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Key West Tips – What You Need to Know Before you Visit

Empty scenic view of the colorful concrete buoy marking the southernmost point of the continental USA in Key West, Florida

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Key West Florida is the southernmost city in the continental United States. It’s a popular destination in the Florida Keys but if you haven’t been there before, you may need these Key West Tips.

I’ll aim to answer all the questions you may have about Key West, whether it’s your first time or your 100th.

How to get to Key West

Key West does have an airport on the southeastern side of the island. It is an international airport, so you should be able to reach Key West from anywhere in the world. Since it is a smaller airport, expect to only find direct flights from cities in Florida.

My favorite way to get to Key West is via a road trip on the Overseas Highway. Even if you fly in, one of the best tips to Key West is renting a car.

The highway parallels Henry Flagler’s rail lines across the many islands in the Florida Keys. The Keys are roughly 90 miles long but don’t expect to travel them in under two hours. The Mile Markers are a key feature and countdown until you reach Mile Marker 0 in Key West. Because you’re traveling amongst all the small towns from Key Largo to Key West, expect to travel this scenic drive around 45 mph.

If you’re in southwest Florida, consider taking the Ferry from Ft. Myers and Marco Island areas. The Key West Express even has a full bar.

Best way to get to Key West from Miami?

My recommended way to get from Miami key west is by rental car. It will be a lot easier to visit all the key attractions and see some of your favorite places on your own schedule rather than waiting for a bus or taxi. If you’ve already got tickets that take you into Key West via the key west bridge, then it’s time to start getting excited! You’re about an hour away from experiencing one of my new favorite cities in Florida. 

How far is key west from Miami?

If you’re driving from Miami, expect about a 3 1/2 hour drive.

How far is Key West from Orlando?

Key West is about a six-hour drive from Orlando so if you’re thinking of spending the day in key west and then heading out to Disney or Universal Studios, that’s definitely doable.

How far is key west from Tampa?

Tampa is also about a six-hour drive or more. From Tampa or Orlando, you can also fly in just over an hour.

How big is Key West Florida?

Key West is just over 4 square miles, making it super easy to around the small island by foot or bicycle, especially if you’re in one of the popular areas listed below.

What is the Weather like in Key West

The weather in Key West is warm all year with highs in January reaching 75 to 90 degrees in July and August. Average lows in the winter are right around 60 degrees.

Key West is a subtropical climate location and is prone to a rainy and hurricane season. Plan for it to rain between June and November, however, rains may only last for a few minutes to an hour. Don’t let the rainy season deter you from visiting during that time.

Hurricanes have crossed the Florida Keys. Fortunately, we get enough warnings for a hurricane that it’s easy to change your plans if a tropical storm or hurricane is headed to Key West.

Make sure you have travel insurance at least a week or more before your planned departure.

You can check travel insurance rates here.

Photo by R.D. Smith on Unsplash

What are the Areas of Key West?

When researching Key West tips, you’ll come across a lot of these areas.

Duval Street is the main street in Key West and is full of bars, restaurants, and shops. It runs north to south on the western side of the island.

Mallory Square, located on the northwestern tip of the island is a great place to watch the sunset.

On the opposite side of Mallory Square is the southernmost point buoy that is popular in in everyone’s photos. You’ll also find sunset celebrations in both Mallory Square and at the end of Duval Street.

Old Town Key West is the center of the action and where many of the attractions are.

New Town is closer to the airport, in the center of the island. Consider it the area where the locals live. You’ll find more home rentals in this area.

What are the best key west beaches?

Key West has many beautiful tropical beaches but if you’re visiting during spring break, there may not actually be any left available since this popular tourist destination can become quite crowded with thousands upon thousands of tourists each year. Expect crowds even more so during peak season from November to March.

The best key west beaches are located on the Atlantic Ocean side of town. What you’ll find is that some key west beach areas can be very crowded while others, especially those by Fort Zachary State Park or Smather’s Beach will offer much quieter ambiance as well as stunning views of sunsets over the water.

Key Attractions on the Island

One of the main questions I get is what’s there to see in Key West? For a small island, there’s definitely a lot to see and do. Don’t miss 28 fun things to do in Key West for Spring Break. Many of Key West Tips are great for Spring Break or other times of the year.

One of the best things about Key West is the laid-back Caribbean island vibe of the town. You’ll find live music nearly anywhere you go. Street performers entertain with music, dancing, and if you’re lucky, fire breathing!

The sunset celebration is a must during your visit to Key West. Head to the southernmost point buoy or Mallory Square. Better yet, hire a boat for a beautiful sunset sail and guided tour.

Key west bike trails provide a great way to get around the tiny island. Check your hotel or home rental to see if bikes are available.

Snorkeling or diving the coral reefs around the area is a popular thing to do. Those who want to snorkel, but haven’t before, follow these Key West Tips. Never snorkel or dive alone, and better yet, hire a charter to take you out.

You’ll find abundant marine life just under the tropical waters. Many divers enjoy exploring some of the shipwrecks in the area as well.

You can’t leave Key West without trying a slice of key lime pie. The area is famous for these delicious creamy treats.

The island is also well known for the Ernest Hemingway House. Having once lived on the island, the famous author drew inspiration from the area.

Did you know that Tennessee Williams also called the area home? You’ll find tributes to this author as well.

Outdoor Activities in Key West

We’ve already talked about snorkeling, biking, and walking the island. However Key West offers even more outdoor activities. Enjoy kayaking, sport fishing, swimming, and even camping.

Key West Parks

Dry Tortugas National Park is actually further west from Key West. Only accessible by boat, you can visit this stunning island fort. Should you want to camp here, make plans. It books fast and is only available as rustic camping.

Fort Zachary Taylor State Park is part of the Florida parks system on the island. It has beautiful beaches and great snorkeling spots.

Where to eat in Key West

There are plenty of restaurants in Key West, and most of them are pretty good. You can find anything from seafood to Cuban food here. If you’re looking for a recommendation, I’d suggest trying, Key West Cuban Coffee Shop, Hog’s Breath Saloon, or Margaritaville. Both places have great food and atmosphere.

Another thing you’ll want to try while in Key West is the seafood. The island is surrounded by water, so it’s no surprise that the seafood here is some of the best around. My favorite place for seafood is the Lobster Shack. They have amazing conch fritters and key lime pie.

If you’re looking for a place to drink, there are plenty of options for that too. There are several bars and pubs to choose from, each with its own unique vibe and drink menu. You can’t really go wrong with any bar in Key West though.

My favorite place to grab a drink is at the Green Parrot Bar on Duval Street. The bartenders there pour great drinks, and it’s a fun place to meet new people.

When is the best time to visit Key West

This of course depends on what you’re looking for. Do you want a respite from the heat? Then Sprint Break is an excellent time to soak in the warm Caribbean waters.

However, shoulder season in Key West offers the same great year-round weather and fewer crowds. This can also lead to a break in prices. The shoulder season in Key West starts in late March, through April and May. this is when the winter crowds disperse and the summer heat isn’t invading just yet.

Fantasy Fest is a great time to visit if you’re looking for the best party of the year. Think Mardi Gras meets Halloween.

If possible, I would recommend timing your visit with November through March as these are “low” seasons for Florida since there won’t be any hurricanes! What you will see however is less crowded beaches as well as cheaper hotel prices at least compared to summer months which tend to book up quickly!

Key West hotels

Where should I stay if I’m only visiting for a few days? Truly a few days is all you need to explore Key West.

Key West has a variety of hotel options that will suit people on different budgets. There are more luxurious places such as the Sheraton Suites Key West Hotel located at 2001 South Roosevelt Boulevard along with budget-friendly hotels like La Pensione at 316 Simonton Street.

I have recommendations for hotels here for couples and families alike.

Perfect Key West Itinerary

Day One:

  • Drive from Miami airport to Key West
  • Have a drink at Sloppy Joes or Green Parrot.
  • Explore Duval Street
  • Shop and watch street performers at Mallory Square for a sunset celebration.

Day Two:

  • Breakfast at Blue Heaven
  • Snorkel or Kayak from Fort Zachary State Park
  • Lunch at Mangoes Restaurant
  • Visit Ernest Hemingway Home or the Key West Nature Conservatory (or both!)
  • Get some beach time at Smather’s Beach
  • Enjoy the sunset from the Southernmost Point Buoy
  • Dinner at Louie’s Backyard

Day Three:

  • Breakfast and Cuban Coffee at Key West Cuban Coffee Shop
  • Explore with the Conch Train
  • Take a Key Lime Pie Tour – Sample Key Lime Pie from as many places as you can. Declare a winner!
  • Enjoy a sunset cruise

So go ahead and start planning your trip – Key West is definitely worth a visit!

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