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Trailing off the mainland like a fluttering kite tail, the celebrated Florida Keys are both unmistakably American and blissfully tropical - our own version of the easygoing, laid-back Caribbean. Land and water interweave for 155 miles to create a one-of-a-kind vacation of romance, history, adventure, and good old-fashioned party fun. Without a doubt, the Keys have the best diving, snorkeling, fishing, and boating in the continental US.
At the tail's end, you find yourself in Key West, where the wild, weird, and infamous nightlife is a big part of what makes Key West, Key West. The Conch Republic is a land of hammocks, palm trees, and frozen margaritas that's missing nothing but you!
The restaurants in the Florida Keys are known for their fresh local seafood and island atmosphere, in every setting from extreme-no frills to elegance. There are lots of open-air restaurants, and many eateries have live music and entertainment. They can also have a long history and a story to tell, which is usually pretty colorful. Enjoy the local flavor of the restaurants by trying several different styles and, at least once, belly up to the bar and hang with the locals. Don't leave without trying the conch fritters!
Gourmet: Benihana Steaks & Seafood was voted America's Most Popular Full-Service Restaurant. In Key West, you can add a view of the ocean to the culinary delights while your personal chef artistically prepares your meal of fine steaks, shrimp, lobster, and chicken right at your table! South Roosevelt Blvd, Key West
Highly Recommended: La Trattoria earned the ultimate compliment by becoming famous by "word of mouth"- it has repeatedly won the Key West People's Choice Awards! It's a European bistro with tawny walls, art and antiques, soft lighting, picture windows, and a tenor gently singing throughout the dinner service. 524 Duval Street, Key West
Local Flair: The Half Shell Raw Bar looks like an abandoned shack, but it's the perfect water-front setting to enjoy the Keys' freshest seafood. 231 Margaret Street, Key West
Romantic: Café des Artistes is a singular Tropical-French restaurant specializing in fresh local seafood, lobster, and steak and its sultry atmosphere is popular with couples in the mood for romance. 1007 Simonton Street, Key West.
As you'd expect, Key West's "anything goes" attitude reflects much of the island's nightlife. Most bars ooze an affable, rarin'-to-go atmosphere and are frequently open until 4am. Depending on the bar, you'll find everything from tall-taling locals to tipsy tourists, and live country, folk, and rock music. The mainstream bars are clustered at the northern end of Duval Street, easy to hop around. Much of Key West's best nightlife, though, revolves around its restaurants. Cover charges are rare, so start at Truman Street and work your way up Duval through the real-life Margaritaville!
Captain Tony's Saloon: A noted hangout of Hemingway's, this rustic saloon hosts live hard rock and, rumor has it, a ghost in the billiard room. Key West
Bull & Whistle Bar: This last of the old-time open-air bars of Duval Street is the scene of live nightly music by the best local musicians. Key West
Margaritaville: Jimmy Buffet, owner and Florida legend, sometimes shows up to join the bands on stage for a song or two! Key West
Green Parrot Bar: This landmark has been drawing locals since 1890 with its pool tables, dart board, pinball machine, and live music on weekends. Key West
The weather is beautiful all year, so there is no climate-centered "best time." Vacationers come to escape winter snows and to get away from the routine during summer vacation, so seasons also don't mark a specific high or low season. Yet, you can expect slightly smaller crowds in January and September, and the biggest crowds during December through March, any holiday, and Spring Break.
Isolated as it is between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, nature's own air conditioning of cool breezes sweeping off the ocean waves keeps Key West's climate surprisingly temperate. There are only two distinguishable seasons, "Dry" and "Wet." Wet season comes during the summer months, with showers mostly a brief afternoon downpour that is immediately followed by bright sunshine. Winter is the Dry season, and sometimes nights get cool enough for a light sweater. The heart of hurricane season lasts from late August to early November, though strikes are rare and there is plenty of advance notice to prepare. When threatened by a hurricane strike, one should expect a 2-day displacement from evacuation to safe return.
Days average 81 degrees.
Nights average 73 degrees.
Approximate Air Travel Time
New York City 4 hrs
Miami 1 hr
Philadelphia 3.75 hrs
Boston 4.25 hrs
Los Angeles 5.5 hrs
Chicago 3.75 hrs
Dallas-Fort Worth 4 hrs
San Francisco 6 hrs
All major rental car agencies serve Key West.
Tipping in Key West is the same as all other major US cities.
Same requirements as all US cities.
Conch Train Tour
Key West's most popular and famous attraction for more than 25 years, this well-narrated 1½ hour ride covers more than 60 intriguing and historic sites, acquainting you with the layout of the island. Of course, the Conch Train itself is a Key West hallmark!
Old Town Trolley
Don't just visit Key West - relive it! As you sit back in the authentic trolleys, entertaining guides take you on a historical tour to a time when Key West was a bustling sea town on the farthest frontier of a young America.
Key West Aquarium
The island's first attraction, the aquarium began as an open-air site in 1934. It has since grown to twice its original size, where you discover the undersea world with expert guides explain the mysteries of the waters surrounding the Florida Keys. The touch tank and daily shark and turtle feedings give visitors a rare chance to interact with these primal beasties.
Key West Shipwreck Historeum
Relive the great days of 19th-century wrecking in Key West as you learn about the industry that made this the richest city in 1830s US. The Historeum combines actors, films, laser technology, and the actual artifacts from the recently rediscovered vessel Isaac Allerton, which sank in 1856.
Sail into history aboard the 130-foot Schooner Western Union from 1939 - the last tall ship built in Key West. Her varnished mahogany, solid masts, halyards, and sails billowing in the tropical breezes will take you on an unforgettable journey into the sunset.
Ernest Hemingway Home
This fun, quirky tour takes you through the rooms and gardens where the legendary Nobel Prize winner penned some of his novels. Poppa is no longer in Key West to share clever conversation, but you can mingle with the generations of his cats that inherited this National Historic Landmark!
Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society Museum
On display is some of the eye-popping booty from local treasure hunter Mel Fisher's richest find, the Spanish Armada galleon Nuestra Señora de Atocha, sunk by a hurricane in the 16th century. Some precious items like pieces of eight - plain or worked into jewelry - are for sale in this Key West exhibit, as are newly minted items made from bars of silver found on the ship!
Snorkel & Scuba Dive
The entire coast of the Florida Keys is a designated National Marine Sanctuary, ensuring the protection of the crystal clear waters and abundant marine life. There are many places to take the plunge, but John Pennekamp State Park in Key Largo is a world-famous, great place to start!
Every night, locals and tourists gather at Mallory Square to view the glory of a Key West sunset. That celestial show alone is enough to bring people back day after day and year after year, but there is also man-made entertainment like bands, magicians, tight-rope walkers, other assorted zany antics, and lots of munchies and cold drinks.
Fish Off the Old Bridge
Beside its new concrete counterpart, the old Seven Mile Bridge jets out of Marathon Key and into the sea. It's become a makeshift, giant pier, inviting anglers and strolling nature lovers to enjoy one of the Florida Keys' best visual treats. Bring your camera to capture this blue-green panorama of gulf and ocean, dotted with lobster traps and sailboats.
Eco-Tour of Lignumvitae
The Spanish attributed magical qualities to the hard and heavy wood for which this key is named. The lignumvitae tree, which takes thousands of years to grow on fossilized coral rock, once thrived but now has almost entirely disappeared due to modern-day development. This 280-acre island is its last bastion, and private or charter boats are allowed on the island, but a Park ranger must be notified and present to meet you at the dock.