Key West, nicknamed the Conch Republic, is the southernmost city in the United States and perhaps the most well-known town in the Florida Keys. You’ll find this quaint tropical paradise located at the end of the famed U.S. Route 1, approximately 165-miles south of Miami and 90-miles north of Cuba.
The island itself is only about 4 miles long and 1 mile wide with a total land area of 4.2 square miles. It has a tropical vibe that’s certainly one of a kind thanks to its gorgeous conch-style pastel-hued houses, historical buildings, lively boardwalks, and sun-drenched white sandy beaches.
My husband and I have visited Key West a few times and it’s a place that I look forward to visiting again in the near future. Plus, I’ll happily travel anywhere that offers a taste of Caribbean culture and beautiful beaches but make no mistake, there’s so much more to this charming island than just a sunny locale.
I’m outlining everything you need to know about this vibrant island to plan an amazing trip and not miss a thing. I’ll start out by talking about how to get to Key West, how to get around the island itself, where to stay and the best things to do.
Getting to Key West
From Miami, Key West is approximately 165-miles south and easily accessible by car via the famous Route 1. Key West also has its own international airport and serves as a port of call for many cruise ships. If you know me by now, you’ll know that I love cruising!
The island is small and since it’s only 4 miles long and 1 mile wide, getting around the 4.2 square miles isn’t hard. Key West is very walkable. If you’re looking for other alternatives, try renting a bike to cruise around the island.
You can also rent an electric car like we did. This small golf-cart like car allows you to zip around the island and enjoy the sea breeze due to the fact that it is open-air. With its small size. parking in tight spaces is a breeze.
If you are visiting as a port day on a cruise ship, consider the Conch Train tour or the Old Town Trolley for a tour that highlights the best of Key West with multiple hop-on, hop-off stops.
Where to Stay in Key West
There’s plenty of great hotels and places to stay on the island. I’ve listed a few of my favorite places with options that work for every budget.
|Southernmost Beach Resort
This 4-star resort is located on Duval Street and just a 10-minute walk from the Southernmost Point.
|Hyatt Residence Club Key West
This 3.5-star property features all condos which gives you a little more room than a traditional hotel room. Plus, it’s still near Duval Street.
|Courtyard By Marriot Key West Waterfront
This 3-star hotel is a little further away from some of the more popular sites but it’s one of my favorites because it’s very comfortable and Smathers Beach is nearby.
|Hilton Garden Inn Key West
This 3.5-star hotel is in the heart of Key West. The large pool and hangout spaces make it great for families.
Things to do in Key West
Tour the Ernest Hemmingway Home
Perhaps one of the most well-known landmarks on the island and the home of Hemmingway himself from 1931-1939, people from around the world come to tour the Hemmingway Home. This jewel is located right in the heart of Key West.
The house is full of history and charm and it’s also home to over 40 cats. The cats are descendants of Hemingway’s white six-toed cat, Snow White, so some cats have six toes due to a polydactyl gene passed through their DNA. To add to the quirkiness, the cats are named after famous people. Hemingway named his cats this way and it’s a tradition that’s been carried on.
Visit the Key West Lighthouse
Erected after the U.S. Navy base was established in Key West, the lighthouse was essential in helping both military and commercial ships navigate the shallow-reef-laden waters off the coast. Although it was decommissioned in 1969, the lighthouse still serves as a piece of history and houses a museum dedicated to Key West’s maritime heritage.
The lighthouse sits across the street from the Hemingway house and offers a breathtaking view of Key West and the ocean if you climb the 88-steps to the top of the light.
Take a Photo at the Southernmost Point Buoy
This colorful red, white and black concrete buoy is a popular photo stop and one of Key West’s most iconic landmarks. The buoy is located at the intersection of Whitehead Street and South Street.
While Key West is the southernmost city in the continental U.S., it’s geographically closer to Cuba than it is mainland Florida. The famous “90-miles to Cuba” saying is painted on the buoy marking the distance. This spot was on my must-see list on our Key West trip because I wanted my own iconic photo.
We visited the buoy on a hot August day and there was a long line but the line moves pretty quickly. If you get lucky, there may be a coco frio stand nearby. I recommend snagging one to sip on while you stand in line.
Visit Mile 0 Marker
Like the Southernmost Point, Mile 0 Marker is another iconic Key West photo opt. Located at the corner of Fleming Street and Whitehead Street, the sign marks the end of the longest north-south running highway in the United States.
Route 1 stretches from Maine to Key West connecting most major cities on the East Coast such as Miami, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, and New York City. Take a photo at the sign as proof that you’ve quite literally made it to the end of the road.
Eat Key Lime Pie
You can’t miss this island staple and there’s certainly no shortage of places to grab a piece of this delicious island treat. We stopped off at the Key West Key Lime Pie Co. and it did not disappoint. Since it was a hot summer day, we opted for pie on a stick which is a frozen piece of key lime pie dipped in rich chocolate.
The pie was smooth and creamy with just the right amount of tart followed by decadent chocolate. Let me tell you, I’m still dreaming about this pie to this day and my biggest regret is that I didn’t have a second piece! Haha! Seriously though, I wish I could have brought it home because it was the best Key Lime pie I’ve ever had.
Hit the Beach
It’s Key West so of course there’s plenty of gorgeous beaches to choose from. You really can’t go wrong if you’re looking to spend a day of fun in the sun but a few of my personal favorites include Dog Beach and South Beach.
On one of our visits to Key West, we stopped off at Dog Beach for a dip in the water and a drink at Louie’s Backyard. As you may have guessed by the name, this is a dog-friendly beach and it’s the only Key West beach where dogs can run off-leash. Even though our fur-baby wasn’t with us, she would have loved it.
I also love visiting Higgs Beach and South Beach, too. Higgs Beach is on the southern coast of the island and approximately a 15-minute walk from the Southernmost Point. This white sandy beach has umbrellas and chairs for rent and plenty of space to lounge.
South Beach is another favorite of mine because it houses a giant chair that makes for fun photo ops. There are also lots of restaurants and cafes so you can spend the day in the sun and when you work up an appetite or need to quench your thirst – you don’t have to go far.
Tour the Key West First Legal Rum Distillery
This distillery is located in the Mallory Square area and they offer free rum tours and tastings daily. Go ahead, taste all the rums! You’re likely to find some really fabulous ones you can’t leave without and there are even flavors unique to the area such as Florida sugar cane, vanilla crème Brulee (YES please!) and Key lime.
The distillery also offers a free mojito class where you can learn how to make the perfect Cuban mojito.
Walk (or bar hop) Down Duval Street
Duval Street is a mile-long world-famous street in Key West that has bars and shops and features festivals like the yearly Fantasy Fest. My husband and I popped into the Lazy Gecko to drink a local brew on one of our trips to Duval Street but sadly, this bar is no longer open. However, there’s plenty of other bars and stops to see on this lively street.
Don’t miss famous stops like Sloppy Joe’s Bar and Hogs Breath Saloon. Sloppy Joe’s is arguably the most famous bar in Key West. And if you really want a taste of the Duval Street nightlife, plan an organized pub crawl. These tours are typically 2-3 hours and include a handful of cocktails and a shirt.
Visit the Harry S. Truman Little White House
This house served as the winter White House for President Truman where he visited often after his doctor ordered a warm-weather vacation due to exhaustion.
With the first visit taking place in November 1946, Truman returned multiple times thereafter spending a total of 175 days of his presidency in Key West. The President governed from the Little White House and even issued documents from this location which carried a special designation reading “The White House, US Naval Station, Key West, Florida” on them.
Today, this site serves as a Presidential Museum and offers regular guided tours where visitors can walk through the home and see the rooms where Truman lived and worked while in Key West.
Catch the Sunset at Mallory Square
Mallory Square is full of shops, restaurants and live entertainment from street performers such as jugglers, sword-swallowers and musicians. There are also local vendors selling jewelry, art and more since there’s always something happening at Mallory Square.
This spot is most well-known for the amazing sunsets and nightly sunset celebrations making it a great way to end your day in Key West. Approximately two hours before sunset a crowd gathers to watch the glowing pink and orange sun go down. The view is amazing and it makes for some beautiful sunset photos.
With so much to do, it’s easy to see why Key West is popular with tourists and as a port of call for cruise-ship passengers. This destination is truly FULL of culture and charm, and unique in so many ways. It’s easily one of my favorite vacation spots in the U.S. and I hope this post has inspired you to want to plan your own trip to this beautiful and vibrant place.
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