Sandbars in Key West are hidden gems. The sand is like white sugar. The water is crystal clear.
When you’re all alone on a sandbar there isn’t any noise, except for the sound of the water. They’re like private desert islands.
You can often see fun and exciting marine life on sandbars, including dolphins, sharks, stingrays, fish, crabs, conch, starfish and many others.
Note: If you do visit a sandbar, please be respectful of the fragile marine environment. Be sure to know and follow the rules inside protected areas.
Be careful not to damage the bottom, or seagrass while boating. It’s super fragile, and is important for the marine ecosystem.
Many of the islands and sandbars are important nesting grounds for threatened and endangered birds and turtles, among other species. Please don’t disturb wildlife.
Key West Sandbar Map
There are several sandbars in Key West and many more throughout the Florida Keys
The most popular sandbars near Key West include:
- Marvin Key
- Snipes Key
- Woman Key
- Boca Grande
- Mud Keys
- Boca Chica Key
Navigating in shallow water requires skill and extensive boating experience. Many of these sandbars require expert navigation skills. Do not attempt to visit a sandbar unless you are skilled at navigation and can do so reliably without damaging your boat or the environment.
Boca Chica Sandbar
The Boca Chica sandbar is one of the closest sandbars to Key West. It’s located just offshore of Boca Chica Key.
The water depth at Boca Chica sandbar can be deeper than other sandbars in some locations. It can be as deep as waist or chest high, depending on spot and the tide level.
Many Key West jet ski tours visit the Boca Chica sandbar on their guided tours, partially because it’s so convenient to Key West. Some only stay for a few minutes before continuing on.
The Boca Chica sandbar is located on the flight path of the naval air station, so there are often noisy jets flying overhead. This can be fun, or annoying, depending on your preference.
Note: Boca Chica should not be confused with Boca Grande Key, which is another one of the most popular sandbars near Key West.
Woman Key is located about 10 miles west of Key West, and sits just east of Boca Grande Key.
Like Boca Grande, Woman Key sits inside the Key West National Wildlife Refuge.
There is a long, narrow sandbar on Woman Key which is only visible at low tide. The sandbar is beautiful, and it’s a fun place to visit.
Many people like to walk and beachcomb on the sandbar because you can often find live conchs on the sandbar. The conchs are fun to find, but cannot be taken, possessed or harvested because they are protected.
Woman Key is a conservation area, and is an important habitat for wildlife. Parts of Woman Key are closed and access is prohibited. Be sure to know and follow the rules before visiting. View more regulations from NOAA.
Boca Grande Key
The Boca Grande Key sandbar is one of the most popular sandbars near Key West.
Boca Grande Key can become incredibly crowded on weekends and holidays. Many of the most popular sandbar tours in Key West make a stop at Boca Grande Key and its sandbar.
Boca Grande Key is conveniently located within a short distance from Key West and Stock Island.
Depending on where you measure from, Boca Grande Key is about 12 miles from Key West. There are other islands and sandbars in the region, including Woman Key just to the east.
Part of Boca Grande Key is protected. Access is partially prohibited because it is an important wildlife refuge for threatened and endangered species.
The Jewfish Basin is a region of shallow water about 7 miles north of Key West, depending on where you measure from.
Jewfish Basin is a great place to find sandbars. There are endless shallow water flats in the Jewfish Basin. Countless anchorages and sandbars are exposed at low tide.
Many of the more popular sandbars near Key West are located in the Jewfish Basin, including the Mud Keys sandbars. There are other basins in the area, as well, including Turkey Basin, where Marvin Key is located.
The Mud Keys are a collection of small islands in the Florida Keys backcountry.
The Mud Keys are located approximately 5-10 miles northeast of Key West, depending on where you leave from.
The Mud Keys are beautiful, and are filled with secret sandbars and hidden spots.
Many people prefer the Mud Keys as an alternative to more crowded anchorages and sandbars near Key West.
Snipe Key is located in the Florida Keys backcountry, about 12 miles northeast of Key West, as the crow flies.
You may also hear this sandbar called “Snipes Key”, or other variations like “Snipe Point”
Snipe Key is part of a chain of islands known as the Snipe Keys. There are also other collections of islands in the area as well, including the Mud Keys.
Sandbars are very common in this area, including other favorite local sandbars like Marvin Key.
Snipe Key is one of the most popular and most convenient sandbars near Key West. It’s well-known on social media for its crystal clear water and for having a swing made from driftwood, suspended over the water from a tree.
When Snipe Key is empty, or when there are only a few boats around, this sandbar is amazingly peaceful because of its the remote location.
The Snipe Keys are protected areas because the islands are important habitats for a variety of birds and other wildlife.
If you visit Snipe Key in your own boat, pay attention to restricted areas, wake zones and speed zones.
Be aware of your surroundings and impact. Please be careful not to disturb wildlife, or damage any part of the fragile marine ecosystem, especially seagrass.
Marvin Key Sandbar
Marvin Key is located approximately 10-15 miles northeast of Key West, depending on where you leave from. Marvin Key is located inside the Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge.
The sandbar at Marvin Key is a popular boating destination. It can be empty during the week, especially during the offseason, but it’s often crowded during weekends and holidays.
Navigating to Marvin Key can be difficult depending on wind and tide conditions. The area is surrounded by shallow water and dangerous shoals, which shift frequently.
Marvin Key and Snipe Key are both located near each other in the Turkey Basin.
Some people like to visit both sandbars in a single trip. When one is crowded, you can head to the other, or any of the countless other anchorages in the area.
Marvin Key and the surrounding islands are covered with dense green mangroves, trees and tropical vegetation.
The tree cover gives a nice backdrop and can help make the sandbars feel more private even when there are boats on the other side of the island.
The east sides of Marvin Key are usually in the lee (protected from the wind), and are most calm and protected because the trade winds usually blow from east to west.
Sandbars in the Florida Keys
There are many popular sandbars near Key West, but there are many more spread throughout the Florida Keys.
Depending on where you are in the Keys, some of these sandbars may be near you. Some may be too far away to realistically visit. Depending on your situation, it may be best to trailer your boat and launch from another key further up the Overseas Highway.
Other popular sandbars in the Florida Keys:
Picnic Island is a very small uninhabited island located in the lower Keys, south of Little Torch Key. Picnic Island is a popular anchoring spot because it’s easy to get to, and is near Big Pine Key.
Picnic Island can be completely deserted during the week, but many dozens of boats often visit on busy weekends and holidays.
The Content Keys are a group of small, low-lying islands and sandbars in the Florida Keys backcountry.
The Content Keys have beautiful, crystal-clear water, and brilliant white sand.
The Content Keys are difficult to navigate due to their remote location and extremely shallow waters. Do not visit unless you have advanced navigation skills and can competently visit without damaging the environment, or your boat!
The Content Keys are protected as part of the Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge.
Mosquito Bank (Key Largo)
Mosquito Bank is located near Key Largo in the upper Keys. The sandbar has beautiful clear water, like you’d see in the Caribbean.
Mosquito Bank is exposed in open water, and can get quite rough. It is best to visit during dead-calm conditions.
Mosquito Bank is a very popular destination for boaters. You may have the whole sandbar to yourself on some days during the week, but it’s often busy and crowded with boats during weekends and holidays.
There are several popular sandbars in Marathon. The most popular, and arguably the best, is just east of Curry Hammock State Park.
The sandbars in Marathon become very crowded, especially on weekends and holidays. It’s common for hundreds of boats to be anchored on a busy day. Boats come from as far north as Miami, and as far south as Key West.
The Islamorada sandbar is one of the most popular sandbars in the Florida Keys.
The Islamorada sandbar is heavily visited year-round. There are boats present almost all the time, as long as the weather is good.
The Islamorada sandbar is located on either side of the Whale Harbor Channel in Islamorada, but mostly on the north side where the sandbar is wider, and there is more space.
How to Find Sandbars
The best way to find sandbars near Key West is to ask a local. People who live in the Florida Keys grow up visiting sandbars, so they often know about the best spots.
Sandbars are where the locals hang out. They’re one of the best things about living in the Keys. Unlike the small, crowded beaches in Key West, sandbars usually have very few tourists.
Your best bet is to ask someone with a boat, or someone who is friends with boaters. Some people are even willing to share preferred routes and GPS waypoints, which you can store in some chartplotters.
If you are staying in a vacation rental which caters to boaters, they will probably be able to help you.
Google Maps can be helpful to find sandbars, especially if you click to enable the “satellite” layer.
You can often see the brilliant turquoise water and bright white sand, which stand out against the surrounding deep blue water.
If you zoom in closely you can sometimes even see boats anchored on the sandbar, which stand out against the bright white sand.
Sadly you can also often see “prop scars” from where boats tear up sensitive seagrass with their boats and propellers. This is way worse than people realize, and is extremely damaging to the entire marine ecosystem.
NOAA charts and apps like Navionics are also helpful for finding sandbars. They can be used to find their exact location, and for navigating to them safely.
NOAA provides a course for boaters, including electronic charts that are viewable online. It explains how to navigate in the Florida Keys backgrountry without damaging your boat, or the fragile ecosystem beneath your hull.
I think Navionics is especially useful. You can zoom in and out, and use it like a free nautical chartplotter. It can also be used on mobile devices.
There are also specialized navigation chips with routes pre-programmed, you just put them into a compatible chart plotter. Florida Boat Tracks is one well-known example, and is used by many boaters in the Keys.
Be sure to use an up-to-date chart, and remember that shoals move around and change a lot in the Keys, especially the backcountry.
Private Islands and Restricted Sandbars
Some islands and sandbars in the Keys are restricted, and are not accessible to the public, for various reasons.
Some islands are privately owned. Others are wildlife refuges with restricted access.
To avoid trespassing charges be sure that you are allowed to visit an island or sandbar before going. Obviously, if an island is restricted for any reason, don’t go on it.
Some people push the boundaries and venture up to the high tide mark, but it’s usually best not to push the envelope. If an island is restricted to protect wildlife, or private property, just be cool and respect the boundary, especially if you aren’t sure.
Are there sandbars in the Florida Keys?
There are many Sandbars in the Florida Keys, and around Key West.
Some sandbars near Key West are located to the south of Key West towards the Atlantic, or on the “Oceanside”.
Many other popular sandbars and islands are located in the Florida Keys backcountry, especially the Great White Heron Wildlife Refuge and the Key West National Wildlife Refuge.
The Great White Heron Wildlife Refuge covers almost 200,000 acres, and is filled with beautiful deserted islands. Some of the islands are closed to the public to protect endangered wildlife.
Sandbars in the Florida Keys are usually located near islands and channels. This is because strong water currents deposit sand to form sandbars.
Look for bright white sandy beaches, which are visible under the crystal clear water. Sadly you can often find popular sandbar locations because there are “prop scars” in the seagrass around sandbars. Propeller trails are scars in seagrass, left by boaters who don’t know what they are doing.
Seagrass is an essential part of the marine ecosystem. A single inexperienced boater can destroy a decade worth of seagrass growth in a few minutes.
If you visit sandbars, be sure you know how to navigate and operate your boat in shallow water. Do not allow your boat to damage seagrass, or the fragile marine ecosystem in the Florida Keys.
Everything in the Florida Keys, and our oceans, is connected. We all love our oceans, let’s all protect them!
Getting to sandbars in Key West and the Keys
The only way to visit a sandbar is to have access to a boat, although some sandbars are close enough to be reached by kayak, or even SUP paddleboard.
Sandbar hopping tours are the best option for most people who don’t have a boat, or don’t know someone with a boat.
The downside is that many tours are expensive. Most charters have a fixed-price for the boat, and charge either per day or per half-day. Most use 4 or 8 hour blocks. Some boats also charge by the hour.
The cost of a sandbar tour can be made more affordable by sharing the cost with as many people as possible, plus it can make sandbar trips more fun.
Sharing the cost of a boat charter can reduce the per-hour cost considerably, and make it surprisingly affordable.
It can even be comparable to other affordable activities, like a kayak tour or the cost of eating dinner at a moderately-priced restaurant.
The downside to sandbar charters is that it can be difficult for smaller groups to “fill up” a boat for a charter, leaving the cost higher for everyone. Some sandbar charters offer “split charters” where you can share the cost with another party.
The maximum number of guests is usually 6 passengers, which is the maximum number of passengers allowed under many common captain licenses.
Most people who take sandbar tours in Key West have a great time, but there is some variation in quality between tours and captains.
In general, these are the qualities I look for in sandbars. They would be good things to ask about before booking a tour:
- Which sandbar(s) will you visit?
- Sand quality
- Water quality
- Number of boats and overcrowding
- How long you will stay on the sandbar
- Travel time to the sandbar
- Are food and drinks provided?
- Are snorkeling gear, paddleboards, floats, or water mats included?
- Does the boat have fresh water to rinse off after swimming?
- Does the captain smoke, or will he or she smoke on the tour?
Crowds and loud music are huge turn offs for me when it comes to sandbars. But, some people like the fun energy.
Be sure to ask your tour guide what to expect in terms of peace and quiet, or a party atmosphere.
Some sandbar tours will visit more secluded sandbars in the backcountry, which are further away from Key West.
Secluded sandbars are often more peaceful and beautiful, but they require more travel time to the sandbar, as opposed to spending time on the sandbar itself.
Jet Ski Sandbar Tours
Some jet ski tours in Key West stop by sandbars, although some only stay for a few minutes before leaving.
Most jet ski tours in Key West visit the Boca Chica sandbar because of its location and convenience.
Plus, many areas in the Florida Keys and around Key West are sanctuary areas where jet skis are prohibited.
If you choose to visit a sandbar by jetski, be sure to ask which sandbar you will visit, and how long you will be able to spend on the sandbar.
Renting a Boat to Visit Sandbars
Many people ask about renting a boat in Key West to visit sandbars near Key West. This is called a “Bareboat charter”, or renting a boat only, without a captain.
For most people, renting a boat to visit sandbars in Key West is just not a good idea. In fact, many boat rental companies don’t even offer this as an option because it is too risky for everyone.
Sandbars require local knowledge. They can be hard to find, and they require careful timing to make sure you arrive at the right time for the tide.
If you mess it up, you can miss the sandbar completely because it’s underwater. Or, you can get stuck aground. If you beach your boat you could even have to wait until the tide rises to float yourself off, 12 hours later.
It’s especially not advised for inexperienced boaters or people who are renting a boat they’re not familiar with.
- Sandbars are absolutely beautiful spots, but they’re usually located in very shallow water with complex obstacles and obstructions. Experience is required.
- Anchoring at sandbars can be tricky. It’s easy to damage a boat, and it’s easy to damage the sensitive marine environment.
You would not believe the stupid stuff that people do in boats, especially around sandbars. It’s sad. It often damages the environment, and it’s often dangerous for everyone involved.
There are other reasons it’s not advised, as well. In the end, bareboat charters are often the same price as captained charters, and you can just relax. You don’t have to do any worrying, work, or navigation.
Kayak and Paddleboard Rentals
Some sandbars in the Keys are close enough to shore that kayaks and paddleboards can be used to reach them.
Sadly, I am not aware of any sandbars near Key West are safely accessible via kayak or SUP paddleboard.
If you try to paddle to a sandbar, be extremely careful, and use good judgment. Be sure that you are physically fit, prepared, and experienced enough to make the trip.
Be especially careful of boat traffic, and take all necessary precautions to ensure your trip is safe.
Be sure that the weather is safe and suitable, and that you will be able to return against wind and tide conditions.
Don’t forget that wind, tides, waves and currents can change rapidly, making paddling difficult, or impossible.
It is also important to remember that distances on water are often difficult to estimate, and are often much longer than they appear.
You should also have a plan to anchor your kayaks when you reach the sandbar so they don’t float away.
Planning a Sandbar Trip in the Keys
Sandbar trips need more planning than a day at the beach. Be sure to plan the arrival and departure times according to the tide.
Tides fluctuate daily, and can even differ by location, wind and other factors. Some sandbars are only visible at low tide, so if you arrive at the wrong time you’ll miss it.
On some sandbars you may be trapped and stranded for 12 hours if you beach your boat “hard aground” without enough water to float off.
Note: Many sandbars near Key West can get very crowded, especially on weekends and holidays. Sandbars will be especially crowded on holidays like the Fourth of July, Memorial Day, Labor Day and most weekends during warm weather.
Hundreds of boats can be anchored at a time when there’s a sandbar party, with hundreds of people. Some sandbars even have floating tiki bars which come to anchor at them. Some other sandbars in Florida have floating food trucks.
Some people love the fun atmosphere of a sandbar party. Others prefer peace and quiet, especially families with kids.
If you want to experience a peaceful, secluded sandbar, it is best to visit during the week when there will be fewer boats and people. You may also have luck visiting one of the many other sandbars in the Keys, further away from Key West.
Navigating around Sandbars
When navigating through shallow water it is often a good idea to leave yourself waypoints so you can navigate back out the way you came.
You can also get waypoints from other boaters, if they’re willing to share them. You should always take waypoints with a grain of salt, and remember that tides and bottom conditions change all the time.
Be careful not to enter a shallow area at high tide, and find that you cannot exit after the tide falls.
Be sure to pay attention to tides and plan ahead. Ask for local knowledge and waypoints from other boaters.
The tides vary considerably in some places due to shallow depths, sandbar obstructions, wind blowing over shallow water, and other factors.
Be extremely careful when driving around sandbars. Swimmers are often in the water, and other boaters often operate recklessly. Drunk people are common around sandbars.
Be especially careful when anchoring. Know how to anchor at a sandbar, and how to control your boat’s position.
Before boating in the Florida Keys please learn about the Wildlife Preserve rules from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife:
- Key West National Wildlife Refuge
- Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge
- A Consolidated Guide to the national wildlife refuges
The Florida Keys and the shallow backcountry are filled with scars and damage from irresponsible or inexperienced boaters.
Boaters should be extremely careful to avoid damaging the fragile ecosystem, especially seagrass. Seagrass is essential to life in the Keys.
Among other things, seagrass is a breeding ground for marine life and provides shelter for juvenile fish and many other species.
Seagrass also helps capture and filter harmful nutrients from the water, oxygenate the water, and serves countless other functions.
Without healthy seagrass, the Florida Keys’ fish stocks will suffer. Our coral will continue to die, and we will lose the beautiful life in our oceans.
Weather is extremely important when visiting sandbars in the Florida Keys.
Especially in the summer, afternoon thunderstorms can occur at any time. They often arise out of nowhere, with very little notice.
Check the weather forecast frequently before your trip, and again just before you leave the dock.
Pay attention to the weather as you are on the water by checking the radar and watching the skies around you.
In general, calm days with light wind are the best days to visit sandbars.
We hope this guide was helpful. If you do visit a sandbar near Key West or around the Keys, we hope you have a great time. Please help leave our world cleaner than you found it.
Have a suggestion, or a comment? If we left anything out, or if you want to share your thoughts, please let us know!