Key West is the perfect mix of everything you could ever find in the Florida Keys, while Hawaii is a tourist mecca in itself. With their sheer number of draws and charms, deciding between Key West and Hawaii can be a challenge. But if you have the budget and the time, both sound good.
At the very end of the Florida Keys adventure, Key West sums it all up with one big energetic blast. Key West is the best example of an All-American vacation experience. It is filled with culture, history, nature, and entertainment. As you must know, several hits songs were made in testament to everything the city offers.
Famous among families and couples, the city can give you a wealth of perfectly blended draws that you won’t quite find anywhere in the US. Key West has that certain uniqueness that makes it worth the culmination. It is best to experience Key West after a long winding adventure through the rest of the Keys.
What Makes Key West Unique?
Thanks to its archipelago setting, many of Florida Keys’ best features are in the water. Key West probably holds more aquatic features than any other Keys in the island chain. Plus, the city’s proximity to a wealth of natural aquatic wonders propels it even more as the best Key to be in.
There are several things you can do, and places to visit and marvel at Key West’s maritime treasures. Here are some of them:
The Mel Fisher Maritime Museum on Greene street houses solid proof of the city’s maritime marvels. The center keeps and displays key features showcasing the city’s maritime history. It also provides trivia and information regarding the wonders of the Florida seas.
Upon your visit, you’ll see what remains of two medieval galleons along with artifacts recovered from them. An important part of the city’s Spanish history is also kept here, as well as what was life like in colonial America.
The Maritime Museum is often a compulsory entry in family itineraries in Key West. The museum can amuse and teach curious children and tickle the interest of adult history buffs.
With so much water and seas comes an abundance of opportunities for aquatic adventures and activities. The legendary city boasts an even longer roster of adventures than most Keys in the island chain. Getting into tours and going for an adventure or two is a Key West rite of passage for every tourist.
Key West is full of tour operators willing to give you that famed and fabled Key West aquatic experience. Most of these operators even offer group packages and seasonal promos. These tours usually have snorkeling and diving tours on offer, getting you around the waters of Key West and nearby keys.
You can even experience mangrove kayaking and glass-bottom boat tours. If you want a more extensive adventure with a bit of posh on the side, take a catamaran tour. These boats can take you around the scenic spots of Key West waters and different snorkeling spots.
Not only rich in beauty, but Key West is also rich in marine life, so you can expect to have more than just diving and dipping. Some tours include sportfishing activities off the shore of the city, and around the Dry Tortugas.
Despite being full of islands and surrounded by water, the Florida Keys don’t have that many beautiful beaches. Most of its coasts are rocky and broken. Only a handful of keys possess smooth sand coasts that are perfect for swimming and lounging. Key West sports expanses of beaches, offering an added thrill to the city’s already jam-packed scenes.
Key West only has a few beaches worthy of visiting but these are the ones that are worth the visit:
Usually crowded and energetic, Smathers Beach is the most famous beach in Key West. You’ll most likely see windsurfers, parasailers, and the obligatory beach bums here. Smathers Beach offers plenty of opportunities for these activities. It is an expansive stretch with vast views of the North Atlantic.
An accessible public beach, Smather is for everyone who likes to have fun under the sun. Younger crowds and spring breakers tend to congregate around the beach. You can rent recreational equipment from the many rental shops as well. The beach also has many food and beverage concessionaires further inshore.
Higgs Beach is also another popular entry of Key West, however, it is not as crowded as Smathers. This beach is often a second choice from Smather Beach if it gets too crowded. However, Higgs Beach is a direct contrast to Smathers. Here you can truly relax because it tends to be quieter and has fewer people.
If you want a more mellow, more relaxed downtime in Key West, Higgs Beach is the place to be. You can bring your beach chair here, or just a simple beach towel and soak in the more tranquil side of an energetic city.
You can also find a full-service restaurant, rental shops, tennis courts, and a playground. There is also a wooden pier where you can marvel at the views of the ocean.
Historical Homes and Colonial Streets
Key West may feel young and hip thanks to its dynamic energy and culture. But the city has already stood way before the US became the USA. From the Spanish colonial era to the tourism highs of today, Key West has a long and varied history. With its longevity comes a great deal of historical features left for everyone to both learn from and marvel upon.
Deep within the streets of the city, you can see what’s left of the city’s colonial past. You can easily walk around the city and experience just how historically rich Key West is.
Old Town Architecture
In the heart of the city, you can still see old wooden houses reminiscent of the olden days of the nation. Some of these buildings are already erected during the Spanish occupation. The Old Town’s well-preserved charms give you a glimpse of the city’s cultural history and how it developed.
Colorful wooden houses lined across grids of streets adorn the entire Old Town making it a spectacle of its own. You can either take a guided tour or a self-guided tour and learn more about the many landmarks. You can easily conclude why Key West is considered a US icon.
The famous Hemingway House is an icon and an obligatory stop in your Florida Keys adventure. The Spanish colonial home was the residence of the famed American author Ernest Hemingway. He wrote some of his works here, such as To Have, and Have Not, and Death in The Afternoon.
It was originally built and owned by a wealthy merchant in the 1850s, depicting grandeur and classic colonial beauty. Hemingway bought and renovated the place in 1930 and proceeded to live there. Now a museum, serving as an ode to his interesting life, you can easily visit and get a glimpse of how Hemingway and his then-wife lived their life in the keys.
Literary lovers or just curious tourists can tour the house adorned with many memorabilia. You can learn more about his life with a guided tour. Plus, you might see the many descendants of Snowball, his six-toed cat, running around the area.
Just like Miami, Key West is also a party-loving, booze-drinking center popular among both the young and the old. Head to Duval Street, Key West’s version of Bourbon Street for a taste of the city’s nightlife that has old singers writing songs about the city. Funny enough, the booze street of Duval alone bests all of the Florida Keys nightlife.
Stretching for over a mile, Duval Street has plenty of places that can give you that memorable night in Key West. Head to places such as the Green Parrot, 801 Bourbon, and the historical Sloppy Joe.
Entertainment and pleasure aside, Duval Street is also a historical jewel in the keys. The street was a frequent favorite among many historical figures from literature, music, and even politics. It is more than just a place for mere fun, it is a Key West institution.
One Human Family
One special thing about Key West is that locals are open and warm. You’ll easily feel welcomed in the city at the very least. The city is so open, it is even very accepting and tolerant of people’s differences. Key West has strong overtones of an accepting and open social dynamic. This local culture is so strong and prevalent that a campaign called “One Human Family” was created.
First proposed by a local artist named J.T., the “One Human Family” slogan summarizes this sense of openness in the city. This idea is also a challenge to push for other cities and tourists who come to the city to become more open and inclusive.
The main idea is to embrace and accept each other beyond the racial, religious, gender, and sexual differences. Because after all, we’re all humans just the same. This permeating dynamic creates a safe community for everyone in the city. Giving the disenfranchised and the LGBTQ+ folks a place to belong.
You don’t have to think hard and long when deciding on Hawaii. The US State is practically a tourism mecca that has conquered most of the world’s must-visit lists. Full of natural and cultural highs, Hawaii has kept its institution as one of the most beautiful places to visit in the world. Yet, a lot of people seem to miss that Hawaii isn’t just all about its epic beach scenes and surfing highlights.
Hawaii shouldn’t be difficult to miss, thanks to its enduring fame. With just a simple internet search or scrolling down Instagram, you can easily see what everyone is talking about. Hawaii boasts an abundance of natural beauty, long history, and well-loved culture. The island chain doesn’t really need to advertise itself.
What Makes Hawaii Unique?
Hawaii actually consists of 137 islands, some are populated, and some are too small to be inhabited. But most of these islands have beaches speckled all over their shores. You can expect to be met with a sheer number of beaching options upon getting to Hawaii. And with the beauty they possess, putting a finger down might be challenging.
Sporting over 100 beaches, Hawaii has everything for everyone no matter what type of traveler you are. Chances are you’ll most likely visit a handful of them during your stay. However, not every beach in Hawaii is swimmable, some are meant for watersports alone. Each of Hawaii’s beaches has unique twists and quirks of its own making beach hopping all the more exciting.
Most of Hawaii’s beaches will almost always give you something to do or to experience. You can try out several popular activities in many of them. Activities such as snorkeling, diving, and paddleboarding are big in Hawaii, especially surfing. Whether it’s your first time doing these activities or not, you can expect to find the ideal beaches to do them.
To narrow down your choices, here are some of the most-recommended options, as well as underrated spots:
The perfect embodiment of Hawaii’s touristy beach scene, Waikiki is the stuff of travel articles and even TV shows. The largest tourist center of Oahu Island, you can find almost anything and everything around Waikiki Beach. Thanks to its many appeals, this beach is often the most-recommended first stop in a Hawaiian travel itinerary.
Waikiki is a 2-mile long beach with bright white sand that seems to gleam under the Pacific sun. The beach is one of the most scenic coastal stretches of Hawaii. You can marvel at its high-street scenes contrasting the white sand and blue water.
Waikiki is not only all about its upscale setting and natural beauty, the area also holds a significant place in Hawaii’s history. The neighborhood was once the governmental seat of Oahu and has witnessed the violence of World War 2 as well.
Although conveniently named, Big Beach is a large expanse that offers a variety of thrills for the occasional beach bum in Hawaii. The beach may be big, but it does not have many facilities and amenities. It however offers several activities you can do, from watersports to having fun on the sand.
You can play beach volleyball here, or just laze your time by sunbathing. There is even a trail inshore that lets you explore the area. But perhaps the most famous activity here is surfing. Big Beach sports big waves, especially in the right season. You can see worthy surf breaks and powerful waves around the water.
Hanalei Bay is a pride of the Kauai Island, thanks to its emerald mountain views and turquoise waters. A crescent bay and picturesque views define Hanalei Beach making it a worthwhile visit off mainstream Oahu. Hanalei is actually a collection of beach parks folded into a two-mile stretch of Kauai’s north shore.
It has over two miles of coastline and is one of Kauai’s largest bays. Beach bums can spread out their towels at Hanalei Bay, whether it’s near the famous Hanalei Pier or further away. From here, you can even jump.
The summer months are ideal for swimming, sailing, and paddling in the calmest waters. While the winter months are ideal for thrill-seekers who want to ride the Kauai beach’s massive waves.
Waimea Bay is a Hawaiian must-visit, especially for the surfing crowd. A usual hit among hardcore surfing pros, Waimea Bay hosts many surfing competitions for years. It is one of the most popular places to visit not purely for its stunning beauty but for the energy it gives off.
Powerful, surf-worthy waves are perhaps Waimea’s Bay’s best feature. You can see waves that stand as high as 30 feet (9 meters) around these parts. Surfers from all over the world come here to ride these legendary waves, especially during Hawaii’s winter months. October to April in Waimwea Beach is the best time to catch perfect surf breaks.
Mauna Kea Beach
Located right on the Big Island, Mauna Kea Beach is nothing short of breathtaking. Lined by lush greenery, and a white-sand cove brushed by the beautiful blue of the Pacific. Mauna Kea is also called Kaunaoa Beach, where Mauna Kea Beach Hotel stands right at the edges of the shore. You can expect convenient access to a variety of amenities.
During the winter waves around the beach tend to be more powerful and dangerous to swim in. However in the summer, they get calm and the seas quiet down, allowing you to explore more of the beach. You can see coral reefs along the rocky southern end of the beach.
The beach concessions offer rental boogie boards and snorkeling gear. The hotel restaurant also serves lunch and the beach bar serves tropical cocktails. When you dive just off the beach, you’ll see a diverse array of marine life, including turtles and the occasional manta ray.
Hawaii’s formation has a different take than its continental counterparts. The state was born out of a series of volcanic eruptions millions of years ago. Due to constant volcanic activities in the area, islands were beginning to emerge out of the ocean as a result. These islands became what we know as Hawaii today.
It is also through these volcanoes and their eruptions that seed life did Hawaii get its stunning beauty. Volcanic activity has sculpted many of the archipelago’s landscapes and coasts while the volcanic elements that have come from these eruptions have the necessary components for plant life to grow and thrive.
Despite the benefits they give to Hawaii and its people, these forces of nature can still be dangerous. Two of the most active volcanoes in the world are in Hawaii, Mauna Loa, and Kilauea. The latter even spews out lava to this day. Other volcanoes, however, lay dormant and are safe to have tours on.
For every surfer in the world, it would be a fulfilling feat to be able to surf around Hawaii’s many beaches and surf breaks. The islands don’t only boast some of the most epic surf breaks, but it the birthplace of the famous watersport. Hardcore pros and beginners come to the shores of Hawaii to experience the true spirit of surfing.
Ancient Polynesian people who migrated to the islands first proposed the sport. Riding waves using a wooden board was already a recreational activity way before surfing competitions. The spot then became its own thing in the 20th century and boomed during the 50s and 60s.
As the birthplace of surfing, you can expect to find a plethora of spots and breaks to surf. Whether you’re experienced or a beginner, the best time to visit is around the months of November to April in Oahu and the northern islands. You can catch large and powerful waves giving even the most seasoned professionals a challenge.
But if you’ll come during the summer months of May to October, head to the southern islands for surf-worthy waves.
One of the Most Expensive Destinations to Visit
Hawaii may come easily when you think of the best summer getaways around the world, but you may still want to consider some things. While all of Hawaii’s draws are worth the visit, you should know that the island chain is also one of the most expensive places to visit in the world.
However, it isn’t as expensive as London or Singapore but the archipelago does have its ridiculously high prices. Hawaii is also the most expensive US state to live in, much to several people’s surprise. It even booted out other famous states such as New York and California.
Several factors might cause the islands’ high prices. One of which is that due to its remote location and its lacking capability to produce most of its own supply. Shipping of goods and supplies might cause prices to inflate. Plus, Hawaii’s high demand as a tourist destination while having low supplies may have played into that.
Key West or Hawaii – Which Is Better?
Stunning, natural, and jam-packed, Hawaii beats Key West out on this one. Hawaii and Key West both offer a myriad of activities making them experience-driven destinations. Hawaii, however, has outlandish beauty that not anywhere in the Florida Keys can match.
Key West’s underwater world and a plethora of natural parks may just have been its winning points. But the Florida Key gem does not offer great beaches and the fabled exoticism of the tropical Pacific. Hawaii easily offers all Key West can and more.
Which Is Further South – Hawaii or Key West?
When it comes to the entire United States of America, Hawaii is the southernmost point. But if you’re talking about the continental US, Key West is pretty much the furthest south.
Latitude of Key West vs. Hawaii
The Hawaiian Islands are at approximately 19.9° North latitude, located south of the Tropic of Cancer. Key West, on the other hand, is approximately 24.5° North latitude, sitting north of the Tropic of Cancer.
The southernmost point of the continental United States is a tourist attraction marker at the south end of Whitehead Street. While Hawaii’s Kalae, located on the Big Island, is the country’s southernmost point.