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Key West, Florida

Welcome to our Key West Travel Guide

Key West, Florida is a legendary island filled with history, live music, outdoor water activities and fresh from the boat seafood, lies at the southernmost tip of The Keys, a collection of islands, many joined and accessible by road. It is said that Ponce de Leon discovered what is now Key West in 1513, but more recently, it was made a legend by Jimmy Buffett and Ernest Hemingway. Home to the third largest barrier coral reef in the world, it is an underwater ecosystem akin to an otherworldly planet providing some of the best diving and snorkeling in the world. Key West has a mojo all its own. The bohemian style homes, with wrap around porches, painted in pale pinks, blues and yellows, decorated with rustling palms with the faint apparitional sounds of Caribbean music drifting over the roll of the ocean waves.

Things To See in Key West, Florida

Key West is an outdoor paradise of unique outdoor activities, wrapped in a beautiful package of pristine turquoise waters and white sand. In Key West you will find every type of water sport, mode of transportation to tour the island, and opportunity to engage with nature.

Four Marlins Restaurant view
Four Marlins Restaurant view in Key West, Florida

Sun Set Water Sports of Key West – Sun Set Water Sports offers a one-stop-shop for all of your dreamy on-the-water activities including reef snorkeling, a dinner cruise, boat rentals, parasailing, dolphin boat tour, and our favorite the safari eco tour, and included free parking and bathrooms with changing areas.  I loved the eco tour because Gregg and I sailed together in a pistol boat, or what I call a mini-speedboat. At speeds of what I assume were about 50 mph, we sped single-file through the open ocean, putting through mangroves dotted with birds of all kinds. Toward the end of our two-hour tour, we snorkeled (equipment provided) and swam at an island and sand bar, with very short walking trails leading to other sides of the small island. Back at the mainland you can even rent a golf cart and travel in style like the islanders do, ditching your hard to park car.

The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory– Stroll or “float” through the magical world of The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory. This intimate but incredible fantastical land will envelop you with wonder and child-like excitement! Sixty butterfly and twenty bird species call this fairytale home, including the world-famous Caribbean Flamingos Rhett and Scarlett born in 2012, the Gouldian Finch, and Opal-rumped tanager some of the most colorful and exotic birds in the world. The gift shop is a pink-flamingo utopia you didn’t know you needed in your life. From clothes, to butterfly art, to everything with a flamingo, it’s hard not to take it all home. Long after you leave, the design, colors, and feeling of calm will stay with you.

Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park Beach – Bird watch from the nature trails rent an umbrella and chairs for a day of snorkeling at the Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park Beach. The in-park café, The Cayo Hueso Café, offers sandwiches, wraps and salads, ensuring a fun and easy day without inconvenience.

Key West Lighthouse & Keeper’s Quarters – Erected in 1823 and then replaced in 1848, the Key West Lighthouse & Keeper’s Quarters had a female lighthouse keeper, a historic appointment for the times. Eighty-eight steps lead to the top of this decommissioned lighthouse. You can even stay for sunset with a special package offering 360-degree views. 

Blue Sky Rentals – Parking is so hard to come by that most visitors park their car and rent a scooter, bike, or golf cart to get around town. Blue Sky Rentals is conveniently located, right on the famous Duval Street, the main thoroughfare in downtown and has a large fleet to choose from. They are reasonably priced too- an all-day bike rental is only $15!

Sebago Tours – If there is a water tour that you desire, I’m sure that Sebago Tours has it! They offer 13 different tours from parasailing and snorkeling, to a catamaran champagne sunset cruise, Windjammer or schooner cruise.

HydroThunder Rentals – If you’re interested in traveling through town in style, rent from HydroThunder! Car parking is challenging, however, it’s much easier to find room for a scooter, a golf cart, or electric vehicle. They even offer a shuttle to get you there! The open-air electric cars seating four or six people have a storage container for purses and shopping packages.

Southernmost Point of the Continental U.S.A. – Just like it sounds, you can’t go any farther south in the continental US. There is a colorful monument that identifies this southernmost point.

Fury – With so many options to choose from like a glass bottom boat tour, parasailing, jet ski tour, sunset cruise, snorkeling, and other rentals including bikes and golf carts, Fury has everything you need so you don’t have to manage a bunch of reservations and locations.

Old Town Trolley Tours  Ride in the open-air cabin atop a historic trolley. Hop on and off at the locations of your choice and receive a live narration of the city’s history. Their map shows all thirteen trolley stops and the top attractions nearest those stops, to save you time.  

Beaches

  • South Beach – Southernmost Beach as it’s also called, next to Seaside Café Ocean Bar, South Beach is a small slice of white sand beach with no restroom facilities, and a concrete pier for sitting. This is not my idea of a day at the beach, but it could be yours… close to food, sand, and sun.
  • Dog Beach – A very small slice of beach, Dog Beach is where dogs can have fun in the sun off-leash.
  • Higgs Beach – A unique historical park with beach access, Higgs Beach has plenty of water activities.
  • Smathers Beach – A public beach, Smathers Beach offers bathroom facilities and access to land and sea activities.

Shopping on Duval – Duval Street is the main entertainment thoroughfare of downtown Key West, where you’ll find shops, bars, restaurants, galleries, adult entertainment, sidewalk pop-ups, and more. Feel free to branch out to the side streets, which will also have great options. Duval to Front, Greene, and Caroline streets are the Seaport District, which has an aquarium, an amazing place to watch the sunset and kiosk shops selling souvenirs. Duval to Southard and Fleming is the Central Old Town District where the majority of tourist attractions are. South of that you’ll see Hemmingway’s House and farther south (to the water’s edge) will be the start of the Duval Street excitement.

Dry Tortugas National Park and Fort Jefferson Ferry – Just when you think can you can’t go farther south, Dry Tortugas, a cluster of seven islands 70 miles south of Key West, hosts Fort Jefferson, one of the largest forts ever built in the United States. Today, Dry Tortugas National Park is open all year round, and is only accessible via ferry, private boat, or sea plane. This excursion will be a full day event. The ferry ride includes restrooms, breakfast and lunch, a narration, the entrance fee and snorkeling equipment. There are no provisions in the park, including food, fuel, or water, though there are restrooms. There is an area for snorkeling/diving, a picnic area, and a self-guided tour through the fort, and walk to the nearby Bush Key (open Oct-Jan). The island is known for bird and sea-life watching. Camping is allowed on the island, however, keep in mind that you must pack in and out, and there are no provisions in the park even for campers.

Captain Hook’s Dive Key West Ever dream of diving a wreck? Get certified while you are there and dive the Vandenberg Wreck with Captain Hook’s Dive Key West guided tour to depths of 100 feet, and enjoy this World War II 520 ft long wreck. If you’re interested in something a little more unusual, choose one of their Mermaid courses, which includes proper swimming techniques and can include a photo shoot
 
Mallory Square Every evening Mallory Square hosts the largest sunset viewing party! 

An extensive boardwalk and walking path doubles as an entertainment platform for street performers, vendors, and shops as the countdown to sunset arrives. The boardwalk fills up fast, so get there early for the spot you want. Watch from the water with a sunset cruise with Sebago Tours or watch from the boardwalk with your closest stranger-friends! A variety of shops and attractions make Mallory Square fun to walk around, even after the sun goes down.

Island Style – My favorite store in all of Key West was Island Style. There was something about the shades of blue, green, pinks, and yellows that made it feel like happiness. The collections of jewelry, fine art, night lights, glass art, and fun home decor accent pieces are fun, artful, and colorful. Each time we went to Duval Street, I stopped in and just walked around, looking again and again at the same things just because it made me happy to be in the store, plus we bought great gifts too!

Sunset Boat Rental in Key West Florida
Sunset Boat Rental
Sebago Tour Key West Florida
Sebago Tour

Places to Eat in Key West, Florida

This region has some of the freshest ingredients I’ve seen. It’s hard to stumble across a restaurant in Key West that isn’t good, but our list will save you from the trial and error. Breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner, we’ve got you covered! You’ll dive into lobster pizza, a savory French crêpe, and the best Key Lime Pie while live music notes jazz with wine notes.

Seaside Café Ocean Bar – Famous for their lobster pizza (yes, it was delicious), their roaming chickens, outdoor dining ocean side, commitment to biodegradable products, and history of the adjacent Inn, the Seaside Café Ocean Bar is a favorite. Whatever you eat, you simply must have the honey butter biscuits. The Spring Mix Strawberry Salad was top on our list.

Key Lime Pie Bakery  – Not only is the Key Lime Pie at Key Lime Pie Bakery good, but you can take home that key lime taste in a variety of other gifts and baked goods.

Four Marlins  – Four Marlins, a restaurant located in The Reach Key West, Curio Collection by Hilton hotel, a block off Duval Street, gets our vote for the best (non-fried) Key Lime Pie in The Keys and boasts one of the best dining views. Seated outside, but shaded from the sun, overlooking their grand gazebo and the only private natural white sand beach in Key West, with the soft sound of lapping waves, our dining experience was exquisite. I was so relaxed and didn’t want to leave. It was picturesque, quiet, and stunning. 

La Crêperie French Café Key West – In our travels we have had many crêpes, but none like at La Crêperie Café Key West! The flavor packed entrees have yet to be topped in our travels. Choices of sweet or savory crêpes, and galettes with fresh ingredients, unique flavors, and perfect consistency, make this restaurant one of my all-time favorites.

Firefly Key West Brunch at Firefly Key West will light up your life! The brunch starters are delicious, while the breakfast favorites pack a flavor punch that will leave you ready to take on the day. Flavorful, fresh, creative combinations, with a fun southern-kitchen vibe.

Blue Heaven – Breakfast, lunch and/or dinner, you’ll love this slice of heaven, where live music drifts out of the café doors, the bar hops and Sunday is a fun-day when you brunch! One of the top restaurants in Key West, award-winning Blue Heaven offers some organic ingredients, an extensive wine list, and farm-to-table dishes.

Four Marlins Restaurant
Four Marlins Restaurant
Key Lime Pie Bakery
Key Lime Pie Bakery
Places to stay in Key West, Florida

Award-winning, paradise and centrally located are features of the best places to stay in Key West, Florida. From rooftop pools, ocean views, and private beach, you’ll find the perfect location for your Florida Keys getaway.

 

H2O Suites Hotel – Award winning, and Key West’s only adult only hotel, 25 years of age or older, the downtown H2O Suites Hotel incorporates luxurious spa-like features including a marble bathtub with the functionality of an outdoor garden balcony. Upgrade your balcony to a private plunge pool for that romantic reconnection you’ve been missing. Need more than a plunge? The rooftop pool beckons, with a cocktail for your hand, and sweeping views of Old Town Key West can be your favorite way to spend the day. Close beach access includes Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park Beach.

Oceanfront Paradise – If a 28+day stay in paradise is on your list, this Oceanfront Paradise rental will make sure you never have to leave. This two-bedroom, two bath house, near Key West, with a luxurious spa-like shower, outdoor dining area, water and sunset views, fun Tiki hut outdoor sitting area, and your own slice of beach to kayak from the backyard.

Opal Key Resort and Marina – Conveniently located near the pier in Mallory Square, home to one of the best sunset viewing spots in the world, Opal Key Resort and Marina feels like home in their one or two-bedroom suites with full or partial ocean views. Everything you could want to do is just steps away from your door, including water activities, shopping, dining, swimming and more.
The Reach Key West, Curio Collection by Hilton – At The Reach Key West, a Hilton hotel, you will discover the quiet luxury of Key West’s only private natural sand beach. Take a jet ski tour right from the beach, lounge under an umbrella, take family pictures in the floating gazebo, or dine on my favorite (non-fried) Key Lime Pie.
Mallory Square Sunset Viewing
Mallory Square Sunset Viewing
Mallory Square in Key West Florida
Mallory Square

Seasonal things to see and do in Key West, Florida

annual

Cycling

Overall, the city is very cyclable and you will see everything from road bikes, e-bikes, and pedal powered bikes. Traffic in downtown Key West is congested with pedestrians and cars, so I don’t recommend spending much time on Duval or any of the streets off of Duval. Instead, get to Overseas Highway and head north toward Marathon and back. Twice Gregg biked from Marathon to The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory and I picked him up and drove home. Key West is better for regular cycling, not road cycling. So if you want to see the sights, trade in your road cycle for an e-bike or a pedal powered bike for some old-fashioned ride, see, park action.

Prior research led us to believe that there was a continuous adjacent trail that ran from Key Largo to Key West, but that was not the case at all. The Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail boasts “90 linear miles of multi-use trails”. There are a few key points to know before you go. The optimal path for bikers is not marked. At times, the trail could be on the left side of the highway, and then suddenly it’s on the right side, requiring you to cross four lanes of heavy traffic in a zig-zag fashion over the course of the ride. On this “trail” the path could divert to what could be described as a pedestrian bridge, sharing a small space with walkers, people fishing and large birds roosting on the railing in some parts. For example, Gregg thought he should get onto the path, running adjacent to the highway, but that path deadened and he had to turn around and bike back, find the right path, again, usually on the other side of the road. Overall, the emergency lane, also marked as a bike path, of the Overseas Highway was relatively clean, free from debris, and the space was respected by drivers making his trips to Key West fun and exciting, especially going over 7 Mile Bridge. Gregg feels that riding over the 7 Mile Bridge was a rush, with the crystal-clear waters of the Atlantic on one side and the Gulf on the other, with the ability to see to the bottom of the ocean floor. Even for seasoned bikers, a tiny white line on one side and a rail separating you from the open ocean with cars speeding by at 50-70 mph can be intimidating, though stunningly beautiful.

The Overseas Highway is tight in some areas so safety gear such as back lights, radar and other equipment is recommended for improved visibility. Also be aware that to ride through the state parks along the way, they do charge you for entrance fees, however in most cases, there is not enough road to make that a significant addition to the ride. I will also say that throughout our travels, Florida had the most bike accidents that we saw with our own eyes, then any other place, despite clearly marked bike lanes (at times). If this sounds daunting, check out Key Largo Bike tours which offers guided tours, which might build the confidence you need to know where you’re going, or purchase their self-guided tour ebook (for a fee) so you can plan your trek.

If you’re looking for an easy quiet ride on flat terrain, I highly recommend National Key Deer Refuge, located north of Key West to Big Pine Key.  Not only are you likely to see the endangered Key Deer, not larger than 38 inches, but you will have a separate paved path for an extensive period. To get there, bike down Overseas Highway (zig-zagging as needed) and turn right on Key Deer Blvd. Continue on Key Deer Blvd until it deadens and then you are coming back out the opposite way. If you just wanted a shorter ride, you could park at the trailhead for the Blue Hole Observation Platform. Please note the Refuge Visitors Center was closed when we were there and this may still be the case. If it is open, that would be a better place to park to give you more distance.

You can also join an annual ride from Miami to Key West or Ft. Lauderdale to Key West and have all the details taken care of for you.

Gregg rode from Marathon to arrive in Key West
Gregg rode from Marathon to...
Gregg cycling in Key West
..Key West

Virtual Experiences

Ready to experience Key West right now?

Enjoy the Live Web Cam at The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory. Check out their Facebook page for live streaming of butterflies, Rhett and Scarlett cameos, shopping events, and more. Flamingo Friday is the BEST!

People watch on Duval Street from your couch or the Southernmost Point.

Ready to splash in those legendary turquoise waters? Check out all the best inlets, sandbars, and backcountry with Key West Virtual Tours.

How to Work to Travel

Everything you need to know about traveling

Best In Show

The Best in accommodations, food and things to do in Key West were all exceptionally easy choices. Who doesn’t want flamingo kisses, to dine sea-side nibbling the best Key Lime Pie, and wake sipping your cup of nectar, next to your own private ocean-front bliss?

Things to DoThe Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory – Want to be kissed by a flamingo like I was? Escape the bustling streets of Key West to the intimate, fantastical, and magical world where a sea of hundreds of butterflies float effortlessly almost suspended midair and just as many birds call this fairytale home, including the world-famous Caribbean Flamingos Rhett and Scarlett born in 2012. After the conservatory closes, get up-close and personal with Rhett and Scarlett, where they will greet you and other attending guests in the gazebo. They may give you kisses, play with your sunglasses, beak your bling, untie your shoe laces, or perform their impressive open-winged bows. Each day is a different adventure! This was a life-highlight for both of us. I would have paid much more for this opportunity! Don’t miss this!

Food Four Marlins – It’s not normal for me to choose a hotel restaurant for a Best in Show feature, however, Four Marlins’ convenient location, delicious food and amazing dining atmosphere, with a stunning Atlantic Ocean and white sand beach view, is just hardly comparable to any other experience. Four Marlins had the best (non-fried) Key Lime Pie in The Keys, excellent services, and a lovely (side) sunset view made our dining experience memorable. I was so relaxed and didn’t want to leave. Unlike many Duval Street restaurants, Four Marlins was picturesque, quiet, and stunning. 

AccommodationOceanfront Paradise – A 28+day stay in paradise is what we all need to rejuvenate. This house is so awesome, just find a way to make this happen for yourself! This two-bedroom, two bath house, near Key West, with your own slice of beach to kayak from the backyard, an outdoor dining area that expands your living space and can double as a workspace, stunning sunset and water views, bring heaven to Earth just for you!

Flamingos in Key West Butterfly Conservatory
Key West Butterfly Conservatory
Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory
Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory

Alise’s Favorites and Suggestions

No one told me about the chickens- not one “peep”! So, I will tell you to prepare for the clucking of your life! That’s right… Key West is filled with chickens. They are everywhere. You will see them at the gas station, running through the grocery store parking lot, walking through a restaurant, and walking along the beach just out for a stroll. I mean everywhere!

Visitor’s Centers – Be aware that there are many activity reservation offices that call themselves visitor’s centers so you can walk in and feel guilty about not purchasing their services. I will say that it is helpful if you want to have someone else do the legwork.

Robert is Here! – Located in Homestead, Florida, Robert is Here is a must stop, just a bit before entering The Keys. Internationally known for their milkshakes with real fruit, you can also pick up rare and exotic fruits. Robert of Robert is Here, has been an entrepreneur since he was six years old. There is a small animal park in the back.

Parking – Parking can be difficult to find so I recommend first trying to park at the The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory. The lot is a public paid lot with quite a few spaces. You can also try the Old Town Parking Garage and from there you can take the FREE Duval Loop , city bus with 18 stops along Duval and even track the next bus so you can keep shopping or know how full it is if you need to catch the next one.  

Key West Express – Arrive to Key West in style, with the Key West Express.

I would avoid Rest Beach, as it is so incredibly tiny.

Florida is infamous for their hurricane season. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t visit during this time; it just means you can be prepared and know what to do.

Florida Trips

MY MUST HAVE TRAVEL GEAR

These items will make your travels memorable.

Sports Water Bottle
USB Portable Charger
Apple AirTag
2021 Apple 10.2-inch iPad
Crossbody Fanny Pack
USB Wall Charger
Phone Tripod
Compact Binoculars

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