Get to Know Key West, FL
Key West is the southernmost of the islands that trail off the coast of Florida that are collectively known as the Florida Keys. While the island/city of Key West does have its own airport with regular service to and from Miami and several other hubs, it’s also possible to make the 3-hour drive south from Miami along the Overseas Highway or visit Key West by boat. Flights from Miami take about an hour, while direct flights from New York, Chicago, and Dallas take less than four hours. Tourism season runs January through April, although the weather is warm year round, fluctuating from the low 70s to the low 80s.
Arts, Culture, and History
Even though Key West is only about four square miles, it fills far more than that in the American imagination. This is a land of tropical plants and glorious sunshine, blue-green waters and strips of white sandy beaches, where tourists can visit cultural sites, botanical gardens and nature conservatories, and enjoy the best snorkeling and fishing the Southeast has to offer, all in as little as a weekend. Popular attractions include Duval Street, Mallory Square’s Sunset Celebration, the Ernest Hemingway House and Museum, the Key West Garden Club, the Key West Butterfly Conservatory, the Southernmost Point Buoy, and the Key West Lighthouse and Keeper’s Quarters Museum.
The rich history of the island is reflected by the Spanish, British, and American influences on its architecture, culture, and landmarks. While Florida seceded from the U.S. along with the rest of the southern states during the U.S. Civil War, Key West remained under Union control because of the naval base located there. Fort Zachary Taylor and the East and West Martello Towers constructed during the war still stand there today, and are now historic landmarks open for tours. Once the island was connected to the Florida mainland by the Overseas Railway and later the Overseas Highway in the early 1900s, Keys tourism picked up. Today, Key West is one of the most popular destinations for activities like snorkeling and fishing.
Top Attractions in Key West
While travelers to Key West who enjoy art, shopping, museums, live music, and swimming will find much to enjoy, the real draws of Key West are snorkeling and fishing. Some of the city beaches do offer snorkeling at the shore but for the most exciting expedition, visit Dry Tortugas National Park, just west of Key West. Accessible only by ferry, this national park is a small collection of keys and is mostly underwater. Multiple areas for snorkeling make it a good choice for new and experienced snorkelers alike. Plentiful fish, coral heads, and other marine wildlife keep people coming back.
Key West’s unique geography as the place where the waters of the Atlantic meet the waters of the Gulf of Mexico deliver abundant fish. Deep sea fishing is very popular, as is reef and wreck fishing. Local fishing charter companies run half- and full-day trips and most are happy to customize an excursion according to your interests. These captains have already arranged licenses and permits, as well as a full complement of fishing gear necessary to catch grouper, tarpon, tuna, mahi-mahi, and more. Some local restaurants offer to “cook your catch”, too.
Key West visitors often enjoy leisurely walks along Duval Street, dotted with shops, boutiques, and galleries, as well as restaurants and bars. Bicycling is a common way to get around town, although the city does have a public bus system and of course, the Conch Train, a hop on/hop off way to see the island of Key West. Don’t forget food tours to round out your visit!
Where to Stay
Key West offers numerous hotels, motels, and bed and breakfasts for visitors of every budget and style. The small size of the island ensures that nearly all locations are still close to everything. Here are just a few notable options:
Margaritaville Key West Resort & Marina – Located in Old Town Key West, this resort and marina are set along a waterfront with a spacious boardwalk, and walkable to Mallory Square and Duval Street. Visitors can choose from among rooms and suites of various sizes. Some rooms have balconies or patios; some rooms offer pool, courtyard or ocean views. The resort hosts casual dining at the Sunset Deck and often features live music. There’s also a cocktail bar and lounge, and a room service menu, too. Guests have access to the marina and a fitness center, and pets are welcome.
The Perry Hotel Key West – This upscale hotel and marina with full concierge services reflect a relaxed ambiance. Rooms boast modern casual seaside decor influences and have soothing water views. There’s a waterfront pool, plus fire pits, dog parks, and bike rentals. The Green Pineapple Boutique sells local souvenirs and gifts on-property, and the two restaurants serve full menus daily. Matt’s Stock Island Kitchen & Bar has weekend live music, serving breakfast, lunch, dinner, dinner, happy hour, and brunch. Salty Oyster Dockside Bar and Grill serves an all-day menu. Guests also have access to shuttle service to Old Town Key West.
NYAH Key West – Not Your Average Hotel is close to Duval Street. This eclectic Key West hotel is tucked amid palm-treed landscaping. Guests enjoy pools and jacuzzis, happy hour, bike rentals, cozy accommodations, and friendly staff. This hotel is known for its unique Build Your Own Room concept: rooms are outfitted with custom bunks according to the number of people in the room (up to 6), all for a 2-person rate. Each bunk has a memory foam mattress, and there’s a charging station for every bunk. A daily continental breakfast is available, as is a concierge service and 24-hour front desk.
Key West is one of the most popular vacation spots in the U.S. The variety of activities and attractions offers something for everyone, from couples to families to girls’ weekends to bachelor parties, and more. From shops and galleries to fishing and snorkeling, Key West is a great place to relax and unwind.