When you picture Key West, what do you think of? Duval street, daiquiris, and sun-burnt cruise passengers, right? It could be all of those things if you want it to be, but I see something completely different about Key West than the notorious party scene. Its rich history and walkable streets were what first drew me in, but the incredible food, gorgeous architecture and picturesque sunsets is what makes me want to return.
We only had a weekend to spend in Key West, which is just a three hour drive from Miami without traffic. In my opinion, it’s best to leave Miami early to beat the dreadful rush hour going south and the Florida Keys traffic. Remember: there is only one road you can take down to Key West and there can be delays.
During the drive down, you’ll be tempted to stop at every shop/attraction/restaurant you see. If you find yourself ready for a meal or a stop for a delicious snack, I recommend Lazy Days. Park your car in the parking lot and walk right through to the open-air dining area. I tried the key lime pie and loved it!
I could talk all day long about the attractions in the Florida Keys, but since this isn’t a guide to the Florida Keys, I’ll just go right along to talking about Key West and all the reasons why it’s worth the visit:
There are hundreds of accommodations to choose from when visiting from guesthouses and inns to large resorts and chain hotels. I have stayed at both Sunset Key Cottages, located on a private island called Sunset Key, as well as Ambrosia Key West, which is a bed and breakfast. I can’t say which one I enjoyed better than the other because each one has a completely different atmosphere attached to it. For a romantic, luxurious island escape, I recommend Sunset Key Cottages, and for the quintessential guest house, bed and breakfast atmosphere, stay at Ambrosia Key West.
On my recent visit, I stayed at Ambrosia Key West and really enjoyed the quaint side street it was located on. Even though it was just walking distance from the bustle of Duval Street, it was really quiet and felt like a residential area.
On the first night, we had dinner across the street at Cafe Marquesa. Everything on the menu made our mouths water from the Crab Stuffed Jumbo Shrimp and Duck Confit & Seared Foie Gras appetizers to the Grilled Spiny Lobster Tail & Key West Shrimp and Phyllo Wrapped Yellow Tail Snapper entrees. The best part about Key West is that most restaurants get their seafood straight from local fishermen. You can totally taste the difference!
Since my family is a bunch of foodies, I decided to book a food tour with Key West Food Tours for Saturday morning. It was about a mile walking distance to the starting point, which was a local Cuban spot called El Siboney. After a delicious serving of “puerco asado” or roasted pork, we made our way to a family-owned comfort food restaurant called Camille’s for conch fritters. We then walked to The Rum Bar historical speakeasy for an incredible rum runner, then Bad Boy Burrito, a grab-and-go type spot with an incredible fish taco; Blue Heaven for the famous Key Lime Pie and lastly, Key West Distilling to wash down the different flavors from the tour. Our guide was outstanding and gave us tidbits about the history of certain landmarks we passed by and about Key West in general. The best part about taking the tour is that if you opt-in to receive an email from the company, you get a few recipes in your inbox of dishes you had!
With an entire afternoon open for exploration, I pre-ordered scooter rentals at Pirate Scooter Rentals for us just down the street from Key West Distilling. Scooter and golf cart rentals are crucial for exploring Key West because even though it’s a walkable island, it tends to get too hot during the afternoon. A scooter is small enough that you can park it anywhere you want and maneuver through the streets without any issues.
A few must-see spots are the Southernmost Point, Key West lighthouse, Ernest Hemingway House, and the Harry S. Truman Little White House. Each of these carry a bit of Key West history within them from different time periods. My favorite history fact that I learned during the trip was when we walked by the Florida Department of Health in Monroe County and our food tour guide told us that it was once a cigar factory run by Cubans in the early 1900s. The cigar industry was critical to the Key West economy at the time, which is why you will still see them being sold around town today. It’s great to have a tour guide with you or a pre-bought guide that includes interesting information about famous landmarks.
Everywhere you look in Key West you’ll find a new and beautiful discovery. Bougainvilleas grow at every corner next to cotton candy colored houses with Victorian architecture that is so famous to the area. Vibrant scenery can be found just about anywhere on the island, but on Southard Street you’ll find an array of trees, flowers, colorful houses and inviting store fronts to satisfy your Instagram newsfeed. If you’re a fan of sunset photos, Mallory Square or Sunset Key are the perfect spots to snap the fiery red sky and deep blue ocean – preferably with a cocktail in hand!
We hope this post has inspired you to explore Key West, please share your own tips with our readers in the comments below. Read Next > Dry Tortugas National Park: A Fortress In The Sea