If you are planning a Florida Keys road trip, these are some of the best things to see, eat, and do while you are there. Key West may be your ultimate destination, but the Florida Keys have so much more to offer than just Land's End!
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If you are planning a trip to Florida and considering a visit to Key West, let this be your sign to go for it! We love the laidback, relaxed island vibe and delicious food that the Florida Keys has to offer and think it's a great place to get away for a tropical vacation!
We made it down to Key West as part of a road trip with our two kids where we started at Epcot and Harry Potter World in Orlando, then drove to the Everglades before heading down to the Florida Keys. We drove back up Highway 1 to spend our final day in Miami before flying back home to California.
When is the Best Time to Visit the Florida Keys?
The best time to visit the Florida Keys is typically during the winter months, from November to mid-December and late January to April. During this period, the weather is pleasant with temperatures ranging from the mid-60s to mid-70s Fahrenheit (18-24°C), making it ideal for outdoor activities and enjoying the beautiful beaches. This time also avoids the peak hurricane season, which runs from June to November.
However, it's essential to note that the Florida Keys can be a popular tourist destination, so if you prefer a quieter experience, it might be beneficial to avoid major holidays and school vacation periods.
Popular Activities in the Florida Keys
There is so much to do in the Florida Keys that we hardly scratched the surface. It is heaven for lovers of all kinds of water sports and you will find many or most of these actvities on any of the larger keys from any number of operators.
- Scuba diving
- Jet-ski tours
- Waterfront restaurants
Florida Keys Road Trip
Islamorada is a laid-back paradise known for its breathtaking sunsets, crystal-clear turquoise waters, and a relaxed atmosphere. It is known as the "Sportfishing Capital of the World" so this is a great place to go if that's something you are interested in, or just go for some of the best snorkeling the Keys have to offer.
We enjoyed dinner at Lazy Days Restaurant which has laidback beachy vibes and good food, especially if you like fresh fish and seafood.
We were hoping to boat out to the Alligator Reef, but conditions in winter can be choppy and so we skipped it on this trip. But the reef is home to a diverse array of marine life, including colorful corals, sponges, and a variety of fish species.
It's a really popular snorkeling spot where divers and snorkelers can encounter parrotfish, angelfish, grouper, and many other tropical fish. There are also soft white sandbars with clear water where you can hop out of the boat to play. Many dive operators in the Islamorada area offer trips to Alligator Reef for both experienced and novice divers and snorkelers.
Before you go, grab breakfast at Bob's Bunz and get the stack of banana bread french toast. It was delicious! Mangrove Mike's is another popular breakfast option, too.
Whether you're diving into the vibrant marine life, enjoying a tranquil beach day, or savoring the local flavors, Islamorada is a sun-soaked escape in the Florida Keys.
This might sound crazy, but be sure to stop at one of the many Circle K gas stations along the road and grab one of these frozen chocolate-dipped key lime pie bars on a stick!
Marathon Turtle Hospital
About an hour from Key Largo and an hour before you get to Key West, you'll find the city of Marathon. It has a great retro, nautical vibe and lots to do and see if you wanted to spend more of your time here.
We visited the Marathon Turtle Hospital and learned about the work they do rescuing sea turtles to protect them and return them to the wild. It was a super educational program and we left feeling appreciative for the work people do to help these incredible creatures recover from sicknesses caused by pollution and injuries from boating accidents or other causes.
Crane Point Hammock Museum & Nature Center
We also stopped at Crane Point, which has a great walking path through a tropical forest with signs explaining many of the plants, a historic house you can visit, natural fish pedicures in a lagoon, and a natural history museum.
We got lucky and noticed a hermit crab in a huge shell right off the side of the path!
You can expect to see mangrove and banyan trees, and there is a lookout point where you can often see nurse sharks (or so we were told, since we didn't spot any while we were there).
Other things you can do in Marathon are boating, snorkeling, and even swimming with dolphins! Sombrero Beach is especially popular and considered one of the best in the Keys if you are looking for a place to soak up the sun.
There are also a few beaches where loggerhead turtles nest and if you are follow the Marathon Turtle Hospital's social media pages they announce days and times when they will be releasing recovered sea turtles back into the wild so that the community can come see and participate.
What is the Best Way to Get to Key West, Florida?
The best way to get to Key West depends on your starting location and preferences. If you're in Florida or nearby states, driving to Key West is a popular option. The Overseas Highway (U.S. Route 1) connects the Florida Keys to the mainland. The drive is scenic and offers stunning views of the ocean. You even get to drive over the famous 7 Mile Bridge which was featured in the movie "True Lies" with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis.
You can also come by plane. Key West International Airport (EYW) serves the island and you can fly directly into Key West from several major airports in Florida and other parts of the United States. This option is convenient if you're traveling from a distant location.
Some cruise lines also include Key West as a port of call. If you enjoy cruising, this could be a scenic and enjoyable way to reach the island.
Key West Highlights
We had hoped to be able to visit Dry Tortugas National Park while in Key West, but it is difficult to get tickets on the ferry that takes you out to the island with the historic fort on it unless you book well in advance, at least during the busy season. So we contented ourselves with making the most of our time in Key West by seeing as much of the city as we could during the time we had there.
Southernmost Point of the Continental United States
Take a photo at the Southernmost Point Buoy, a landmark that marks the southernmost point of the continental United States. There is pretty much always a queue of people lined up to take a picture here but if you go early in the day you usually won't have to wait long.
Join the lively atmosphere at Mallory Square during the sunset celebration. There are street performers, local artists, and musicians here every day and lots of people gather to enjoy the famous Key West sunsets in a lively atmosphere.
Explore Duval Street, the main thoroughfare in Key West, known for its vibrant nightlife, eclectic shops, and numerous bars and restaurants. There is every kind of fare imaginable and the street is hopping at nighttime once the sun has gone down.
We enjoyed some delicious Caribbean-inspired dishes of pecan crusted fish and grilled steak with coconut rice and fried sweet plantains.
Grab a Slice of Key Lime Pie
Pretty much anywhere you go in Key West you will see the most quintessential Florida dessert - the famous Key Lime Pie.
Key limes are much smaller than the more common Persian limes, and they are known for their characteristic intense and tart flavor. Key lime pie has a sweet and tart flavor from the key lime juice that is balanced with the sweetness of condensed milk. It usually has a graham cracker crust which adds a sweet and slightly crunchy base that pairs perfect with the smooth and creamy citrus filling.
You can order a slice of key lime pie for dessert at almost any restaurant, but after sampling many, many slices of key lime pie in Key West and other parts of the Florida keys, my favorite version was the frozen chocolate dipped key lime pie from Mattheessen's sweets shop. The graham cracker crust was slightly thicker than others and the texture and taste of their key lime filling was perfection. And the dark chocolate outer coating was the perfect compliment.
Mattheessen's has multiple locations in Key West, including two storefronts on Duval street, although you can find chocolate covered key lime pie on a stick at other places in the keys.
Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum
One of our favorite places we visited in Key West was the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum. It is the former residence of the author, Ernest Hemingway. The museum showcases his life and work while also giving a glimpse into what life was like in Key West in the early 1900's.
The Ernest Hemingway Home is also home to numerous cats with six toes who descend from Hemingway's cat, which also had six toes. Our girls loved hanging out in the garden following the cats around while Paul and I read all the signs and toured the historic residence.
Key West Lighthouse and Keeper's Quarters Museum
Climb to the top of the Key West Lighthouse for panoramic views of the island and learn about its maritime history in the adjoining museum. This is right across from the Ernest Hemingway house, so it would be easy to do both in succession.
Mile Zero Marker
This isn't really a highlight so much, but you might just happen to find yourself literally at the end of the road since Route 1 begins in Key West at mile marker 0. It's just off Duval Street and makes for a fun little phot op.
Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory
Immerse yourself in the beauty of nature at the Butterfly and Nature Conservatory, where you can wander through lush gardens surrounded by hundreds of colorful butterflies. Our kids loved this place and would have spent much longer if we had let them. If you are really lucky, a butterfly might even land on you!
There were instructional exhibits where you can learn about a butterfly's life cycle and a room with caterpillars and butterflies in various stages of cocooning.
There were also lots of beautiful and interesting birds in the conservatory, flitting around your head and swooping down to snatch seeds off the ground.
Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park
You could easily spend a day at this state park, where kids & adults alike can explore the historic Civil War-era fort, enjoy the sandy beach, and have fun in the sun. Snorkeling opportunities are available for older kids.
Harry S. Truman Little White House
Explore the former winter White House of President Harry S. Truman, now a museum that provides insight into the history of the house and its famous occupants.
Key West Shipwreck Museum
Dive into the maritime history of Key West at the Shipwreck Treasure Museum. The interactive exhibits and the chance to lift a real silver bar from a shipwreck are sure to capture kids' imaginations. There is even a lookout tower that you can climb for panoramic views of the ocean.
Key West Aquarium
The Key West Aquarium offers a chance for kids to get up close and personal with marine life. Touch tanks allow children to interact with sea creatures, and the daily shark and turtle feedings are popular attractions.
Key West Ghost Tours
Older kids may enjoy a family-friendly ghost tour, exploring the historic and mysterious side of Key West. These tours often include interesting stories and legends about the island.
Grab some pastries
The La Grignote Cafe & Bistro is legitimately one of the best bakeries we have been to and they have an incredible selection. Be sure to try the kouign-aman.
Don't Forget to Relax
Despite the long list of activities I just gave you, Key West really is about relaxing and soaking up the laid back vibe of the place. We spent a lovely afternoon on the beach and at our hotel pool, just enjoying some pool food and reading books we picked up at the Ernest Hemingway House in the morning.
Have you visited Key West? What were some of your favorite things about it? We would love to hear in the comments below!