Beach Vacations to Key West, Florida

Beach in Key West, Florida
Beachgoers enjoy the warm sun and blue sky in Key West, Florida (courtesy, Visit Florida)

Key West Beach Tips

  • Check Key West's prolific festival schedule before planning your trip: Rooms regularly book up for Conch Republic Independence Day (in April), Hemingway Days (in July), and the Mardi Gras-style Fantasy Fest (around Halloween).
  • Yes, Key West has the best beaches in the Florida Keys, but there are still good stretches of sand elsewhere in the chain. Consider flying to Miami first and driving the dramatic 159-mile Overseas Highway south, so you can explore them along the way.
  • Most of Key West's beaches are accessible via moped or rental golf cart—and with parking as tight as it is, both are preferable to rental cars.
  • Balmy wintertime (from December through April) is Key West's high season. If you want more beach to yourself, come in late spring or fall.
  • There's good snorkeling along the coast (especially at the Key West Marine Park, on the southern shore), but it gets even better in the more stringently protected marine sanctuaries farther offshore. Find a snorkeling cruise or glass-bottom boat to take you there.

Key West proudly calls itself "The Conch Republic," and if you've spent any time in this far-flung outpost of artists, party people, gays, and colorful misfits, you can vouch that it is indeed a nation of its own. The last isle in the 150-mile chain of Florida Keys, this two-by-four-mile speck of land has attracted everyone from Harry S. Truman to Tennessee Williams to Ernest Hemingway. Locals affectionately remember the latter as "Papa," icon of Key West's forever bold and rebellious spirit. (The Hemingway House is open to the public—and still purring with the descendents of the writer's six-toed feline.)

On this island, a good time is virtually guaranteed. Festivals explode year-round and bars pump into the wee hours (including one that's clothing-optional). It's not all oontz-oontz—you'll also find tranquil backstreets leading to historic, plantation-style architecture and mellow, open-air seafood restaurants. Key West was once North America's busiest port—not to mention the country's wealthiest city per capita in the mid-1800s—and a rich sense of history persists despite the T-shirt shops and cruise-line passengers that crowd the main drag of Duvall Street.

As America's gateway to the Caribbean Sea, Key West is a jumping-off point for myriad waterborne adventures. Tall-ship schooners grace the shoreline, and catamarans sail visitors out to pristine snorkel areas like the 200,000-acre Key West National Wildlife Refuge. Contrary to what most travelers expect, Key West is not rife with great beaches (few Florida Keys are); skip the ones with names like Broken Glass Beach and Dog Beach and head to the southern side of the island, where Fort Zachary Taylor Beach and Higgs Beach are both good options. Summers in Key West are cooler and less humid than in Miami, thanks to constant ocean breezes that keep temperatures under 90 degrees.

One must-do for first-time visitors: Head to Mallory Square (at the westernmost end of Whitehead Street) on a late afternoon and secure a good sunset-viewing spot. When the sun dips into the ocean, you'll find yourself applauding along with everyone else—acrobats, food vendors, jugglers, tourists, salty old-timers—and perhaps wondering if you, too, aren't a natural-born citizen of The Conch Republic.

Published: 27 Dec 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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