Key West, despite its small size, has a huge reputation as the Conch Republic. It might be one of the most well-known cities in Florida, as it’s the southern-most of the Florida Keys: Key West ends a strand of islands extending towards Cuba from Florida, with the Gulf of Mexico on the west and the Atlantic Ocean on the East. Whether you arrive by cruise ship at the pier at Port of Key West near Mallory Square, by plane at Key West International Airport, or via car down the Overseas Highway, there’s lots to see and do for folks with a wide variety of outdoor interests.
The fishing and boating off of Key West are not to be missed; for many travelers to Key West, it’s the reason they go there! Because of its unique location – basically, the intersection of two major bodies of water – fishermen, and anglers have access to multiple types of Gulf and Atlantic fish that pass near and through the Straits of Florida. And its year-round seasonal temps that range from the mid-70s in the winter to high-80s/low-90s in summer provide the kind of warmth, consistency, and reliability of weather that people really like for outdoor water sports of all kinds
Fishing is an extremely popular activity for Key West visitors, whether they are novice or expert fishermen and anglers, and whether they want to enjoy their favorite type of fishing or go out for something new. Go fly fishing, backcountry fishing or deep sea fishing. Fish off of wrecks or reefs. Try sport fishing. In Key West, you can go out for sailfish, grouper, kingfish, marlin, and more. Depending on the time of year of your visit, there’s an ever-changing roster of fish for you to catch, and going out on a charter fishing boat is the best way to ensure the best catch of the day.
It’s extremely easy to charter a boat or join a tour, and the best part is the freedom it provides to tourists. Guided tours allow guests to sit back and relax and enjoy the trip. Many fishing charter companies offer trained guides, special packages, and custom tours for half- and full-day excursions. Fishing gear is usually included, as are any needed permits and licenses. Many boats have luxury amenities, state-of-the-art electronics, and the inside scoop on where the fish are biting on a given day. It’s why booking through a reputable local like as Seize the Day Charters or Too Lethal Charters is such a great idea.
An owner-operator who knows the waters off Key West is in the best position to show you a great time. He has the experience to ensure you have a great experience. As any fisherman or angler can attest, as much as a great catch is something to brag about, it’s not as satisfying if you didn’t have a good time getting it. Travelers want a smooth sailing with access to the fishing areas most likely to deliver the kind of catch they have in mind. They want a minimum of fuss and a maximum of service-oriented treatment, from complementary fishing gear to preparing a catch to be carried off the boat.
A flexible charter company can customize a package for your interests, schedule, and budget. While many places offer private charters to groups, maybe there are just a few of you – so go with a split charter. Direct booking your fishing charter boat with the boat operator directly is the way to go. Get the best rates, with no surprises or hidden fees like might come up with booking through a third party, and when you call, you’re making arrangements with the person who will take you out. He’ll be familiar with seasonal fishing, local weather and fish migration patterns to know when a recent cold snap might affect backcountry fishing or how a recent storm might affect where deep water fish are this week. A qualified fishing boat charter can show you a great time, whether you’re headed to the flats or deep water.
There are few places in the continental U.S. where the diving and snorkeling is as top-notch as Key West. The Dry Tortugas National Park and the beach of Fort Jefferson just off the coast of Key West are really popular for this sport. You’ll want to plan those ferry trips in between Key West and Dry Tortugas advance. Key West offers lots of opportunities for unforgettable diving on wrecks and reefs. Many tours offer all equipment as part of a package, so this is usually a good deal for novice snorkelers. Or, bring your own gear. Custom tours accommodate new and experienced snorkelers interested in exploring open waters and beachside areas.
Speaking of beaches, some people might think that Key West’s beaches are plentiful but they’re not, exactly. Compared to many other seaside destinations, the island’s public beaches are small in number but they are absolutely gorgeous, with pristine white sands, tall palms that sway in the breeze, and blue water that stretches for miles.
The biggest – and perhaps best-known of the public beaches – is Smathers. It’s a small sandy beach on the southern coast of the island where you can enjoy swimming, volleyball, and jet ski rentals. There’s also a public boat ramp. Parking is free, which is a nice plus. There are also food trucks nearby, and places to rent beach chairs and umbrellas. South Beach is right on Duval Street, if you want to swim in the Atlantic side of the island. Dog Beach welcomes your dog, too. And Higg’s Beach has a playground, if you’re traveling with kids and seeking someplace where they can let loose.
Fort Zachary Taylor State Park is a historic site that includes beach access. It’s the best of both worlds for folks who want to swim and snorkel in one place without having to book an excursion to Dry Tortugas. It’s located at the southern edge of the island. Erected before the American Civil War, the fort played a key role in the conflict; today’s visitors can still see the original cannons and walk the grounds. Take tours of the fort or enjoy swimming, picnicking (and with grill access), snorkeling, fishing, nature trails, and bike rentals. Beach chairs and umbrellas are available for rent, as are snorkels, and fins.
After a long day fishing, boating, snorkeling, swimming, and sunbathing, check out Mallory Square. The nightly Sunset Celebration there is a great way to end just about every day. Seaside sunsets just never get old. And to pair them with food and drink vendors, performers, artists and more just makes every night feel like a neighborhood block party.
Key West hosts a full and regular events schedule featuring art shows, parades, festivals, theater, fishing tournaments, and more. Some of the most popular events include Hemingway Days in July, Goombay Festival and then Fantasy Fest in October. Don’t miss Bight Marina’s the “Bight” Before Christmas during November and December. And the annual Key West Songwriter’s Festival, Food Trucks in Paradise, and Key West Brewfest events are also popular.
Duval Street is one of the main places to go for shopping, restaurants and bars, and entertainment venues. The city’s restaurants, bars, and cafes are legendary. Really, it’s hard to imagine a place where you could get fresher seafood served in all kinds of cuisine. Depending on your mood, enjoy Caribbean dishes or Korean, French, American steakhouse, Cuban, or even Italian meals. There are also numerous restaurants that offer vegetarian dishes. Popular shopping areas include Clinton Street Market in Mallory Square, Cigar Alley, and numerous art galleries along Duval.
Accommodations in Key West vary from the most simple to highest-end luxury, and literally just about everything in between. Choose from among hotels, motels, camping and RV parks, bed and breakfasts, resorts, guesthouses, and inns. All are just waiting to welcome you to Key West.
For such a small place, Key West has more than its fair share of exciting attractions. Visit American author Ernest Hemingway’s home and gardens, and the museum dedicated to his life and work. Learn about the famous 6-toed cats who live there. And be sure to get the story of his being stranded on Dry Tortugas – it’s the stuff of legend!
Check out the original winter White House, the Little White House home where President Harry S. Truman spent time. The Tennessee Williams Museum honors another American author who lived in Key West for decades. Tennessee Williams had a significant role in the city’s arts and culture scene.
The Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory offer tourists a glimpse of the one-of-a-kind flora and fauna of the area. Take a leisurely walk through the enclosed gardens and enjoy dozens of different kinds of butterflies and birds. For a more historical look at the island, The Key West Shipwreck Museum, Fort East Martello, and Key West Lighthouse give folks an inside look at life on Key West over the years. They shine a light on the city’s deeply intimate relationship with the sea.