Known for celestial beaches, calm ocean, and delicious key lime pie, the Florida Keys are a stunning chain of tropical barrier islands that stretch for 125 miles from Florida's southern tip right out to Key West. Warm, sunny, and tropical, the Keys can be sectioned into the Upper, Middle, and Lower Keys, with the highest number of beaches situated in the lower and middle, generally speaking.

The Florida Keys boast a different feel to the mainland, and typically don't have the expansive, wide-open sandy stretches for which Florida is famed. But the Keys' beaches are still worthy - especially to travelers who love small, powdery white beaches dotted with palm trees, and bathed by warm, shallow turquoise ocean.

As the Keys are coral islands protected by offshore reefs, they are sheltered from harsh seas and big waves, which keeps the waters calm, idyllic, and perfect for swimming, snorkeling, and scuba diving. Throw in beautiful corals and marine life, and it's no surprise this beach destination often comes top - particularly for Americans who enjoy the easiest access to this paradisal getaway. So, if the idea of a vacation to the Florida Keys is sold, keep this list of the best beaches handy when planning that dream trip.

11 Dry Tortugas National Park, Key West

Taking a ferry to Dry Tortugas National Park is a "key" highlight in the Keys. It's one of the most photogenic and unique beach spots, with enticing clear blue water ideal for scuba diving and snorkeling. It's one of the most visited attractions in the southeast USA, and for good reason; it's the place of the historic Fort Jefferson, which was a significant site during the Civil War.

Historic attractions aside, the park is truly an amazing area for underwater exploration, with kaleidoscopic reefs full of marine species. Bringing an underwater camera here is a must in order to capture incredible memories of the fish action that the reefs in this park deliver. Also, don't forget to snorkel at “Little Africa” - a remarkable patch of reef that resembles the continent of Africa from a birds-eye view.

Camping in Dry Tortugas Park is also possible and promises a fantastic castaway experience, however, there are no showers facilities or restaurants, so visitors are advised to bring plenty of supplies should they decide to stay the night.

10 John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Key Largo

For some of the region's best snorkeling and scuba diving, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo with its spectacular coral reefs and vibrant tropical fish is the place to be. Interestingly, the park is officially the USA's very first underwater marine park, with 70 nautical miles of subsea fun, beauty, and adventure.

There are also plenty of activities available in the park, as well as a full concession stand and a scuba diving shop. Plus, there's even a 30,000-gallon aquarium to check out. Once visitors have had enough of being mesmerized by the prolific reefs and marine species, lazing on nearby Cannon Beach is a great setting to recharge, or alternatively, going kayaking and canoeing is another option if there's some energy left after swimming all day.

Related: What To Know About Snorkeling In John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Key Largo’s Best Reef

9 Curry Hammock State Park, Marathon

For travelers nestled between Big Pine Key and Key Largo, Curry Hammock State Park is a worthy candidate for their itinerary. Paddleboards and kayaks are available for hire for the adventurous, while silken sands provide a heavenly sunbathing session for the lazy. But what truly appeals to most in this massive 1,000-acre park is its abundance of diverse wildlife and marshes, playing host to a rich array of ecosystems perfect for nature aficionados and photographers.

There's a short 1.5 mile-long nature trail here that showcases mangrove swamps and gorgeous seagrass beds full of life, which is a fantastic experience for adults and kids since it's not a long hike. And, because of the park's secluded location and the fact it's uninhabited, camping on its grounds is the perfect way to appreciate its serene beauty.

8 Smathers Beach, Key West

Smathers Beach on the southern shore of Key West is consistently rated high. The pristine white sand on this three-mile public beach is famously soft, and in spite of its perfection, the area and its shores surprisingly don't often see crowds. Lovely palm trees are peppered across the beach, providing respite and shade from the sun, and there are also small vending trucks nearby for when beachgoers feel peckish. Guests also have access to public restrooms and showers, as well as beach chairs that are available to rent. Those who're feeling energetic can even rent water sports gear, including paddleboards and snorkeling equipment.

Related: 10 Best Bars In The Florida Keys

7 Higgs Beach, Key West

Folks seeking an expansive beach with inviting warm water need look no further than Higgs Beach, where 16.5 acres of oceanfront offer the most perfect beach escape. This is one of the best beaches in the Keys for beach games and water sports, including volleyball, kayaking, and snorkeling - and equipment rentals are available for those who don't have their own gear.

Higgs Beach Clarence S. Higgs Memorial Beach also offers a dose of history to those interesting in learning. The memorial park - listed on the National Register of Historic Places - boasts a Civil War Fort and one of the largest African Refugee Burial Grounds. As part of one's day at Higgs Beach, taking a self-guided tour of the fort and through the floral gardens is an enriching experience, and after all that strolling, hungry visitors can chow down into some hearty Caribbean cuisine at the local café.

6 Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park, Key West

Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park is another heavenly place for a beach day out that combines paradise sands and glimmering sea with historic sites. Along with lots of swimming, canoeing, and kayaking in the park, one of Florida’s National Monuments is also situated within its grounds - the historic Fort Taylor, which is one of the only forts in the US that predates the Civil War.

Visitors can learn about the American-Spanish War and Civil War as they take a fascinating tour of the exhibits inside the fort - many of which are interactive and enthralling to children. Real-life cannons and gun ports are also displayed, which give an eye-opening insight into how the soldiers used to defend the coastline.

5 Coco Plum Beach, Marathon

Coco Plum Beach's unique location in the middle of wetlands makes it a special choice for those seeking somewhere different to visit on their beach holiday. It's untouched and pristine and boasts a tranquil, crowd-free atmosphere in comparison to other more popular spots near Key West. As such, it's the most divine place for tanning, lounging, reading, and unwinding in pure peace and quiet away from the touristic hustle and bustle.

Nearby, there's the Plum Beach Tennis Club and Marina, which is a lovely area for dining, while further into the town there are plenty of local vendors and eateries where visitors can get snacks, sandwiches, and ice cream to enjoy on the beach. And to fulfill the day even further, the Dolphin Research Center close to the beach is an interesting point to add to the to-see list, where dolphins and sea lions swim around in the gorgeous saltwater lagoon.

Related: Miami To Key Largo: The Ultimate Florida Day Trip

4 Sombrero Beach, Marathon

Sombrero Beach - also in Marathon - combines a beach with a park, providing ample opportunity for relaxation and games. Volleyball in the park is a popular pastime, while others chill out and tuck into lunch on the picnic pavilions. However, it's not just beach games, picnicking, and sunbathing that draws visitors to Sombrero Beach; from April to September, the place becomes one of the top sea turtle nesting sites in the Keys.

Some areas of the beach are sectioned off to protect turtle eggs, however, guests can still watch from a slight distance. Reportedly, it's quite easy to spot loggerhead turtles on an early morning walk along the beach, which is also the best time to take a stroll if witnessing turtles hatching is on the bucket list. Turtle nests can also be seen during this season, so it's advised to be careful and respectful should one be found.

3 Harry Harris Park, Key Largo

This man-made beach is one of the region's most family-friendly, with soft sand that doesn't contain any sharp rocks or stones. Picnicking and lounging are sublime activities here, but the hyper little ones particularly prefer the large children's playground, especially when they get bored of the sun, sand, and sea.

The water is shallow and calm, which are ideal conditions not just for kids, but also for those engaging in swimming and boogie boarding. What's more, there are also lots of dry activities to get involved in here - there's an in-line skating rink, volleyball nets, and also picnic tables for hungry beachgoers to dine at.

Related: Islamorada Vs. Key Largo: Figuring Out Which Sunshine State Destination Is Perfect For You

2 Calusa Beach, Bahia Honda State Park

Calusa Beach in Bahia Honda State Park is a wonderful spot to add to one's itinerary. It offers calm waters and stunning Atlantic Ocean views and is a superb stretch for swimming, snorkeling, and kayaking. Numerous campsites are available nearby too for those who want to spend the night, as well as shaded picnic spots for cooking and dining in front of ocean vistas.

Bahia Honda State Park also offers incredible nature trails, allowing wildlife fanatics to explore the area in search of all manners of tropical life, such as wading and shorebirds, and endemic south Floridian critters and plants. Furthermore, nature lovers should add the Calusa Nature Center and Planetarium to the to-do list when in Bahia Honda State Park. This fascinating nature center comprises an impressive 105 acres of wetlands and exhibits and showcases a host of amazing animals, including eagles, owls, reptiles, rattlesnakes, and even a live insect exhibition.

1 Sandspur Beach, Bahia Honda State Park

Also in Bahia Honda State Park is the stunning and secluded Sandspur Beach, renowned for its lush coconut palms, warm, shallow turquoise water ideal for swimming, and its private ambiance. Additionally, it's a fantastic spot for families with children thanks to its calm water great for little ones learning how to swim. The beach also has great on-site facilities, including picnic pavilions and restrooms, with even more picnic tables available in the nearby concession area.

Next: Florida Keys: Parks That Prove How Beautiful This State Is