Key West is a destination you’ve got to experience. And these are all the things you need to know before visiting Key West, Florida! Before we get started, let me introduce you to Key West:
Key West is a small 2-mile by 4-mile island (yes, it’s really that small) at the very tip of Florida. And it’s connected by the Overseas Highway to the other Florida Keys and the Florida mainland.
Key West makes for an awesome, long, and relaxing stay or you can experience Key West in one day! It’s even a perfect stop on a Florida road trip. And if you are wondering, kids will also love Key West!
I spent an entire summer living and working in Key West. So I tend to think I know some great tips and tricks 😉. Plus I have since returned with my husband!
With my husband, we started a Florida roadtrip staying near Disneyworld and ended our Florida roadtrip in Key West. Now I can’t wait to return with our little tot and let her cross some things off of our ultimate Key West bucket list.
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17 Things You Need to Know Before Visiting Key West, Florida
1. Conch is pronounced con-k.
Alright, let’s get this out of the way. You might not think you need to know this before heading to Key West, however, it’s important! Key West is also known as the Conch Republic. You know conchs, the giant sea snails that live in the shells that you can hear the ocean in?
You’re going to want to say con-ch. However, it’s pronounced CON-K. You’ll for sure sound like a local if you pronounce it the correct way 😉.
2. Lodging and food in Key West can be pricey (but it’s still worth it)
A super good thing to know before going to Key West is how to budget. It’s no surprise that Key West’s crystal blue waters, amazing reefs, fun restaurants, and sunsets bring with it a bit of a price tag.
I recommend budgeting *at least* $175 per night for lodging (and that’s on the low end). A lot of places are going to be in the $200s-$300s per night. You can help save $$ on lodging by visiting in the shoulder season (April-June).
And for meals, I recommend budgeting around $15-$18 per person, per meal. Make the most of your meals out, by eating where I recommend on my Key West food guide. Or you can also book an awesome Key West Food Tour to make sure you get a little taste of everything.
Another great way to help save $$ is to rent a vacation home on Airbnb. You may be able to find a place cheaper than a hotel room, but with a kitchen! This way you can cook 1-2 meals a day at your Airbnb and budget money for other fun and exciting things! If you’ve never used Airbnb before, use this link to save up to $65 on your first booking.
3. Shoulder season is the best season to visit Key West, Florida
Hurricane season in Key West runs from June 1- November 30 (a good thing to know before visiting). However, the heaviest storms are likely to occur in August- October. Obviously, devastating hurricanes don’t happen every year, but hurricane season is definitely something to keep in mind.
The winter season (November-March) is actually the busiest and most expensive time to visit the island.
In April-June, Key West has beautiful weather with perfect temps in the 70s and 80s (Fahrenheit), slightly fewer crowds, and a *little bit* more affordable lodging options.
Check out this post: The Ultimate Key West, Florida Bucket List | 98 Things to Do
4. Parking near Duval Street can be hard to find and expensive
It’s a little hard to know whether to rent a car while you are vacationing in Key West or not. It definitely depends on what activities you plan to enjoy and where your hotel will be located.
One good thing to know before visiting Key West is that parking can be hard to find and parking lots can be expensive. If your hotel is near Duval Street, you may not need to worry about renting a car. Even if you are staying on the opposite side of the island from Duval, many of the hotels have shuttles that will transport you back and forth.
If you don’t plan on renting a car, you may want to consider renting scooters or bikes for a day to see areas of the island that are a little harder to get to on foot (like Fort Zachary Taylor State Park). You can book one-day bike rentals here for a great price or even book a guided bicycle tour of Old Town Key West.
Scooter parking is much easier to find and free. When I worked in Key West for a summer, my main transportation was a scooter and I loved it! It was a blast to drive and I didn’t pay for parking once.
If you have little kids, you may consider renting a golf cart or small vehicle for a similar, fun experience.
5. The drive to Key West will be one of the best parts of your trip
I highly recommend driving the Overseas Highway while you are in Key West. The Overseas Highway is a 113-mile highway, with 42 bridges (one bridge is 7 miles long!) connecting the Florida mainland to all of the Florida Keys. It really is one of the most beautiful drives in the US.
I recommend buying flights into Miami or Ft. Lauderdale as they are usually much less expensive than flying directly into Key West. Then, rent a car and cruise through the Florida Keys. Or of course, make Key West a stop on Florida roadtrip.
A third option is to fly directly into Key West and take a day trip up the keys to get the same amazing experience. Whatever you do, you can’t miss the Overseas Highway while visiting Key West, this is something you need to know before visiting!
6. Key West is home to the only living barrier reef in the continental United States
Before you visit, a top thing to know is that Key West, Florida is home to the only living barrier reef in the continental United States! How cool is that? The Florida Reef is found about 6-7 miles offshore of Key West. That’s only a short boat ride away!
You can find tons of great snorkeling tours in Key West that will take you out to experience the reef and nearby areas. Or if you want to stay on the land, Fort Zachary Taylor Beach definitely has the best snorkeling (you can even rent snorkel gear on the beach). Be sure to check out my guide to Fort Zachary Taylor here.
7. You may want to steer clear of Fantasy Fest
Fantasy Fest is a 10-day festival held every October on Duval Street. The festival is full of costumes, body painting, music, parades, and activities. However, it is a pretty adult-rated event and known for a raucous crowd and some nudity.
I suggest if you aren’t into partying and prefer a bit of a more family-friendly vibe on the island, steer clear of Fantasy Fest.
No worries if this isn’t your thing though! Because tons of fun festivals and events occur in Key West that you can still enjoy like Hemingway Days and the Speedboat Races!
you’ll love this post: Florida Roadtrip with Kids: 10 Amazing Stops (plus a map!)
8. The best beach in Key West is not actually on Key West
One of the best things to know before heading to Key West is that the best beach to visit is actually NOT on the island of Key West. Yes, there are some great beaches there (Smathers Beach, Fort Zachary Taylor Beach). However, you need to visit the beach on Sunset Key.
Sunset Key is a private island that anyone can visit if they have a reservation at either the Sunset Key Spa or dining reservations at Latitudes on Sunset Key. I recommend taking a trip over to have breakfast or lunch at Latitudes (for a little bit of a less expensive meal option compared to dinner) to enjoy a great view of Key West which you can’t find many places and to see their private beach.
When I have had lunch at Latitudes on Sunset Key, we were able to walk over to the beach afterwards and relax on the beach for a little bit. It is a gorgeous white, sandy beach with palm trees, hammocks, palm frond umbrellas, and lounge chairs. However, I cannot be sure that it is 100% allowed for people to use the beach that are not guests at the cottages on Sunset Key. But in my experience, we didn’t have any problems.
9. Get on the water to see some of the most beautiful areas of Key West, Florida
I highly recommend any tour that will let you see some of Key West’s backcountry and the sandbars around Key West. There are tons of amazing water tours/experiences in Key West to choose from. For example, this Island Adventure Snorkel and Kayak Tour or my personal favorite of jetskiing around the island.
You need to make sure you have time in your itinerary and money in your budget to book at least one water excursion in Key West. The places you see and the experiences you have on the water will be memories that last a lifetime. Check out my post 8 Key West Excursions Definitely Worth the Money for more awesome excursion/tour ideas that I’ve personally taken!
10. Visit Duval Street during the day for a more family-friendly scene
Duval Street is full of fun shops and restaurants but also a ton of bars (43 bars to be exact). So if you want to walk the length of Duval (which I recommend!) but you want to steer clear of bachelor/bachelorette parties, and loud groups then you’ll want to take a stroll down Duval during the day 😁. However, if you love yourself a good pub crawl, be sure to book one here.
Check out this post: 13 Perfect Airbnbs Near Disney World for Big Families
11. Try Key Lime Pie (even if you don’t think you’ll like it)
If you try only ONE thing while you’re in Key West, it’s got to be the Key Lime Pie. Even if you think you won’t like it. And this is coming from someone who almost always picks chocolatey-flavors over fruity-flavors.
In Key West you can find Key Lime Pie in so many different forms that you are bound to find one you like! For example, you’ll find Key Lime Pie on a stick, Key Lime Pie dipped in chocolate, fried Key Lime Pie, and even a vegan Key Lime Pie! Be sure to check out my Key West Key Lime Pie Guide to learn all the best places to try the local treat!
12. Conch fritters are a unique local food
Remember the word we talked about earlier (pronounced con-k, not con-ch). Conch fritters are fried balls of conch meat (sea snail) mixed with cornmeal batter, jalapeños, and other spices. This is definitely something you need to know before visiting Key West, Florida.
You’ll find places all over the island selling them. Conch fritters are most commonly found in the Bahamas (which are super near to Key West) and they are definitely a unique food to try while visiting the island!
I’m no conch-connoisseur, however, Key West Original Conch Fritters is a really cute stand located right near all the action by Mallory Square. Or join a local food tour to learn more about conch fritters and get a taste of them along with other Key West favorites.
You’ll love this post: The Ultimate Key West, Florida Bucket List | 98 Things to Do
13. You need to try the island’s Cuban food
Key West is only 90 miles from Cuba, meaning you can find some great Cuban food to eat! There’s a place right near Duval and Mallory Square, however, the locals love to head to El Siboney. Make sure to try the fried plantain!A Key West Food Tour is another great way to try the Cuban food and learn its history along the way.
14. You might find a lot of seaweed on the beaches in the summer
Key West beaches are good… and they’re not. One not-so-good thing is, in the summer, they can receive a good amount of Sargassum Seaweed (some summers are better-off than others). This is the same seaweed that hits a lot of Mexico’s beaches.
The worst part about the seaweed is that when it starts to rot on the beach, it gives off a pretty foul odor. The good news is, you’re nose will probably get used to it pretty quick 😅.
However, if you’re headed to Key West in the summer months you may want to plan some days that don’t revolve around hanging out at the beach😉.
15. It’s illegal to feed the wild chickens
Key West is known for it’s free-range chickens that roam the island. They’re fun to see and make great Key West-photo ops. You can even have ‘breakfast with the roosters’ at Key West’s favorite Blue Heaven Restaurant.
However, it’s actually against the law to feed them and it’s punishable by a $250-$500 fine. So keep the bread crumbs in your bag and enjoy the chickens from a distance.
16. Key West is a big cruise ship port
The last good thing to know before visiting Key West, Florida is that Key West is a big cruise ship port. December-April are the busiest months for cruise ships which just means that there will be more crowds once the ships dock and the passengers are exploring for the day.
This also means, if you only want to enjoy Key West for one day and you’re looking to also explore Jamaica or the Bahamas, a cruise through Key West might be a good option for you!
17. You can watch the sunset at other places besides Mallory Square
First off, you DO need to experience the Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square. You’ll see street performers, local artists, and live music (along with a gorgeous sunset). However, once you’ve done that once or twice, head somewhere else to enjoy the sunset!
You can head over to the local’s favorite beach spot at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park to soak in the last sunrays of the night. Another option is to enjoy drinks or appetizers from Southernmost Beach Cafe with gorgeous sunset views. Or hang out on either Higgs Beach Pier or Edward B. Knight Pier to catch the sunset with fewer crowds.
Check out these other posts, I know you’ll love them:
- The Ultimate Key West, Florida Bucket List | 98 Things to Do
- The Ultimate Itinerary for a Day Trip to Key West
- 10 Best Things to do at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park in Key West Florida
- Ultimate Key West Food Guide | 19 Places You Must Try
- The 7 Most Beautiful Places You Need Watch the Sunset in Key West
- 8 Best Places to Try Key Lime Pie in Key West
- 8 Key West Excursions Definitely Worth the Money
- 5 Reasons You Need to Rent Jet Skis in Key West + How to Rent
And those are the 17 things you need to know before visiting Key West, Florida!
Let me know if you have any questions about things you need to know before visiting Key West, Florida! I’m a real person who loves to talk travel :).