Key West

24h in Key West with Friends!

I’ve heard of travelers who only make a day trip to Key West from their Miami vacation, and I’m here to prove them wrong: Key West absolutely needs 24 hours, and I would have rather stayed longer! We rented a car from Miami with Iiro and Elina and drove across the breathtaking Florida Keys bridges to enjoy this cute little town on a paradise island.

Highway 1 to Key West
The longest bridge on the Florida Keys, Seven Mile Bridge, leads from Knight’s Key to Little Duck Key, and despite its name is only 6.8 miles (10.9km) long.

11 a.m. Drive to Key West – reserve time for this!

I’d recommend setting out to Key West early in the morning, but because of flight schedules, this wasn’t an option for us. Good thing was we missed Miami’s morning traffic; bad thing was Miami has traffic no matter time of the day, so it felt like an eternity before we got to the first of the Keys, Key Largo. It’s not worth taking a “short drive” to the Keys to check out the views, because the best views are towards the end of the trip several hours away.

Drive to Key West

We got hungry on the way and stopped by Lu Lu’s Garden Grill (7435 Overseas Hwy) on Marathon Key for a quick lunch. The seafood sandwiches were excellent, and we enjoyed them on a shady garden patio. It took still more than an hour to get to Key West from here, and including the short lunch break, we were on the road for over 5 hours, which is the biggest reason why I don’t recommend Key West as a day trip.

Key West

5 p.m. Snorkeling at Key West’s gorgeous coral reef

If there’s one thing I’d recommend for anyone visiting Key West, it’s this: go snorkeling! Key West is close to Florida Reef, the only living coral barrier reef in the continental United States, and it’s amazing. We saw porkfish, blue striped grunts, banded butterflyfish, groupers – even a medusa! Elina, who’s snorkeled also in Thailand and Colombia, said that this was her best snorkeling experience ever, and as a first-timer to coral reefs, I was completely sold.

Snorkeling in Key West

The catamaran took around 45min to get to the reef, after which we had a bit more than an hour in the water. The ocean was pleasantly warm, but sun was shining low enough that we weren’t afraid of sunburns.

Coral Reef at Key West

8 p.m. Key West Sunset

Our snorkeling trip was a combined sunset sail, and on the way back we were relaxing on the deck of the catamaran, sipping on rum drinks and marveling the sunset. Key West, as its name signifies, faces west, so the sun will set into the sea with no obstacles on its way no matter where you stop to observe it. Sunset times of course vary according to seasons, and you can check out the exact time here.

Key West Sunset
View half an hour after sunset. Usually the best colors pop up only after the sun has set, so don’t turn your back on the sunset too hastily.

If we hadn’t been on the sunset cruise, we’d have probably been at Sunset Celebration, as recommended to us by our water at Marathon. This is a nightly art fest at Mallory Square Dock that starts up a couple hours before sunset.

9 p.m. Key West Dinner

At Key West, you won’t have to worry about restaurants closing their doors too early. After sunset, we headed to Hog’s Breath Saloon (400 Front St)… not because of a recommendation, but because Iiro had spotted a tourist wearing their T-shirt at Amsterdam Airport, and the name and especially slogan – Hog’s Breath is better than no breath at all! – sounded so hilarious we wouldn’t miss it. Luckily for us, it wasn’t just the slogan that was good. Shrimp skewers and BBQed pork were our favorites, and the beer and drinks were good too!

Hog's Breath Saloon, Key West

After dinner, we headed out to Duval Street, Key West’s nightlife hub, with bars on every corner. The most famous of them is Sloppy Joe’s (201 Duval St), Ernest Hemingway’s favorite, but instead, we sat down at a window table at Bull’s Whistle Bar (224 Duval St) for some people watching. It wasn’t quite New Orleans, but not far from it.

9 a.m. Morning at a Key West hotel: NYAH

We’d picked NYAH – Not Your Average Hotel for our accommodation, and the choice couldn’t have been more spot on! I wouldn’t recommend this place for older couples or families with children – you have to be at least 18 to stay here – but for a young-in-spirit group of friends, this was the perfect fit: we all fit into the same room, the rooms were spotlessly clean with an en-suite bathroom, beds were comfy and each one of them had their usb charging stations to fuel up our electronics during the night, towels were given freely for use both on-site and off-site, and of course it’s a short walking distance from downtown but far enough from the noise for a good night’s sleep. A simple but good continental breakfast was part of the price, so we started our morning lounging on one of the many terraces, sipping our coffees.

NYAH - Not Your Average Hotel - Key West
The architecture of the place is typical Key West villa style. Four houses share the same secluded pool area with palms and vegetation, and the judging by the many stairs, terraces and walkways, no room is like. The rooms are for groups of 2-6 guests.

The only drawback that came to my mind while I was sunbathing by the pool and reading a book was that we hadn’t had time to come earlier to enjoy the hotel already the previous day – because this place would have been really worth it. On top of everything else, the hotel has a daily happy hour at 4.20pm, which we had missed this time. I’m saying “this time”, because if I return to Key West with friends, returning to NYAH is a no-brainer.

Key West Hotel - Not Your Average Hotel - NYAH
There’s three pools and two jacuzzis, so you won’t run out of space.

12.00 Key West Downtown

We hanged out at the hotel as long as we could, but everything good must come to an end. By checkout time, we were walking back Downtown to check it out in daylight – that is, scorching sunlight!

Key West Downtown

We noticed soon that the touristy downtown was dividing opinions: I liked it and would have loved to tour the small shops and boutiques for a while longer, but Elina and Iiro thought it was too touristy. Key West’s famous villas were mostly East of Simonton Street in the neighborhood of our hotel, while Duval and Whitehead Streets were full of cafes and restaurants catering to an out-of-town audience, as well as kiosks selling this trip and that tour. We have Cold Beer was a sign we saw on almost every corner.

Key West Downtown
Midrow on the left: Shipwreck Treasures Museum tower that you can climb on to see the city.

I had a couple complimentary tickets for the local museums, so we split up for a moment. Elina checked out the Key West Aquarium, which she wouldn’t recommend to anyone who cares about animals: in the aquarium, fish were picked out of the tanks and even petted, which is obviously no way to treat a fish. Iiro checked out the Shipwreck Treasures Museum, which seemed interesting and is recommended for anyone interested in the pirate history of Key West. Just make sure you have enough time, because it’s a guided tour with reenacting and Iiro had to quit the tour half way to make it to our preagreed meeting spot.

Key West

Me? I toured the city with my camera. Truman’s Little White House, president Truman’s winter home, sounded tempting, but instead I stayed out to photograph the streets, houses, boutiques and of course the Caribbean sea. After spending a couple years inland, you wouldn’t believe how much I miss the sea.

Caribbean Ocean from Key West's Mallory Square

13.00 Trolley Tour

We wanted to see much of Key West in limited time, so we jumped on board the Old Town Trolley Tours, which goes all around the island. The relaxed tour guide narrated the sights we passed as well as told tales of Key West history. Ticket prices (around $30) felt a bit steep, but only because we were doing this on our last day: the tickets are valid for two days and it’s a hop-on hop-off tour, so this would have been perfect as the first thing to do in Key West, after which you can use it as a form of transportation.

Key West Conch Train
This isn’t the trolley but a Conch Train, a slower and shorter tour by the same company
Conch Republic Seafood Company, Key West
Conch Republic Seafood Company, where a torturing scene from James Bond & License to Kill was filmed. Now it’s a seafood restaurant.
Conches in Key West
Bottom row is Key West’s symbolic seashell, the conch (pronounced ‘konk’). Key West natives are known as conches, and if you live here for more than ten years, you’re a freshwater conch. In 1982, Key West declared itself an independent Conch Republic, because it wasn’t satisfied with the roadblocks set up on Route 1 by Border Patrol to check cars for drugs and illegal immigrants, as they slowed down traffic and diminished tourism. In a famous media stunt, the mayor of Key West climbed a Coast Guard ship, declared the city independent, declared war to the US, and then surrendered after a minute, requesting one billion dollars in foreign aid. The stunt worked, and humiliated by the media attention, Border Patrol closed down its roadblocks. Conch Republic still has its own passports, navy and national anthem.
Key West Villas
There’s only one rule for Key West villas: they must have tin roofs to prevent fires. Many houses are from the 1920s, because the last direct hit from a hurricane in Key West was in 1919.
Key West Southernmost Point & End of Route 1
On the left: USA’s southernmost point, which of course isn’t really the southernmost, because that’s on Hawaii’s Big Island. Neverthless, tourists queue to take their photo here. On the right: US Route 1 ends here. The other end is at Maine, almost 4000 kilometers away.

14.00 Lunch at Two Friends Patio & Key Lime Pie!

We spent a moment looking for a lunch restaurant that wouldn’t be too touristy and finally found one at the end of Front Street: Two Friends Patio Restaurant served us decent-priced oysters, creamy lobster bisque and tasty fried seafood. While there, we asked the waiter about roosters and hens walking around Key West. They just are here. They can’t fly away anywhere, now can they? But does someone own them? No, they just are here until the next hurricane sweeps them away.

Two Friends Patio Restaurant, Key West
You don’t often hear “cock-a-doodle-doo” while having lunch…

Our waiter promised us they served excellent key lime pie, and he surely didn’t lie. In fact, it was so excellent I completely forgot to take a photo. You don’t want to miss this while in Key West!

Miami Beach: Joe's Stone Crab - Joe's Original Key Lime Pie
This is what it looked like. A little like a very sour lemon-flavored cheesecake. Whipped cream is not optional! [Photo: Wally Gobetz]

3 p.m. On the shores of Key West: Smathers Beach

Our time in Key West was coming to an end, because we wanted to make it to Miami before evening, but we still made one more detour… by the beach!

Smathers Beach, Key West

On our Trolley Tour, we’d spotted an opening to Smathers Beach in its Eastern end that didn’t prohibit vehicles, so we hit the beach with four wheels! Next time I need to plan on bringing a towel – and maybe also plan on spending another night in Key West. I have a feeling it would be worth it!

Jeep Wrangler on a Beach, Key West
When our rental car company said they didn’t have our reserved Full Size (“Chevy Impala or similar”) in stock, but would we care for a Jeep Wrangler? …we didn’t complain.

Sponsored by NYAH





31 thoughts on “24h in Key West with Friends!”

    1. Haha, that’s really the feeling one gets from this town, isn’t it! Wouldn’t have minded to move there myself… Even in the middle of summer, the climate felt much more pleasing than in Miami!

  1. What an amazing place…Florida always reminds me of Dexter! Now i want to go back and see more than just miami…great review and so much fun!

  2. I want to go there just for the pie! It’s not quite the same over here in the UK. It does look kinda touristy, but beautiful all the same, and driving that bridge is definitely a must!

    1. I tried cooking key lime pie at home, and while it was good (and I managed to snag real key limes from Walmart), the real deal in Key West is so much better. Just for the atmosphere!

  3. The water and sunset photos are incredible!
    I haven’t had a chance to visit Key West but it is on my list! I loved Key Biscayne though :)

  4. Wow, you accomplished quite a bit in your 24 hours! I visited with my daughter and two of her friends in 2009, and totally enjoyed the area! We drove down from Orlando, and other than being caught in a typical Florida rainstorm, the ride was enjoyable! She and her friends enjoyed two wonderful boat trips–one included parasailing, jet skiing, snorkeling, etc. and the other was a sunset cruise.

    1. Parasailing and jet skiing sound like so much fun! I’d love to go there again to experience those, can’t imagine a better setting.

  5. We’ve been to Key West three times: twice for work conferences and once on a cruise. Artsy, touristy, yes. But great fun nonetheless.

  6. Wow, I never knew there was so much to do and see here. I always just thought of it as a few beaches. Totally somewhere we should visit when we eventually get back to Florida. The snorkeling would be top of our list!

    1. Absolutely, a great place for lots of varied activities! I wouldn’t even recommend it if you’re looking for just beaches, because for that it’s a pretty long drive. But especially snorkeling and enjoying the old town, it’s great!

  7. Happy hour at 4:20…I love it! LOL Looks like you crammed a great deal of fun into your short time in Key West, I have done the same thing in the past. Nice photos, too.

    1. I also loved the idea! It’s a common thing in hostels, but more hotels should follow suit and have this kind of chance to meet other guests.

    1. What time of the year were you there? In June, there didn’t seem to be any mosquitoes in Key West, so I’m guessing this varies.

  8. I have always wanted to visit the Keys, and have not had the opportunity yet. Thank you for this great article and colorful photos, felt like we were there!

    1. I think those are the three key ingredients for a fantastic Key West holiday! If I could change anything, I’d have stayed there another night.

  9. Wow! I was going to say that bridge looks stunning and must have been an amazing drive, but then I went through the rest of the post and realised that was just the tip of the iceberg! Incredible experience and so much to see and do for sure!



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

CommentLuv badge