Florida’s Palm Beaches, located on the Atlantic coast north of Fort Lauderdale, are known for chic restaurants, palatial hotels and celebrity sightings. So it’s no surprise that the seaside paradise attracts visitors from around the globe. But what lies below the surface is equally impressive. We checked in with Jena McNeal, a PADI-certified rescue diver and Palm Beach County’s artificial reef coordinator, to get the low down on her all-time favorite spots to go snorkeling in Florida.
This unique snorkel trail on the south side of Phil Foster Park is an underwater pathway of limestone boulders and even hammerhead shark sculptures. Managed by the Palm Beach County Department of Environmental Resources Management, it attracts loads of people (and marine life).
“There are several picnic locations on the beach, which makes it a great place for families,” McNeal says. “A lot of people also launch their kayaks or paddle boards and paddle over to Peanut Island as a day trip.”
Because this area is within Lake Worth Lagoon, you’ll typically find calm waters, and the easy conditions make it perfect for all levels of snorkelers. Better yet, there’s free parking, a lifeguarded area, buoyed swim zones and the depth doesn’t exceed 10 feet. However, keep in mind: Go at high tide to be sure currents are calm and water is aqua blue and clear.
"Marine life can be a bit hit or miss, but colorful reef fish of all sizes are always on display," McNeal adds. "If you're lucky you can also see sea turtles, manatees, octopus, seahorses and spotted eagle rays."
The natural reef off the beach at John D. MacArthur Beach State Park is ideal for beginner and intermediate snorkelers. "It's a picturesque state park to visit, and you can rent kayaks there as well," McNeal says. "There is a beautiful beach and dune habitat on the shore, and reef fish, corals and stingrays can be seen along the natural reef. It's very shallow in this area, so you want to go when the waters are calm to avoid abrasion from the reef."
Just south of Boynton is Gulfstream Beach Park, which boasts excellent snorkeling, suitable for beginner and intermediate snorkelers. "This natural reef is teeming with life: nurse sharks, stingrays and lots of colorful reef fish can always be seen," McNeal says. "The best time to go is when the seas are calm, which will increase the visibility of the reef." There are lifeguards on the beach and free parking, picnic locations, playground area and restrooms.
The natural and artificial reef (made of limestone rock piles) off the beach at Ocean Inlet Park make a nice way to while away the day.
“The park has a great dune system and is a well protected beach,” McNeal explains. “Go at high tide and when the ocean is calm. This park is on both sides of the Boynton Beach Inlet, and if you go at low tide you’ll be swimming in brown water.”
At high tide, however, it’s not uncommon to see sea turtles, nurse sharks, southern stingrays, reef fish, sponges, corals and soft corals. There’s free parking, day-use boat slips, picnic areas with grills, pavilions, playgrounds and restrooms.
This natural reef off the beach at Ocean Reef Park is a good spot for intermediate snorkelers, with tarpon, nurse sharks, jacks and loads of reef fish. You'll also find free parking, picnic areas, pavilions and restrooms.
At Palm Beach Municipal Beach, you can "snorkel and lounge on the beach surrounded by multimillion-dollar houses," McNeal says. Stroll across the street and you'll be on the famous Worth Avenue and its high-end shops.
“In the water you’ll find a natural reef that is only 200 feet off the beach,” McNeal says, suitable for intermediate to advanced snorkelers.
Hop on the ferry shuttle or take your own boat to get to several superb snorkel spots on the east side of Peanut Island. Parents will appreciate the shallow water for tikes who are just learning to snorkel. And more advanced snorkelers will love the deeper lagoon area.
“Colorful reef fish are always on display and within the lagoon the rocks are covered with corals of all colors and sizes,” McNeal says. “There’s a sandy beach, picnic tables, pavilions, restrooms and camp sites. Plus, the water is always calm since it is located within the Lake Worth Lagoon. Again only go at high tide to ensure currents are calm and water is aqua blue and clear.”