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Key West is the only "Caribbean" island in the continental United States. Turquoise water, tropical setting and relaxed atmosphere combine to create an exotic place, yet its language and culture are comfortably American. 

Visually Key West is quaint and lush. It’s casual, yet surprisingly sophisticated. It’s quirky, unique, interesting, friendly and fun. It’s a walking town, made for exploring. It’s easy to get to know, and easy to feel at home.

The look, feel and colorful character of Key West experienced by the visitor today stems from a history shaped by the geographic peculiarities of this 4 x 2 mile speck in the Straits of Florida: a deep natural harbor and strategic access to the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean. 

The first permanent settlement on the once barren island, now shaded by the canopies of exotic trees, was established by a handful of hardy souls in 1822. A maritime town grew around the harbor, a strategic stop, by design and by accident, for ships from far-away places traveling the Gulf Stream trade route. By the mid 1800s, Key West was a bustling town, for a time one of the richest in the United States, a result of the wrecking or salvaging efforts. Fire raging through town in 1886 destroyed wharves, warehouses, cigar factories and homes, but the resilient community soon rebuilt through the skill of local ships’ carpenters. Their sturdily built structures, with architectural details borrowed from global ports of call, remain largely intact today, restored and transformed into a mix of stores, restaurants, bars, galleries, museums and private homes. 

The result is Old Town Key West, a town with modern conveniences and the quaint look of another era. Its picturesque collection of 19th century architecture, one of the finest in America, makes Old Town a popular tourist attraction. Blocks of balanced vernacular frame houses, small in scale with touches of Victorian gingerbread, create a virtual museum of architectural gems. The visual delight of pastel hues, white picket fences, narrow yards draped in exotic plants growing with abandon, and tin roofs glinting in the sun, give Key West its distinct charm. 

Spirited residents have established businesses in historic buildings along busy Duval Street, around popular Mallory Square and down small Old Town lanes. Restaurants are plentiful, most with garden or waterfront seating; music flows from walk-up bars. Specialty shops displaying colorful items open onto narrow streets alongside upscale boutiques. Interesting museums engage the imagination, art galleries delight the senses, and acclaimed professional theater entertains in intimate venues. 

Today, Key West’s economy is tourism based, but it’s not just another contrived, transient tourist town. Its character, speech, food and color come from the deeply rooted local “Conchs,” for whom it has been home for generations. Many trace their heritage to Cuba, just 90 miles away, through forefathers who arrived in the late 1800s to work in the cigar industry; others to the Bahamas, where families, both black and white, crisscrossed the Gulf Stream to trade and work the wrecking trade.

The harbor continues to give the island life, bustling with water activities for visitors to enjoy. Gleaming cruise ships line docks instead of tall masted trading schooners; charter boat fishing and sunset sails have replaced sponge processing and turtle canning. Surrounding reefs, whose treacherous passage once made locals into millionaires, offer glorious snorkeling and diving. The cobalt Gulf Stream, traveled by the Spanish to transport treasure from the New World, produces the thrill of game fishing. The peaceful, mangrove-laced backcountry, where pirates once hid, offers nature to explore. 

No longer isolated, Key West is reachable by land, by air and by sea. Perched at the very end of US Highway 1, literally at the end of the road, approximately 160 miles southwest of Miami, it is perceived as a place where anything is possible. It is the artist's muse, the writer's inspiration, the entrepreneur's vision and the wanderer's green flash.

Weather

Average
Air Temperature
Average
Sea Temperature
 
High
Low 
January - March 7
76°
67°
71°
April – May
83°
74°
80°
June - July
88°
79°
86°
Aug - September
89°
79°
87°
October
85°
76°
82°
November – December
79°
69°
74°


Old Town Trolley

Seasons

At one time a seasonal destination, festivals, boat races, fishing tournaments, literary seminars and art shows now scheduled throughout the year make Key West a popular place to visit year-round. There is a distinct high season from mid December through March, with a second high season in the summer, a wonderful time for all water activities. Lobster season brings a large increase in visitors in August, the hottest time of year. The pace slows down in September, and picks back up with gusto in October for the annual Fantasy Fest activities, so popular that rooms are reserved months in advance.

Population

In the 2004 census, Key West’s permanent residents numbered 24,768. The population increases in the winter months with the influx of seasonal residents. Unlike many other Florida communities, Key West is demographically young, with an average age of 38.9, and with 25% of its population between the ages of 20-34. 

Size

Key West is 4 miles long by 2 miles wide. The distance from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean, from one end of Duval Street to the other, is only 14 blocks.

Transportation

Depending on the length of your stay, how much you want to see, the level of physical activity you want to exert in the tropical climate, and your cost parameters, your choices are many. You can walk, rent a bicycle, scooter or little electric car. You can take a cab, or try the city bus system. 

We recommend you first get to know the island on the Old Town Trolley tour, using the trolley’s convenient on and off feature. On the fully narrated, colorful tour you’ll see and learn more than you could by walking around on your own. You can get on and off at any of the 11 stops along the route to explore areas of interest at your own pace, without worrying about finding your way back to where you started. 

Accommodations

Key West is a resort destination, with a combined total of 5872 guest rooms, which includes all units licensed to accommodate short term vacation rentals: luxurious full service resorts overlooking either the Atlantic Ocean or Gulf of Mexico; intimate, antique filled Victorian guest houses nestled in tropical gardens, and pleasant brand name hotels offering the familiar with an island flair.



Conch Tour Train

See Key West aboard the Old Town Trolley or the Conch Tour Train. Set aside the first 90 minutes of your visit for an entertaining narrated tour of the island on the Old Town Trolley or the Conch Tour Train. They give you a great vantage point from which to see sights you might otherwise miss. You’ll get an insider’s view of the free-spirited community, experience the buzz of activity along the narrow streets, and catch whiffs of fragrant frangipani and fresh Cuban coffee. You’ll go from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic, passing by all the important places along the route: Hemingway's home, the Southernmost Point, the Historic Seaport, to name a few. You’ll marvel at the magnificent kapok and the flame-red Royal Poinciana, and catch details on the charming homes pointed out along the way. You’ll be introduced to the quirky: dogs in sunglasses riding scooters; sun-baked palm weavers barely visible on frond-laden bikes; red-combed roosters holding court; and wildly painted conch cruisers driving by. Tours operate daily.

Key West by Sea: Enjoy the clear waters around Key West any way you choose: on fishing boats of all sizes, catamarans, sailing vessels or kayaks. All are available for hire through hotel concierges, in booths around the island, and along the waterfront where they are docked. Operate daily.

Bird’s Eye View of Key West: Climb the tower of the Shipwreck Historeum, for a 360° unparalleled view of the island. Or, elevator up to the 7th floor of the historic La Concha hotel, midway up Duval Street for a similarly spectacular view of the town and a drink from the Top of the La Concha bar. Both are open daily.

Coral Reef: The Florida Reef Tract, off the Florida Keys, is the most extensive living coral reef system in North American waters and the third largest system in the world. Spectacularly beautiful, it can be experienced on one of the many dive or snorkeling excursions available. For those not wishing to get into the water, glass-bottom boats offer the opportunity to view this extraordinary aquatic habitat. Boats go out daily.

Dry TortugasDry Tortugas: A day trip aboard the Yankee Freedom to the Dry Tortugas is an unforgettable experience. The small island 70 miles west of Key West is the site of a massive red brick Civil War era fort surrounded by coral reefs for snorkeling. The Yankee Freedom operates daily, weather permitting.

Sunset Celebration: Each evening in Mallory Square, crowds gather in a street fair atmosphere complete with entertainers to celebrate the sun as it dips into the Gulf of Mexico, hoping to glimpse the illusive green flash. Free.

On the way to or from Sunset Celebration try a mojito, Bacardi rum laced with sugar syrup and mint, and enjoy the sounds of salsa at the outside bar at El Meson de Pepe, a Cuban Conch restaurant located in Mallory Square. Open daily.

Sunset Sail: Every evening, tall masted sailing ships, contemporary catamarans and other vessels docked at the Historic Seaport and the Hilton Marina sail into the famous Key West sunset.

Hemingway Home and Museum: The lure of the island lifestyle and surrounding sea led Ernest Hemingway to live in Key West on and off between 1928 and 1940. He penned some of his best works, including A Farewell to Arms and The Snows of Kilimanjaro, in this home on Whitehead Street. Get a feel for the Hemingway legend during daily tours.

Key West Aquarium: Have an up-close encounter with sharks, barracuda, grouper, eels, turtles and every imaginable sea creature in the Florida Keys aquatic habitat. This Key West treasure offers a great way to see the colorful sea life without having to get in the water. Open daily with special guided tours four times a day.

Blue Heaven Restaurant: Great food served in an unusual atmosphere. The outdoor bar is at the foot of an old water tower, chickens scratch about, cats lounge around, and a rope swing hangs from a huge tree. Breakfast, lunch (brunch on Sundays) and dinner are served at tables set on packed earth out in the side yard of a home in the Bahama Village residential neighborhood.

Margaritaville Café: Cheeseburgers in paradise served with Jimmy Buffet music, a touchstone for all Parrotheads who visit Key West.

Duval Street

Old Town
Most things to see and do are clustered in Old Town. Approximately 1 square mile in size, it radiates from the harbor, on the Gulf of Mexico side of the island. Designated as a historic district, the concentration of restored 19th century structures set amid a tangle of tropical flora, gives the island a storybook quality. The mix of businesses and residences give it an amiable small town atmosphere. Within Old Town there are several distinct areas:

Mallory Square, considered the “heart” of Old Town, is the area most frequented by tourists. It is a hub of activity with shops, museums, attractions, restaurants and popular bars, most open to the prevailing trade winds. Every evening, hundreds gather in Mallory Square to enjoy Key West’s signature happening, Sunset Celebration.

Historic Seaport District, also called the Key West Bight, is a working seaport, primarily for pleasure craft. It bustles with boats for hire, waterfront stores, activities, bars and restaurants.

Lower Duval is a loosely designated area around the Gulf end of the island comprising the first few blocks around the foot of Duval Street, the island’s best known thoroughfare. Open to vehicular traffic, the area is pedestrian friendly and is lined with shops, attractions, restaurants and bars.

Upper Duval refers to the blocks towards the Atlantic end of the famous street. Known as the “quiet” end of Duval, it is an area of wonderful galleries and numerous fine restaurants.

Bahama Village, a community west of Whitehead Street, roughly between Angela and Catherine, reflects Key West’s rich Bahamian heritage, most notably during the annual Goombay Festival.



New Town, an area of single family, ranch style concrete homes, modern commercial business and schools, is home to many local families. Built after World War II on filled land, first created to meet the needs of Henry Flagler’s East Coast Railway and later to accommodate the US Navy, it has newer hotels, restaurants, and fast food chains lining the main thoroughfare, Roosevelt Boulevard, which circles the island along the water.

Stock Island
, just over the Cow Key Channel Bridge leading out of Key West, but still within city limits, is an area of growing tourist activity. Many of the back country flats fishing trips and kayak tours depart from Hurricane Hole Marina. The Tennessee Williams Theater hosts the seasonal Island Opera and the Key West Symphony; nearby is the fledgling Botanical Garden. Casual restaurants dot the island, featuring the freshest seafood, including the famous Key West pink shrimp, supplied by nearby commercial fish, shrimp, and lobster docks.

Starfish

To get a better feel for the real flavor of the island, visit treasures in tucked away places. Some include:

Nancy’s Secret Garden: A garden oasis of exotic trees, plants and flowers in the middle of Old Town is hidden down Schoolhouse Lane, off Simonton Street.

Lemonade Stand Studio: One of many art galleries in Key West, this one is off the main streets, on the corner of Petronia and Thomas in Bahama Village, just across from Blue Heaven, and features the work by remarkable local artists.

Besame Mucho: In Bahama Village, just down Petronia Street, in a delightfully restored Key West cottage, everything in the small store is pretty and smells good.

Flamingo Crossing:
Take a break during a walk along upper Duval to stop at the small shotgun house on the corner of Virginia Street, once the home of famous local artist, Mario Sanchez, and enjoy the tasty treat of homemade ice-cream. Indulge in coconut, banana, mango, guanabana and other exotic flavors.

El Siboney: Try real Cuban home cooking in this unassuming restaurant, popular with locals, on the corner of Catherine and Margaret Streets, just off United Street.

Henrietta’s Bakery: Stop in and try Henrietta’s signature coconut sticks. On Petronia Street in Bahama Village, the expanded bakery also serves breakfast and lunch.

Hurricane Joe’s Restaurant: Just over the Cow Key Channel Bridge on Stock Island is a growing hub of activity, whose ambience includes a waterfront bar and restaurant serving local seafood.

Haitian Art Gallery:
On the corner of Southard and Frances Streets, in a residential neighborhood just beyond the Key West Cemetery, a 19th century Key West house showcases the distinctive and colorful art from Haiti.

Five Brothers: Start the morning off just like a local, with a café con leche at one of the few remaining neighborhood Cuban grocery stores, located on Southard Street just beyond the Haitian Art Gallery.

Mary O’Shea’s Glass Garden: Wonderful glass pieces, many depicting undersea life, hang in this gallery just off the corner of Simonton and Greene Streets.

Saluté: On the other side of the island from Old Town, one would only pass this Atlantic side restaurant purely by chance. Fresh, flavorful lunch and dinner are served beachside or inside.

Tropic Cinema: A jewel of a theater, where wine is available along with popcorn, shows foreign and independent films.

Seven Fish: A tiny, off-beat bistro on Olivia Street, offers selections ranging from mahi-mahi to meatloaf.

Casa Antigua: Courtyard Garden Visit a Key West courtyard garden, usually hidden behind the privacy of a fence or wall. Enter through the Pelican Poop store on Simonton Street between Eaton and Caroline Streets.

Theater: During season, treat yourself to exceptional productions staged in intimate, historic Old Town venues: the Waterfront Playhouse at Mallory Square and the Red Barn Theatre behind the Key West Woman’s Club on Duval Street.



Mallory Square

There is a lot to experience in Key West for free.

Sunset Celebration:Street entertainers help celebrate the nightly setting of the sun in Mallory Square.

Smathers Beach, Rest Beach, and Higgs Beach
, all are public beaches along the Atlantic side of the island.

Gallery Night: In season, art galleries, normally open only during the day hours, open one evening per month and viewing art often comes with a glass of champagne.

Southernmost Point: A classic Key West photo op, gaze out to the Atlantic horizon and imagine you can see Cuba, ninety miles away.

Parades and Festivals: If one is taking place while you are visiting Key West, join in on the festivities and be a part of the island spirit.

Key West CemetaryKey West Cemetery: Names on gravestones in the above-ground whitewashed cemetery established in 1847 in the middle of Old Town tell the story of island residents.

Sculpture Garden: Wander through the tiny park, just off Mallory Square, behind the Waterfront Playhouse, for an insight into the colorful characters who built Key West.

St. Paul’s Church:
Leave the bustle of Duval for a moment and step into the quiet coolness of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, the oldest church in Florida outside of St. Augustine. Its glorious stained glass windows, most dating to the 1920s, were created by some of the most renowned stained glass artists in America.

Our Lady of Lourdes Shrine: Said to have prevented Key West from the ravages of hurricanes, the outdoor shrine is in the side garden of St. Mary Star of the Sea Church on Truman Avenue and Windsor Lane.

Fine Dining

Great restaurants housed in historic buildings are winning ingredients for a remarkable dining experience. Seafood reigns supreme, but the best steaks and superb Italian and French cuisine are on menus too. Master chefs have found their way to the island, attracted by its ambience and appreciative clientele. Fresh local seafood laced with tropical fruit combine into “fusions,” many with “Floribbean” flair. Choices range from restaurants with star ratings to a conch fritter stand. Favorites include:

On upper Duval, step into Alices’ for creative lunch or dinner selections reflecting the flair of its highly acclaimed chef, owner and namesake. It’s a dining experience of tropical flavors with a hint of a Cajun spice in a friendly yet sophisticated environment.

In the evening only, people watch from the porch of a wonderful Victorian home or enjoy the sleek contemporary interior while savoring the mingling of flavors in tapas that delight the senses at Nine-One-Five on Duval Street near Truman.

In a landmark building at the corner of Southard and Simonton, Sarabeth’s offers fresh, classic American cooking from its award winning chef. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served inside, or out under aqua umbrellas.

Find Michael’s tucked away in a residential neighborhood on Margaret Street, just on the outer edge of Old Town. Offering a fine dining experience inside or in the patio garden fountainside, its reputation has been earned on fine steaks and excellent service.

Mangoes is the place to stop while strolling up Duval. Midway up the famous street, enjoy a drink at the streetside outdoor bar, or people watch during a fresh, tasty lunch or dinner in the outdoor patio garden.

For really good seafood with a view of all the activity at the Historic Seaport, try A&B Lobster House.

For tasty Key West treats on the run, try conch fritters at the Conch Fritter Stand next to the Aquarium in Mallory Square, or walk down to the end of Greene Street to Kermit’s Key Lime Shoppe, for everything Key lime.