20 Key West Travel Tips to Know Before You Go

Planning a trip to paradise in Key West, Flordia? I thought so! After visiting Key West countless times growing up and most recently for the holidays, I have a ton of Key West travel tips to share with you!

This list includes practical information to know for visiting Key West, along with tons of other tips you might not have even thought about. So, let’s dive in!

Palm Trees in Key West - Key West travel tips

Key West Geography

First, let’s start off with where Key West is located. In case you didn’t already know, Key West is a part of “the Keys,” a chain of islands at the tip of Flordia connected by bridges. The most famous Bridge is the 7-mile bridge that you cross to get to Key West if you take a road trip. Out of all of those islands, Key West is the very last one!

This puts Key West in the Hurricane belt. That means that Key West can be prone to hurricanes from June – November. If you plan to travel during these times, consider travel insurance, just in case.

Key West Map
Google Map Screen shot of Florida

How To Visit Key West

There are three main ways to reach Key West, making it really easy to get to.

  • Fly to Key West International Airport
  • Take a road trip from Miami to Key West – very scenic.
  • Include Key West on a cruise since they are a popular port. Or come with your own boat!
Plane flying over Key West while cruise ship is docked in the water overlook of Key West

Travel Tips for Visiting Key West

1. See Key West by the Water

You can’t visit Key West without seeing it by water, which is why this is my number 1 Key West travel tip! Trust me, and get your sea legs ready because being on the water is lovely over here. Whether you go jet skiing, take part in a dolphin tour, deep sea fish (incredible here), snorkel, dive, or kayak, the options are really endless.

Sailboat in Key West from Fort Zachery

2. Key West Fishing

Speaking of fishing, Key West is known to have some of the best fishing in the world. As a kid, we would always boat down to Key West to go deep sea fishing for Mahi Mahi and Marlin or reef fishing for some snappers and groupers. There are tons of boats that go out fishing since this is a super popular activity.

Key West Boat Tour

3. Visiting Dry Tortugas

During my recent visit to Key West, I planned on visiting Dry Tortugas National Park. This remote National Park is located about 70 miles off of Key West and is supposed to be really neat. I do recommend a visit if you are spending a Weekend in Key West.

The only way to visit is by ferry (takes all day) or by seaplane (can do half day or full day), and they book up really far in advance. The only ferry you can take is the Yankee Freedom Ferry or Seaplane Adventures – both are authorized through the National Park Service.

You can also charter your own boat, but this can be very expensive.

There are pros and cons to both of them, and we experienced the major con with taking the seaplane. It was very windy for our scheduled day, and our plane got canceled. I originally chose the seaplane because the ride is about 40 minutes (as opposed to hours on the ferry), you can do a half day, and the views from the plane are spectacular.

Dry Tortugas Ferry
Dry Tortugas Ferry

3. Parking in Key West is Tough

Another one of the most important Key West travel tips to know is about parking. It can be really hard to find parking in Key West, and the public meter is usually $5 an hour. So, if you decide to drive to Key West, it is probably best to leave your car at the hotel unless you’re taking a day trip to another Key.

4. Key West is Very Walkable

A great thing to know about Key West is that it is very walkable. In fact, you can walk to most major attractions. This is a big reason people choose not to rent a car in Key West, and for most people, I really don’t think you need a car.

Plus, you have access to both Uber and Lyft, although they are a little on the pricey side. Supply and demand, I suppose. It is also popular to rent golf carts and bikes or take the hop-on-hop-off trolley.

Duval Street in Key West

5. Get Ready to See Chickens

One of the coolest parts of Key West, in my opinion, is all the wild chickens you can find! Roosters are really crowing at the break of dawn, and you will most likely get to see a chicken cross the road. Key West is quirky and unique, and the chickens add to that!

Key West Rooster
Key West is know for having a large population of Chickens everywhere

6. Resort Fees

This is one of those Key West travel tips that really bugs me because I don’t believe there should even be resort fees, but here we are. So, if you plan to stay at a hotel, you will likely have resort fees added to the price you have already paid for the room.

These can range from $30 – $50 extra dollars a night on top of your stay. If you’re booking a hotel and don’t see resort fees, make sure to double-check and ask if they have them.

If you drive, hotels often have parking fees, which are also additional and charged daily. It was an extra $35 a day at our hotel.

7. The Southernmost Point Landmark

The Southernmost Point Continental U.S.A. is probably one of the most famous landmarks in Key West. And because of that, this colorful concrete bouy has created people lining up to take photos here. I kid you not; at one point, the line had to be over an hour.

When we came back at 7:40 AM, I was shocked to see that there was still a 10-minute line. My feeling is that it is a very underwhelming spot. However, if you really want a photo, come early to avoid waiting in line.

The Southernmost Point Continental U.S.A. buoy in Key West
The Southernmost Point Continental U.S.A. – Weekend in Key West Itinerary

8. Key West is Expensive

I was really surprised by how expensive everything was during my recent trip to Key West. Even food at CVS was expensive. To be fair, this is a tourist destination at the very tip of Florida in the Caribbean.

But, if you’re on a budget in Key West, it can be a little tough to visit. The beaches are mostly free, which is great, and walking around the Old town is also free. Aside from that, almost every attraction is $15+ per person, and a meal starts at $20 per person.

Then, let’s not forget about the resort fees and parking fees. To save some money, get a Key West Map that has some coupons you can clip!

9. Key West in the Winter

This Key West travel tip is for anyone who wants to visit during the winter. It is no surprise that one of the most popular times to visit Key West is during the winter months. But that doesn’t mean Key West doesn’t get cold.

During our most recent winter visit, mornings were in the 50’s and you definitely needed a jacket and pants. Therefore, make sure to add some layers if you plan to visit during any of the winter months. Winter months are generally around the low 70’s, but not always, as we recently experienced.

10. Rent a Car For a Day

I have already mentioned how walkable Key West is and how you really don’t need a car. However, if you’re visiting Key West for a couple of days, I recommend renting a car for a day to see some of the other Keys and even taking a drive over the 7 Mile Bridge.

Just about an hour away is Pine Key and Bahia Honda State Park.

Bahia Honda State Park Beach with Samantha Oppenheimer walking on the beach in a red bikini
Bahia Honda State Park Beach

11. Don’t Leave Without Trying Key Lime Pie

If this is your first time visiting Key West, don’t leave without trying Key Lime Pie. It was invented here, so just do it even if lime is not your thing. It’s all about the experience, okay? You can get it at just about every establishment in Key West.

12. Mallory Square is not the Best Sunset View

Every guide I ever read says how you need to spend sunset at Mallory Square for the sunset celebration. However, there are much better sunset spots around Key West. Mallory Square is packed with people and usually has some locals doing different kinds of “street” shows. I find it inauthentic and crowded, but I get that everyone is different.

For a really lovely sunset, consider Zachery Taylor State Park, Higgs Beach, or Sunset Key.

Sunset at Higgs Beach in Key West
Sunset at Higgs Beach in Key West

13. Try Cuban Food

Located about 90 miles from Havana, it goes without saying that Key West has tons of Cuban influence. So, while you’re in Key West, make sure to try some Cuban food while you’re here. It will be some of the best you will taste outside of Cuba!

Places to try include:

  • El Meson De Pepe’s Restaurant & Bar
  • El Siboney Restaurant
  • Cuban Coffee Queen Waterfront
  • Frita’s Cuban Burgers

Additionally, if you like seafood, you should definitely try it in Key West. They have some of the freshest and best seafood you can taste, including Conch Fritters. For drinks, rum is popular – especially the Rum Runner cocktail.

Cuban Coffee Queen
Cuban Coffee Queen

14. Consider a Day Trip from Key West

I kind of mentioned this Key West travel tip when talking about renting a car, but hey, just in case it wasn’t clear, consider a day trip. Key West is attached to a ton of other islands. Even if you only drive as North as the 7 Mile Bridge, I believe it is worth it. Make sure to make some stops along the way.

Bahia Honda State Park Weekend in Key West Itinerary
Bahia Honda State Park

15. Key West Doesn’t Really Have Beaches

When you think of Key West, you may immediately think of beaches, but Key West doesn’t really have beaches. This is because most of Key West is mangroves and coral reefs. However, the city did work on building some beaches that are really nice. Some are a little rocky or small, but nice nonetheless. And despite not having those long sandy beaches Florida is known for, they do have excellent snorkeling!

You will be able to see a ton of marine life in Key West, and it is even home to the 3rd largest coral reef in the world at the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. I should also mention using a coral reef safe sunscreen to help preserve the marine environment. I use Blue Lizard sunscreen and Juice Beauty sports sunscreen. You can find more of my beach packing essentials here!

Key West Beach at Zachery Taylor Park
Key West Beach at Zachery Taylor Park

16. Check the Beach Flags

One of the most important Key West travel tips to know when spending time at the beach is to check the beach flag. These flags indicate the water conditions and how safe it is to swim. They will let you know if there are rip currents or stinging animals like jellyfish or sea lice.

Spending most of my time at the beach in Florida, I am no stranger to sea lice, but I’ve learned most people have never heard of them. They are jellyfish larvae that get trapped in your bathing suit and sting you. You usually won’t feel it immediately. Within a couple of hours, you will look like you have mosquito bites everywhere, and boy, do they itch. Aside from being itchy, there is no real harm to them. This is why you want to check the flags!

17. Seaweed in Key West

Tourists are usually mad when they arrive at a beach destination, and there is seaweed on the beach. The big complaint is that they want the city to clean it up. However, seaweed is actually important to the beach ecosystem. It acts like fertilizer to the sand.

So, if there is seaweed, don’t be too upset about it. This is nature, and while it might smell a little, it won’t harm you.

Simonton Beach
Beach during sunrise

18. Key West Party Scene

If you want to party on vacation, Key West is a great place to be! You will find tons of bars up and down Duval Street. This is Key West’s party street, and you can even drink open-container alcohol throughout the streets of Key West.

During the day, Duval Street is safe to visit with children, so don’t worry there. It is also worth noting that weed is legal in Key West. So, you may be smelling some of that through the streets since you can smoke it in public places. There are stores everywhere for it.

Duval Village

19. Key West is Touristy

This may be stating the obvious, but Key West is very touristy. I think this is just something to be expected for island life. Unless you’re doing water sports, the attractions are just touristy, in my opinion. I still really enjoy spending time in Key West, but I just wanted to throw that out there.

20. Home of the 6-toed Cats

Did you know Key West is home to 6-toed cats? You can find these adorable kitties at the Ernest Hemingway house. If you’re a cat lover, definitely be sure to visit. I recommend going early, as his house gets crowded.

Hemingway Cat drinking from fountain

Key West FAQ

Do you need a car in Key West?

No, you don’t need a car in Key West because it is very walkable. Many even rent bikes and golf carts to get around. If you want to take a day trip, you can rent a car for the day.

How Many Days Should You Spend in Key West

Usually, it is popular to spend 2-3 days or a weekend in Key West. You could spend more if you’re planning fishing trips or just want to relax in warm weather. Most split their time between the Keys.

Is Key West an Expensive Vacation

Key West is a more expensive vacation. Most plates start at $20+ at restaurants and on top of the hotel price, most also charge resort fees and parking fees if you drove a car. Prices are especially high during winter months.

Where to get Groceries in Key West

If you’re looking for food, you can visit Publix. CVS and Walgreens also have some food.

Is Key West Walkable?

Yes, the Old Town Historic District in Key West is very walkable. A car is rarely needed.

Can you See Cuba from Key West?

Despite common belief, you can not see Cuba from Key West.

What Famous People are associated with Key West?

Some famous people that are tied to Key West are Ernest Hemingway, President Harry Truman, Jimmy Buffet, Judy Blume, Kenny Chesney, and Ponce de Leon.

When is Hurricane Season in Key West?

Hurricane season starts in June to November.

Key West Travel Tips Wrap-up

There you have it! I hope these Key West travel tips help you plan an epic trip. After visiting, if you think of anything I should add, make sure to let me know in the comments below. My goal is to help others have the best experience while traveling, which is why I create these guides.

Did you find these Key West travel tips helpful? I’d really appreciate it if you could share it below!

Key West Travel Tips
Photo of author

Samantha Oppenheimer

Samantha Oppenheimer (Sam Opp) quit her corporate marketing job in 2018 to travel the world and become a travel writer, blogger and content creator. She loves experiencing authentic travel experiences, photography, and nature. Sam shares helpful travel itineraries, travel tips, budget tips, and travel advice from her personal experiences. You can also find Sam's words featured in large publications including Mirror, Thrillist, and Well + Good.

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