Miami is a wildly vibrant city and an notable destination for art, culture, food, nightlife and fantastic beaches. In between Cubano sandwiches, street art walks, and afternoons relaxing on white sand, though, you might be interested in a little nature. Perhaps some snorkeling.
But does Miami have good snorkeling?
Yes! Miami does have some great snorkeling spots an easy drive from wherever you might be staying in the city, and its close location to the Florida Keys just south of the area opens up even more excellent snorkeling opportunities.
But, to find the best snorkeling in Miami (and South Florida in general), you need to know where to look. The amazing sand on South Florida beaches does make for excellent beach days, but the sand often also extends well into the water. This is great for easy swimming and wading, but it typically makes for rather bland snorkeling since sandy bottoms tend to not attract much in the way of sea life.
However, there are some excellent reefs and other areas nearby with fish-happy structures that make for the best snorkeling in Miami. So, let’s look at our top picks for the best snorkeling in Miami and South Florida.
The best snorkeling in Miami can be found in places like the Florida Keys, Biscayne National Park, Phil Foster Park, the Half Moon Shipwreck, and the Pompano Beach Drop-Off.
Each one is unique in terms of what to expect and the best way to go about snorkeling there, so we’ll take a closer look at each site.
The best snorkeling in Miami isn’t always directly in Miami proper (though still close by), and that is the case with the city’s proximity to the Florida Keys, an area with a lot of really outstanding snorkeling.
The Florida Keys have excellent access to the large barrier reef which lies off the coast of this area of Florida, and snorkel sites like Dry Tortugas National Park (off of Key West), Fort Zachary Taylor State Park (Key West), Looe Key Reef (Big Pine Key), Sombrero Key Reef (Marathon), Cheeca Rocks (Islamorada), Alligator Reef (Islamorada), and John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park (Key Largo) surpass most anything you can find in mainland Florida and will definitely have you wanting more time in the water.
[For more in-depth information on snorkeling in the Florida Keys, check out our more-detailed article, The Best Snorkeling in the Florida Keys 🤿 Our 7 Most Epic Spots.]
Were you to want to drive to the farthest away key (Key West), it would take you about 3 hours from Miami. However, the closer keys, like Key Largo, are only about an hour’s drive.
The best yet closest snorkel site in the Florida Keys (which overlaps with the best snorkeling in Miami) is John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo (again, only about an hour’s drive from Miami).
The waters around the park like at Molasses Reef, Dry Rocks and Sea Gardens are teeming with coral and sea life, and definitely make for some excellent snorkeling.
It’s usually best to get a guide here since the area is fairly large and the local knowledge goes a long way for finding the best snorkel spots, and we really like Pirate’s Cove Watersports half-day snorkel tour (here on Viator) since it’s an inexpensive group tour (most tours in the Keys are private and more expensive) yet still with excellent guides who do a good job with all types of snorkelers.
If you have more time to explore the Florida Keys and get in some truly epic snorkeling, the snorkeling tends to get even better as you head south (especially in the middle keys). You can check out our snorkel guide on the Florida Keys for more info.
I’m a huge fan of snorkeling in national parks (like Dry Tortugas National Park in the Florida Keys) because of how protected and well-managed they tend to be. That usually lends itself to healthy marine ecosystems and great snorkeling.
That’s definitely the case for Biscayne National Park, which makes it some of the best snorkeling in Miami.
Biscayne takes up almost 175,000 acres and is nearly all (95%) water, making it especially unique among national parks. The park contains countless reefs, reserves, and diving and snorkeling sites, and its lively coral and plentiful sea life — including multitudes of fish, manatees, sea turtles and even bottlenose dolphins — are impressive given how close it is to Miami (only about a 45-minute drive).
Most of the “best snorkeling in Miami”-worthy sites in the park are a bit off shore — usually about 30 minutes by boat — but tours are available through the park and the Biscayne National Park Institute (more info at NPS.gov here). The tours are super limited in order to maintain conservation of the area, so it’s a good idea to lock those down as soon as you are able if you’re considering visiting.
Just about an hour’s drive north of the city of Miami (but still part of the urban area that makes up the coastal strip with Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton, Jupiter, etc.) is Phil Foster Park in West Palm Beach, which certainly qualifies as more of the best snorkeling in Miami.
What’s special about the park is the Phil Foster Snorkel Trail, an 800-foot long reef that runs parallel to the beach at the park. You’ll want to be a strong swimmer here since you’ll be in manageable but non-standing depths of about 6-10 feet of water, and the reef is a moderate swim from the sand (look between the orange buoys that mark the boating area and the white buoys that mark the swimming area).
The reef that makes up the Phil Foster Snorkel Trail is probably the easiest way to see marine life out of any of the “best snorkeling in Miami” sites on this list. The island park is well known for a diversity of marine life including various types of octopus and squid, spotted eagle rays, parrotfish and angelfish, starfish, seahorses, sea turtles, and plenty else.
One of the areas where scuba diving usually does beat out snorkeling when compared is the ability to explore shipwrecks. Typically, shipwrecks are found in the kind of deeper water which scuba diving is meant for.
But that’s why the Half Moon Shipwreck makes it in for the best snorkeling in Miami. It’s a shipwreck that you don’t need scuba gear to explore, which is more rare.
The Half Moon Shipwreck is a 155-foot racing yacht (built in 1908 in Germany, then seized during WWI by the British, and eventually bought by a series of Floridians) which sunk in 1930 during an especially bad storm and came to rest in just 8-10 feet of water. That means the ship itself is only about 3-4 feet below the surface, making it an excellent and unique opportunity to explore a shipwreck — and the marine life which inhabits it — while snorkeling.
The wreck is located offshore in Biscayne Bay in one of Florida’s Underwater Archaeological Preserves, so your best bet to get here is to hire a local boat. The Biscayne National Park Institute also runs great snorkel tours in Biscayne Bay that visit one of several wrecks in the area (Half Moon, Mandalay, etc.) depending on weather and conditions.
The Pompano Beach Drop-Off (not like a parking lot drop off, but a drop off of the shelf that Florida sits on into deeper Atlantic waters) represents more of the best snorkeling in Miami and South Florida because not only does this mile-plus-long reef that runs parallel to Pompano Beach offer a ton of opportunities to see healthy coral and thriving sea life, but its protected orientation in the inlet means that the waters are usually clear and currents and conditions are calm.
The catch, though, is that it’s about 400 yards off shore. Certainly swimmable for some, but typically just for expert snorkelers who are strong swimmers and comfortable in open waters which range from 15 to 26 feet in depth.
More easily and safely, you can also hire a local boat, or even rent a kayak and bring your gear with you out to the drop-off area and anchor to one of the 31 dive buoys.
In addition to the best snorkeling in Miami locations and tours mentioned above, there are plenty of other options in the area. You can check out a few of the below options (or more at Viator), handpicked by Coral Nomad, in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Biscayne Bay and others in case they fit your itinerary better:
The Deep Dive
Not only does Miami and South Florida boast excellent nightlife, food, culture, and sandy beaches, but excellent snorkeling as well, at least if you know where to look and who to go with.
Using the above guide on the best snorkeling in Miami and South Florida, you’ll have a good idea of how to avoid the bland, sandy-bottom snorkeling that is all too common at Florida beaches and instead find the vibrant reefs, reserves and even shipwrecks that you’ll need to sprinkle in some epic snorkeling in between everything else the area has to offer.
Make sure that your travel snorkel gear is up to date, and learn more about snorkeling in Florida beyond the best snorkeling in Miami.