernmost Point marker one block to the west at the end of Whitehead Street.
A lack of public restrooms or other comfort facilities and a somewhat over-commercialized, crowded atmosphere keep South off my list of day-trip destination Key West beaches. However, South Beach is still quite nice, a very functional beach that can fill some specialized beach-going needs, and many visitors and locals alike call it their favorite. In fact, Key West lore has the playwright Tennessee Williams coming to South Beach for a swim nearly every day during the years he spent in Key West.
For one thing, the sand at South Beach is soft and there is plenty of it. The water’s edge has some typical gravel and coral chunks, but the rest of the entire area back of the beach and around the café is Caribbean sugar sand. South Beach is also a very safe swimming beach. The sea bottom just off the beach is mainly sand under shallow water that extends quite a ways out over a flat bottom. Some onshore chop may come in with winds from the south, but at other times the water is calm, and can be really clear. These aspects make South Beach a good choice for letting small children have a fun beach day. Moreover, the cozy size of the beach and the confined feeling provided by the wall to the east help in allowing parents to feel more secure about letting little kids run and play freely.
The location of South Beach is another winning factor, as it is very conveniently placed to serve guests of the many resorts and inns around the Atlantic end of Duval. It is very easy to walk or bike to this beach from the surrounding blocks. As a matter of fact, parking in the area is difficult, so it is better to walk. South Beach is also within walking distance of many restaurants, letting you stay in the beach mood by going directly from the sand to lunch, dinner, or happy hour. This beach is also perfect for taking a dip when you are hot and sweaty after walking down Duval Street to the Southernmost Point. And of course, South Beach is the obvious choice for drunken late night splashing around after Pub Crawling down Duval.
Other people enjoy South Beach because of its atmosphere. The beach is very clean because the area is managed and groomed each day by the staff of the beach concession and café. There is a mix of people at this beach, and many mature beachgoers feel more comfortable here than at beaches like Smathers, which may tend to be dominated by young people at times. Still, others appreciate the pleasure of sitting down in the café for a nice lunch and or a refreshing cocktail, then getting immediately back to sunbathing. The Southernmost Beach Café is reported to have tasty and reasonably priced burgers, good rum drinks, and well-reputed Bloody Marys. The staff of the beach concession where chairs and umbrellas may be rented are also known to give attentive and friendly service. South Beach can be summed up as providing many of the amenities of a resort beach in a Key West public beach package.
In one sense, South Beach is a local’s beach, in that the experience will be best for those who know the moods of the place and visit at times when the ambiance there matches their personal preferences and needs. For example, the pier and beach are great places for people watching during busy times of the year and day, yet they can offer quiet peace and inspiring views of the sunrise or the evening sea at other times. Arrive early and spend a quiet morning, then have lunch and leave as the crowds begin arriving. Stop off for a quick swim during a bike ride, or get there later in the day and have a cocktail while watching people come and go. Enjoy music from live performances at the café as you relax on the sand. Come down Duval late to stroll the pier and listen to the water lap the sand for romance under the moon and stars. There are so many ways to enjoy South Beach that many visitors, especially those staying in the neighborhood, come to feel that it is their personal home beach.
We know that good things come in small packages, and this is the case with South Beach. Enjoy a walk down to this beach because the neighborhood is very nice, classic historic Key West, with lovely restored Victorian mansions like the incredible Southernmost House directly across Duval from South Beach, and many others in the surrounding blocks. Spend a morning or afternoon, enjoy a meal on the beach, squish the soft sand through your toes, and this little gem among the Key West public beaches just may win you over as it has so many others.