Key West: What You Need To Know

infinityBlue Water And Clear Skies For Miles and Miles

If you’re craving, warm weather, blue water, and the laid back time of your life, then pack your bags and head for the Southern most city in the US. We’re pretty spoiled. We have a lot of friends who claim Key West as home so we get to go a lot. While we generally don’t make a habit of taking the same trip twice, the keys are like a second home to us- and whenever the chance arises to go, you’ll never ever hear us say, “No”.

So here’s the thing about the Keys, everyone wants to be there and because the Keys aren’t really anything more than a chain of small islands on the nautical route to Cuba, there isn’t really a whole lot of room, so you know what that means- supply and demand. There’s a ton of demand and supply is in short, so everything is expensive. But if you know what you’re doing and have the time to plan ahead you can make this trip without blowing your entire vacation fund.

Where To Stay:

Undoubtbly with any trip lodging is always the biggest expense. In the Keys you can book a hotel but even the really scary looking ones that are nothing more than a fish camp (or a possible cover for the Russian mob) will cost you a shit ton of money, and the further south you drive the higher the prices go. The solution is camping. The solution is always camping! When it comes to the sleeping under the stars in the Keys you have 3 options – we’ll do this cheapest to priciest.

imageThere’s No Shortage Of Awesome Views In The Keys

  1. All along Highway 1 from Key Largo to Key West are scenic pull-offs and boat launches. If you’ve got an Van, RV or any other form of awesome adventure mobile you can make these stops your home for the night. We’ve never done it but have talked to plenty of people who do. With theses stops you get incredible views, a decent amount privacy, and it costs you $0.00 dollars. So why haven’t we done this yet? The giant NO OVERNIGHT PARKING signs are why. This can be a super risky sleeping choice. The cops in the Keys work really hard to keep the riff-raff at bay and are pretty keen to come banging on your door at 3 in the morning to ask you to move if you’re lucky or to ticket you if you’re not. We try to be good ambassadors for the RV world and personally, I don’t think unless its an emergency, need to get some rest situation, there isn’t really a need to intentionally park under ginormous signs that ask you not to.
  1. Florida State Parks. The State of Florida maintains four parks along the overseas highway that offer camping for tents, and RV’s, with a limited amount of full hook-up sites available. Compared to the privately owned campgrounds you save an insane amount of money staying here. The sites are usually well maintained, and offering camping along some of the most impressive strands of lands in the Keys. The downside to this option, is trying to get one of these highly coveted sites. We’re talking booking 11 months in advance if you want one of these puppies. DO NOT, and I’ll repeat it, DO NOT attempt to just show up and snag a site at any of these parks- it just wont work. Our absolute favorite park is Bahia Honda located just South of Marathon, but all of them are beautiful and each offer their own unique experience. Bahia Honda is your closest option for park camping to Key West, the downside its still about a 30min drive to and from town BUT for $20- $40 dollars a night, even with the extra driving to and from Key West you really can’t go wrong staying here. Check out all four of the amazing parks in the Keys: John Pennekamp State Park, Long Key State Park, Curry Hammock State Park, Bahia Honda State Park.

bahiabridge The Old Railway Camelback Bridge At Bahia Honda State Park

  1. Private Campgrounds. There are a lot of them, and they’re all pretty expensive, but when you compare their prices to what you would pay for a hotel suddenly you start to feel pretty good about shelling out upwards of $1,000 a week to park your house. We’ve only ever stayed at Boyd’s in Key West– and we really loved it. They’ve got a beautiful location with a swimming pool, and some of the cleanest bathrooms I’ve ever seen, but you’re going to pay for it. If you’re looking for a full list of campgrounds in the FL Keys that can be a hard thing to find! But check out Tripadvisor’s  website on the best camping in the Florida Keys, they’ve already done a lot the heavy lifting and have put together some great info you’ll need!

Travelers Tip: The winter is the busy season so if you’re willing to travel in the hot summer months you can snag off-season pricing and save a few pennies! 

I’m going to throw in a fourth option here- if you don’t have access to military MWR facilities (must be an Armed Forces ID card holder) then don’t bother reading this, because it won’t apply to you and to be honest you might get camper’s envy.

  1. The US Navy maintains a Naval Air Station in Key West, with some of the best recreational opportunities to rival most other bases- this includes a campground that has 30 full hook-up sites and over 300 non electric sites that will cost you $14 a day. Have you fallen over yet?! $14.00 a day! We are fortunate; thanks to DJ’s time honorably serving this beautiful country of ours, to have access to this incredible resource, so when we stay in Key West unless we’re driveway surfing this is where we stay. All sites are first come, first serve. Electric is hard to get, but unless you have a critter you need to keep cool during the day, slide open those windows and enjoy the fresh air!

Getting Around:

 Driving around the tiny city of Key West does not suck. Parking in Key West does. Oh yes it does. If you want to spend the day in the city, and really want to use your vehicle, go early. Its easy to find spaces up until about 10 am, but keep in mind if you want to park, you’ve got pay, and like everything else its not going to be cheap. Most spots around the city will cost you between $2.50 – $4.00 an hour to park, multiply that by a couple hours and it adds up fast. The good news is you can avoid this! Do like a local and hop on your bike. Nowhere in Key West is too far from anywhere else and makes getting around by bike a super attractive option. This probably won’t be your best option if you’re staying all the way out on Bahia Honda- but if you opt to stay in town pedal power is the only way to go! Couple of quick tips- mind your manners and don’t be a jackass on a bike, it’s the fastest way to get whacked by a car, and bleeding profusely really ruins a good vacay. Also, bring a lock, like any other touristy location things like bikes can go missing quickly if they aren’t secured, so click it, or kiss it goodbye.

image        Travel Island Style By Bike

If you don’t have your own bikes with you, rental locations are located all over the city. We always have our own bikes with us so we’ve never had to rent, but here are a few options that popped up with just quick internet search! Bike Man Bike Rentals, We Cycle Key West, and Island Safari Rentals.

A second option for wandering around town is to rent a scooter. Scooters are cool. Scooters are also scary as hell. There are a lot of long stories I wont bore you with but we’ve both seen lots and lots of some pretty terrible accidents happen to people on rental scooters, so personally they aren’t my cup of tea- but if you just have to risk life and limb there are a ton of rental places all over Key West, just please be safe. We’d be sad if something happened to you- I really mean that.

imageHow Amazing Is This Scooter?!

 Play:

 Key West is all about water sports- how could it not be it’s a tropical island paradise! No matter what you do make sure you book some type of water excursion while you’re here! There are plenty of options, from snorkeling to deep-sea fishing and even romantic sunset cruises. Pick one or pick them all-just get out there! Three of our favorites are Sebago Watersports, Fury Water Adventures, and Classic Harbor Line’s Schooner America 2.0 – you can’t go wrong with any of these awesome companies!

4Sunset Sailing On The Schooner America

If you’re traveling with a history nerd and or just want to learn a little more about this amazing little city there are tons and tons of tours you can take that will cover pretty much anything you want to know more about. I can’t give a ton of advice on these, we’ve never actually done one, although a big part of me really, REALLY, wants to ride the conch train someday. If you want to know more about touring options the Florida Keys Tourism Bureau website has a nice list!

We’ll be adding a post soon on our list of top things to do in Key West so keep an eye out for a list of our favorite seaside adventures!

What To Eat:

 You know us, so you know that this is important. Very important. It’s no mystery that we like to eat. Key West has no shortage of good grub. They also don’t have a shortage of touristy aimed, junk holes where you can waste a lot of money on crap food in. No worries though, we’re here to help.

image

Everyday should start with coffee. I think we all probably have that one coffee shop that we wish we could pack into our pockets and take with us anywhere we go, am I right? For us that’s the Cuban Coffee Queen. This is hands down, no competition our absolute favorite coffee shop in the world. You could order anything there and not go wrong, but our favorite is a café con leche and an order of pan cubano (hot buttered cuban bread)- take it down to the docks nearby and watch the boats come and go as you munch.

The top of our list for lunching in Key West is The Hurricane Hole at Hurricane Hole Marina. The cracked conch sandwhich is the absolute best! Wash it down with with a cold beer and enjoy the  outdoor seating with a view of the marina-  with lots of hungry pelicans and charter boats coming and going and its a hard locale to beat! If you’re on a boat, this place is a super convenient stop via Cow Key Channel, and has plenty of space at its dingy dock to park. If you’re boatless like us- you can rent kayaks and paddle boards from lazy dog rentals right next door, and work up an appetite for lunch!

image   Bahamian Conch Fritters at The Hurricane Hole

There is a heavy amount of Cuban influence in Key West, one of the best parts of this comes in the form of food. El Siboney is off the beaten track, you won’t just stumble on it, but once you get there you’ll be glad you went. This is a family owned business, and the most authentic Cuban food we’ve found in the US. The Ropa Veja is incredible, and their plantains are to die for. The serving sizes are huge, so if you’re not super hungry or just want to sample a taste of more than one menu item, order to split. For extra awesomeness order a half (or whole) pitcher of sangria, so good!

That’s just 3 of some amazing places to grab grub in Key West. We’ve got a whole list for you coming to a blog post near you, very, very soon!

So there it is. Basically, the basics.

We’re not done though, I promise! Stick around over the next few weeks we’ll be keeping you posted on our trip to the Keys, and all the things we love to do there!

If you’re planning a classic road trip down US 1 no worries, we’ve got you covered!

Click that follow button, for easy updates, and don’t forget to say hi in the comments box! We’d love to get to know you!

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