Little boy standing in ocean with snorkel mask on
Snorkeling at Looe Key will afford you sights of 50 types of living coral and over 150 species of fish.
Photo Credit: Getty Images

Underwater Adventure: 7 of Florida's Best Snorkeling Spots

What Marvels Will You Spot Beneath the Waves?

When I reached my early teens, I made a decision: I was going to learn how to scuba dive. It seemed a natural decision for someone living in South Florida, and I’ll admit that sinking 60 feet below the waves is an amazing otherworldly experience. But scuba diving also isn’t for everyone.

Mandatory training. Expensive equipment. Real safety risks. No wonder so many people prefer snorkeling over suiting up with oxygen tanks and respirators. Fortunately, the continental United States offers more than a few excellent snorkeling opportunities, especially in the Sunshine State. Read on to learn more about some of the best snorkeling in Florida.

Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary

Though Big Pine Key lacks much of the good-natured debauchery that defines neighboring islands such as Key West, even the most party-hearty snorkelers should put it on their bucket lists. Why? Because Big Pine Key abuts Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary, one of the most gorgeous snorkeling spots in the nation.

Located roughly five nautical miles from Big Pine, the Sanctuary contains a U-shaped reef and (thanks to federal restrictions) amazing sea life. You’ll see 50 types of living coral and over 150 species of fish. Guided snorkeling tours are generally inexpensive, starting at about $30 USD for adults.

Plus, those who also enjoy diving can check out the wreck of the Adolphus Busch, a nearby ship sunk 110 feet deep.

This is a close-up photo of the thirty-foot statue in John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Florida of the Christ of the Abyss statue. It is a replica of a statue that is in the Mediterranean Sea.John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is famous for its underwater statue of Jesus called Christ of the Abyss.Photo Credit: Getty Images

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

Containing an area of 70 square miles, John Pennekamp State Park may not be America’s biggest park, but it’s certainly one of the more unique. See, the vast majority of the park lies underwater. It’s famous across Monroe county for its excellent diving and an 8-and-a-half-foot-tall underwater statue of Jesus called Christ of the Abyss.

Kayaking opportunities and glass-bottomed-boat rides also draw visitors.

So does the park’s snorkeling spots. The more athletic can rent a space on a tour boat to take them three miles out to the closest reef. Realize, though, that you’ll be treading water for a good 90 minutes since you can’t touch the seabed. You can also enjoy a less strenuous outing by paddling off of Cannon Beach, which contains a Spanish shipwreck a mere 100 feet from shore.

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Searching for shark teeth in Venice Beach, Florida , using a Florida shovelDive down to the ocean floor to dig up a handful of fossilized shark teeth.Photo Credit: Getty Images

Venice Beach

Sea life is also a main attraction at Venice Beach, located in Venice itself, a sleepy Southwest Florida community. Only the marine critters everyone comes here to see aren’t, well, alive. Due to a quirk of geography, the area is positively awash in fossilized shark teeth, and snorkelers who paddle down to the sea floor can dig them up by the handful.

You’ll usually find that the water is cloudy here, restricting visibility to 10 or 20 feet. However, it often clears up if you swim out about 100 feet from shore, and that’s where you’ll probably stand a better chance of seeing snapper, mackerel, dolphins, or (if you’re very fortunate) manatee.

A woman in a yellow swimsuit and wearing snorkeling gear floats in the big, blue ocean.Want to snorkel a shipwreck? Look no further than Hutchinson Island.Photo Credit: Getty Images

Hutchinson Island

There’s a reason why people call the trio of counties north of Palm Beach the Treasure Coast. Though the name ostensibly originates from a Spanish fleet lost in the area 300 years ago, the area is also an untouched Old Florida jewel in and of itself. And Hutchinson Island is a place where you can see it.

A mere 100 yards offshore from the 1876-built Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge lies an easily snorkelable shipwreck located on the south end of the island. The TripAdvisor-celebrated Bathtub Reef Park also boasts beautiful honeycombed reef rocks best enjoyed at high tide.

Aerial photo of Egmont Key, FloridaTake a boat out to Egmont Key and snorkel amid torrents of fish and dolphin.Photo Credit: Getty Images

Egmont Key State Park

Wrecks feature heavily in Egmont Key State Park, too. Head almost due west from Hutchinson Island, and you’ll find the former home of Fort Dade on a barrier island just off the coast of St. Petersburg. A remnant of the Spanish-American War, it’s not the only engaging thing on the island.

Check out the 1858 lighthouse, and don’t forget the wildlife. Tortoises have overrun Egmont Key State Park, and its waters teem with fish and dolphin.

You can only get to the park via boat, so either hook up with a local tour company or take the ferry at Fort De Soto State Park on the mainland. Although the island has bathrooms, you won’t find any stores or drinking water, so prepare accordingly.

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Crab on a white beach bracketed by blue wavesIf you choose to hire a guide, they will usually seek out pods of dolphins for you to swim with.Photo Credit: Getty Images

Panama City Beach

If you aren’t familiar with the panhandle (i.e., northwest) area of the Sunshine State, you might be forgiven for thinking that its one of the duller corners of the peninsula. But there’s a reason why people call it the Redneck Riviera. Combining Southern charm with gorgeous natural sights, it could be the best worst-kept secret in Florida. And Panama City Beach is one of the finest places for snorkelers in the area.

Indeed, it’s hard to find a bad place to dip your fins in the water around Panama City Beach. But given that various dive outfits and tour companies positively clamor for your business, consider hiring one for a guided underwater experience. Many will seek out pods of dolphin to swim with.

Shell Island (a peninsula that sometimes morphs into an island with the shifting tides) is another favorite beach in Florida and a great stop for seeing starfish, sand dollars and sea urchins.

Two siblings - a boy and girl - lie in the sand wearing their snorkeling gear. They have masks and snorkels on their heads and their feet with fins still on behind them kicked up in the air. They are smiling at the camera.Love nature? St. Andrews State Park is the place for you.Photo Credit: Getty Images

St. Andrews State Park

Located a mere three miles east of Panama City Beach, St. Andrews State Park is the place to go for snorkelers who can’t get enough of nature. The park has its own rock jetties on site, which means you won’t lack for places to snorkel.

Additionally, its location on a peninsula means you can enjoy traditional snorkeling opportunities on the Gulf side or a more tranquil (and child-friendly) experience in the jetty-sheltered waters of St. Andrews Pass.

Three concessions stores, numerous camping spaces and RV hookups mean you’ll find it easy to stay on site. What’s more, there’s a whole lot to do other than snorkel. Enjoying bicycling, kayaking, hiking and even geocaching.

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