Parks, Picnics, and Playgrounds - A Local Look at Key West's Public Spaces
By Sam Danger Klitenick
While Key West may be small, we are home to a great number of parks. This guide will take you on a tour of Key West neighborhoods from a local's perspective finding all of the spaces dedicated to simply enjoying the day. If you're someone who enjoys to picnic, exercise, or just relax with a book under a palm tree, be sure to check out some of these spots to spend your day with local knowledge.
Many neighborhoods will be referenced throughout this post. For detailed descriptions, history, and comprehensive lists of our vacation rentals in each neighborhood, be sure to check out The Ultimate Key West Map
As you drive onto Key West you find yourself in New Town, the biggest neighborhood on the island. Most locals live here and the area is generally tourist-free. City recreational league softball, baseball, football, roller hockey, and soccer fields are all located here but I wanted to highlight the first of a few of Key West's pocket parks as well as where I spent the majority of my childhood.
The Aaron Frazier III Memorial Park is located on the corner of Flagler Avenue and 18th
Street. This single lot park has been home to different art installations over the years, my favorite being an iron rooster nearly 25 feet tall. Currently, the park has small memorial statuettes and a couple of nice benches. You're likely to find Key West natives taking a quick break in the shade from walking their dog here.
Aaron Frazier III Memorial Park on Flagler Ave
Further down Flagler, between 14th
Street and Kennedy Drive, you'll find the Blake Fernandez Skate Park. Having grown up only two blocks down the road from here, I spent almost every day after school and the majority of my weekends on these ramps. If you're on a family trip with a son or daughter into skateboarding, rollerblading, or scootering, I'm sure spending a couple of hours here would excite them beyond belief. I know when I was younger, the thrill of going to a skate park outside of your home town was unbeatable. In my time, they often had extra helmets and skateboards in the shed.
Childhood friend Koda Porembski catches some air at Blake Fernandez skate park.
Further down Flagler still you can access Government Road where Little Hamaca Park is located. The road runs behind the Key West International Airport. Half way down you'll see a Cubana Airlines plane which resides here after being hijacked at knife point and forced to land under military escort in 2003. The hijackers all surrendered to authorities and faced charges and the airliner now remains stationary on the back end of the airport.
Cuban airliner now residing at Key West International Airport
Little Hamaca Park is located near the end of the road and has a nature trail where you can see mangrove swamps and salt marshes as well as many other types of fauna. You're very likely to see iguanas and other lizards as you walk through here.
Entrance to the nature trail and some shaded area at Little Hamaca Park
As you make your way downtown you can find Bayview Park in the White Street Gallery District. White Street divides new town from old and there are many locally favorite restaurants and businesses here. Bayview Park is the most classic of the city's parks, with a large green expanse, tennis courts, softball field, basketball court, playground, gazebos, and monuments and memorials. At each corner of the park you can find memorials dedicated to different wars and veterans and Jose Marti, a major figure and symbol for Cuba's bid for independence from Spain.
Jose Marti memorial (pictured above); Vietnam living memorial (pictured below)
This park has always been a favorite of mine with its gorgeous Royal Poinciana trees and open space. My first birthday party was there, in elementary school my class would walk over and picnic there every Friday, the expanse, courts, and fields are great for sports of all kind, and the city holds different events such as Children's Day and the Seafood Festival here. These events and others can be found on our events page
View of Gazebo and open public field often used for city events and festivals.
Grab your blanket, a Frisbee, lots of water and pick up some delicious home-made pasta salads and other fresh meals of any sort from Faustos grocery only a couple blocks away on White Street and have a wonderful family day picnicking in the park.
Bayview Park playground
Off Atlantic Blvd in the Beachside district there's a collection of great parks to spend the day. Next to the 1800 Atlantic Condominiums you can find the Key West Nature Preserve. On this walkway to the Atlantic Ocean you will see many plants and animals, especially more mangroves and iguanas.
Entrance to the Nature Preserve trail on Atlantic Ave.
Mangrove swamp along the nature trail (pictured above). End of the trail at the Atlantic Ocean (pictured below).
Just down the road at Higgs Beach (and the immediate areas surrounding) you can find a cluster of parks. Indigenous Park, next to the wildlife center, has some grassy areas, pathways, and is home to the Southernmost Bocce courts. On any given night you can find many locals down here playing bocce and having a great time from those who are just down with friends for recreational fun to league members.
Southermost Bocce League courts.
Rest Beach Park includes the small beach across the street Indigenous Park just on the east side of White Street Pier and stretches across White Street along the corner of Casa Marina Court and White Street. Now in the Casa Marina district, you'll find a newly made fit trail which runs through the park with different stations to get some great outdoor strength and conditioning exercise. In addition, there are tennis courts, racquetball, Astro City playground and another new playground directly across the street at Higgs Beach. From the ages of three to thirteen, I attended more grill-out birthday parties at Astro City than I could possibly count. Although the central jungle gym has changed a few times, there are a few play pieces that remain original.
Astro City with original jungle gym on far right.
Higgs Beach Playground
Next to Rest Beach Park and across the street from the West Martello tower is the Higgs Beach Dog Park. You can bring your dogs here to mingle with other furry companions. The park is complete with a general section and an area designated for small dogs only.
Higgs Beach Dog Park general area entrance.
When it gets too hot, you can hop across the street to 'Salute! On the Beach' restaurant for drinks and awesome seafood and pasta lunches or dinner. This is also a fantastic place to watch the sunset and you'll find locals playing volleyball on the beach right behind the restaurant and often live music!
In the Heart of Old Town on the corner of Grinnell and Olivia Streets you can find the Grinnell Street Pocket Park. This little lot has some nice benches to sit on, plenty of diverse plants, and a central art installation making it a beautifully quaint use of the small space for the public to enjoy. Here you are likely find and Old Town Key Wester or two reading in the shade.
Grinnell Street Pocket Park entrance and convenient bike rack.
The pocket park is right across the street from the Key West cemetery. The historic cemetery covers 19 acres and it is said that close to 100,000 original Key Westers are buried here, dating back to the mid-1800s. Despite being located on Solaris Hill, the highest point in Key West at a whopping 18 feet above sea level, most of the graves are above ground because the limestone that makes up the island is hard to dig into and you reach water very quickly. As you'd expect from a place like Key West, you can find some lighthearted humor throughout the graveyard such as the headstone that reads "I told you I was sick." The cemetery is a great out of the ordinary day-tour location rich in history.
In Bahama village by the Martin Luther King (MLK) Community Pool you can find the Nelson English Park. Recently renovated, you can find this park with brand new playgrounds, basketball courts, exercise stations, landscaping, ground surfaces, and even grill stations by the covered picnic tables. Bahama village is my personal favorite Key West neighborhood to walk around and this park makes a great stop.
Nelson English Park
Nearby is the entrance to Ft. Zachary Taylor, Key West's own state park and historic civil war fort. The beach is the only natural beach on the island. Being that the island is made of limestone formed from dead coral and shells, our beaches are comprised of imported sand. Ft. Zach is a favorite spot for locals and tourists alike, charging a small entrance fee in order to keep the park maintained. The area has the only pine tree grove on the island and is a great spot to bring a hammock, blankets, beach gear, and picnic materials and spend a whole day. Ft. Zach is a must for all those who visit Key West.
Pine grove above the beach at Fort Zachary Taylor state park
Sam Danger Klitenick is a student at Boston University, and studied in Mallorca, Spain for two years during high school. He was born and raised in Key West, FL, and that makes him a bona fide "Conch." With a lot of enthusiasm and love for his island home, he enjoys sharing stories of life in Key West.