There are endless things to do in Key West, from world-class snorkeling, jet skiing, fishing and kayaking to vibrant shopping, fascinating museums and historic restaurants.
ABOUT KEY WEST
KEY WEST CLIMATE
Due to the Gulfstream in the Straits of Florida and the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, Key West has a subtropical climate. The average temperature is 77.7 degrees with the average possible days of sunshine at 76% of the year.
The average temperature range is 14 degrees between summer and winter. Yearly average rainfall is 40 inches, and the rainy season lasts from June through November (which is also our hurricane season), though rainy days in Key West usually consist of downpours followed by sunshine.
A FEW TIDBITS ABOUT THE CONCH REPUBLIC
The Florida Keys are a unique chain of small and not-so-small islands and mangrove clusters stretching southwestward from the tip of the bottom of mainland Florida over 100 miles into the Atlantic Ocean. Key West, the southernmost city in the continental United States, is the most populated and best known of all the Keys in Monroe County.
Some say Key West is the end of the road…we think it’s the beginning of an adventure; let us know what you think on your Key West vacation!
Key West, a 4 mile by approximately 2 mile island, is 159 miles southwest of Miami, 90 miles north of Cuba and 755 miles further south than Los Angeles. Both the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico border Key West. The population is approximately 25,000 permanent residents.
The Keys are linked to the mainland by the Overseas Highway (US 1) with 43 bridges (that’s a lot of bridges) from Florida City to Key West. The mile marker system starts with MM126 at Florida City (south of Miami) and ends with MM Zero at the corner of Fleming and Whitehead Streets in Old Town Key West.
Key West is actually located much closer to Caribbean islands than to mainland Florida. It’s the southernmost tip of land in the continental United States and the last and most exciting of the Florida Keys.
Directions From Miami To Key West, FL
If you are driving from Miami, follow the signs to US 1 South/Key West. It’s about 150 miles or 3.5 hours from Miami to Key West. At the Cow Key Channel bridge intersection, turn right onto North Roosevelt Boulevard/US 1 which becomes Truman Avenue.
SO, WHAT’S A CONCH?
We speak of Conch food, Conch houses, Conch talk, the beautiful Conch shell, and conch as in seafood (fritters, ceviche) as well.
The word “conch” (pronounced KONK) also refers to a native of Key West, someone born on the island.
An old Conch may never have left the island of Key West. Some believe that the name originated with the migration of Bahamians to the Keys who were “Conchs;” others think it came from the tradition of placing a Conch shell on a stick in the yard to announce another birth had taken place on the island. No matter, a “Conch is a Conch” and only those born on the island are true Conchs. New residents to the island, other than those visiting on vacation, are called “Key Westers”.
Check out the Annual Conch Shell Blowing. Contest for a fun time with the whole family.
-KEY WEST GLOSSARY-
Café Con Leche – strong coffee with steamed milk (be sure to specify how many sugars you want)
Cuban Mix – really yummy pressed sandwich with ham and roast pork – order it “all the way”
Mangos – you know, to make mango daiquiris
Dolphin – yes we eat dolphin here, no not Flipper! You might know this fish as mahi mahi
Polydactyl – referring to the 6-toed Hemingway cats
Bugs – Caribbean spiny lobster…bring on the butter!
No-see-ums – tiny biting midges…watch for them at dawn and dusk
Conch Republic – we seceded from the Union in 1982, something about a Border Patrol blockade…hey, it was the 80’s
Duval Crawl – There are A LOT of bars in Key West and most of them are on Duval Street…you figure it out
Green Flash – After finishing your Duval Crawl at Mallory Square, you might be lucky enough to see the famous Green Flash at sunset
KEY WEST-OLD TOWN
Old Town has many small shops, restaurants, galleries, nightclubs, bars, specialty shops and a smattering of chain stores.
KEY WEST – NEW TOWN
One cannot visit Key West and not sample a proper slice (or two) of the famous Key Lime Pie. The quintessential Florida dessert is made with fresh limes, egg yolks, condensed milk, and often topped with meringue. Tart-but-sweet, the most authentic version of this creamy pie is yellow in color. Try the traditional recipe with a twist at Kermit’s Key West Lime Shoppe, where they dip a slice of the famous pie in chocolate!
Located at the intersection of Whitehead and South streets, the famous buoy is said to be just 90 miles north of Cuba. Made of concrete and colored in with red, black, and yellow design, here visitors will find a picture-perfect backdrop among a lively area filled with street vendors and performers.
A piece of Key West’s unique history, the Ernest Hemingway House allows literary enthusiasts to explore the residence where Hemingway lived from 1931 to 1961. Hemingway resided in this beautiful Spanish Colonial home in the heart of Key West until his death, and visitors can tour the home and hear vibrant stories of the celebrated author. As an added bonus, visitors are able to observe the forty six-toed cats that are descendants of the late author’s former pet, Snow White.
An archipelago of seven reef islands, Dry Tortugas National Park is one of the most remote islands in the United States. Here the shallow waters are crystal clear and filled with exotic and tropical fish, coral, and marine life right at your fingertips. Nearly 99 percent of this 100-acre park is completely submerged underwater and is popular for snorkeling, diving, kayaking, and bird watching. Visitors can explore Fort Jefferson, the largest masonry striation in the Western Hemisphere.
Catch a Sunset at Mallory Square
The epicenter of Key West come sunset, this former warehouse area now boasts a nightly celebration and sunset-watching ritual with live entertainment, shops, and eateries. Sun-seekers gather on the dock to marvel at the breathtaking views as a variety of entertainment such as musicians, vendors, and even jugglers perform, creating a vibrant carnival-like atmosphere.
Filled with over 50 species of butterflies, the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory is an impressive 5,000 square foot aviary where visitors can explore butterfly anatomy, physiology, life cycle, and the migratory world of these gorgeous winged creatures. In addition, the conservatory has over 20 exotic bird species, 3,500 plants, and tranquil waterfalls, making it a perfect day trip for nature lovers of all ages.
While Key West isn’t known for its beaches, Smathers Beach is the exception. Popular for day trippers wanting to see one of the island’s famous sunsets, the views are unbeatable at the largest public park in Key West. The beach also offers picnic areas, volleyball courts, and a range of water sports rentals available for those wanting to make a day trip out of it.
The inspiration behind Chucky, one of the most terrifying film franchises to date, Robert the Doll is currently located in the East Martello Museum. Similar to the movie, Robert is an 111-year-old toy that is said to be cursed and possessed by evil spirits.
Once owned by Gene Otto in the 1900’s, there are claims that the doll terrorized visitors and would laugh manically while neighbors spotted the doll pacing in front of the windows of its home. Now safely in a museum, paranormal enthusiasts can visit the haunted doll in a glass case.
FISHING KEY WEST
There are only a handful of destinations within the United States that offer the wide fishing variation available in Key West, Florida. The location has the highest number of awards and recognition, according to The International Game Fish Association. This record surpasses all other world records because of the top winning numbers of salt-water fishing awards. Why should you concentrate your fishing hanker to the Florida Keys?
What makes Key West fishing special?
Key West has a wild tale of pirates’ culture. It was the docking spot of stolen ships from distant high seas. The surviving vessels now create a rusty and enticing history display and home for a couple of fish species. There is an abundance of snapper, grouper, amberjacks and permit lurking around the wrecks throughout the year.
The United States has plenty of humanmade fishing harbors and countable natural ones. Some of the old natural ones have changed due to use by the US Navy and the shipping industry. Key West has ideally natural harbors that allow you to dock your boat and have a breezy and peaceful expedition. Some of the species surrounding these areas as tarpon, permit, and cobia.
Florida Keys fishing has some of the most robust species because of the purity of reefs and beaches along the Florida Keys shoreline. The ridges also pose as shields against storms and strong waves, making a safe and peaceful breeding ground for the fish. Y-Knot Key West Charters will guide you to reel in notable species such as kingfish and barracuda. Common species around the reefs include yellowtail, snapper, and mackerel.
Dreamy bridge fishing
Perhaps you prefer spending a warm afternoon catching fish over the bridge instead of braving the high seas
. Key West fishing is an ideal holiday activity for a family with young children or the elderly. Even the young, energetic generation will enjoy a quiet fishing expedition to recollect their thoughts before embarking on life chapter.
Deep-sea fishing provides you with a broader array of species because of the plunging heights. Key West has up to 1500 feet and more of deep breeding grounds.
Some of the famous fish species around these waters are kingfish, sailfish, whited marling, barracuda and grouper.
Key West fishing with the flat fishing method is available around Permit, Bonefish, and Tarpon. You will have a great time checking out the flats and switching to the fly.
The local guide will give you gemstones on where to find big fish in secret fishing spots. Booking a small flats boat will provide you with the freedom to explore the neighboring Cuban waters with the right permission.
The Snook, Tarpon and Permit fish species will require that the fishing crew be considerably silent if you wish to make a good catch.
Key West has an outstanding number of party boats that be will glad to host you and your friends or family.
Y-Knot Fishing Charters has a well-versed fishing crew and full equipment to ease your trip preparation and fishing activities.
While a lot of things here are geared toward adults, there are many reasons to vacation with family, but finding a kid-friendly hotel isn’t the easiest task among swanky resorts.
So after a little research whew are the best family-friendly places to not only stay but to truly enjoy the island with your kids.
Oceans Edge Key West Hotel & Marina is a newer construction, offering that craved “old Key West” influence within its charming architecture and does a good job accommodating families.
Six different pools, including heated options, allow guests generous space to spread out. Rooms are well sized, so those with multiple people in the group don’t feel too cramped.
Complimentary paddle boards and kayaks are available for the day and serve as a great way to get out and about in the turquoise water. A restaurant and hourly shuttle bus mean you probably won’t need your car.
Margaritaville Key West Resort & Marina offers an airy, laid back and tropical vibe—everything Jimmy Buffet would want it to be. It sits right against the waterfront, which is especially nice since accessible beach space isn’t too common on Key West.
Cruise ships dock and set sail daily making for an interesting thing for the kiddos to watch, and there’s an abundance of family-friendly things to do nearby, which is right there, within walking distance.
The best part may be that you’ll hardly find a reason to load up the kids in the car because everything is so close by.
This modern hotel more than accommodates families, with larger suites with separated areas available. Book a room with a patio if you can, because it’s a great spot to soak in sunsets and the up close marina views.
Restaurants within the hotel serve dishes with fresh, local ingredients and offer options for picky eaters along with an award-winning location.
Parking is free, and there’s a shuttle here as well.
Looking to splurge? The Marker offers a luxury experience while having kids in tow. Pools for adults and families are separate, cutting down on any tension between folks wanting to separate from the mayhem family trips can sometime bring.
The location is optimal, being steps from major attractions as well as Duval Street, and the food, whether from room service or the restaurant, is versatile and quite delicious.
Mallory Square and the Southernmost Point of the US, just 90 miles from Cuba, are within walking distance—if you’re in Key West you’ve got to at least get your pic at the significant site.
The small pool area features a spouting waterfall, which is particularly exciting for little ones, and overall the water isn’t very deep, making the area quite ideal for families.
Everything you need for a day in the sun is provided, from skin protecting umbrellas to fresh towels. The complimentary breakfast is a big perk, with solid choices like eggs, fruits and whole grain breads.
With different floor plans to choose from, parents can opt to give their kids a totally separate bathroom and bedroom. While there’s lots of sandy areas around, you’ll have to take the free shuttle to the real beach—be sure to schedule an appointment.
But four onsite pools, including a separate serenity pool for adults, provide lots of fun in the sun opportunity.
A huge bonus are the provided lounge chairs when you do decide to trek to the beach, because beach gear and a car full of kids don’t mix well.
Still technically in Key West, Sunset Key is a tiny piece of land a mere 500 yard boat ride away. These cottages form this lovely little village, and it’s pure sanctuary for families.
Some houses even have their own pool, but the central pool is zero entry, offering great play space for toddlers. It’s easy to ferry back over to downtown Key West, and kind of fun too.
Sunset Key is the best of both worlds, offering seclusion, it’s own restaurants and one of the best beaches around, while still being close to all Key West is famous for.
Ibis Bay is a restored 1950s resort with true Key West style, and a fun, colorful environment that couldn’t be more fitting for a family vacation. Coveted beach area sits right outside room patios, where you’ll find lounge chairs and hammocks.
Rescue animals are around the property, as Ibis Bay helps rehabilitate and house island animals. One of the best restaurants in Key West, The Stoned Crab, is a part of the resort, and is THE place to get stone crab claws and Key West Pink Shrimp.
Onsite activities include glass bottom kayaking and paddle boarding– try going at night.
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BEST RESTAURANTS IN KEY WEST
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Key West is known for its diverse and high-quality dining scene and nightlife. Whether you’re looking for a quick bite, a sweet treat, or a fine dining experience, you’ll find something spectacular on the island.
Keep in mind casual dress is island dress even at our fine dining restaurants for tourists and locals alike. Reservations are suggested at fine dining establishments, especially during the season.
Best Restaurants in Key West
HOGFISH BAR AND GRILL
Hogfish Bar and Grill is situated on one of the last working waterfronts on Stock Island. Politicians, shrimpers, locals, and guests to the island all sit elbow to elbow at the bar. You must try the Hogfish which is a light fish with a delicate taste – served sautéed or fried. This is an open-air dining experience. Rain or Shine!
Santiago’s Bodega is tucked away in Bahama Village offering tapas style dining along with a great selection of wine. Try the beef tenderloin topped with blue cheese and the flaming saganaki cheese. Santiago’s is a welcoming, neighborhood restaurant that is in a creative and comfortable space.
Enjoy an evening out at Antonia’s. The fresh daily handmade pasta is always delicious. Antonia’s serves classic Italian and Mediterranean cuisine in a cozy space. Don’t miss out on the goat cheese soufflé or escargots and, of course, the award-winning wine list. Take a stroll down Duval Street after dinner.
SALUTE! ON THE BEACH
Salute is a funky beachside café with a European feel and a full bar. The seafood is fresh and the Snapper salad is always a favorite. There is plenty of parking nearby and it’s an easy bike ride to Higgs Beach. Salute! is the sister-restaurant to Blue Heaven, a local favorite.
Off the beaten path on Catherine Street, you’ll find El Siboney, a casual family atmosphere with authentic Cuban food. Sample their Cuban Mix sandwich, Siboney steak or roast pork. Order like a local and have the yellow rice and black beans with your meal. This spot is moderately priced, loud, and tons of fun. There is also a location on Stock Island.
B.O.’S FISH WAGON
B.O.’s Fish Wagon is one of the quirkiest open-air restaurants in Key West. You can’t leave the island without trying one of their world famous fish sandwiches or the cracked conch. Wear your tee shirt or tuxedo. It’s conveniently located near the harbor in the corner of a parking lot. That’s correct – the corner of the parking lot. This spot is cash only.
Blue Heaven is open seven days a week but Sunday brunch is an all-around favorite. This spot serves pancakes, Benedict, shrimp and grits, omelets and homemade granola – yummy. You may notice a cat sleeping in a chair or a chicken perched on the fence, making the experience even more unique. Keep in mind parking can be tough. Walk or bike if you can.
BETTER THAN SEX
After dinner, enjoy a nice cabernet served in a glass rimmed in dark chocolate at Better Than Sex. Or maybe you’d prefer an apple spiced ale rimmed in caramel. Still not convinced? Try the award-winning Danish brie cheese and dark Belgian chocolate on grilled buttered bread sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and served with a shot of strawberry champagne soup. Yep, that’s right, Champagne soup! Reservations are suggested.
Louie’s Backyard is one of the best fine dining restaurants in Key West, serving up traditional Caribbean-American cuisine. This lovely Victorian house is on the National Register of Historic Places and has been home to Louie’s for more than 40 years. Arrive early and indulge in a martini prior to dinner on the afterdeck. If the weather is nice, be sure to sit on the porch for dinner so that you can view the Atlantic Ocean and enjoy the breezes.
Bien serves authentic Caribbean and Latino food in a small space with outdoor seating and take-out service. You’re going to love the fire roasted corn and the roast pork dripping in Bien marinade. Open air dining only but comfortable on hot days because of the misters. Ignore the roosters that strut by your table… they’re just jealous.
5 BROTHERS GROCERY AND SANDWICH SHOP
Walk or bike to 5 Brothers for your morning café con leche, cheese toast, and local gossip. Hint: order a large con leche with two sugars then dip your toast into your con leche. Neighbors, tradesmen, retirees, and locals take the time to hang out and chat for a few minutes.
AMBROSIA JAPANESE RESTAURANT
Ambrosia offers a retro classic atmosphere with an interior waterfall and is located at upper the end of Simonton Street near the Atlantic Ocean. This spot is known to serve some of the best sushi on the island along with a large selection of sake.
Spend an evening here for a taste of France in Key West! Café Sole has been voted best food in the Florida Keys by Zagat Magazine and you’ll see why when you try the Mutton Snapper in pesto and champagne, Yellowtail in a beurre blanc of lobster or Lobster Bouillabaisse. Plenty of options for the vegan in your group and enjoy the extensive wine list.
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