Key West is one of the most iconic destinations on the East Coast. This tiny island, attached to mainland Florida by only a thin strip of asphalt, carries its own “Conch Republic” spirit of laid-back independence. Key West is one of the oldest cities in Florida and has sights and activities for everyone. So whether your pleasure is a quiet walk on a deserted sandbar or a night of bar crawling the world-famous Duval Street, Key West is sure to please.
Here’s a look at Key West–how to get there, where to stay, things to do, and what to eat.
How to Get to Key West
Visitors traveling to Key West have many arrival options. You could arrive on a yacht or seaplane and explore the island like a celebrity, or you could travel by plane, ferry, or car like a mere mortal.
Traveling to Key West is half the fun. Whether you arrive by plane, ferry, or take a road trip, your trip will give you a great introduction to Key West’s splendor.
Fly into Key West International Airport
Many visitors choose to fly into Key West. All the major airlines such as American Airlines, Delta, United, and Silver offer connecting flights to Key West. Choose the EKW airport code and check for the best deals.
Visitors who fly in are treated to stunning, bird-eye views of our fabulous island chain. You’ll see the shimmering, turquoise Atlantic waters and the alluring islands in the backcountry, all punctuated by the iconic US1 highway.
Flying offers the most direct and quickest route to Key West. So if you only have a weekend and want to focus on enjoying everything Key West has to offer, consider flying in.
Ferry from Fort Myers & Marco Island
Key West Express offers ferry transportation from either Fort Myers Beach or Marco Island to Key West. This is a great option if you are exploring Florida’s Southwest coast and want to plan a Key West getaway.
The ferry trip is a destination in itself. Key West Express has large, comfortable ferries with interior air conditioning and several exterior sun decks. So relax outside, watch for dolphins, hang out in the A/C, and order a drink from the full-service galley and bar. The ferry ride takes 3.5 to 4 hours.
Drive US-1 to Key West
The Overseas Highway is a legend. The highway follows the train route Henry Flagler established for his East Coast Railroad, which ran between 1912 and 1935. After the railway was destroyed in a hurricane, a road was built along the railway route. The highway was opened in 1938.
The drive from Miami to Key West is 150 miles and about three hours if you don’t stop. You’ll drive over 42 bridges, including the famous Seven Mile Bridge near Marathon. The Seven Mile Bridge has been featured in many movies, from 1948’s Key Largo to 1994’s True Lies and 2003’s 2 Fast 2 Furious.
The drive goes through many island towns and villages like Key Largo, known for snorkeling and diving, and Islamorada, known as the “sportfishing capital of the world.” Along the route, there are endless opportunities to enjoy a quintessential catch of the day at any number of quirky waterside restaurants.
Where to Stay in Key West
Visitors have many accommodation options in Key West. However, if you are coming during peak season, you may just have to find whatever is available. For example, you can stay near the beach, off Duval, or in a historic guesthouse.
Accommodations Near Key West Beaches
The upside of staying near a Key West beach is obvious–easy beach access! So if you intend to get your toes in the sand and soak up the sun, the beach is the place to be.
If you stay near the beach, you can walk to the beach for sunrise or sunset. While the beaches in Key West are lovely, they aren’t a typical 20-mile-long dune-lined beach. Instead, Keys’ beaches are small and flat, and some are even man-made. The natural ecology of the area is rocky or mangrove forests. However, if you want to sit in the sand and enjoy the water’s edge, Key West can oblige.
Duval Street Accommodations
If you want to experience the intoxicating Key West culture, stay on or near Duval Street. All the action happens on this street, from laid-back bars to party central. You’ll find all manner of tourist traps, souvenir shops, upscale boutiques, and hidden cafes.
While Duval Street is filled with restaurants, bars, and shops, many Key West hotels and lodgings are within walking distance. You can walk to your favorite watering hole and back to your hotel. Try a guest house, Airbnb, hotel, or inn.
Historic Key West Guesthouses
While Key West is known for its parties and bars, it’s also a historic city with a long history and fascinating culture. Key West is a mecca for artists and those looking for peace and quiet, too. If you’re looking for an island sanctuary, try booking a guesthouse.
Experience Key West’s grandeur and refinement by booking a historic guest house or B&B. Charming guest houses often feature verandahs and balconies to relax on. And don’t forget the other perks, like welcome drinks and daily breakfast. In addition, staying in a guest house is a great way to meet fellow travelers and immerse yourself in Key West’s laid-back culture.
Must-Do Key West Activities
Key West offers activities that will appeal to any traveler. So whether you are an excitement junkie or prefer strolling through an art gallery, Key West packs a lot of options into its tiny island.
Stopping whatever you are doing, heading down to the water, and watching the sun sink below the horizon every day is a Key West tradition. Every sunset is celebrated in Key West.
There’s something intoxicating about watching a Key West sunset, and there’s no better place to watch a sunset than from a boat. Book a private sunset charter to enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime experience. On a private cruise, you’ll have the whole boat reserved for just you and your family. You can relax, enjoy a beverage, and take pictures of a magical Key West sunset.
Explore the Cemetery
The Key West Cemetery has many interesting gravestones and is the final resting site for many Key West residents and celebrities. For example, “Sloppy” Joe Russell, a famous bartender and friend of Hemingway’s, is buried here.
Visitors will find a monument to those who died during the Ten Year’s War (1868 to 1878) to free Cuba from Spanish Rule. The cemetery’s oldest gravesite belongs to Captain James Johnson, who died in 1829.
Drink Your Way Down Duval
A drinking tour of Duval Street is a great way to meet residents and taste Key West’s best brews and cocktails. There are 43 bars along Duval Street, so we don’t necessarily recommend visiting every bar in one night. Local tour companies offer a fun Key West Pub Crawl, which comes with a guided tour and a souvenir t-shirt.
If you organize your own Duval Crawl, be sure to hit Sloppy Joe’s. This famous bar hosted Hemingway while he lived in Key West. Captain Tony’s was also a Hemingway favorite and is featured in the Jimmy Buffett song “Last Mango in Paris.”
You can place your bets on your favorite turtle at Turtle Kraals and see who wins the (very slow!) race. In addition, Turtle Kraals has a beautiful rooftop bar where you can savor your victory.
Green Parrot Bar has been serving drinks and showing off local artists since 1890.
Getting Around Key West
Driving a car is irritating and unnecessary in Key West. Parking is limited, and the
streets are narrow and sometimes busy. It’s best to stick to a smaller, simpler vehicle– like a golf cart, scooter, or bike. Golf carts offer plenty of seating, scooters are fun, and bikes provide the quintessential vacation transport.
Rent a Golf Cart
If you’ve got a group with you, you can’t beat a golf cart for getting around the island. Golf carts are fun to drive, easy to park, and easy to manage. You can drive around Duval Street and hop off and on at each stop that interests you.
A golf cart is a great way to sight-see and get around town. Golf carts seat four, six, or eight, so they are are super convenient if you are looking for a great way to see the island as a family.
Rent a Scooter
Scooters are another fun way to experience Key West. They are easy to park, you can easily pull over to your next location, and they are just plain fun! You can scoot down Duval Street, check out Fort Zachary Taylor State Park, or visit the cemetery. Cruising town on a scooter is the ultimate Key West experience.
Rent a Bike
Renting a bike is a traditional way to enjoy Key West. Bikes offer the most flexible way to travel around town. You can pull your bike over anywhere and enjoy the island at a slower pace. Bike to the beach, visit Mallory Square and hop off for a picture at the Southernmost Point. A bike will allow you to poke around the quiet backstreets and see a Key West that only the locals get to see.
What to Eat in Key West
Key West has a delightful and delicious cuisine scene. With its waterfront position, many restaurants feature fresh-caught seafood. Local fresh fish specials include hogfish, grouper, and mahi-mahi.
Key West Conch Fritters
In addition, conch fritters are a popular appetizer or bar bite. Conch (said “konk,” like “honk”) is a shellfish native to South Florida and The Bahamas. Conch grow in beautiful pink conch shells. The conch meat is tenderized and then battered and fried to make conch fritters. Conch fritters are traditionally served with a delicious remoulade sauce. Conch salad, which features conch ceviche, is another popular way to eat conch in Key West.
Key West Key Lime Pie
Finally, don’t miss out on a slice of famous Key Lime Pie. Key limes are smaller than regular limes and have yellow-green skin. These unique limes probably came to the Keys in the 1500s with the Spanish.
Cooks in the early Key West days didn’t have cows and didn’t have access to fresh milk, so they relied on sweetened condensed milk. Then, in the 1800s, Key West residents started making Key Lime Pie, and it’s been a hit ever since! Some recipes use graham crackers in the crust, some feature meringue, and some use whipped cream.
Some are frozen, and some are baked like custard. Try all the varieties and choose your favorite!
Key West Happy Hour
Key West restaurants and bars are famous for their Happy Hours. Happy Hours often run between 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm or 7:00 pm. Some bars have nightly features, such as Martini Monday at Virgilio’s. Virigilo’s offers discount martinis with a live band.
El Meson de Pepe serves Cuban appetizers and homemade mojitos right in the middle of Mallory Square. Rick’s on Duval Street offers nightly specials. Most bars host a Happy Hour, so check your favorite spot and enjoy your night out.
If you are headed out to dinner, reservations are recommended in 2022. The season has been busier than ever, and making a reservation at your preferred restaurant will help avoid disappointment.
Must-Do Key West Excursions
Key West offers an endless variety of activities and excursions. Visitors can tour the island or head off to enjoy watersports. Jet ski rentals, fishing tours, snorkeling tours and sandbar excursions are a great way to experience Key West from the water.
Key West Sandbar Excursion
If you flew into Key West, you might have noticed the variety of tiny islands and sandbars surrounding Key West. These enchanting islands and sandbars are popular party and hang-out spots. You can play music, relax in the shade, swim, or enjoy floating. Of course, a sandbar is a perfect destination for amazing vacation photos!
You’ll need a boat to visit Key West’s best sandbars. If you have boating experience and want to captain your own vessel, you can rent a jet ski or boat. If you want to leave the navigation to a professional, hire a sandbar charter boat.
These charters will take you out to the best sandbars, give you the area’s history, and will give you the option to add a snorkeling tour or sunset cruise to the trip. On a sandbar trip, guests often see dolphins, manatees, birds, and other wildlife.
Key West Snorkeling Excursion
The Keys are known for their stunning reef system. However, the reef is several miles offshore, so you’ll need to get on a boat to access the best snorkeling. You can join a scheduled tour boat and head out to the reef. Or, you can choose a charter boat and enjoy the day at the reef with just your party.
Casual Mondays offers private snorkeling tours. We’ll take you to the best part of the reef, depending on the day’s weather and other tour boat schedules. You’ll enjoy a smooth trip to the snorkel spot. Snorkelers often spot a variety of reef fish like parrotfish and angelfish. In addition, you might see spotted eagle rays, dolphins, or a nurse shark.
Tour Key West by Foot
One of the most relaxing ways to see Key West is simply walking around. You don’t need a plan or a schedule. Just head out from your lodging and walk the streets. You’ll find lively bars, delicious restaurants, boutique shops, art galleries, and gardens. Wandering around Key West is a great way to get to know our island, meet residents, and experience the Conch Republic’s charm.