The ultimate guide to visiting Key West, FL

  • Post last modified:June 16, 2022
You are currently viewing The ultimate guide to visiting Key West, FL

In Key West you find six-toed cats, free-roaming chickens and sunsets that are celebrated each night. And as winter never gets as far south, the summer is endless in Key West. The island is like no other place in Florida, the US or even the world. Visiting Key West is a quirky experience like nothing else.

This travel site can exist thanks to compensation from advertising and affiliate links. Find out more here.

Guide to visiting Key West, FL

What to expect when visiting Key West

Key West is located deep into the tropical Florida Keys archipelago. Still the Florida Keys island is connected to the mainland by US Highway 1. The Overseas Highway takes you from key to key all the way to Key West. It’s a very scenic way to get there, but flights and boats are other popular means of transportation to get to Key West.

The location of Key West means that Cuba is less than 100 miles (160 km) away, which is closer than Miami. Key West’s southern location also means that the weather stays warm every month of the year.

In January the daily average maximum temperature is 75°F (24°C), and even at night the temperature on average only goes down to 65°F (18°C). With that comfortable temperatures even in the coldest month of the year the summer in Key West is known as endless.

But the main attraction of the Florida Keys certainly has more to offer than wonderful weather. When visiting Key West you find a unique quirky vibe and something for everyone to explore. Key West is undeniably one of the most beautiful Florida islands.

Pelicans in Key West
Pelicans enjoying Key West.

Exploring the main streets of Key West

The two main streets in Old Town, Duval and Whitehead, offer a lot of fun attractions and great contrasts. If you get to know them, and the contrasts they offer, you get an understanding of what the island is all about.

Duval Street and Whitehead Street are parallel but they offer very different vibes. While Duval Street is the buzzing street, the more low profile Whitehead shows another side of the quirkiness that defines Key West.

Feel the buzz on Duval Street

Duval Street is the centre of attention, and it goes north to south, from the Atlantic Ocean down south to the Gulf of Mexico.

When you stroll down Duval Street you walk in the heart of Key West. On Duval Street you find a wide selection of restaurants, bars and souvenir shops. The road is only 1.25 miles (2 km) long, but full of terrific places to eat and drink.

The most famous bar of them all is Sloppy Joe’s Bar. It’s the renowned bar that Ernest Hemingway used to go to. Hemingway’s favorite Key West watering hole has been found on the same spot on Duval since 1937.

The saying that the clock always is 5 PM somewhere feels as meaningful as it possibly can on Duval Street in Key West. On Duval Street you always find reasons and possibilities to sit back and enjoy yourself, no matter what time of the day it is.

Key West villa surrounded by greenery
A villa along Duval Street in Key West.

Stroll the quieter but as charming Whitehead Street

If Duval Street is the heart of Key West, Whitehead Street is its soul. Whitehead Street goes parallel with Duval Street, one road in the western direction.

When visiting Key West you notice that Whitehead Street not is commercialized like Duval Street. Whitehead doesn’t have shops, restaurants and bars everywhere your eyes go. Instead Whitehead Street is rather quiet and lined with old-fashioned bungalows in beautiful bright colors.

On Whitehead Street you just across from each other find Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum and Key West Lighthouse. Hemingway often needed the lighthouse to be able to make it home from his favorite bar, Sloppy Joe’s. Conveniently so, he just needed to follow the light to get back home.

The famous Mile Marker 0 is another Whitehead Street attraction. It’s the end, or the beginning, of US Route 1. It runs along the East Coast of America, from the Canadian border all the way south to the tropical setting in Key West.

If you want a drink without leaving Whitehead, the Green Parrot Bar is ready to serve you something refreshing. It has stood in the same location since the end of the Second World War. The bar is appreciated both by locals and Key West visitors from all around the world.

All the way south on Whitehead Street you find the Southernmost Point. It not only means the end of Whitehead Street, but also the end of the US. The monument in shape of a large concrete buoy represents the southernmost point of the continental US.

Lighthouse in Key West
Whitehead Street in Key West.

Reasons to visit Key West

The warm weather is just one of numerous great reasons to visit Key West. Many visitors first travel to Key West for the weather but come back for everything else there is to like about the island.

Visit Key West for the endless summer

The warm tropical climate is one of the best reasons to visit Key West. You can visit Key West and enjoy warm temperatures while most other parts of North America are freezing. Key West is known for its endless summer.

In January which is the coldest month of the year the daily average maximum temperature is 75 °F (24 °C). Even at night in January the temperature on average only goes down to 65 °F (18 °C). That doesn’t sound too cold, does it?

Palm tree in Key West
A Key West palm tree.

Key West has the perfect holiday size

Key West is on average less than 2 miles wide (3.2 km) and roughly 4 miles (6.4 km) long. That’s perfect for a relaxing holiday. With such a managable size you can focus more on experiencing things instead of spending time on going from one place to another. Thanks to the convenient size every minute of your stay is fun.

If you stay in Old Town when visiting Key West you have most places of interest within walking distance. And if you don’t want to walk, the Conch Tour Train takes visitors around town. The perfect holiday size makes it easy to relax.

Conch train in KW
The Conch Tour arriving in Key West.

In Key West it’s always 5 PM

In Key West it’s always a good time to enjoy yourself. The laid-back vibe is a much appreciated part of life when you travel to Key West. And it’s hard to argue with the fact that it’s always 5 o’clock somewhere.

A cold drink and crashing waves
It’s always 5 PM somewhere.

Duval and Whitehead Street

The streets Duval and Whitehead complement each other so well. They offer a lot of charm and fun Key West places to explore.

Duval Street is full of good places to eat and drink and is to many visitors one of the best reasons to visit Key West. Of all places on Duval the most iconic one must be Sloppy Joe’s Bar. It used to be Hemingway’s watering hole and has been on the same spot since 1937.

On the quieter Whitehead Street you find fun attractions such as the Southernmost Point, Key West Lighthouse, Hemingway Home & Museum and Mile Marker Zero. While Duval Street sometimes can get a bit loud, Whitehead Street is less intense but at least as enjoyable.

The lighthouse in Key West
The lighthouse on Whitehead Street.

Visit Key West for the unique quirky vibe

Key West holds a since long settled quirky vibe. In Key West it’s good to be different, and being who you really are is encouraged.

The Key West quirkiness is not even distinguished by life or death. It’s something that you take with you into the grave in Key West. The text on a headstone in the cemetery on the island says, “I told you I was sick”.

Suitingly so, some of the most famous residents in Key West are the quirky six-toed cats that are descendants to a cat of Hemingway’s. You find them all over the historic Hemingway property.

Ernest Hemingway Key West bed and cat
A Hemingway cat.

Even getting to Key West is beautiful

Traveling to Key West on the Overseas Highway is a unique experience. The Overseas Highway takes you from the mainland on bridges that connect all the keys on the way to Key West. An especially iconic stretch when you drive to visit Key West is the Seven Mile Bridge that connects Knight’s Key to Little Duck Key.

The 7 mile bridge to Key West
The road leading to Key West.

The Key West sunset celebrations

Sunsets in Key West are very special and deliver the most spectacular show. At Mallory Square cozy sunset celebrations take place each evening.

By celebrating every day, you don’t take the joys of life for granted. And if you have seen a Mallory Square sunset you know that they are a great reason to visit Key West.

Red sunset in Key West
Sunset in Key West.

Best things to do when visiting Key West

When you look at all the things to do in Key West you quickly realize that the island for its small size has surprisingly much to offer. The best things to do in Key West include everything you need to have a good time on the South Florida island.

Explore Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum

Ernest Hemingway lived in Key West from 1931 to 1939. During his time in the southernmost city of the continental United States he wrote many of his most famous pieces.

The best way to increase your knowledge about Hemingway and one of the best things to do in Key West is to head to Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum. A visit to the old house of Hemingway is both educational and entertaining.

Hemingway himself beautifully stated that: “every man’s life, told truly, is a novel”. When you hear the entertaining novel about him during your visit you also learn some of the story about Key West.

Also a fun touch when you visit Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum is the cats that live on the property. The cats that are famous for being blessed with six toes freely roam in and around the Hemingway house just like they did back in the days.

Ernest Hemingway House as one of the best things to do in Key West
Ernest Hemingway House and Museum.

Enjoy beautiful views at Key West Lighthouse

The perfect attraction to combine with a visit to Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum is the Key West Lighthouse and Keeper’s Quarters Museum. They are located just across the street from each other.

Key West Lightouse opened in 1848 and was long essential in assuring safe arrivals of ships. But in 1969 it was decommissioned due to technological advancements. Today the lighthouse stands as a dedication to the rich maritime heritage of Key West.

When you visit you can walk to the top of the lighthouse to enjoy breathtaking views. No other place in Key West gives you as impressive panorama views as the island’s lighthouse. It’s 88 steps to reach the top but the incredible views from up there makes it well worth it and one of the best things to do in Key West.

In addition the adjoining Keeper’s Quarters Museum adds more depth to a visit. At the museum part of the lighthouse you can learn more about the history of the lighthouse, the heroic keepers and the important role it has played for Key West and Florida.

Lighthouse, blue sky and green bushes during daytime
Key West Lighthouse.

Celebrate the sunsets on Mallory Square

Mallory Square is situated in Old Town at the northern end of Duval Street and Whitehead Street. Here on the Gulf side of Key West, hundreds of people gather every evening to watch and celebrate the awe-inspiring Key West sunset. It’s the perfect place to end a day when visiting Key West.

Every evening Mallory becomes a melting pot with musicians, street performers and vendors. The quirky side of the island is really let loose here with all the creative performers.

Sunsets at Mallory Square is a great Key West tradition and the Sunset Celebration is one of the most iconic things to do in Key West. To enter Mallory Square is at no cost and therefore it’s also one of the best free things to do in Key West.

But have in mind that Mallory is the most popular place in Key West for the sunset. So it’s always wise to arrive early to be able to get a good spot for the spectacular show.

Mallory Square performer
A performer at Mallory Square’s Sunset Celebration.

Relax on a Key West beach

Key West can brag about endless summer and warm days even in winter. In such a warm climate lazy beach days certainly are very appreciated.

Fort Zachary Taylor Beach is a favorite beach and a great place to visit in Key West. It doesn’t tend to get as crowded as many of the other beaches on the island and it’s also a good spot to use your snorkeling gear.

The beach is located on the very western end of the island about 20 minutes by foot away from Old Town. It’s one of the best spots in Key West to go to for a relaxing day in the sun.

Although not as famous as Mallory Square it’s also a great spot to enjoy a colorful Key West sunset. At Fort Zachary Taylor the sunset is as pretty, but without the liveliness of Mallory Square.

Fort Zachary Taylor State Park
Fort Zachary Taylor State Park.

Shop dine and drink on Duval Street

The main road Duval Street cuts through Key West from the Mexican Gulf to the Atlantic side. The must-see street in Key West is vibrant and packed with shops, restaurants and bars. On Duval you have all the souvenirs, dining options and beverage providers that you need for your dream vacation.

But most importantly you definitely don’t have to be a drinker to enjoy the buzz of Duval Street. To just stroll along Duval and behold all its quirky activity is a fun thing to do in Key West for anyone.

Bar with dollar bills on ceiling
Willie T’s on Duval.

Visit Harry S. Truman’s Little White House

Ernest Hemingway is not the only famous inhabitant that Key West has had. Another prominent Key West resident was president Harry S. Truman.

Harry S. Truman’s Little White House was originally built in 1890 and it was used as headquarters for naval command during the second World War. But from 1946 it was used as a winter White House for the president during 11 visits.

In total Truman spent 175 days of his presidency at the Florida White House. From Key West he could work and unwind in a warm and relaxing environment.

The Florida White House has been restored and looks just like it did in 1949 during the Truman era. Artifacts such as Truman’s piano and working desk are two of the gems in the historic house.

Go to Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory

At Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory you are let into the magical world of butterflies. It’s a true tropical paradise with more than 50 butterfly species and over 20 exotic bird species. The conservatory is frequently ranked among the best places to visit in Key West.

Best of all when you visit is that you can walk among the hundreds of butterflies as you explore the conservatory. If you look inviting they might even land on you as you stroll through.

In addition to that you can also indulge in the science of butterflies when you visit the conservatory. Its learning center teaches you about the butterfly anatomy, feeding, life cycle and much more.

Butterfly in Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory
Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory.

Check out the Southernmost Point

Key West is the southernmost point of the continental United States. To celebrate and mark that out a large red, black and yellow concrete buoy proudly sits on Whitehead Street.

Visitors line up as early as dawn to take pictures of the famous buoy. From breakfast time until sunset a line of tourists appears on the block. All wanting a picture with the monument as a symbol for the ultimate Florida Keys trip.

A map shows you that there are a few points on the island where you in fact are even further south than the monument Southernmost Point. But no matter the exact placement of the monument, it’s amazing to be in the southernmost town of the continental US..

Concrete structure in form of a buoy at the ocean.
The Southernmost Point.

Visit the less crowded photo opportunity Mile Marker Zero

The US Highway 1 zero sign marks the end, or the beginning, of the highway that goes for 2,369 miles (3,813 km) from the Canadian border all the way down to Key West. It’s an iconic place to be at and another fun photo opportunity.

Compared to the buoy that marks out Southernmost Point and some of the other best things to do in Key West, the road sign Mile Marker Zero doesn’t get much attention. But that’s just a positive thing as you usually don’t have to queue to get a nice picture with the humble but legendary road sign.

Mile marker zero
Mile Marker Zero.

Take a cruise on the waters surrounding Key West

The waters around Key West are easily explored with a boat tour. And sunset cruises are very popular and one of the best things to do in Key West. The sunset celebration on Mallory Square is great, but it’s something special about enjoying the sunset from a boat. Preferably, with a glass of champagne in your hand.

Another popular cruise and top thing to do in Key West is to take a dolphin cruise. Dolphins live in the waters surrounding Key West and a dolphin-watching cruise can take you to them. A dolphin encounter can truly be a memory for life.

Dolphins in Florida swimming in the ocean during daytime
Florida dolphins.

Day trip to Dry Tortugas when visiting Key West

Dry Tortugas is a group of paradise islands that are located about 65 miles (108 km) west of Key West. The area that consists of seven small and uninhabited reef islands is preserved by Dry Tortugas National Park. It’s a remote destination and the only ways to reach the islands are by boat or seaplane.

In Dry Tortugas the main island Garden Key is home to Fort Jefferson, an old military fort which strategically was built to protect the Gulf of Mexico. Another highlight in Dry Tortugas is the charming lighthouse on Loggerhead Key.

A day trip from Key West to Dry Tortugas is the icing on the cake and one of the best things to do on any trip to Key West. Out there you can explore the history of Fort Jefferson and the rich marine life in its waters. Or you could just have a lazy day in the sun far away from civilisation.

Note that there is no lodging on the remote Dry Tortugas islands. You find the best options for where to stay near Dry Tortugas National Park in Key West.

Fort Jefferson in Dry Tortugas National Park
Fort Jefferson in Dry Tortugas National Park.

Go back in time at Audubon House & Tropical Gardens

When you visit the Audubon House and Tropical Gardens you step back in time to the mid 1800s in Key West. The house once belonged to captain John Huling Geiger, a maritime pilot who become rich through the lucrative shipwrecking business.

In the historic home you learn more about how it was to live in Key West in the 1800s. All the furnishings in the house reflect the extravagant life for the rich Geiger family.

In addition the peaceful tropical garden, with its green trees and plants, complements the house so well and makes a visit one of the best things to do in Key West. It’s really a lush and quiet tropical oasis not far away from the contrasting buzz on Duval Street.

See Key West from the saddle of a bike

Key West is a very walking friendly town. But a good alternative to exploring Key West by foot is to do so from a bicycle saddle. To see Key West by bike is both good for your health and a fun Key West thing to do.

By bike you can very quickly and easily explore the best things to do in Key West. A bike makes it easy to explore not only the traditional Old Town of Key West but also more hidden areas of the island.

If you have a bike you with little effort can use it to go between Mallory Square and Fort Zachary Taylor Beach in less than 10 minutes.

Exploring the best things to do in Key West by bike
Key West by bike.

Visit the Historic Seaport of Key West

Key West has for more than 200 years provided safe anchorage for boats in the area. A natural bight, or bend, on the northern end of the island creates a naturally protected harbor.

The Historic Seaport area of Key West is home to many restaurants and bars where you can have a bite to eat or something to drink. In the harbor you also often find many fancy yachts to admire as you stroll through.

Key West Historic Seaport as one of the best things to do
Key West Historic Seaport.

Have a refreshing beverage at Sloppy Joe’s Bar

Among all bars on the island, Sloppy Joe’s is on top of the list. It was founded already in 1933, and Ernest Hemingway soon made it his favorite watering hole.

But Sloppy Joe’s location on the island was originally across the street from the current location. The move to today’s spot was made in 1937, when the owner moved the establishment to avoid a rent increase.

A raise from three to four dollars a week might not sound as much to fight about today. However, back in the days it was a significant amount of money.

Luckily, Sloppy Joe’s managed to find another spot in the heart of Duval Street. The bar contributes to the buzz of Key West with refreshing drinks and live music. At Sloppy Joe’s you have all you need for a good night out when visiting Key West, just like in the days of Hemingway.

Sloppy Joe's Bar in Key West
Hemingway’s favorite watering hole, Sloppy Joe’s

Beaches in Key West

The world’s third longest barrier reef protects Florida Keys from big ocean waves. That’s great news for the diving enthusiast. However, for the sandy beach lover that could be negative.

Without big waves the mechanism that creates sand in a natural way is missing. Hence Key West is not known primarily as a beach or surf destination. But do not despair as there still are a few nice Key West beaches to choose from.

The best beach in Key West

Fort Zachary Taylor Beach is often referred to as the best beach in Key West. The well maintained beach is located in the western end of Key West, approximately a 20 minute walk away from the always busy Duval Street.

As the Key West beach is part of a state park there is a small fee to enter. But right at the beach there is a café, picnic tables, grills and restrooms in case you need a break. In other words the Key West beach has what you need to spend a full day there.

At Fort Zachary Taylor Beach you also find the iconic mile marker sign reminds you about that Key West is situated closer to Cuba than to Miami.

Sign on FLorida Keys beach warning that no lifeguard is on duty
Fort Zachary Taylor Beach in Key West.

Other beaches in Key West

There are free beaches to visit in Key West as well. Higgs Beach is one of them that’s conveniently located near Duval Street. Another free Key West Beach is Smathers Beach, which is located a bit further away from Old Town attractions.

On top of the public beaches there are also many private beaches in Key West. These are attached to hotels or private homes.

Key West beach sign during daytime
The mile marker sign at Fort Zachary.

Beaches higher up in the Florida Keys

You find some beach gems in the other parts of Florida Keys as well. Bahia Honda Beach is located about 35 miles (56 km) and a little less than 1 hour away by car. Even further up in Florida Keys you find Sombrero Beach which is another great Florida Keys beach.

Bahia Honda State Park in Florida Keys
Bahia Honda State Park.

Sunsets in Key West

To admire the sunset in Key West is an appreciated activity that both locals and tourists participate in daily. “See you at Sunset” is a commonly heard phrase on the island. Every time the sun sinks into the Gulf of Mexico is something special.

Key West sunsets at Mallory Square

The most famous place to watch sunsets in Key West is Mallory Square. There hundreds of people gather every evening to participate in the Sunset Celebration.

In the front row at the Mexican Gulf the welcoming Mallory Square is the most iconic way to enjoy a Key West sunset. As the sun sets into the horizon a wide range of performers entertain and contribute to a quirky and friendly atmosphere.

If you want liveliness there is no better place to watch a Key West sunset than at Mallory Square. It’s also a proud tradition and a must on most Key West bucket lists.

Mallory Square sunset celebration in Key West.
Sunset Celebration on Mallory Square.

Key West sunsets at Fort Zachary Taylor

Fort Zachary Taylor State park not only has what again and again is referred to as the best beach in Key West. It’s also a fantastic sunset location in Key West if you prefer a more quiet scene.

There is no entertainment at Fort Zachary Taylor like there is on Mallory Square. But for the days you want to escape the crowds to more privately take in the Key West sunset it’s the perfect spot.

As you walk along the Fort Zachary Taylor shoreline there’s nothing that distracts you from the beautiful sunset. For peacefulness Fort Zachary Taylor offers the best sunsets in Key West.

Sunset in Key West
Key West sunset at Fort Zachary Taylor.

Take in a Key West sunset from the water

Mallory Square and Fort Zachary Taylor are both excellent Key West sunset spots. But after all there’s nothing quite like watching a sunset in Key West from the water.

A sunset sail shows you another side of Key West. With amazing views and refreshing beverages to sail into the sunset is a spectacular way to end a day in Key West.

Sunset cruise in Key West.
Sunset cruise in Key West.

The unique quirky spirit in Key West

Key West has always been a place for freethinkers and most of all it’s the residents that make the place quirky. But some attributes showing the unique quirky Key West way really stand out when you visit.

Conch Republic

In 1982 the city of Key West declared itself Conch Republic, as a protest against a blockade set up by the US border patrol on US Highway 1 at the beginning of the Florida Keys. Since then Key West residents proudly call themselves Conchs, pronounced as “KONKS”.

Free-roaming chickens

Watch out for chickens roaming down the street during your trip to Key West. The free-roaming chicken population is to be seen throughout the island. And they seem to enjoy life at least as much as the human Key West locals.

Roosters walking the street
Roosters walking the street.

“I told you I was sick”

When you wander through the cemetery when visiting Key West one headstone especially catches your attention. It reads “I told you I was sick”, highlighting that the quirkiness of the island isn’t distinguished by life or death. Instead, it’s a permanent phenomenon.

Six-toed cats

During his days Ernest Hemingway was given the cat Snow White, a white six-toed cat, by a ship’s captain. Today, descendants with the same trait live on the Ernest Hemingway property in Key West and continue to pass on the heritage of Hemingway.

Ernest Hemingway Key West six-toed cat
Descendant to Snow White, Hemingway’s cat.

Sunset Celebration

The saying that you should live every day of your life as if it were your last really comes to life every night in Key West. On Mallory Square in Key West every sunset means that it’s time to celebrate.

Sunset in Key West
Sunset in Key West.

The best time to visit Key West

If you ask ten locals when the best time to visit Key West is you probably get ten different answers. That’s because Key West is a year-round destination. But depending on what you kind of weather you prefer there are better and worse times to visit Key West.

Visiting Key West in winter (peak season)

Winter is often referred to as the best time of the year to visit Key West. December, January and February is the peak period of the year when most tourists flock the streets of Key West.

In January, the coldest month of the year, Key West’s average daytime temperature reaches 75°F (24°C). Even at night it doesn’t on average get colder than 65°F (18°C).

So when most of the northern hemisphere is freezing Key West remains warm and comfortable. To escape cold temperatures winter is the perfect time to visit Key West.

Visiting Key West in spring (shoulder season)

Spring is a very attractive time to visit Key West as well. March, April and May bring fewer visitors to Key West but warmer temperatures compared to the very busy winter months.

April means average daily high temperatures of 83°F (28°C). At night the temperature on average only goes down to 74°F (23°C).

The climbing temperatures makes spring one of the best times to visit Key West if you want warmer temperatures. Spring is warmer than winter but not hot and humid like summer. As a bonus the lodging rates also go down after the popular winter period.

Visiting Key West in summer (hot and humid season)

Summer means that the weather gets both hotter and wetter. Often in June, July and August a clear morning is followed by a thunderstorm in the afternoon.

In July the temperature on average reaches 89°F (32°C) during daytime before it retreats back to 81°F (27°C) at night. But have in mind that the temperature feels even hotter in the humid South Florida climate.

Therefore if you can’t stand hot temperatures summer is the worst time to visit Key West. But if the temperatures don’t deter you summer is a great time to enjoy Key West.

Visiting Key West in autumn (hurricane season)

Florida’s hurricane season peaks in the autumn. A hurricane is certainly nothing to wish for but if you time it well September, October and November could be the best time to visit Key West.

Although September is generally rather hot the temperature retreats back to an average daily high of 85°F (30°C) in October. The average low in October is a comfortable 77°F (25°C), which is just perfect for strolling Duval Street.

With a combination of hurricane season, hot temperatures and kids going back to school September is the ideal month if you look for the cheapest time to visit Key West. But in general autumn is a great time to snatch that awesome Key West deal.

The last Florida island along US Route 1
The quirky Key West.

Where to stay when visiting

There are many great places to stay in Key West. If you stay in Old Town, which is on the western part of the island, you have most attractions nearby. Then you can relax and not have to think about driving or making it in time for a shuttle to get around.

The southern part of Duval closer to Southernmost Point is good if you prefer it quiteter but still central. For more action right at your door steps it’s better to stay at a hotel near Mallory Square on the northern end of Duval when visiting Key West.

But if you don’t plan to spend much time in Old Town it could be a good option to stay in the eastern parts of Key West to get better hotel rates. Generally, the further away from Duval and Whitehead Street attractions the better rates you find.

How to get around in Key West

The size of Key West is perfect for a laid-back vacation. If you stay in Old Town when visiting Key West you have walking distance to all the things to do on Duval Street and Whitehead Street. Therefore using a car when visiting Key West isn’t necessary or even optimal.

Instead you can easily walk, bike or take the Old Town trolley tour when you explore Key West. The latter is a hop-on and hop-off trolley that takes island visitors to most Key West places of interest.

Southern part of Duval Street
The southern part of Duval Street.

Driving to Key West

The Overseas Highway is the southermost part of US Highway 1. It takes you the scenic 113 miles (182 km) from the Florida mainland all the way down south to Key West. Driving the Overseas Highway is one of the most popular road trips from Miami and the most spectacular way to travel to Key West.

Along the impressive highway there’s a lot to do apart from enjoying amazing views. Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon and the Lower Keys are great stops on the Miami to Key West road trip itinerary.

Key Largo

The Key Largo area is known as the gateway to Florida Keys. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park and the African Queen Canal Cruise are attractions not to miss in the area.


Islamorada is the halfway point between Miami and Key West. Popular things to do in Islamorada are to visit Indian Key Historic State Park and to feed the giant tarpons at Robbie’s.


Marathon is situated in the heart of Florida Keys. Sombrero Beach that’s located in Marathon is one of the best beaches in the Keys. In Marathon you also find the Florida Keys Turtle Hospital.

Lower Keys

The Lower Keys are the final islands along US Highway 1 before you get to Key West. In National Key Deer Refuge the tiniest member of the North American white-tailed deer family lives. The Lower Keys is also home to Bahia Honda State Park and its famous beach.

Bridge in Florida Keys surrounded by blue water
From island to island to Key West.

Visiting Key West FAQ

Here you find the answers to some frequently asked questions about visiting Key West, FL.

Is Key West worth visiting?

While endless summer alone is a great reason to travel to Key West, there is much more on offer than just the warm weather. Above all the island has interesting places to visit and a unique quirky atmosphere. It’s always five o’clock somewhere and five o’clock is best spent in Key West.

How many days do I need in Key West?

Key West is such a small and compact place that you could explore the main attractions on the island in 2-3 days without hurrying around too much. However, to fully unwind during your stay more days are recommended. Also add time if you want to do activities on the water such as a day trip to Dry Tortugas.

What is the best month to go to Key West?

As Key West is a year-round destination the best month to go to Key West depends on what weather you prefer. But in general winter is the most popular time of the year to visit Key West. Then the visitor count skyrockets and the island is as busiest.

What is the coldest month in Key West?

January is the coldest month in Key West. In January the average daily maximum temperature is 75°F (24°C). At night the temperature remains comfortable as it on average only go down to 65°F (18°C).

Do you need a car in Key West?

In Old Town you find most of the island’s attractions within walking distance. Therefore the average visitor who stays in Old Town doesn’t need a car to explore Key West. But if you plan to visit other parts of the Keys you need a car to get there.

Can you walk everywhere in Key West?

A very appreciated thing about Key West is that the island is very walking friendly. You can walk from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. Or from Mallory Square to the Ernest Hemingway Home. Most attractions in Key West are accessible by foot.

Are beaches free in Key West?

There are free beaches in Key West for visitors to enjoy. Free Key West beaches include Higgs Beach and Smathers Beach. In contrast Fort Zachary Taylor Beach is part of a state park and therefore there is a small fee to enter.

Can you see Cuba from Key West?

You can’t see Cuba from Key West. Although Cuba only is about 90 miles (145 km) away from Key West it’s too far away for you to be able to see it. But if you still want to try Key West Lighthouse is the tallest building on the island.

Continue reading

The best US islands to visit >

Where to stay in Florida Keys >

Must see places in Florida >

Orlando to Key West road trip >

More things to do in Florida >