Ultimate Florida Keys Travel Guide (+ A Map of the Florida Keys) (2024)

Wondering how to plan a trip to the famous Florida Keys? With its crystal clear water, delicious seafood, and a multitude of activities, the Florida Keys are a must-visit destination in the USA!

The Florida Keys are truly my happy place, and I want everyone to experience them too. I was lucky enough to grow up visiting the Keys. My dad is from Islamorada (part of the Upper Keys), so he made sure we visited a lot and experienced all the Keys have to offer. And they have A LOT to offer!!!

From Key Largo to Key West, there are so many incredible hotels, restaurants, and activities to experience in the Keys. In this post, I cover everything you need to know about visiting the Florida Keys, including the best time to visit, places to stay, where to eat, and the top activities in each major Key.

Plus, I’ve put together a complete map of the Florida Keys with all of the highlights! So keep reading to help plan your perfect trip to the Keys!

Note: This post contains affiliate links. If you click an affiliate link or book through an affiliate program, I receive a small commission at no cost to you!

The Ultimate Florida Keys Travel Guide (+ A Detailed Map of the Best Spots)

Complete Florida Keys Map

If you’ve never been to the Keys, it’s important to know the Florida Keys are not just Key West. The Florida Keys are actually made up of over 200 islands! Of course, not all of these are inhabited, but there are still quite a few Keys to choose from.

Make sure to check out my blog post How Many Keys Are in the Florida Keys? for more FL Keys fun facts!

To help you plan your trip, this travel guide breaks down the Keys into three main areas: The Upper Keys, The Middle Keys, and The Lower Keys. For each area, you’ll find a mini guide, including where to stay, where to eat, and things to do!

I’ve also put together a Florida Keys map that includes all of my favorite stops throughout the Keys, including restaurants, hotels, shops, breweries, and more! Make sure to save this map of the Florida Keys before your trip!

Best Time to Visit the Florida Keys

In my opinion, there is no “bad” time to visit the Keys.. You can pretty much guarantee that it’ll be warm year round, as is the norm in southern Florida! However, there are a few different things to consider when planning your trip to the Keys depending on the time of year.

For a detailed breakdown on when to visit the Keys, including a list of seasonal events, make sure to check out my full guide: Best Time To Visit The Florida Keys!

Winter

Winter is the “high” season in the Keys. Snowbirds flock to Florida to escape the brutal winter weather up north – which means busy restaurants, higher hotel rates, etc.. While cold fronts can happen, it’s uncommon for the temperature to drop below 55 degrees in the Keys.

So even though it’s winter, you can still partake in the standard Florida Keys activities. The ocean might be a little chilly (but not unbearable), and there are always wet suits if needed! Overall, plan for crowds and inflated costs if you’re visiting in the winter months, but gorgeous weather!

Spring

Spring is personally my favorite time to visit the Keys. The winter crowds start to die down around late February, and the weather starts to warm up, with highs in the upper 70s and lows in the 60s. Plus, blue skies are the norm during this time, with very low precipitation rates.

The only downside of visiting the Keys in March/April is the possibility of spring break crowds. This will be most noticeable in Key West, but if you’re going to Key West to have peace and quiet, I’d re-think your plans..

No matter what, the Keys are extremely enjoyable in the Spring and a perfect time of year to visit!

  • Ultimate Florida Keys Travel Guide (+ A Map of the Florida Keys) (1)
  • Ultimate Florida Keys Travel Guide (+ A Map of the Florida Keys) (2)

Summer

As temperatures rise in June and July, the crowds decrease, along with hotel prices. Most people avoid the Keys in the summer because, let’s face it, Florida summers can be brutal. The mosquitos come out. It rains every afternoon. It’s HOT.

As a Floridian, this is the norm for me, so I don’t avoid the Keys in the summer by any means. In fact, it’s a good time to visit if that type of weather doesn’t bother you, because hotels are cheaper and there’s way less people!

We used to visit the Keys every July 4th and it was still incredible.. but if you’re not a fan of 90 degree weather, I would plan to visit during another time of year!

Fall

The biggest thing to consider when planning a trip to the Keys in the fallis hurricane season, which runs from June – November. However, the peak of the season is August & September. During this timeframe, expect hot days and frequent rainfall in the afternoons.

If you’re planning a trip to the Keys during hurricane season, plan for the worst and make sure everything is refundable. Hurricanes can pop up out of nowhere and lead to canceling your vacation within a week’s notice (or less!)

How to Get to the Florida Keys

So, you’ve picked a time of year to visit.. Now let’s talk about how you will get to the Florida Keys! How you arrive in the Keys will depend on a few factors, including your budget, your timeframe, and your departure city.

For example, if you live in Florida, you can probably drive to the Keys, unless you live in North Florida, which would be a long adventure! If you’re traveling from any other state, you are probably going to be flying in.

Flying to the Florida Keys

Flying into Key West

You have a couple different options for flights to the Florida Keys. If you’re traveling to Key West and only Key West, you can fly directly into Key West International Airport (EYW). Some US cities even have direct flights to Key West, like Asheville, New York City, Tampa, and Indianapolis. Check out the flight prices below!

Flying into Fort Lauderdale or Miami

If you are planning to visit other Keys besides Key West, don’t limit yourself to the Key West airport only, because it can get expensive!

I recommend flying into Fort Lauderdale airport (FLL) or Miami airport (MIA) and then renting a car and driving down to the Keys. If you’re staying in one of the Upper Keys, driving from these airports will be relatively painless (only 1-2 hours depending on which you choose)!

If you want to go all the way to Key West, and flights to Key West airport are super expensive, it is totally doable to drive to Key West from Fort Lauderdale or Miami airport! The drive from Miami to Key West takes less than 4 hours, and there are plenty of places to stop along the way to break up the drive! In fact, I highly recommend it 🙂

You can also consider booking one way flights: one into Miami/Fort Lauderdale and one out of Key West. This way, you only have to do the drive through the Keys one time!

  • Ultimate Florida Keys Travel Guide (+ A Map of the Florida Keys) (5)
  • Ultimate Florida Keys Travel Guide (+ A Map of the Florida Keys) (6)

Renting a Car in the Florida Keys

As mentioned above, if you plan on visiting multiple Keys, you’ll need to rent a car! You can pick up a rental car from any of the 3 airports mentioned above.

I highly recommendRentalCars.com. They allow you to compare prices across all of the major rental car companies. Plus, they have a great cancellation policy (typically free cancellation up to 48 hours in advance). Oh, and they price match!

For your trip to the Florida Keys, I recommend getting a car with good fuel economy to save money! If you are driving up and down the length of the Overseas Highway, that’s over 300 miles! With gas prices the way they are, you are going to want to save where you can!

TIP: Avoid arriving for your trip on a Friday afternoon if flying into Fort Lauderdale or Miami. Not only will you hit rush hour traffic in Miami, but you will also hit traffic getting into the Keys. There is only one main road in and out of the Keys, and it can get backed up quickly!

Florida Keys by Boat

So we covered air and land.. another option for visiting the Keys is by sea! A lot of South Floridians take their own boats down to the Keys. Of course, if you’re traveling from out of state or don’t have a boat, this isn’t an option, but a cruise is!

Many cruise lines include a stop in Key West on their Western or Eastern Caribbean cruises. You can cruise from New Orleans, Galveston, Mobile, or other parts of Florida.

However, I really think you have to spend more than just a day in Key West to truly appreciate the beauty of the Keys! That’s why I highlight all the different areas in this Florida Keys Travel Guide, not just Key West!

  • Ultimate Florida Keys Travel Guide (+ A Map of the Florida Keys) (7)
  • Ultimate Florida Keys Travel Guide (+ A Map of the Florida Keys) (8)

Where to Stay in the Florida Keys

Below I will breakdown the main 3 areas of the Keys and provide hotel recommendations for each area based on different budgets! However, I wanted to note that you are not limited to just hotels in the Keys.

Vacation rentals are very common in the Keys! You can check out options on VRBO or Airbnb. It’s worth noting that some parts of the Keys do not allow vacation rentals for less than a 28-day stay, so depending on the area, options might be limited.

Looking for something unique? Consider renting out a sailboat or houseboat to stay on!

If you decide to go the hotel route, there are tons of options, from seaside motels to luxurious resorts. In each section below, I’ll give some hotel recommendations for each area of the Florida Keys!

The Upper Keys

The two main towns that make up the Upper Keys are Key Largo and Islamorada. Key Largo will be your first stop on your journey south through the Keys, followed shortly by Islamorada.

The Upper Keys are very popular among Floridians due to their proximity to the rest of the state. In fact, many people from south Florida often do a Miami to Key Largo road trip, since the drive only takes an hour!

In addition, the Upper Keys have some of the best snorkeling and scuba diving, thanks to the FloridaKeysNational Marine Sanctuary, so it’s a very popular area for boaters. (Make sure to check out my Key Largo Snorkeling Guide and my Islamorada Snorkeling Guide for more info!

What Is There to Do in the Upper Keys?

My favorite part of the Upper Keys is there is SO much to see and do. I have a list of Free Things to Do in Key Largo and Things to Do in Islamorada, but here’s a quick overview of both!

  1. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park (the first undersea park in the United States!)
  2. Sunset cruise in Key Largo (full guide here!)
  3. Snorkeling at Alligator Reef Lighthouse
  4. Islamorada Beer Company
  5. Dolphins Plus Encounter
  6. Sports Fishing Charter
  7. Feed The Tarpon At Robbie’s
  8. Kayaking In The Bay
  9. Have a Rum Runner at the Tiki Bar
  • Ultimate Florida Keys Travel Guide (+ A Map of the Florida Keys) (9)
  • Ultimate Florida Keys Travel Guide (+ A Map of the Florida Keys) (10)
Where Should I Stay in the Upper Keys?

All of my favorite Florida Keys hotels are located in the Upper Keys! If you’re on a budget, you can’t go wrong with Drop Anchor Resort or La Jolla Resort.

If you have a moderate budget, my absolute favorite resorts are the Islander Resort and Postcard Inn!

For luxury travelers, you can’t go wrong with The Caribbean Resort or Playa Largo Resort!

For more suggestions, make sure to check out my detailed guides on the Best Hotels in Key Largo and the Best Hotels in Islamorada!

  • Ultimate Florida Keys Travel Guide (+ A Map of the Florida Keys) (11)
  • Ultimate Florida Keys Travel Guide (+ A Map of the Florida Keys) (12)
Where Should I Eat in the upper Keys?

There’s no shortage of incredible restaurants in the Upper Keys. Islamorada is the sports fishing capital of the world, so the seafood here is unbelievable. In fact, not one but TWO restaurants in Islamorada have been featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives!

Luckily, I’ve put together two full guides on this exact category: the Best Restaurants in Islamorada and the Top 10 Key Largo Restaurants!

The Middle Keys

Next up are the Middle Keys.. a little bit further south and a little less people than Key Largo or Islamorada. Marathon is the heart of the Middle Keys and encompasses many little keys within its limits. There is also Duck Key, home to the famous and luxurious resort, Hawk’s Cay!

What Is There to Do in the Middle keys?

There is a ton to do in the Middle Keys, especially for younger children and those who love getting outdoors. The Middle Keys are also home to the Seven Mile Bridge, one of the longest bridges in the world!

  1. The Turtle Hospital
  2. Dolphin Research Center
  3. Sombrero Beach & Reef
  4. Bahia Honda State Park
  5. Seven Mile Bridge
  6. Crane Point Nature Center
  • Ultimate Florida Keys Travel Guide (+ A Map of the Florida Keys) (13)
  • Ultimate Florida Keys Travel Guide (+ A Map of the Florida Keys) (14)
Where Should I Stay in the Middle Keys?

There are quite a few hotels and VRBOs to stay in in the Middle Keys. In my opinion, none as great as in the Upper Keys, but still some wonderful hotels! For budget travelers, check out the Rainbow Bend Resort. Other options that are a little higher priced are Isla Bella Beach Resort and Faro Blanco Resort.

For luxury travelers, there’s really nothing better than Hawk’s Cay Resort. This resort takes up an entire Key itself (Duck Key), and it does not disappoint! It has its own lagoon, dolphin sanctuary, and more!

The Lower Keys

Last but definitely not least.. let’s talk about the Lower Keys – the highlight of which is Key West! Key West truly has something for everyone to enjoy.. beaches (rare for the Keys), bars, museums, shops, gardens, and more.

For this reason, Key West is extremely popular for families, spring breakers, snow birds, and more. You can arrive by cruise ship, flight or car (reference the beginning of this travel guide!)

Aside from Key West, there’s also Big Pine Key and No Name Key, which are perfect for that off-the-beaten-path feel. If you’re looking for a real adventure, make sure to visit Dry Tortugas National Park, which is located ona small archipelago about 70 miles from Key West!

  • Ultimate Florida Keys Travel Guide (+ A Map of the Florida Keys) (15)
  • Ultimate Florida Keys Travel Guide (+ A Map of the Florida Keys) (16)
What Is There to Do in the Lower keys?

Most people think Key West is just bars, but there is plenty of other things to do! In fact, I wrote a list of 10 FREE Things to Do in Key West AND 25 Epic Things To Do in Key West, but here’s a quick overview!

  1. Duval Bar Crawl
  2. Mallory Square
  3. Sunset Cruise (read my full guide here!)
  4. Southernmost Point of the Continental United States
  5. No Name Pub
  6. Key Deer Refuge
  7. Dry Tortugas National Park
  8. Sunset Key
  9. Ernest Hemingway Home
Where Should I Stay in the Lower Keys?

The range of places to stay in the Lower Keys is extremely impressive! If you want to be within walking distance of the main sites in Key West, you’ll need to stay in Old Town. There are TONS of small BnBs and vacation house rentals in this area.

The hotels in Old Town, like Ocean Key Resort and the Mansion on the Sea sell out quickly but are worth the cost! If you’re looking for the ultimate luxury, Casa Marina Resort is a beautiful property right on the beach!

However, don’t rule out Old Town if you are visiting Key West and are looking for a more traditional hotel experiences. Places like the Hilton Garden Inn and Margaritaville Beach House are very nice hotels and are more reasonably priced than the fancy hotels in Old Town! Plus, most New Town hotels have free shuttles to Old Town.

P.S. If you can only visit ONE Key and can’t decide which one to choose, make sure to check out my guide comparing Key Largo vs Key West!

Where Should I Eat in the Lower Keys?

One of the best parts about visiting the Lower Keys is the amount of incredible restaurants! For breakfast or brunch, you have to go to the famous Blue Heaven. Make sure to get a giant slice of key lime pie!

For a one of kind experience, make a reservation at Latitudes, a decadent restaurant located on Sunset Key.

My other favorite spots around town are Hot Tin Roof, Santiago’s Bodega, and Black Fin Bistro!

  • Ultimate Florida Keys Travel Guide (+ A Map of the Florida Keys) (17)
  • Ultimate Florida Keys Travel Guide (+ A Map of the Florida Keys) (18)

Packing Essentials for the Florida Keys

Your packing list for a trip to the Florida Keys will be very similar year-round, as there’s no harsh winters here! For most of the year, you can get away with shorts, tshirts, and flip flops.. what a life right?!

There are some essentials, however, that I recommend for your trip to the Keys, whether you’re visiting in the summer, the winter, or somewhere in between!

Make sure to check out my guide on What to Wear in Key West for even more details!

1. Sunscreen: I will scream this from the mountain tops until I am blue in the face! If you are going to be outside, you need to wear sunscreen. I highly recommend Supergoop! Their unseen suncreen is amazing!

2. Snorkel Gear: If you have your own gear, I highly recommend bringing it on your trip to the Keys!

Ultimate Florida Keys Travel Guide (+ A Map of the Florida Keys) (19)
Ultimate Florida Keys Travel Guide (+ A Map of the Florida Keys) (20)
Ultimate Florida Keys Travel Guide (+ A Map of the Florida Keys) (21)

3. Underwater Phone Pouch: An underwater case for your phone like this one is perfect for capturing photo and video of all the incredible coral and wildlife you will see when snorkeling!

4. Polarized Sunglasses / Hat: To protect yourself while you’re in the sun and out on the water! Polarized glasses will also help cut the glare on the ocean so you can see the wildlife! I love this inexpensive two pack from Amazon!

5. Water Shoes: Okay by water shoes, I mean shoes that can get wet! not those dorky tourist shoes…lol! I have these Reef sandals that are totally waterproof and are great for outdoor adventures like kayaking, taking on a snorkel boat, etc.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, the Florida Keys are an epic vacation destination for all types of travelers. On this famous island chain, you’ll find world-class restaurants, hotels, and activities, plus gorgeous weather year round!

Whether its catching fresh fish in Islamorada, camping under the stars in Bahia Honda State Park, or partying the night away in Key West, – there is truly something for everyone in this slice of paradise!

Don’t forget to pin this post for future planning!

Ultimate Florida Keys Travel Guide (+ A Map of the Florida Keys) (22)
Ultimate Florida Keys Travel Guide (+ A Map of the Florida Keys) (23)
Ultimate Florida Keys Travel Guide (+ A Map of the Florida Keys) (24)
Ultimate Florida Keys Travel Guide (+ A Map of the Florida Keys) (2024)

FAQs

How many days do you need to explore Florida Keys? ›

First-time visitors to the Florida Keys should set aside at least a week to experience the best that these legendary islands—plus the gateway areas of Miami and the Everglades—have to offer.

How long does it take to drive from one end of the Florida Keys to the other? ›

You can drive from one end of the Keys to the other in about two hours, but any good Florida Keys tour will take you a little longer than that. After all, why drive through the Keys if you're not going to stop at all the interesting destinations along the way?

Which key is the most beautiful in Florida? ›

Key Largo Is THE Prettiest Florida Key

This feature has been updated with more information on things to do and see in Key Largo, additional images to showcase its beauty, and insider insights into what it's really like to visit.

What is the best month to visit the Florida Keys? ›

December to March is typically the best time to visit for good weather. The temperature is pleasant and the humidity is bearable. The coldest month is January, but with highs of 75°F and lows of 50°F, it's still pretty warm. December through February is the busiest time in the Keys.

Is Key West or Key Largo better? ›

Which is better for vacation - Key Largo or Key West? If you're looking for the quintessential Florida Keys experience - Key Largo is your best bet. If you're looking for eclectic entertainment, spirited bars, and parties that roll all night long - Key West is certainly for you.

Can you see Cuba from Key West? ›

No. There is a famous landmark in Key West stating “90 miles to Cuba.” But 90 miles is too far to be able to actually see the island. Remember that the horizon is about three miles from a human-sized (6 ft tall) observer.

Are there tolls in Florida Keys? ›

Yes there are tolls if you use the Turnpike. If you drive down US1, aka South Dixie Highway, there are no tolls. However, there are traffic lights, no too bad. Once you enter the “stretch”, aka, Florida Keys, Monroe County, there are no toll roads, unless you go down Card Sound Road.

How deep is the water under the Seven Mile Bridge? ›

How deep is the water under the Florida Keys bridge? The water under the 7 Mile Bridge is deep but not overly so. It ranges from 18 to 22 feet.

Which Florida key is the safest? ›

In conclusion, Marathon, Florida is more than a tropical paradise; it's a sanctuary of safety for both residents and newcomers. Come, enjoy the serenity, and experience the security of our beautiful island community!

Where is the bluest water in Florida Keys? ›

Sombrero Beach

Its fine sand is dotted with picture-perfect palm trees and its water exists in striking shades of blue. The water at Sombrero Beach is a bit deeper than at most beaches in Florida Keys, so it's best for confident swimmers.

Which Florida key is the quietest? ›

If you're looking for a quieter side of the Florida Keys, look no further than Big Pine Key and the Lower Keys. Known for its protected natural spaces, the region is sometimes referred to as the Natural Keys. And when you're exploring the many ecosystems on land or in the water, it's easy to see why.

Which key is the best to stay at? ›

Which Florida Key is for you? A key-by-key guide
  • You just want to escape the city: Key Largo.
  • you don't want to drive all the way to Key West: Islamorada.
  • you feel like exploring: Marathon.
  • you're obsessed with nature: Big Pine Key.
  • your idea of a “hotel” is camping: Bahia Honda.
Oct 11, 2017

What is the most beautiful part of Key West? ›

Most Scenic Views Of Key West From The Water
  • Mallory Square. Zoom past Mallory Square, home to the famed Sunset Celebration, local vendors selling knick-knacks and restaurants serving up delicious cuisine. ...
  • Key West Harbor. ...
  • Fleming Key. ...
  • Backcountry. ...
  • Sandbars & Starfish. ...
  • Dolphins & Sea Turtles. ...
  • Atlantic Ocean. ...
  • Southernmost Point.

What is the safest Florida key? ›

The Islands of Marathon have virtually no crime or traffic congestion and thus is seen to many as the best place to live in the Florida Keys.

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