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Key West Day Trip: The Florida Keys in a Day

Key West Day Trip: The Florida Keys in a Day

Key West, is a stunning island city in Monroe County, Florida, that makes up part of the breathtaking Florida Keys.

Surrounded by the temperamental Atlantic Ocean, Key West is the southernmost city in the continental United States and one of the country’s most popular beach vacation destinations, known for its good weather, water sports, and a party vibe that sees thousands of visitors on spring break every year.

Fed up with Miami Beach already? Planning on visiting Key West for a day trip? Check out this Key West itinerary, and see how you can access this terrific town from other hot spots in Florida, and even further afield!

What to bring on your Key West Day Trip

Key West in a Day Trip
Photo by Nextvoyage

If you fail to plan, you plan to fail – but you already knew that hence you being on this page! Good for you! Be a sensible traveler and get yourself some travel insurance. It might be only for a day, but it could help out with any manner of things from injuries to missed flights.

Here is a packing list for a Key West day trip:

  • Sunglasses
  • High SPF sunscreen
  • Bug repellent
  • Sun hat
  • Light raincoat (in case of poor weather)
  • Camera
  • Light clothes
  • Swimwear
  • Comfortable lightweight shoes
  • Money
  • An appetite

See Related: What to Pack for Jamaica: Free Packing Checklist

6 Things to do on a Key West Day Trip

There’s a lot more to do than just living life as a beach bum when you visit Key West (although I highly recommend at least some beach bumming).

Key West is home to several great tourist attractions and interesting landmarks that are well worth visiting, as well as some terrific dining options. If you decide to spend more than a day in key west, there are tons of accommodation options to choose from.

Read on to learn about what you can get up to on day trips to Key West.

1. Take a Tour of Duval Street and Mallory Square

Mallory Square
Image by Larry Syverson used under Creative Commons License

A great way for new visitors to make the most of a Key West day trip is by going on a guided tour around the city center. You can join your tour guide on a bus ride for a narrated tour around Old Town or Downtown Key West.

Key West is also pretty easy to walk, and the city’s premier tourist hotspot, Duval Street, is best enjoyed on foot. Within walking distance of many of the town’s top tourist attractions, Duval Street is lined with retailers and the best bars, and restaurants in town. Duval Street stretches from the photo-worthy Southernmost Point Marker to Mallory Square.

This stunning seaside plaza is known for its vibrant street performers, the Mallory Square Market, and the nightly “Sunset Celebration”, where you can catch movingly beautiful views of the sun setting, every day of the year, overlooking Sunset Key.

2. Spend Time at a Key West Beach

Key West Beach
Image by Glmike523 used under Creative Commons License

No Key West day trip is complete without at least some free time spent at the beach. Key West is a beach lover’s paradise. Here are a couple of my favorites;

Smathers Beach

Smathers Beach
Image by Juliancolton

The most popular beach in Key West is Smathers Beach – it’s also Key West’s largest beach and only a short hop from Key West International Airport. Smathers Beach is ideal for families, known for calm, shallow waters and soft sand. It’s a great place to sunbathe with a good book. Or, you can go snorkeling or even jet skiing.

If a day isn’t enough to enjoy this serene strip of sand, there are several hotels nearby. The Margaritaville Beach House Key West resort is a fun, modern accommodation ideal for couples, with Smathers Beach right outside.

There are also many incredible Key West rentals nearby, like this seaside condo with 2 pools to enjoy.

Dry Tortugas National Park

Dry Tortugas National Park
Image by Lindsey C. Straub used under Creative Commons License

If you’re interested in a truly amazing day trip to Key West for that beach bum life, you have to check out Dinghy Beach and Seaplane Beach at Dry Tortugas National Park on the Garden Key island. This unique national park is on a tiny coral island, only accessible via the 90-minute Dry Tortugas Ferry from Key West Historic Seaport, or via seaplane charter.

The beaches are incredibly popular for visitors wanting to snorkel around the coral reefs and admire the colorful fish.

This island is also home to Fort Jefferson, a historic 19th Century Civil War fortress that history buffs will love to wander around.

If you want to spend the night here, bring a tent, as there are several campsites you can enjoy for $15 a night.

3. Enjoy a Glass-Bottom Boat Tour

Glass Bottom Boat Tour
Image by Aquahuntllc used under Creative Commons License

Glass-bottom boat tours in Key West are a great way to spend a day trip in the Florida Keys, especially if you want to enjoy Key West’s oceanic life without getting your feet wet.

It’s an awesome experience for all ages, especially kids.

A few businesses offer glass-bottom boat tours from Key West Historic Seaport, as well as Dolphin watching excursions.

If you need somewhere to stay nearby, check in to the cozy, yet breezy Key West Harbor Inn.

4. Hit Up some Key West Landmarks

Hit Up some Key West Landmarks - Southernmost Point

There are several top museums and galleries in Key West to make for a great day trip. Here are a couple of my top picks;

Fort Zachary Taylor

Fort Zachary Taylor
Image by Acroterion used under Creative Commons License

Fort Zachary Taylor is another incredible 19th Century Fort in Key West that is now a Florida State Park and National Historic Landmark.

This is another must-see tourist attraction for history buffs, but it is also home to a secluded beach that’s great for picnics.

Tours of the fort are available, but you should also check out their calendar, as the fort plays host to festivals and live music concerts throughout the year.

Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum

Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum

Ernest Hemingway, one of the country’s most famous writers set up permanent digs in Key West during the 1930s. The house is now a museum dedicated to the life and times of this giant in American literary history.

It was this 19th Century Colonial Spanish House Hemingway wrote some of his most famous works, including A Farewell to ArmsDeath in the Afternoon, and For Whom the Bell Tolls.

At this unique museum, you can learn more about the man, his lifestyle in Florida, and his obsession with polydactyl cats – over 30 of which call this place home!

Be sure to give them a few scratches under the chin, and check out the museum’s books store and gift shop.

See Related: 15 Beautiful Springs in Florida to Visit

5. Learn about Key West Wildlife

Learn about Key West Wildlife

As well as the wonderful National and State Parks in and around Key West, there are other ways you can learn about Florida‘s wildlife. Either of these locations is an ideal day trip destination for a Key West itinerary:

Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory

Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory
Image by C Watts used under Creative Commons License

The Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory is a popular attraction in Key West, home to over 50 species of butterflies and 20 species of exotic birds.

with its glass conservatory and beautiful gardens, this family-friendly attraction is great for kids as well as for romantic strolls on a more different date.

Key West Aquarium

Key West Aquarium
Image by Matthew Dillon used under Attribution 2.0 Generic License

Key West Aquarium is another great place for family day trips in Key West. As well as jellyfish, sea turtles, sharks, rays and more colorful fish you could shake a sea cucumber at, they also have a touch tank where you can get close and personal with baby nurse sharks!

6. Get FAT on a Key West Food Tour

Key West Food Tour
Image by Cayobo used under Attribution 2.0 Generic License

While most travelers come to the Florida Keys for the sun, sea, and sand, many also visit Key West for food – especially the Florida Key’s favorite dessert; Key Lime Pie. Here are some of the top eateries in town:

Blue Heaven

Blue Heaven
Image by Steven Miller used under Attribution 2.0 Generic License

Blue Heaven is a very well-known Caribbean restaurant in downtown Key West, famous for its seafood and Key Lime pie.

Blue Heaven also serves a bumper breakfast and brunch for those who want to start their Key West day trip right!

Sloppy Joe’s

Sloppy Joe's
Image by Roger W used under Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License

If you are here for the Hemingway history, you have to stop at one of the writer’s favorite haunts. Sloppy Joe’s Bar is a hallowed local institution, operating since 1933.

They serve excellent bar food, particularly hot and cold sandwiches, and seafood specialties.

They also host regular music events, have a dancefloor for you and boo to dance the night away, and a separate taproom and sports bar.

Hank’s Hair of the Dog Saloon

Hank's Hair of the Dog Saloon
Image by Hank’s Hair Of The Dog Saloon

Hank’s Hair Of The Dog Saloon in downtown Key West has an airy courtyard and is another great venue to enjoy live music. Their tacos and BBQ are legendary, and you can also find the famous Garbo’s Grill food truck behind the saloon.

They’re a dog-friendly establishment too. The clue was in the name I guess!

Best Key Lime Pie Restaurants in Key West

Best Key Lime Pie Restaurants in Key West
Image by Kermit’s Key West Key Lime Shoppe

Kermit’s Key West Key Lime Pie Shoppe and the Key West Key Lime Pie Co. enjoy a friendly and enormously competitive rivalry over who produces the most perfect pie in Key West.

The endless debate rages over which is more satisfying; the tartness of Kermit’s pie or the creaminess of the KLPC entry.

We’ll leave the verdict up to you – just let us know!

Best Street Food in Key West

Street Food
Foto de RODNAE Productions en Pexels

Key West is home to some great street food, including a scant number of specialized stalls and food trucks that have taken up ‘permanent residence’ at several Key West hotels!

  • Well known for its appearance on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, Garbo’s Grill was serving up tasty morsels long before being shot to superstardom! They are a great choice for Asian fusion and fast seafood on the go. You can find them behind Hank’s Saloon.
  • The award-winning One Love Food Truck is the best food truck in the area to enjoy authentic Jamaican and Caribbean flavors. You can find them on Stock Island, a few miles east of Key West.
  • Pescado is a great local food truck where you can sample traditional Mexican delights including tacos, burritos, and quesadillas, but they also do great burgers and seafood.
  • Cuban Coffee Queen is arguably the cutest coffee shop on the planet and the best place in Key West to enjoy a zesty cup of Cuban-style java. They also serve some yummy light bites if you’re peckish.
  • The Blind Pig food truck at the lovely Gates Hotel serves fancier food than some sit-down restaurants in Key West. If you’re looking for good pork, a hefty Cuban sandwich, and tip-top tapas, look no further.

See Related: 20 Best Charleston Tours | Walking, Boating & Food Tours

Key West Day Trip from Miami

One of the best hubs from which to access Key West is Miami. Traveling from downtown Miami to Key West can be done in several ways (sadly, none of them directly by fast boat);

Driving from Miami to Key West

I’d recommend this mode of travel over all others, so get onto Kayak, rent yourself a convertible, get the playlist ready, and set off!

It’s a pretty easy 4-hour route down US-1 S, past Everglades National Park, and across one of Florida’s most jaw-dropping landmarks; Seven Mile Bridge.

An arial view of Seven Mile Bridge, Florida Keys

Driving this breathtaking overseas highway that links each of the Florida Keys to the mainland may be the best part of your whole trip to Key West.

Miami to Key West by Coach

Coach Bus
Image by Jorge Aranda used under Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

If driving isn’t your style and time isn’t a factor, you can always take an air-conditioned coach bus ride along Seven Mile Bridge.

There are several bus tours from Miami to Key West, most of which include sightseeing tours around the town or glass-bottom boat tours as part of the deal. The ride is generally longer averaging around 6 hours, but you can sit back, relax and take in the views.

If you’d like to get there a little snappier, and with less narration, try Key West Shuttle.

Flying from Miami to Key West

American Airlines offers flights from Miami International Airport to Key West International Airport for around $200 per head.

Alternatively, there is a private charter service called Air Key West that allows you to hire a 5-passenger private jet from Miami to Key West. For around $900 you get a one-way trip for the entire party.

Either way, this is the quickest way to get from Miami to Key West, taking about 90 minutes.

Key West Day Trip from Fort Lauderdale

Driving Miami
Photo by gya den from Pexels

Flying and hitting the road are the best ways of getting to Key West from Fort Lauderdale.

From Fort Lauderdale to Key West by Road

Being just north of Miami, Fort Lauderdale is another great place for relatively easy land access to Key West. You’ll cut through Miami, before taking US-1 S no matter how you roll.

Take a rental car from Fort Lauderdale if you want to enjoy the drive, or book one of the many guided bus tours available from Fort Lauderdale to Key West. Like the Miami tours, many of these include extra perks!

Key West Shuttle also operates from Fort Lauderdale.

Flying from Fort Lauderdale to Key West

Both Silver Airways and United Airlines offer nonstop slights to Key West for around $200 out of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, each of which takes about an hour.

Key West Day trip from Fort Myers

Fort Myers

As fast ferries to Key West no longer operate from East Coast Florida to the Florida Keys, Fort Myers on Florida’s West Coast is the only place you can catch a boat fast enough to make your day trip an actual day in Key West.

But there’s more!

Driving from Fort Myers to Key West

Grab a rental car from Fort Meyers and head east along I-75 S, then US-1 S to find Seven Mile Bridge. The drive should be around 5-6 hours.

Flying from Fort Myers to Key West

Your best bet is grabbing a United or American Airlines flight from Southwest Florida International Airport to Key West International. Flights range from around $180 – $500, so it’s worth seeing if you have any miles saved up.

Ferry from Fort Myers to Key West

Key West Express is the only fast ferry service that can get you from the mainland to Key West. This means if you want a ferry from Miami to Key West (or from Miami Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Sunny Isles Beach, Boca Raton, etc, etc), you need to drive to Fort Myers, which eats up trip time.

The ferry ride itself is pretty rad, taking around 4 hours with incredible views of the coast. They also operate out of Marco Island.

Key West Day Trip from the Bahamas

Trees, Ocean, and Skyline

Jumping from one tropical paradise to another is highly recommended when it’s as easy as it is from the Bahamas to Key West!

Flying from Nassau to Key West

While there aren’t any direct flights from the Bahamas to Key West International, you can get there with one connecting flight and a teeny-tiny layover at Miami International.

While this is the fastest way, it is the most expensive, with round-trip flights averaging around $635.

Air Key West also offers a private flight service, but this is even more expensive.

Ferry from the Bahamas to Key West

Sadly there are no fast ferries between the Bahamas and Key West, however, if you don’t mind a jam-packed day in Key West with lots of travel there are fast ferry services that run from Grand Bahama to Miami and Fort Lauderdale that take about 4 hours.

From there you can either fly to Key West International or rent a car and hit the road.

Key West Day Trips from Cuba

Havana Cuba

If you are looking for a day trip to Key West from Cuba, your options are limited, but by no means shabby!

Just make sure that if (you are doing this the other way round) traveling from the US to Cuba, follow the US Treasury Department’s guidance on travel to Cuba.

Flying to Key West from Cuba

As of writing, there are no flights from Havana International to Key West, meaning you will have to fly into Miami.

The only service that previously operated flights from Key West International to Havana was Air Key West. However, these flights have been temporarily suspended thanks to COVID-19.

From Cuba to Key West by Ferry

Cuba Ferries operates several fast ferry services to Key West. This is the cheapest (and right now the only) option for direct travel between Key West and Cuba, taking only 4 hours.

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