Facts about Key West
1.02 million people visit this highly touristed island each year! The Island of Key West is about 4 miles long and 1 mile wide. It lies at the southernmost end of the longest north-south road in the United States called US 1. According to the 2019 census, it is estimated that 24,118 people live in Key West. Another fun fact is Key West is about 95 miles north of Cuba.
In a nut shell, Key West is a small island but congested with people/tourists. There are many places to stay during this 2020 year due to a decrease in tourism. But generally speaking you want to book a place to stay 6 months in advance to find the best options. The week before and after Christmas is peak season. Sunsets are beautiful here! Snorkeling is okay but only if the water is clear. This only happens when it’s sunny and not windy! Key West appears safe due to high police presence. I would however, not recommend driving to or around Key West. There is a huge presence of mopeds, scooters, motorcycles, bicycles, golf carts, and cars on the road. A lot of tourists who don’t know where they are going makes it hard to drive. And parking is costly. Take an Uber, Lyft, or walk…all easily accessible. Also, we took advantage of the Duval Loop Bus which picks up every 20-30 minutes. And the best part is it’s free! You can monitor where the bus is by clicking on the link.
We ended up staying at Avalon Bed & Breakfast. It’s located on the southern end of the Duval Loop. This is a quieter area and still remains close to everything. It has 19 rooms. The walls can be a little thin depending on one’s neighbors. But each of them has it’s own bathrooms. They did a nice job with cleaning the rooms, and making sure everyone wore their masks during Covid-19. Breakfast was one step better than continental. We would have hoped for more unique and homemade choices for it being a bed and breakfast, but that was the only flaw we could find staying here, which isn’t bad. The staff was very friendly and very nice. And Avalon Bed & Breakfast had the nicest Christmas Decorations of all the area. We would not recommend staying anywhere else in the Duval Loop as the loop gets very noisy. Staying in the northern end of Key West is a lot quieter if you are looking for a peaceful time. Also, it appears there’s a lot of Airbnb’s and condo’s in the northern area of Key West, closer to the airport.
Things To Do in Key West and the surrounding area
First of all, staying a week here is a bit much unless you enjoy not doing much during your vacation. If you get a chance, book a trip to Jefferson/Dry Tortugas National Park. We had initially booked a seaplane but due to weather, it was cancelled. The Key West seaplane charter company was very professional and refunded us back entirely. They also added us to their waitlist but unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be. The weather can be fickle here, so if you visit during a less than stunning season, plan on going via boat instead. The Dry Tortugas National Park is a unique eco attraction. It is 70 miles from Key West. Fort Jefferson was used as a prison during the Civil War by the Union Army so there’s a lot of history there. And there’s supposedly great snorkeling here especially for beginners as there are shallow waters.
Secondly we would highly recommend a sunset cruise! And we would highly recommend using Floridays! There a lot of choices. But Floridays has a beautiful and large sail boat. They have a mature group of two people who take you safely near the sunset and back. The music is not loud on the boat and they serve unlimited drinks! We have seen many sunsets but Key West sunsets are one of the best!
If you can’t go on a sunset cruise, at least go to Mallory Square so you can watch it there. It’s free. And the best place to watch the sunset. It gets packed, so come early to get the best spot. The famous Margaritaville is here so you can grab a bite to each while you are here. They also have local vendors and musicians.
If you love butterflies, definitely go to The Keywest Butterfly and Nature Conservatory. You can find coupons all around town for $2 off. Once you get in pass the sealed vestibule, there are all kind of butterflies everywhere!!! And they land on you as they are flying around enjoying the beautiful conservatory. The environment is filled with luscious plants and fruits laid out for the butterflies and birds to eat. The pictures themselves don’t replaces the experience. They also have two flamingoes. We would recommend going in the morning when they first open and during a weekday, so you have more time visiting.
The Truman Little White House tour is another recommended choice of ours. It’s not so much for the little ones but if you enjoy history or politics, definitely make it a point to go. This is an affordable event that when booked online will save you a few dollars. A small group tour is taken with one guide in the private White House. You can take pictures around the grounds but you cannot take pictures inside the house. It’s about a 30 minute tour but it’s an important one for U.S. history. And it ends in the gift shop.
As we mentioned, if you enjoy doing things, you’ll want to step away from Key West and head over to Marathon, Florida. It’s an hour and 45 minute bus ride away from Key West. The Lower Keys bus which cost you $4 one way gets you all the way to Marathon. It’s a clean bus, a smooth ride, and a scenic view which makes the time go faster.
Since the bus doesn’t stop here, take an Uber or Lyft to the Dolphin Research Center. We would highly recommend General Admission tickets and buy online to save $3 per ticket. There are other ticket options where you can swim, touch, or paint with dolphins, but the general ticket is definitely worth it! If you choose a non busy day, you’ll get to spend 4 hours or the whole day with dolphins with as much closeness as you can get without actually being in the water with them. We absolutely love dolphins and have been lucky enough to have had many encounters with these amazing animals over the years. We can’t underscore/highlight enough what a great experience this was for us as dolphin lovers. The staff here love their dolphins and share their knowledge with others. There are 25 dolphins at this center. You don’t get to see them all but you do get to see about 12-15 of them. If you remember the show, Flipper…Flipper’s descendants live here and were showcased during our visit. During your visit, you’ll get to see the trainers train dolphins and have play time with them. You’ll also get to see other guest who paid extra interact one on one with the dolphins. We got to see one of the dolphins paint as well. There are sea lions at this center as well but it was closed while we were there. However we did get to catch a couple of photos on the other side of the fence. The center is a non profit organization so they depend on their visitors to help take care of these dolphins. Besides being a research center, they too rescue dolphins from injuries or places that can’t keep them anymore. You can find great videos of our visit on our Pisces Tourist You Tube Channel.
The last thing we would recommend you definitely do while in Marathon and on the same day is book a ticket with The Turtle Hospital. It’s the largest turtle hospital in the United States. It’s also non profit. Here they rescue injured turtles and evaluate and treat them to get back into the wild. Sadly, there are a lot of turtle boat injury accidents that come into here. And some turtles are starting to get more papilloma’s from the algae they eat due to global warming and pollution. These guys normally can heal from papilloma’s on their own but with the environment changing and becoming more toxic, they cannot do it themselves and thus can suffer paralysis from the condition. We also saw some turtles that were rescued from the Cape Cod area as they suffered hypothermia. They basically migrated from the southern climate and took a wrong turn into colder climates. We got to witness their bodies agitated and how they suffered from anxiety. On our visit all 5 species of turtles found in the United States were here at the hospital at one time, a rare find. This hospital has an Operating room, an Intensive Care Unit, and many pools for the various kinds of turtle patient conditions. You also get a chance to feed the larger turtles here. The knowledge gained and to witness another set of amazing creatures is very much a win win in our book.
Food Options in Key West
As Key West is an island, there are plenty of wonderful fish restaurants! As pescatarians, we loved eating here. Some places we would highly recommend are Oasis Mediterranean Cuisine. It’s slightly off the beaten path and it appears a lot of locals eat here. It’s very affordable and they serve plenty of food! It’s all patio eating with heat lamps available outside. We would highly recommend the seafood roll and the falafel sandwich. As an appetizer, choose the spinach filled fried dumpling. And I usually don’t have any room for dessert during dining but I made room for tiramisu and I am glad I did.
Another favorite of ours slightly off of Duval street is the Key West Fish & Chips. Another patio area. They cook everything in a truck. They have a limited menu but they have specials each day. My hubby ate their whole fried yellow tail fish. And I ate their fried black grouper with a cup of sangria! They served the food in a small takeout tray in newspaper. It was amazing! The best kept secrets aren’t always big and bright!
Dessert in Key West
If you like gelato or homemade ice cream, we would highly recommend Gladiators Ice Cream! It’s a small business run by an older lady and her husband in a small building wedged between two bigger souvenir stores and it’s worth it!! We went their twice on two different days and recommended it to all the passerby’s! Everything appears to be good. But my favorite was the coconut with espresso coffee. And hubby’s favorite was key lime pie dipped with chocolate and coconut. It’s all fresh and delicious! The only other place with better gelato was found in our trip to Italy!
Key Lime pie was obviously great here as well. And you can find it at Kermit’s Key Lime Shop. We tried their original and strawberry key lime pie. The key lime dipped in chocolate on a stick is a bit too sweet for my mature taste buds but when in Key West, you may want to try it once! You can also find these items elsewhere in Key West made from the same shop.
Beach Life in Key West
We visited 3 beaches while in Key West: South Beach, Higgs, and Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park Beach. The scenery is all beautiful, but there isn’t much sand in any of these beaches. South Beach is a smaller beach which stays pretty busy. It’s in the south end of Duval Loop. It is surrounded by a few food and drink areas which allows people to huddle. It is a great place to watch the sunrises from here, which we were lucky to do almost everyday. South Beach has a few blue beach lounge chairs which are free to use. A lot of people are not aware of this, as there are other beach lounge chairs to rent in the same vicinity.
Higgs beach is quieter and nicer. There are bathrooms/shower/changing areas. They have 1 restaurant along the beach. They have a beautiful pier and a lot of birds along the area. There’s no shade whatsoever, so it can get quite toasty here so definitely bring sunscreen.
Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Beach Park is further from the loop but you can spend a whole day hiking/picnicking/fishing/biking/swimming/or beach bumming here. There’s a small fee to get in, but you can definitely find some peace here without too much congestion. The beach area is very rocky, so definitely bring some water shoes as it can be very painful to walk out of the water. There’s also one permanent food vendor here that sells burgers/pizza/nachos/drinks.
Overall Key West is a great place to visit if you like beach life. It’s good place for younger people who like eating/drinking/doing the touristy thing. We learned a lot about ourselves visiting Key West, as we enjoy staying busy/learning/discovering during our vacations.