Snorkeling in Florida is a favorite of many locals and tourists alike. It is a natural, easy, non threatening way to become acclimated and interested in the ocean around you. While I love diving, snorkeling is a fun past time and I still enjoy a lazy day of it in some of my favorite spots like Fort Zachary, Key West.
You will need a good snorkel and mask. I do not recommend renting one as they are usually beat up pretty good and who wants to suck on something someone’s mouth has been on? You can buy a fairly decent one for under $20 at any large department store or dive shop. If you are going to make this a new hobby, invest in a decent one from your LDS. I also recommend fins in case you are fighting a current or just want to zip around quicker.
Now that you have the basics. If you are young, old or inexperienced, invest in a cheap “noodle”. The long skinny floating tubes used in pools. My Mom loves these and she is 64. She can relax and snorkel at ease. It is also a great tool to help stop reef damage from newbies and even more experienced swimmers. Feet up, float on stomach and immerse face in water. I love the drift dives off Key West.
There are numerous places you can snorkel in Florida.
- The 120-mile Florida Keys island chain
is home to the continental United States’ only living-coral barrier reef. This teeming backbone of marine life runs the length of the Keys about five miles offshore and offers Florida Keys scuba diving vacation memories that last a lifetime.
Our coral formations are famous for their abundance of fish, from impressive schools of blue-striped grunts to toothy green moray eels. The U.S. government established the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary to protect our marine habitat.
Preserving the reef is a top priority for a good reason. There is no more versatile marine destination in the world. We have coral-encrusted ship wrecks and intricate natural coral formations. We have shallow reefs for snorkelers, and a range of deeper reefs for experienced divers. There is no shame in taking precautions to protect the fragile ecosystem found on the reefs. Casual snorkeling can be had easily from shore, but it does not compare to the vast array of colors and life that is found a few miles off shore. Try going out on a dive boat. Tell them you are snorkeling. Let them know your level of experience. I personally do not like the cattle boats like the big cats (catamarans) that go out. I think they dump people in mass, not experienced, for the quick buck without letting them know how to minimize the danger newbs do to the ecosystem. We snorkel with a few dive operators like Captain’s Corner. We have snorkeled in 60 feet depths and seen massive lobsters on the coral reef walls and also a reef shark.
I also like
- Fort Zachary Park
. It is one of my all time favorites in the World, as I am sure you have seen me say. It is a state park and we buy an annual pass that is well worth the $99. They post conditions at the gate. We have seen tons here. There are a couple of goliath grouper behind the middle artificial reef. You will also find several varieties of parrot fish, blennies, reef squid, plus we have seen nurse sharks and even octopus here. It is very colorful on a calm day. Once you feel accomplished, try going around the back end for larger fish. There is a stronger current but it is a nice drift around. We have also seen lobster here but I am not sure if it is legal to take them.
Please note, the beach is a coquina, coral beach. A bit rough on the feet, were some scudas or reef shoes for protection.
Coral Cove Park- Jupiter
Coral Cove Park has a 2 acre 12,500 limestone boulder artificial reef. Not only will you see the usual tropical fish but migratory sharks. The water is fortunately pretty clear and good viz makes it easy to spot the sharks before they spot you. There is also a rescue staff, who evacuate the water at the first sighting of a shark until at least 30 minutes after the last sighting. It is located at:
19450 State Road 707 (Beach Road) Tequesta, Florida
General Information: (561) 966-6600
Beach Conditions: (561) 624-0065
Biscayne National Park- Homestead
This gorgeous area provides not only fantastic scenery but also a great place to bring your family on the weekends. For the swimmers, boat trips leave at 1:30 p.m. for a price of $35 daily (including equipment) and will bring you out to the living reef, weather permitting. The reef allows snorkelers to get a good look at tropical fish along with some of the fascinating vegetation and other immobile residents of the sea. On shore amenities like grills provide a welcome way to relax before or after your adventure in the Atlantic.
9700 SW 328 Street, Homestead, FL 33033-5634
Visitor Information: 305-230-7275
- Red Reef- Boca Raton
This spot also has an artificial reef close to the shore, no more than 10 feet away. After being created to cover up jagged rock off the shore, it soon became home to many different organisms including hundreds of rainbow-colored, striped and spotted fish, as well as occasional sea turtles, eels and stingrays. Although the artificial reef is not as massive as Coral Cove, Red Reef also has a boardwalk for those not interested in bringing swim trunks and a change of clothes. Be aware: Parking here is super expensive ranging $16-$18.
1400 N. State Road A1A, Boca Raton, FL
Recreation Service Department: 561-393-7974
John Pennekamp State Park – Key Largo
One of the most recognized snorkeling and scuba diving areas in the country, the completely submerged Pennekamp is home to innumerable breathtaking sights. Boat trips run by the park depart three times a day at 9 a.m., noon and 3 p.m. costing $21.95 for minors and $26.95 for adults. Equipment rentals are separate but can cost as little as $6 for fins, snorkel and mask. Masks corrected for the near-sighted are also available for rent. If you are lucky enough to have a boat yourself, try White Banks Reef, located at the southern tip of the park, the spot features a circular patch of soft and hard coral along with nearly 400 varieties of tropical fish, according to Capt. Todd Firm of Keys Divers. Although gorgeous, White Banks is hardly a hidden treasure. For a more secluded time, try Horseshoe about a mile north behind Key Largo. It not only hosts a comparable amount of sea life but also many unique “swim throughs.” You can use your Florida state park annual pass here.
MM 102.5 Overseas Highway, Key Largo
Park Offices: 305-451-6300
Commercial Boulevard and A1A, Lauderdale By The Sea
Also Datura, Hibiscus and Palm Streets
Something a little less formal then a park, one can just take a little walk either north or south of Anglin’s Pier and swim out a couple hundred yards, where many kinds of fish, including nurse sharks, have been spotted. The prime spots for snorkeling here is a significant distance from the shore so snorkelers should be strong swimmers and bring a dive flag. I have numerous writeup for divers on these locations.
And here and here.
It is one of my favorite shore diving sites but I find that when we have snorkelers around, they give up for lack of seeing little critters.
Peanut Island- Riviera Beach
Peanut Island is a surprising location for such good snorkeling. You have to take a boat or water taxi there. The island is located in the Port of Palm Beach directly inside the inlet. The west side of the island offers docks and boardwalks. The east side of the island is home to a shady county park with picnic tables and campgrounds, as well as a fine snorkeling area. Peanut Island’s rocky shoreline has attracted a large quantity and variety of fish. The advantage to snorkeling here is that there is much to see in shallow water right off the shore. Unlike Pennekamp, where one cannot stand or touch bottom for fear of harming the coral, Peanut Island snorkeling can include regular feet-on-the-ground breaks to clear your mask. The best snorkeling area is located on the south side of the island, part of a small, protected cove with shallow waters and near a white sand beach. Best visibility is recommended from two hours prior to two hours after high tide; low tide brings murkier water. Ferry service is available from Phil Foster Park for $5 roundtrip from either Palm Beach Water Taxi (561) 683-TAXI) or The Seafare, (561) 339-2504.
Just north of the Lake Worth/Palm Beach Inlet, south of the Blue Heron Bridge.
Camping Reservations: 561-845-4445
Bathtub Reef- Stuart
Bathtub Reef offers a few of the best natural amenities that any snorkeler could ask for: regular clear and shallow water right off the coast. The southernmost public beach in Martin County is protected by the worm reef that keeps the water at optimal conditions. It also provides a terrific opportunity for smaller snorkelers to enjoy the beauty without having to contend with large waves or a deep dive. The reef is the work over many years of millions of tiny worms (called Sabellariid.) The worms build tubelike homes that form the reef. Get here early beacsue it will fill up fast on weekends and holidays. Has the same appeal as Sebastian Beach, great spot for wee ones.
1585 S.E. MacArthur Blvd., Stuart
Park Offices: (561) 221-1418
Indian Key – Off shore from Lower Matecumbe Key
Full of history, this little island is also a hot spot for local and visiting snorkelers. The island has the remnants of massacre and betrayal from bygone conflicts between everyone from tribes and settlers to pirates and shipwrecked crews. It also offers glimpses of wildlife above and below the water line. The rocky perimeter of the island provides one of the few near-shore areas for snorkelers to view coral and a variety of sea life. You have to take a water taxi or boat to get there.
Located on the ocean side of U.S. 1 at M.M. 78.5. Try nearby Robbie’s Marina for boat info. Robbie’s dock is also a popular stop for feeding and admiring tarpon.
Park Office: 305-664-2540