The Ultimate Guide To Key West
Key West, an island city on the southernmost corner of the contiguous US!
Key West, connected to the mainland via the Overseas Highway, surrounded by gleaming Caribbean waters, year-round warm weather, gorgeous beaches, and coral reefs, is one of the most exotic destinations in the US!
Key West, part of the Florida Keys archipelago, a group of more than 1700 islands located off the coast of southern Florida, is pretty close to the Caribbean islands, just 90 miles north of Cuba, and is a perfect place to enjoy the Caribbean charm in the US! Key West, featuring spectacular coastal vistas, beautiful beaches, historic districts, a few excellent museums, British Queen Anne-style architecture, several boat tours, scuba diving, and other water sports in a relaxed and friendly setting!
Key West was first discovered by Juan Ponce de Leon, a Spanish explorer who named the island “Cayo Hueso,” which means Bone Island, due to the coral reef and limestone rock formations surrounding the island. Key West, before becoming a part of the US in 1822, was used by fishermen from Cuba who came to the island in small boats searching for fish and turtles. Before the tourism industry took off in Key West, cigar manufacturing, wrecking, and salt manufacturing were the major industries on the island. Key West, due to its location, has also witnessed several devastating hurricanes and flooding, but the high-spirited city has always recovered fast, opening back up the paradise for tourism!
There’s a ton of things to see and do in Key West, but you must not miss the drive to Key West from mainland Florida!
I always prefer and recommend directly flying into the closest airport to your destination, but I don’t suggest doing that when visiting Key West! Instead, I recommend flying into Miami and then driving to Key West via the Overseas Highway, which with 42 bridges and incredible coastal views, is one of the most spectacular coastal drives in the US! Once at Key West, there’re several ways to explore the island, including sightseeing trolley tours, Conch train tours, various boat tours, and given it’s a small island, you can always drive or walk to the attractions yourself.
Here is my ultimate guide to Key West, featuring essential trip-planning information, major attractions, Key West attractions map, and recommendations on hotels and restaurants in Key West!
Planning Your Trip To Key West
While you could directly fly into Key West, I recommend flying into Miami, renting a car, and then driving the Overseas Highway to get to Key West!
Best Time To Visit Key West: Key West, with warm weather throughout the year, is a year-round destination! However, winter is the peak season in Key West, as when most of the country is covered in snow, you can still enjoy the beach and Caribbean weather in Key West. On the other hand, Summers are pretty hot, humid, and rainy, making it the least busy season in Key West. The best way to avoid the crowds in Key West is by visiting during the shoulder seasons, Spring and Fall, March – May and September – November.
Time Required At Key West: Though Key West is small in size and a popular day trip destination from Miami, I recommend spending a minimum of two days in Key West to see the city’s major highlights. If you have more time, you could spend a couple of weeks in Key West and still not run out of places to see and things to do in Key West.
Getting To Key West: While you could fly directly into Key West International Airport, I recommend flying into Miami and then driving to Key West, which is one of the most spectacular coastal drives in the US. Alternatively, you could also take an Amtrak train or a Greyhound bus to Miami and then drive to Key West.
- Flight: Key West International Airport (EYW), Key West, Florida, just 4 miles from Downtown Key West, is the closest airport to Key West. However, I recommend flying into Miami International Airport (MIA), Miami, Florida, about 160 miles from Key West, and then driving to Key West via the Overseas Highway, a scenic drive and one of the best things to do in Key West.
- Train: You could take an Amtrak train to the Miami Amtrak Station, located on 8303 NW 37th Ave, Miami, and then rent a car and drive to Key West.
- Bus: Greyhound offers bus services to Key West, with the closest Greyhound bus stop located on Roosevelt Blvd, Key West, and is a great alternative to enjoy the scenic Overseas Highway without actually having to drive yourself.
Parking & Transportation In Key West: There’re quite a few parking lots, metered parking spots, and roadside parking available in Key West, but it can be challenging to find parking near popular tourist spots, especially during the peak winter months. The best way to explore the town is by leaving your car at a parking lot and then using Key West sightseeing trolley tours, Conch train tours, or bus services offered by the city of Key West.
Sightseeing Tours In Key West: It’s always a good idea to use a local sightseeing tour company when visiting a city for the first time, and the same applies to Key West. If it’s your first trip to Key West, I recommend using a guided sightseeing tour to get to know the city. There’re several local companies that offer guided land and boat tours in Key West, but here’re a few that I have used and recommend – Old Town Trolley Tours Key West, Conch Tour Train, and Sebago Watersports.
Lodging & Dining In Key West: Given Key West is a popular tourist destination and a cruise ship stop, there’re numerous lodging options on the island, ranging from luxury sea-side resorts to locally owned bread and breakfasts. The town’s several dining options can also be overwhelming, including charming local eateries, fine dining restaurants, and seafood shacks, but you shouldn’t miss Cuban food when visiting Key West. I have reviewed the lodging and dining options in Key West in detail in the later section of this post.
Things To Do In Key West
Key West Attractions Map
Key West is a small island and a pedestrian-friendly town! Though most of the attractions in Key West can be reached by car, if it’s your first trip to Key West or you’re pressed for time, I highly recommend using the Old Town Trolley Tour or the Conch Train Tour to get acquainted with the city and then you can always go back to the points where you wish to spend more time.
If you’re driving to Key West, you could directly head to Mallory Square, the central waterfront square in Key West, bustling with shops, eateries, and the starting point for several guided sightseeing tours. You can park in one of the parking lots at Mallory Square and then board your trolley or train tour to explore the city.
Here’re the must-see places on a trip to Key West, starting at Mallory Square, which is the starting point of most sightseeing tours in Key West!
Mallory Square, popularly known for its sunset celebrations, is a lively promenade busting with shops, eateries, starting point for several tours, and home to several major attractions, including Wrecker’s Museum, Custom’s House Museum, Key West Aquarium, Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Museum, Shipwreck Treasures Museum, and Truman Little White House.
Fort Zachary Taylor
Fort Zachary Taylor
Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park, featuring the historical Fort Taylor built to safeguard the southeastern coast of the Nation and played a significant role during the Civil War and Spanish-American War, is a National Historic Monument. The Park is also home to a gorgeous coastline and beaches and is a popular spot for swimming and snorkeling.
Key West Lighthouse
Key West Lighthouse
The Key West Lighthouse & Keeper’s Quarters Museum, dedicated to Key West’s maritime history and the keepers of the lighthouse since its operation began in 1848, features exhibits, artifacts, and photographs of the lighthouse and its keepers. You could also climb to the top of the lighthouse for spectacular views of the town and the gorgeous coastline.
Southernmost Point of the Continental US, an iconic landmark and one of the most photographed sections of Key West, is a beautifully painted concrete buoy that marks the southernmost point of the contiguous US. The buoy has survived several devastating hurricanes and is a beloved spot to take photographs, so be prepared to stand in queue if you wish to take a selfie!
Nature & Butterfly Conservatory
Nature & Butterfly Conservatory
The Key West Nature and Butterfly Conservatory, located just a short walk from the Southernmost Point Buoy, is a small glasshouse featuring several species of butterflies from different parts of the globe and colorful exotic birds in a beautiful natural setting created using several plants and waterfalls.
Key West Beaches
Key West Beaches
Undeniably, one of the best things to do in Key West is to just relax and stroll along the sandy beaches and marvel at the gleaming turquoise waters! Here’re the most popular beaches in Key West –
- Fort Zachary Taylor State Park Beach
- Higg’s Beach
- Smather’s Beach
Dry Tortugas National Park
Dry Tortugas National Park
Dry Tortugas National Park, one of the most unique National Parks in the US, is located about 70 miles off coast Key West and is accessible via ferry services offered by Yankee Freedom, departing from the northern section of Key West. The Park features historic Fort Jefferson, gorgeous turquoise waters, and coral reefs, but a trip to Dry Tortugas takes an entire day.
Lodging & Dining In Key West
Key West is a small, pedestrian-friendly, and accessible town with several luxurious oceanfront resorts and hotels!
Hotels In Key West: Key West being a popular tourist destination and a port of call for many cruise ships, features many seaside resorts, luxury hotels, and locally owned charming bread and breakfasts. Given the small size of Key West, you can stay anywhere on the island and still easily access all attractions in Key West. When deciding on hotels or resorts in Key West, there’re primarily two choices – oceanfront and non-oceanfront properties. Here’re my top picks for hotels and resorts in Key West –
- Ocean Key Resort & Spa: Just minutes away from Mallory Square, the Ocean Key Resort & Spa features luxurious and elegant suites and rooms overlooking the blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
- Opal Key Resort & Marina: The Opal Key Resort & Marina, also located close to Mallory Square, with access to several attractions in the area, is a seaside retreat with great views and excellent amenities.
- Santa Maria Suites Hotel: Located on the southern side, close to Santa Southernmost Point and Higgs Beach, Maria Suites Resort offers excellent rooms and suites, and Milagro Restaurant, which is one of the famous restaurants in Key West.
- Hyatt Centric Key West Resort & Spa: Featuring contemporary decor and modern amenities, Hampton Inn Key West is an oceanfront hotel located next to the Key West International Airport.
- Hilton Garden Inn Key West: If staying in an oceanfront property is not a must for you, Hilton Garden Inn Key West is an excellent choice with modern amenities, excellent service, and shuttle service to downtown Key West.
Restaurants In Key West: Cuban food, seafood, fine dining, seafood shacks, and charming local eateries, Key West, besides the natural beauty, is also known for its eclectic dining choices. With so many options, it’s challenging to pick one over the other, but to help you decide, here’re some of the cuisines and restaurants you must try in Key West – Conch Fritters and seafood in Conch Republic Seafood Company, Half Shell Raw Bar, and DJ’s Clam Shack, authentic Cuban Food in El Meson De Pepe’s Restaurant & Bar and El Siboney Restaurant, and Key Lime Pie in Kermit’s Key West Key Lime Shoppe or Key Lime Pie Bakery.
Other Florida Attractions & Related Posts
I hope you enjoyed reading the post, The Ultimate Guide To Key West, and I hope this will help you plan your trip to Key West. You can find other attractions in Florida in my Florida Travel Guide.
Happy feeding your soul!
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