How To Plan The Perfect Trip To Key West

With its relaxing island vibes, beautiful beaches, historic landmarks, mystical sunsets, and exciting water activities, Key West has long been a favored vacation destination. This southernmost city in the continental United States sits just 90 miles north of Cuba, lending it a unique Caribbean flavor. Though only 7 square miles in size, Key West offers plenty to see, do, eat, and enjoy. Use this comprehensive travel guide along with all of the other information we offer when planning your perfect Key West getaway!

Getting There and Around

Most visitors arrive in Key West by air or car. Key West International Airport (EYW) welcomes many non-stop flights from major carriers, as well as private planes. It’s just a quick shuttle, cab, or bike ride from the airport to popular island accommodations. Visitors also drive down from mainland Florida by taking the scenic Overseas Highway (US Route 1) across more than 100 miles of bridges linking the Florida Keys. Once on the island, Key West is very pedestrian and bicycle friendly, offering free shuttles, pedicabs, electric car rentals, and affordable taxis in addition to walking and biking. Scooters and bikes can be rented to help you get around town more quickly.

When to Visit

Key West enjoys mostly balmy weather all year long thanks to the surrounding warm waters of the Florida Straits, making any time a good time to visit. High season runs January through March, drawing flocks of travelers who boost hotel rates and flight costs. Spring Break also sees an influx of visitors in March and April. For lower rates and smaller crowds, visit during the summer wet season or fall shoulder season. Keep potential hurricane threats in mind between June and November and plan travel insurance accordingly.

Where to Stay

Key West accommodation options range from lavish resorts and full service hotels to quaint, cozy inns and B&Bs, with guest houses and vacation rentals in between. For proximity to top attractions, look to stay in Old Town neighborhoods like the Historic Seaport, Historic Key West, or Truman Annex. Duval Street puts you near the island’s best shopping, dining, and nightlife in the vibrant Downtown area. For a quieter stay, try the residential New Town area. Consider amenities like pools, free breakfasts, happy hours, and WiFi when booking your island oasis.

Top Things to Do

Iconic Key West Attractions No visit to Key West is complete without checking out a few iconic things unique to the island. First up, pose for a pic at the Southernmost Point Buoy marking the continental USA’s southernmost land point just 90 miles north of Cuba. Then hunt down the six-toed cats descended from Ernest Hemingway’s feline companions at his one-time residence that’s now a museum. Lastly, applaud the glorious sunset off Mallory Square Dock nightly with locals and fellow travelers.

Beaches and Watersports

Key West beaches like Smathers Beach, Fort Zachary Taylor State Park Beach, and Higgs Beach offer white sand for sunbathing plus water access for snorkeling, paddleboarding, sailing and more. For even more recreation, head just offshore. Numerous companies organize snorkeling, scuba diving, fishing, boating, kayaking, and eco-tours showcasing Key West’s stunning natural assets surrounding the island such as vibrant reefs, shipwrecks, vibrant marine life and ecosystems.

Tours and Museums

From its storied past to present-day happenings, Key West has plenty of history to explore. Book ghost tours, pirate tours, trolley tours or walking tours. Visit landmarks like the Key West Lighthouse and Harry S. Truman Little White House. Check out museums devoted to local heritage, maritime matters like the USS Maine and Mel Fisher Maritime Museum, or unique collections like the Shipwreck Treasures Museum and the Custom House Museum. Art and rum lovers shouldn’t miss the Key West Art & Historical Society and the Key West Rum Distillery.

Dining and Nightlife

Fuel up on classic Key West cuisine with fresh-caught seafood, Cuban-inspired dishes, and key lime pie. Meander the bounty of cafes, food trucks, and fine restaurants along Duval Street. Then sip sunset cocktails on outdoor patios, relax at wine bars, hoist a pint at local breweries, listen to live music at bars, or dance the night away at clubs. Mallory Square also hosts vibrant nightly sunset celebrations.

Shopping Opportunities

Key West’s walks and waterways are dotted with boutique shops selling art, clothing, crafts, souvenirs and more. Meander Old Town’s Duval Street to explore a dense concentration of stores, galleries and emporiums. Find luxury brands, handcrafted goods, and funky art pieces. Don’t forget to look for famous Key lime pie, salt water taffy, rum cake and guava treats to share with friends back home.

Day Trips

Venture beyond your island paradise to nearby keys and reefs on an array of day trips. Snorkel off Looe Key Reef. Sightsee historic sights at the Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden. Kayak out to the endangered Key deer at National Key Deer Refuge on Big Pine Key. Marvel at dolphins at Dolphin Research Center on Grassy Key. These day trips provide a glimpse of how expansive the Florida Keys chain truly is.

Getting Around

Key West Thankfully getting around Key West is a breeze, especially since the island spans less than 4 miles long and 1 mile across at its widest point. Bring comfy walking shoes to explore most attractions and amenities on foot. To cover more ground, rent bikes, scooters or an electric car. Affordable public transportation like the Duval Loop shuttle bus makes regular stops. And pedicabs, trolleys and taxis are there when you need them. Finding parking can pose challenges, so consider walking, biking or bussing during your stay.

Where to Eat

in Key West Visitors flock to Key West to feast on an array of fresh seafood pulled from the nearby waters of Florida Bay and Atlantic Ocean. Signature dishes incorporate Keys catches like grouper, snapper, shrimp, stone crab and conch which can be fried, grilled or blackened. Cuban bakeries like Sandy’s bake fluffy Cuban bread for renowned Cubans sandwiches layered with ham, roasted pork, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard. Be sure to try key lime pie, key lime milkshakes, and key lime martinis for dessert. Casual cafes, upscale restaurants and laidback food trucks scatter across the island, especially on Duval Street. Reserve dinner reservations when possible for popular hot spots. And don’t forget to wet your whistle at local bars, breweries and distilleries crafting unique libations with local Key West flair.

Best Time for Families to Visit

Families converge upon Key West over spring break, summer breaks and winter holidays when kids are out of school. These busier times promise plenty of family-friendly entertainment, but also larger crowds and higher hotel rates. Families looking for a calmer scene may prefer visiting in May, September or October when oceans remain warm, rains dissipate and costs dip lower during shoulder season. Whenever you visit, explore kid-approved attractions like Key West Butterfly Conservancy, Shipwreck Treasures Museum, Mallory Square Sunset Celebration, ghost tours, beaches, and archaeological state park.

Travel Tips

Over 20 percent of Key West island consists of protected green spaces and aquatic preserves, making eco-consciousness an important practice during your visit. Coral reefs and fragile ecosystems rely on visitors doing their part – please don’t touch or take any wildlife. Bring reusable bags and bottles to cut down on waste. Consider volunteering with reef protection programs. Exploring this laidback island at a leisurely pace allows you to truly embrace the tropical lifestyle that defines iconic Key West. Let palm trees, warm breezes, flavorful cuisine, beautiful sunsets and glistening waters wash your cares away in this blissful Florida Keys paradise.

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