Planning your next tropical holiday in Florida and wondering if Key West is worth visiting? Worry not. I’m here to help you decide.
Key West is one of the most popular destinations in the Florida Keys, and as a result, has made it very expensive to visit. But is it worth the hype?
After visiting myself, I realized that the answer might not be so simple. That’s why I’ve written this article on the pros and cons of visiting Key West and help you decide whether it is worth visiting or not.
Is Key West Worth Visiting?
Generally speaking, Key West is worth visiting. This island paradise is one of the most popular vacation destinations in the U.S. for a reason.
It’s home to one of the best beaches in the country such as the white sand Fort Zachary Taylor Beach, as well as some of the most fascinating historic sites in North America, such as the Ernest Hemingway House and The Truman Little White House!
Not forgetting that the foodie scene in the birthplace of Key Lime Pie is top-class; it rivals Miami, in our opinion! Plus, it’s one of the sunniest places in America, with a whopping 260 days of sunshine annually – so it’s fair to say if you’re a sun-worshipper (like us), Key West is 100% worth visiting!
Pros Of Visiting Key West
1. Amazing Key Lime Pie
Key West is well-known for many things, but it’s perhaps most famous for being the birthplace of Key Lime Pie. This refreshing and indulgent dessert is named after the Key limes that are grown here, and – they are unique because their juice is yellow, not green!
Key Lime Pie is made of key lime juice, sweetened condensed milk, and egg yolk and is typically topped with a meringue topping.
The best spot in Key West to try this delicious sweet treat is at the aptly named Key Lime Pie Bakery, a short walk from Duval Street.
You’ll notice the green benches out front before you see the store, where inside, they serve up Key Lime Pie in various ways, from standard slices to slices dipped in chocolate. You can even try out a Key Lime Pie on a stick!
2. Incredible Weather Year-Round
Key West and great weather go hand-in-hand. This tropical paradise is, after all, the most southern city in the U.S. and is, in fact, geographically closer to Cuba than it is to the closest Walmart (which is in Florida City, by the way!)
So, as you can guess, Key West enjoys balmy weather for most of the year – to be precise, it enjoys a whopping 260 days of sunshine per year compared to the national average of 205!
And if you’re planning to visit Key West in the winter, you’re in luck as the Key West area enjoys some of the hottest temperatures of anywhere in the United States in December, with an average of 80 Fahrenheit!
But, the most popular months to visit Key West, Florida, are March and April, when temperatures range from 82 – 85 Fahrenheit with very little rainfall. The hottest months in Key West are June, July, August, and September when daily highs regularly rise over 86 Fahrenheit.
3. Epic Sunsets
If you love sunsets, then Key West is most definitely worth visiting for you.
Known for some of its most epic sunsets, there are many different ways to enjoy it in Key West. Two of the most popular are to head to the aptly named Sunset Key or to Mallory Square to watch the daily sunset celebration and enjoy the free entertainment on offer.
Every night, magicians, comedians, jugglers, clowns, etc., put on a show before the real show (the sunset). The festivities typically start two hours before sunset!
Another great sunset spot is Fort Zachary Taylor Beach, regularly touted as the best beach in Key West. Bring your own beach chairs or picnic blankets, pack some snacks and drinks, and watch the sun set into the Gulf of Mexico as boats pass by.
4. The City is Very Walkable
Due to its compact size, Key West is very walkable. Most of the restaurants, stores, and cafes can be found along Duval Street and Whitehead Street, as well as in Mallory Square.
In fact, we’d go so far as to say that you can walk pretty much everywhere in Key West, but if you don’t feel like walking, you can use the Key West Trolley, a hop-on-hop-off-bus tour that stops at the top attractions in Key West, like the Hemingway House and the Harry S. Truman Little White House.
5. Incredible Food, and Not Just Seafood
As we said earlier, Key West is very close to Cuba (there are just 96 miles between the two destinations), so as you can guess, Cuban and Caribbean cuisine is a big thing in this island city.
So, expect to see Cuban bread and lots of meat with jerk seasoning on menus here. Because it’s a coastal city, seafood is extremely popular in Key West.
Depending on the time of year, you may find mahi-mahi, grouper, snapper, lobster, or the very tasty Key West pink shrimp dominating the specialty menu.
Some of our favorite restaurants when we visited Key West included Blue Heaven, a romantic eatery focusing on Caribbean cuisine and seafood.
Cafe Marquesa is another top pick from our trip to Key West, and it boasts a luxurious and elegant atmosphere, just off Duval Street. Come try their scallops and foie gras in a tranquil garden setting!
While, if you’re after something a little more low-key, you can’t go wrong with Cuban Coffee Queen, a casual cafe known for its excellent coffee and sandwiches.
6. Lively Atmosphere and Vibrant Nightlife
Key West is famous for its nightlife, especially the vibrant Duval Street, which is lined with lots of fun bars and nightclubs. In fact, the “Duval Crawl,” aka the Duval Street bar crawl, is a rite of passage for any party-loving visitor.
We recommend starting your night in Upper Duval, which has a more sophisticated vibe with lots of romantic wine bars. Grand Vin Wine Bar is our top pick for Upper Duval.
Then, ease your way down to the more raucous Lower Duval, which houses many late-night bars and nightclubs. Here, we like Rick’s Bar, home to the largest dance floor in the Florida Keys.
7. Beautiful Scenery
As soon as you step foot in Key West, you’ll be captivated by its natural beauty, from bougainvillea-lined streets to picture-perfect white sand beaches. Not forgetting, it’s home to the Key West Garden Club, a tropical oasis where you can find the Key West Butterfly Garden and Perfume Garden.
This paradise-like island city is also within close proximity of some of the most beautiful destinations in North America, like Dry Tortugas National Park and Fort Zachary Taylor Beach!
📚 Read More: What Is Florida Known For?
8. Interesting Historical Sites
Key West’s history is littered with tales of pirates and smugglers, which lies in stark contrast to the luxurious Key West today!
The best places to learn about Key West’s fascinating history are at the city’s top sites like the Truman Little White House, the former residence of the U.S. Naval Commander, and the Hemingway House, where the famed writer lived during the 1930s.
Opposite the Hemingway House, you’ll find the Key West Lighthouse, which dates back to 1848 and helped boats navigate the shallow waters here for over 100 years.
It was decommissioned in 1969, and today, it houses a museum where you can learn all about Key West’s maritime history and the lighthouse keepers who once called the lighthouse home!
9. Access to Dry Tortugas National Park
The hard-to-reach but breathtakingly beautiful Dry Tortugas National Park is just 70 miles from Key West. This park is huge with 100 square miles of mostly open water and seven tiny islands. It is only accessible by seaplane or, more commonly, by boat!
Most famous for being the home of magnificent Fort Jefferson (used as a prison during the Civil War), the park also boasts bright blue waters, coral reefs, abundant marine life (especially sea turtles), and bird life!
It’s super-easy to reach this remote National Park from Key West. Just hop on the Dry Tortugas National Park ferry from 100 Grinnell Street. It’s about a 2-hour and 15-minute ferry ride.
10. The Most Southern Tip of Continental United States
Key West is the southernmost city of the continental United States. And for anyone that questions whether this is true or not, the city has planted the Southernmost Point Buoy at the corner of South Street and Whitehead Street.
Since then, this Buoy has become of of the biggest attractions in Key West. No itinerary is complete without getting an iconic photo at this location!
Cons Of Visiting Key West
Key West is quite an exclusive vacation destination thanks to its remote location (it’s a 3-4 hour drive from Miami), and it attracts a mostly upmarket crowd.
In fact, Key West has some of the most expensive hotel rooms in the country during peak season (from March to May!) And when you add into the mix the fact that Key West is known for its upscale restaurants, it can dissuade some tourists from visiting.
It’s also quite expensive to fly into Key West International Airport, so many budget-savvy travelers instead opt to fly into Miami and travel the 3-4 hours to Key West.
2. Too Crowded
Key West is far from being a quiet beach destination in Florida and many tourists will tell you it is too crowded to be enjoyable.
Because the island is so small, even a bit of tourism can make the island feel busier than usual. It’ll help if you travel outside of the peak season, which is from March to May.
Another point to note is Key West is a popular cruise ship destination, and December through April are the busiest months for cruise ships. So, during these months, Key West will be flooded with cruise ship passengers during the day, meaning restaurants and activities will sell out quickly.
3. Better Beaches Elsewhere
Although the beaches in Key West, like Smathers Beach and Higgs Beach, are pretty, we think more beautiful beaches can be found elsewhere in the state and the other Florida Keys.
For example, the Gulf Beaches such as Clearwater Beach and Siesta Beach are more sandy and generally feature more pristine water than the beaches in Key West.
4. The Weather Can Be Too Hot and Tropical
If you’re traveling here from colder destinations, you may find the Key West weather too hot! I mean, with average highs of 92 Fahrenheit (33 C) in the summer, it’s definitely not somewhere to visit if you’re not a fan of sunshine.
Plus, Key West offers 260 days of sunshine annually, so cloudy, rainy days are few and far between. It is no wonder that it is one of the sunniest and warmest places in Florida in the winter.
The rainy or hurricane season (May through October) experiences very high humidity levels, which can be uncomfortable for some even if the temperatures are slightly lower.
5. Traffic Can Get Quite Bad
It is surprising to find that the traffic in Key West is horrific, especially given its small size. Heavy traffic on this small island, particularly on weekends and holidays, can bring things to a standstill, which can be frustrating if you’re trying to get somewhere in a hurry.
Most highways in and around Key West, such as the Overseas Highway, are just two lanes, and passing is only allowed in specific sections – so bad luck if you get stuck behind a slow driver here!
Things To Do In Key West
1. Duval Street
The beating heart of downtown Key West – Duval Street is easily the busiest street in the Florida Keys. It’s a little over a mile long and is lined with restaurants, stores, and, of course, bars and nightclubs.
In fact, it is most famous for being the home of the “Duval Crawl” – a bar crawl and a must-do for partiers! Start your evening in a wine bar in Upper Duval, then catch the sunset celebrations in Mallory Square and end your night in one of the cool nightclubs on Lower Duval!
2. Mallory Square
Another vibrant hub of activity in Key West is Mallory Square, which we mentioned earlier as “the place” to watch the sunset because street performers take to the square every night to put on a show about two hours before sunset!
It’s also home to the Shipwreck Museum, Key West Aquarium, and Shell Warehouse & Sponge Market. And if you love to shop ’til you drop, you’ll be in heaven at The Shops at Mallory Square, an air-conditioned building that sells everything you could imagine!
3. The Hemingway Home and Museum
No trip to Key West is complete without a visit to the Ernest Hemingway House. Located opposite the Key West Lighthouse, it was the home of well-known American writer Ernest Hemingway in the 1930s.
It’s a very photogenic building with a fabulous in-ground pool and a great place to learn more about the famed author. Yet, perhaps the most interesting thing about this attraction is the many cats that live on the grounds.
They are all believed to be descendants of Hemingway’s pet cat, Snow White, who famously had six toes!
4. Southernmost Point of the Continental U.S.A.
Easily the most Instagram-famous spot in the whole of the Florida Keys is the Southernmost Point Buoy, which highlights that Key West is the most southerly city in the U.S. and marks 90 miles to Cuba! Spend a few moments here snapping photos and testing your eyesight to see if you can see Cuba across the water!
5. Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park
Not only is the 54-acre Fort Zachary Taylor home to Key West’s best beach, but it’s also one of the best sunset-watching spots in the Sunshine State. As well as that the Fortress here is a National Historic Landmark that played a very important role in Florida’s history. Conveniently, it’s just a 10-minute drive from downtown Key West.
Visiting Key West FAQs
Is it Safe to Visit Key West?
Key West is typically regarded as very safe for walking around, both during the day and at night. The crime rate in the Florida Keys is relatively low, but visitors should still use common sense and take standard precautions such as not leaving valuables unattended.
How to Visit Key West From Miami?
There are many ways to get to Key West from Miami. The most popular way is to fly from Miami’s airport to Key West’s airport, though that can be quite expensive. A cheaper way is to drive 4 hours, or approximately 165 miles.
When is the Best Time to Visit Key West?
The best time to visit Key West is generally between March and May. During this period, the winter crowds begin to decrease, hotel rates become more affordable, and the weather is still pleasant!
So, Is Key West Worth Visiting?
If you have gotten to the end of the article, then you can see that there are definitely pros and cons of visiting Key West. Its unique location on the southern tip of the continental US gives travelers a unique experience, along with a lively atmosphere and nightlife that are quite enjoyable.
But there are cons to visiting Key West, such as the high prices and sub-optimal beaches. If you are looking for those things, perhaps check out some of the Gulf Beaches in Florida instead.
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