Guide to Florida Keys

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Reaching out from the Florida mainland’s southern tip, the Florida Keys is a ribbon of gorgeous islands. Down here, on palm-dotted islands where the summer never ends, the world just feels different. There are many top destinations in Florida, and the charming Florida Keys is certainly one of them.

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Florida Keys guide

Florida Keys destinations

Florida Keys is an island paradise offering year-round summer and crystal-clear waters. Secludedness is easy to find all over Florida Keys, but Key West offers a surprisingly vibrant entertainment scene.

  • Key Largo – The first Florida Keys island, and the biggest, is Key Largo. As soon as you enter Key Largo, incredible Florida Keys diving spots greet you.
  • Islamorada – Five main islands make up Islamorada. Slightly deeper into the Keys, it’s a beautiful area where you find a nice mix of activity and laidbackness.
  • Marathon – Marathon is conveniently located at the midway point of the Florida Keys, but the destination is much more than a pit stop. The Caribbean charm is evident in the Florida Keys’ heart.
  • Lower Keys – You probably haven’t heard a lot about Lower Keys. The area between Marathon and Key West is incredibly quiet. If you just want to get away from it all, this is a good place to park your car.
  • Key West – At the end of the Overseas Highway, Key West invites you to a good old time. Filled with quirky attractions, it’s the undisputed capital of the Florida Keys.
Statue depicting railroad tycoon Henry Flagler sitting on bench outside Flagler Station in Key West
Florida Keys’ final station, Key West.

Things to do in Florida Keys

The best things to do in Florida Keys are mostly about enjoying the spectacular environment that the area offers. However, Key West also offers highlights for history buffs and nightlife lovers.

  • Explore John Pennekamp – Boasting coral reefs and tropical marine life, John Pennekamp State Park is not like any other park. Jump into the inviting Florida Keys water yourself, or take a glass-bottom tour.
  • Lounge on a beach – In the endless summer climate of the Keys, every day is a beach day. Luckily there are several nice beaches to lounge on, from Key Largo to Key West.
  • Enter Hemingway’s world – History buff or not, the Ernest Hemingway House in Key West is a top attraction. Where the famous author once lived, a colorful Florida Keys story is told.
  • Enjoy Duval – Duval Street is where the Florida Keys really wakes to life. The 1.25 miles (2 km) long Key West road is lined by tasty restaurants and quirky watering holes.
  • Visit Dry Tortugas – Key West might be the final stop of the Overseas Highway, but it’s not the end of the Florida Keys. Further west, isolated from civilization, Dry Tortugas is a remarkable national park.

There’s more: Bookmark our guides with all the best things to do in Florida Keys and best things to do in Key West.

Seaplane parked at the edge of the water in Dry Tortugas National Park, FL
Dry Tortugas is only reached by boat or seaplane.

Where to stay in Florida Keys

There are many good places to stay in Florida Keys. With an abundance of keys to choose from, there’s an island for every occasion and mood.

  • Stay in Key Largo – It’s the first Florida Keys island but still offers quintessential places to stay. Up here you’re in the front row for John Pennekamp and day trips to Everglades.
  • Stay in Islamorada – You find some of the most iconic Florida Keys resorts in Islamorada. Its heart of activity, Upper Matecumbe Key, also provides a welcome selection of restaurants and bars.
  • Stay in Marathon – Offering all the amenities you need, including the calming Sombrero Beach, there’s much to like about Marathon. As a bonus its central location makes Florida Keys day trips easy.
  • Stay in Lower Keys – Do you want to wake up at a hotel in an area where it’s just you and the sun? The Lower Keys is a base for travelers who prefer a really quiet time.
  • Stay in Key West – Stay in Old Town for the best access to all that Key West has to offer. Here, in a vibrating area loaded with attractions, you within steps have all you need for an unforgettable Florida Keys vacation.

Related: Check out our complete guide to where to stay in Florida Keys.

Boardwalk in Marathon, Florida, lined by white houses and palm trees on the right side and calm water on the left
Go to bed in Florida Keys’ Marathon.

Florida Keys hotels

Spoiling you with options, there’s everything from beachfront resorts to charming inns in the Florida Keys. However, the region is hard to navigate for the budget traveler.

  • Islander Resort – Check in at a beautifully landscaped Islamorada resort that has become a Florida Keys institution. The Islander Resort has its own beach and is surrounded by tranquility.
  • Moorings Village – Do you hang out on Netflix a lot? The Moorings Village is that gorgeous resort in Bloodline, also known as the Rayburn House.
  • Almond Tree Inn – Almond Tree Inn is a lovely Key West base. The central Key West hotel, radiating tropical vibes, gives you effortless access to the southernmost city’s best sights.
Sun reaching through palm trees on sandy Florida Keys beach during sunset
Florida Keys is synonymous with tropical vibes.

Best beaches in Florida Keys

The beaches in Florida Keys are not as wide and sandy as those you find elsewhere in Florida, such as in Miami or on Marco Island. Still there are several gems for those lazy Florida Keys days.

  • John Pennekamp Beach – Most of all John Pennekamp State Park is famous for its snorkeling and diving. However, the Key Largo park also has a beach that’s a good introduction to the Florida Keys waters.
  • Sombrero Beach – Say hello to crystal-clear water, soft sand and swaying palm trees. Marathon’s Sombrero Beach is appreciated by both human and turtles, which nest on the beach from April to October.
  • Bahia Honda Beach A few islands past the iconic Seven Mile Bridge, Bahia Honda Beach is a marine sanctuary within Bahia Honda State Park. Snorkel in the water or just take in the views of the picturesque Bahia Honda Railroad Bridge.
  • Fort Zachary Taylor Beach – The beach in Fort Zachary Taylor State Park, hidden at Key West’s western end, is fringed by clear water full of marine life. Yet it peaks as the sun starts to sink into the Mexican Gulf, creating a colorful spectacle.
Derelict Bahia Honda Rail Bridge as seen from the shoreline of Bahia Honda State Park
Picture-perfect Bahia Honda Beach.

Tips for visiting Florida Keys

Florida Keys is welcoming like few other places in the world. But with these tips you can make your Florida Keys trip even better.

  • Protect yourself from the sun – This is the Sunshine State’s most southern part: Key West even marks the southernmost point of the continental US. Around the year, including the winter period, the tropical sun is unforgiving, so make sure to be sun smart.
  • Sightsee early or late – Key West is full of fascinating sights. But to avoid that overwhelming midday heat, plan in those activities early or late in the day.
  • Tour the Overseas Highway – The Overseas Highway, one of the most iconic US road trips, takes you from Florida’s mainland all the way to Key West. Driving it is a stunning way to explore the Keys.
  • Consider the Everglades – Brimming with wild nature, the Everglades is the home of the alligator. From Key Largo it’s less than an hour by car to Ernest Coe Visitor Center, where the Everglades adventure begins.

Are the open roads calling? We have a legendary Miami to Key West road trip itinerary ready for you.

Overseas Highway sign in Florida Keys
The Overseas Highway runs to Key West.

When to visit Florida Keys

Florida Keys’ endless summer makes it a beautiful year-round destination. Yet each season offers its distinctive advantages.

  • Spring – Warm, but not scorching, temperatures makes spring an ideal time to visit Florida Keys. Luckily the archipelago is spared from those intense spring break gatherings.
  • Summer – Summer days are hot and humid, often with afternoon thunderstorms. This time of the year locals take it easy or head out on the water to cool down.
  • Fall – If you want to beat the crowds, fall is the best time to visit Florida Keys. But take into consideration that it’s the peak of hurricane season, which officially lasts from June 1 until November 30.
  • Winter – This is the perfect time to take advantage of the endless Florida Keys summer. Although winter is the year’s coldest season, day temperatures hit the mid 70s (24°C) and remain comfy at night.
The sun shining through a palm tree in Key Largo, FL
The Keys remain warm year round.

Visit Florida Keys FAQ

Is a trip to Florida Keys worth it?

A trip to Florida Keys is for anyone who likes the idea of slow-paced vacation in a tropical environment. Key West is also a unique destination for history buffs and nightlife lovers.

Which Florida Key is the prettiest?

Florida Keys is a paradise of hundreds of Florida islands, and picking just one isn’t an easy task. Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, Lower Keys and Key West all hold great beauty.

How long does it take to drive down the Florida Keys?

Shooting out across the water, the Overseas Highway runs for 113 miles (182 km) from Key Largo to Key West. The journey takes 2.5 hours, excluding time for stops. But if you decide to take the iconic drive, make sure to fit in several stops.

What is the difference between Florida Keys and Key West?

Florida Keys is the entire archipelago that extends out from the southern tip of Florida’s mainland, while Key West is its final connected island. In other words, Key West is the southernmost island city in the Florida Keys.

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