Beaches are in short supply on Key Largo, the largest of the Florida Keys – 30 miles long. But this is a vacation hotspot for diving, snorkeling, fishing, boating, and cruising. And if you’re into the underwater – you’ll want to make Key Largo your headquarters as you explore all John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park has to offer.
Humphrey Bogart put Key Largo on the map with the 1948 movie of the same name. But there is little else to connect Bogart with Key Largo. Bogie never set foot in the Keys. The main town, Rock Harbor, changed its name to Key Largo to cash in on some of the Hollywood dollars – however we found they should have used some of the dough to create some sort of zoning.
As you head down U.S. 1, you’ll see a restaurant next to a tire shop next to a home. Strange. And a tip: leave the coral – even the stuff you find in shell shops. It’s probably not from Florida, but nonetheless, promoting reef destruction somewhere rules are lax.
On to the beaches: The main attraction on Key Largo is the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Reefs off the shore from the park have taken a beating – and speaking of the shoreline, we noticed more trash than anywhere we’ve been. Divers state the visibility has decreased in recent years in spite the management plan in place by the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary since 1997.
Pennekamp (an actual beach campground), was established in 1960 as the nation’s first underwater preserve. Like many islands we review, Key Largo has an offshore reef which intercept the waves. There is no physical mechanism for the sand to move toward the shore and build up a beach. But you’ll find three beaches – all man made.
Cannon Beach – we found had a small, narrow band of sand with cannon placed in the entrances. There’s a replica of a seventeenth-century shipwreck just 130 from the beach – you can snorkel there. Plenty of cool fish and it’s awesome looking down at the “wreck”. But don’t just bring the beach towel. Bring your snorkel gear so you won’t miss the best part of Cannon Beach!
Far Beach – also at Pennekamp, is close by down Largo Sound. We found this beach to be the best of the pair. It has natural shade with transplanted coconut palms and looks nicer. You’ll miss the beauty of snorkeling, though.
Finally, there’s the Harry Harris County Park – another man made beach with a lot of sports equipment; basketball courts, baseball fields, boat ramps, a really cool tidal pool about the size of a football field. Did we mention the playground? And yes, there’s a nearby reef – Wilkinson’s Point. You can walk out into Florida Bay (wear shoes) – but be careful.
Tip: Bonefishing is awesome here!
All three beaches cost around $2.50 – $4.00 to park and enter (per person). And they are open from around 8 AM till sunset. All have full facilities complete with showers, concessions.