If you love tropical sunshine, gourmet seafood, water sports, fishing, shopping, and cocktail bars, Key West is definitely the destination for you.
America’s southernmost city is also one of its vacation hotspots. Part of that appeal is nature’s bounty. The warm Caribbean waters around the island teem with fish, attracting sport fishing fans and divers to explore its vibrant, colorful reefs.
What’s more, the catch from these waters is also turned into magical seafood dishes by expert chefs at local favorites like the Half Shell Raw Bar, Square One, and A&B Lobster House.
Key West is also a party destination. Spring Break sees the island come alive with parties, and Fantasy Fest in October is the island’s equivalent of Mardi Gras. The fashion stores and outlets on Duval Street will delight shoppers, while there’s even something to satisfy literature fans, in the shape of Ernest Hemingway’s house.
It’s the kind of destination that guarantees a good time, so book your flight and accommodation and relax beneath the tropical sun.
Key West isn’t really a beach destination, but it makes up for this with a constant schedule of festivals, parties, and a wide range of cocktail bars. Head down to the island in October for Fantasy Fest or join the crowds that gather every evening in Mallory Square to eat, drink, and listen to music as the sun sets.
Key West is famous for its sports fishing community and the seas around the island are rich with marlin, grouper, and snapper. Rent a boat, rent a captain, and head out with companies like Southbound Sportfishing (1801 N Roosevelt Blvd) to learn the ropes or pursue a lifelong passion.
Tropical wildlife is another major attraction of Key West. Visit the Key West Wildlife Center to see the island’s birds, reptiles and a curious population of feral chickens, or dive at nearby reefs to see the corals, crustaceans, rays, and over 500 tropical fish that call Key West home.
Key West has a history that stretches back to the 1500s, and there are some fascinating historical sights. Take a boat to the Dry Tortugas to see the massive brick fortress of Fort Jefferson, tour the house that novelist Ernest Hemingway lived in as well as President Harry S. Truman’s Key West retreat (111 Front St).
Key West is one of the finest places in America to dine on gourmet seafood. After all, the rich fishery of the Caribbean is right on its doorstep. Head to Square One(1075 Duval Street) for the seafood hot pot, try the yellowtail snapper at Martin’s (917 Duval Street), or gorge on oysters at Alonzo’s (700 Front Street).
From water skiing to snorkeling, Key West offers everything water sports fans could ever wish for. Head down to adventure specialists like Sebago Watersports to try para-sailing or rent jet skis from Fury Water Adventures and unleash your need for speed.
The reefs around Key West are one of the island’s major attractions, and there’s no better way to see them than on a glass-bottomed boat tour. See North America’s only living tropical reef in style by boarding Fury’s catamarans, which will guide you to the finest places to spot rays, fish, and even sharks.
Swimming with dolphins is a magical, even life-changing experience and it’s something that kids and adults can enjoy as well. Head to local experts like Dolphins Plus or Theater of the Sea and get close to these intelligent, sensitive creatures.
Key West is full of history. From the tropical hideaway of ex-president Truman to Hemingway’s house and even the places musician Jimmy Buffett spent his youth, you can join informative walking tours and find out everything there it to know about Key West. There’s also a spooky side to the city, and you can join the Ghosts and Gravestones bus after dark to visit haunted spots (allegedly) like Marrero's Guest Mansion and Fort Zachary Taylor.
The Dry Tortugas are an island chain located around 70 miles west of Key West and tour operators offer daily trips to see the major sights. These include the massive brick structure of Fort Jefferson as well as secluded beaches and snorkeling spots on Garden Key, and offer the chance to spot rare tropical birds and marine wildlife.
Key West is a tropical destination, which means that there’s a rainy and a dry season (and a hurricane season too). The best time to visit is probably between January and May. As summer approaches, the weather becomes much more humid, while from January the rains fall away, leaving bright, warm, dry conditions. However, this is also peak vacation season. If you want to avoid festival crowds, try a break in September or October, when prices will be lower and the island will be more relaxed. Then again, if partying is your aim, there aren’t many more lively Spring Break destinations.
If you are flying into Key West International Airport, the airport is only two miles east of the city center, so getting to your hotel shouldn’t be a problem. The best way into town is to catch an airport shuttle, book a taxi, or rent a car from the terminal. Shuttle buses are linked to specific hotels, so check whether your accommodation provides a service. If not, taxis cost around $10 to reach most local hotels. Rental companies like Alamo and Enterprise have offices at nearby Truman Ave if you want to have your own transportation during your stay.
Many people also fly into Miami Airport and catch a bus or drive from there. Greyhound provides a regular bus connection from Miami to Key West and smaller bus companies like Keys Shuttle and Xcursions USA also provide shuttles to central Key West.
You cannot travel all the way to Key West via the Amtrak network, but you can get as far as Fort Lauderdale, which is around three and a half hours away by bus. The station is served by Amtrak’s Silver Star route (New York City to Miami) and the Silver Meteor (also New York City to Florida). When you get to Fort Lauderdale station, simply transfer to the Keys Shuttle bus service.
To get to Florida by car, take I-75 or I-95 if you are coming from eastern or northern cities. If you are coming from Texas and the West, take I-10 all the way to Jacksonville and switch to I-95. To reach Key West, change to Route 1 in Miami.
The major bus company serving Key West is Greyhound, which stops at 3535 S Roosevelt and connects the city with Orlando and Miami. This allows travelers from cities as distant as Chicago and New York to reach Key West by bus with just a couple of changes.
Other regional bus companies include Xcursions USA, Keys Shuttle, MiamitoKeyWestBus.com and the local services provided by Key West Shuttle, which links the islands in the Florida Keys.
Key West has plenty of high-quality accommodation available, from cosy guesthouses to luxury resort hotels. Angelina Guesthouse (302 Angela St) provides a welcoming service at affordable prices, as does the Curry Mansion Inn (511 Caroline Street), which hires a piano player to entertain guests every afternoon. For a conventional resort hotel, the Hyatt Key West Resort and Spa is hard to beat (601 Front Street), but the Pier House Resort and Caribbean Spa (1 Duval Street) offers a comparable level of luxury and comfort within a few minutes walk from the shore. Couples and singles will feel at home in the adult-oriented Cypress House (601 Caroline Street), while families might like Chelsea House (709 Truman Ave), a pet friendly option with charming Victorian architecture.
Key West Island – The main part of town is located on Key West Island, which also includes the International Airport. Here you’ll find family attractions like Key West Nature Preserve, where lizards, butterflies, birds and even snakes can be seen in their natural habitat. There’s the Hemingway House, which was once home to the famous writer, while you’ll also find beaches, bars, clubs and great restaurants like Square One, a fine place to check out the local seafood.
Stock Island – Located on a small island off the east coast of Key West, Stock Island is a residential district with some excellent hotels and beaches. It’s mainly notable for its sporting attractions, being home to Key West Golf Club, but there’s more going on than just putting. The Key West Tropical Forest is a wonderful place to relax and find out about tropical wildlife, while restaurants like Hogfish Bar & Grill (6810 Front St) are as good as anything on the main island.
Duval Street – The city’s commercial heart, Duval Street is lined with pure white mansions from the colonial-era and it’s the place to head for cocktails at lively bars like Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville (500 Duval St). It’s a great place to shop, with shoe stores like Kai-Kai Sandals (910 Duval St) and clothing outlets like Banana Republic (501 Duval St).
Key West is small enough that visitors don’t really need to worry much about public transit or renting a car. If you do need to make a bus journey, single fares are reasonable, at $2 and you can purchase weekly passes for $8. There are also tram services that cover most of the tourist sights.
For the first fifth of a mile in Key West, taxi passengers have to pay $2.95, then $0.70 for every additional fifth of a mile and $0.70 for every 50 seconds of waiting. You can also rent cabs by the hour, which costs $60.
Due to the high cost of parking in Key West and the size of the city, renting a car might not be the best transportation option. Instead, many tourists prefer to rent bicycles, scooters, or even golf carts. Bike Man (1319 Duval St) is a good place to rent a bicycle for your stay, you can rent scooters at Sunshine Scooters (1910 N Roosevelt Blvd) while Electric Car Rentals of Key West (500 Truman Ave) offer a range of electric cars.
Key West isn’t a cheap place to stay or live, with a cost of living index of 150 relative to the average American town (which would score 100). Then again, some items aren’t much more expensive than anywhere else. Expect to pay $15 for a cheap meal, $2.50 for 12 eggs and about $12 for a bottle of wine. The main cost is accommodation and housing, which tends to be far above the national average.
Duval Street is the island’s premier shopping street and is home to major stores like Banana Republic, Birkenstock and Kai-Kai. There are also smaller craft stores like Capricorn Jewelry (706 Duval St) and places to pick up souvenirs like the Cuban Lead Cigar Factory (310 Duval St). Searstown Mall in the northeast of the island includes popular chains like Subway, Outback Steakhouse, and Kmart and is a good place to shop for essentials.
Supermarkets in Key West include Walgreen’s and Kmart, but many locals prefer to shop at smaller stores like Fausto’s Food Palace (522 Fleming St) or Johnson’s Grocery (800 Thomas St). Fausto’s is a particularly good place to head for gourmet picnics, with a wide range of baked goods, fresh fruit, wine, and seafood.
As you’d expect from a Caribbean island, seafood is king of the Key West dining scene, and there are plenty of excellent restaurants to choose from. If you want to eat on the move, Conch Shack (118 Duval St) serves uncomplicated seafood fritters. For a sit-down gourmet dining experience, head to the Blackfin Bistro (918 Duval St) or book a table at Blue Heaven (729 Thomas St), home to the island’s finest key lime pie. There are also some good Cuban eateries, such as El Siboney (900 Catherine St) and places to grab a burger like Nine One Five (915 Duval St). After that, try out some of the island’s other speciality – cocktails. Grunts Bar (409 Caroline St) is a good place to sip on mojitos or Key West coolers.