Key West, the very last stop of the Florida Keys adventure is the sweetest destination in the string. Thanks to its iconic sites and sheer beauty, the city is a worthy adventure in itself.
And then there’s Miami. The city is a whole world in itself. Its endless thrills and charms have made it into one of the US’s most fabled cities.
The perfect culmination to a Florida Keys adventure, Key West is perhaps the most iconic of all of the keys south of Florida. The city boasts old town charms, great nightlife, and a sense of acceptance and community. Key West isn’t the stuff of many great songs for nothing.
The city is best for families, and adventurous couples. Key West can give you that fabled tropical experience filled with history and modern entertainment. Traveling to Key West is best when traversing through the Florida Keys from Miami.
What Makes Key West Unique?
Perhaps one of Florida Keys’ most remarkable features is how accessible it is to water. It is practically surrounded by it. One of Key West’s best features is its stunning waters and aquatic scenes, which have best propelled it to tourism fame. On top of that, the city also houses museums and snorkeling spots, further showcasing Key West’s waterworld marvels.
The Mel Fisher Maritime Museum is probably the best tangible testimony to Key West’s aquatic grandeur. It holds a great treasury of the city’s maritime history as well as the seas’ wonders. You can marvel at two galleons displayed here along with some recovered artifacts. The museum is a perfect itinerary for both curious children and passionate adults.
Key West boasts its sheer plethora of maritime finds. So, whether you’re a history buff or a maritime fan, you will find important pieces of knowledge. You can also catch a curious glimpse of the continent’s Spanish history, and some of the earliest settlers of colonial America.
The museum is regularly open from Mondays through Fridays, also offering tours for tourist groups.
An abundance of available water activities are at your disposal in the Florida Keys, thanks to its aquatic address. Key West is probably the most jam-packed out of all the keys out there. As a watersport capital, except for surfing, of course, water activities should be at the top of your must-do list when in Key West.
When you get to Key West, you’ll find several available tour operators around, most of which offer different packages and sites. They typically offer snorkeling and diving tours around wrecks and reefs. Some even include mangrove kayaking or glass-bottom boat tours, which are all equally great in Key West.
Also famous for boat excursions, you can also book a catamaran tour across different snorkeling spots across the sea.
What’s even more amazing is that Key West doesn’t only offer snorkeling and diving, thanks to its proximity to marine life, sportfishing is also big here. Just off the shores of Key West and right around Dry Tortugas, you’ll find spots awash with great catches.
Right at the very end of the famed Florida Keys, Key West has glorious scenes across its coasts. However, despite its peninsular setting, Key West is famous for its beaches, as most of its coasts are jagged and rocky. You can only find a handful of stretches of smooth white sand beaches, but they more than make up for the city’s lack.
Despite their scarcity, here are some of the most happening beaches in the city:
The busiest and most famous beach in the city, Smathers Beach is usually awash with windsurfers, parasailers, and beach bums. It boasts white powdery sand that stretches for a mile with a sweeping view of the North Atlantic. Popular among spring breakers, you can find many food vendors, rentals for umbrellas, kayaks, and even jet skis.
Smathers Beach is a public beach and therefore won’t cost you anything to visit. However, the only things you have to pay here are for any recreational equipment. You can rent volleyball nets and other watersport necessities. You can also find concessionaires here that offers rental seats, rafts, as well as food and beverages.
Only second to Smathers, Higgs Beach is a beauty thanks to its more pristine and quieter conditions. It has an extensive 17-acre or 6.8-hectare space with natural sand imported from the Caribbean. With lesser people around and a relatively quieter scene, the beach is ideal for relaxing, lounging, and just planning to dip in the waters.
The beach stays true to its more relaxed and more open atmosphere. You can opt to bring your beach chair here, or even just a beach towel for relaxing and chilling.
There’s also a full-service restaurant in the area, as well as other facilities such as volleyball nets, tennis courts, and a playground. A long wooden pier juts out to the water along the shore and lets you enjoy an interesting time just over the water.
Historical Homes and Colonial Streets
From the Spanish occupation to its post–Civil War days, Key West has seen and lived through most of US history. It is thanks to its long and varied past that the Key West is left with a wealth of cultural and colonial features.
Locals can learn more about their heritage, and curious tourists enjoy it. This is best shown in the abundance of colorful colonial houses speckled across the streets of the city.
In historical accounts, pirates once regularly visited the Key Wests coasts but never did have any permanent settlers. The 1800s marked the beginning of the city’s establishment, with the Spanish initial settlement. However, the Spanish then relinquished control to the US in 1821. The Spanish imprint still stands strong today, especially with the Cuban overtones.
Old Town Architecture
Right smack in the middle of town, you can easily see a tangible piece of Key West’s cultural history. The well-preserved splendor of the Old Town is the best one. Strolling around and letting the town’s vibe wash over you is perhaps the best way to acquaint yourself with Key West.
Classic and beautiful, these colorful houses hold hundreds of years worth of the city’s history. And what’s amazing about it is that it’s free. The city is nothing short of scenic and captivating, if you’re the friendly type, you might get a lot more if you talk to the locals who live around the area.
The literary giant has called Key West home for almost a decade. It is here in his Spanish colonial home Ernest Hemingway wrote a few of his classics. Death in The Afternoon, The Green Hills of Africa, The Snows of Kilimanjaro, and To Have and Have Not were all written while he lived here.
Now converted into a museum of his works and life, the Hemingway House is one of the most famous icons of the city.
The house was built in 1851 and commissioned by a wealthy merchant, it was one of the grandest homes at the time. But when Hemingway and his wife bought the house in the 30s, it was dilapidated and in bad condition, so they had it restored and renovated. The house ended up having a luxurious overtone and was complete with a swimming pool made out of solid coral.
Today, the house receives hundreds of visitors regularly. It houses many memorabilia and plenty of Hemingway’s things are on display, where you can learn about the works and life of the famed author.
The cute bonus feature of the museum is the 50 six-toed cats running around the house. They are the descendants of Snowball, Hemingway’s famous cat.
For the booze-loving, and party animals, Duval Street is the place to be in Key West. Lined with an abundance of bars and restaurants, the street is busy every night, alluding to its nightlife-loving vibe. It is commonly referred to as the Bourbon Street of The Keys, Duval alone bests all of the Florida Keys’ nightlife scenes.
Over a mile long, Duval Street houses several bars that have made the address a notable must-visit. You can visit bars such as Green Parrto for good live music, 801 Bourbon for a different take on nightlife, and the iconic Sloppy Joe.
But apart from its fabled culture, Duval Street is more than just a place of debauchery and all good fun. The street itself holds a historical value for the city, frequented by some of literature and music’s greatest, Duval Street is a treasure in itself. Probably as important as the Old Town.
One Human Family
When you get to Key West you’ll immediately get a whiff of how open and welcoming the locals are. Key West has an overtone of inclusion and a sense of community despite the many artificial differences. It is known for how broad and accepting its social dynamic is. This is even further highlighted by the “One Human Family” concept that is permeating every part of Key West society.
The “One Human Family” idea was first proposed by local artist J.T. He was inspired by how Key West embraces people of all kinds. Key West only prefers to see everyone as humans coexisting. No matter their sexual orientation, race, color, religion, and many others.
Key West’s accepting attitude is evident in its tolerant atmosphere. This, in turn, creates a safe community for people who are treated otherwise in different places in the world. This is especially evident in their celebration of the LGBTQ+ community.
With its culture, nature, and entertainment, Miami is the Sunshine State’s vacation capital. In this famous gem of a city, you can have beaches, historic neighborhoods, and great architecture. Not to mention an even greater nightlife and gastronomic scene.
If there ever is a blueprint for an ideal vacation city, Miami perhaps rests at the top. Even beating Cancun. The city is famed for its diversity, energy, and dynamic which has constantly put it at the top of the must-visit cities in all of the USA.
What Makes Miami Unique?
Every globetrotting beach bum would know a thing or two about many of the US’ famous beaches, especially must-visit icons. And many of which can be found right on the shores of Miami. The city’s coastal scene is one of the many that makes it special, from the famous Miami Beach to the jam-packed South Beach.
Here are some of the most visited:
First up is an icon, perhaps best for families and groups of friends looking for a more mellow approach to the Miami experience. North Beach is a peaceful, family-friendly beach resort with chilled-out beaches. Plus, it is decorated with beautiful Art Deco architecture and inviting green spaces.
North Shore Oceanside Park is a lovely oceanfront park with plenty of shade trees. It’s a great place to go for a quiet afternoon at the beach. After a day of soaking up the sun, take a stroll over to the neighboring North Beach Bandshell. Here you can take in the beauty of the neighborhood while listening to live music.
A famous stretch for the moneyed lot, Bal Harbour is dripping with opulence and luxury. Bal Harbour is a small strip of beach surrounded by high-end houses and some of Miami’s most expensive beachfront hotels. You can see the Ritz-Carlton and The St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort in these parts.
The beach, which is about three miles north (4.8 km) of North Beach, is as opulent as you’d expect in such a posh community. It also has the whitest, softest sand. Try heading to Bal Harbor Village after a quick dip and check out the chic ambiance and upscaled scenes across the stretch.
Perhaps the most famous and most packed spot among all of Miami’s beaches, South Beach best represents Miami’s dynamic scenes. South Beach is a must-see for anybody visiting Miami. This historic stretch is the place to see and be seen. It’s where high-end modern design meets Art Deco architecture.
Some of the city’s best restaurants, coolest galleries, and most active nightlife can be found here. The 2.2-mile stretch (3.5 km) of white sand is arguably Florida’s most famous beach. Here, you’ll find beautiful people, expensive automobiles, bathing suits, and Art Deco buildings.
Perhaps Miami’s most interesting spot Hollywood Beach is without a doubt the best of its kind. It’s also the closest thing South Florida has to a boardwalk beach town. You can check out food places that stand alongside tourist traps lining the beachfront. You can also bar hop with a front-row seat to the ocean while watching well-tanned beach bums walk by.
Hollywood Beach is certainly like Hollywood Boulevard but makes it coastal.
The Nightlife Scene
No Miami experience is complete without getting into its legendary nightlife scene. Just like Cancun, Miami gets even more interesting as soon as the sun goes down. Thick with culture, proud local scenes, and generally open and warm culture, you can expect equally vivacious bars and crowds at night.
Often considered a hedonistic paradise, you can drink all you can with the unlimited flow of booze in several quirky strips across the city. Miami’s nightlife is as hot as its day scenes. You can head to clubs in South Beach, Calle Ocho, and Downtown Miami.
Miami is also home to the Ultra Music Festival, one of the biggest EDM festivals in the world. It’s an annual outdoor event that takes place every March for more than 20 years. This three-day festival brings together DJs and partygoers from all around the world. Many Miami vacationers in March even include the festival in their agenda.
One of Miami’s hottest scenes right now is its culinary delights, a proud mix of a multitude of cultures that have set roots in this vibrant city. You can expect to have some of the best from Latin America, Europe, and as far as Asia. Miami boasts gastronomic proportions that could even battle LA itself.
Thanks to a plethora of influences, Miami’s gastronomy is a rich melting pot of epic flavors that could satisfy your every woe or craving. Since Miami houses an extensive roster of eateries, dishes, and flavors, you can only visit a handful of them. The city has different areas and streets that are lined by restaurants that offer different specialties, here are some of them:
An artsy millennial central, Wynwood is frequented by the young and moneyed. It has characteristic graffiti-filled walls, famous among creatives and the young and hip.
You can sample some of the city’s best pastry shops and coffee here. And quite recently, the Asian cuisine has been making its way up to the neighborhood’s high ranks. Which means, sushi, ramen, and many more for all.
Sunset Harbor houses perhaps the most culinary diverse scenes in all of Miami. You can sample Spanish dishes, Japanese, and even NYC-grown staples. The famous strip is also a growing breakfast hub thanks to its top-notch bakeries and coffee shops.
The epicenter of Cuban cuisine, and one of Miami’s quintessential spots. The culinary scene here is said to be epic in that you can spend a day sampling everything. Be sure to have enough budget and a day blocked out just for Little Havana.
You’ll be tempted to sample Cuban sandwiches and coffee, Mexican tacos, and ice cream. Plus, top off the day with cocktails at night.
The Capital of Latin America
Also dubbed as Latin America’s commercial gateway to the US, Miami is a melting pot of various Hispanic cultures many of which are from Latin America. You can expect to see an interesting blend of cultural overtones. Brazilian, Mexican, Venezuelan, Colombian, Puerto Rican, and Cuban influences are evident here.
More than 70% of the city’s population is of Latino or Hispanic heritage. Many people are familiar with the city’s Latin-American culture influence. During the late 1950s, a large number of Cubans relocated to Miami for political reasons. This great migration has resulted in Miami’s local culture today.
Multiculturalism and biculturalism are strongholds in the city. It is one of the most diverse cities in the state of Florida. Many inhabitants, however, speak Spanish, and Miami has a significant Hispanic culture.
The neighborhood most affected by Cuban culture is Little Havana. Cubans make up about a third of the population. Family stores, movie theaters, live music, and delectable Cuban cuisine abound throughout the area.
With Miami being Miami, filled with endless thrills, curious local scenes, and even natural attractions, expect to find a great many things to do. Miami is famous for being the most happening city in the southern US. You can find much excitement in the cosmopolitan areas of the city to its coastal delights.
Apart from the previously mentioned things, from swimming to partying, here are some things you can do as well:
Miami encompasses everything, even affordable retail therapy to high-rolling luxury shopping. Head to Bayside Marketplace for everything you could ever want, from quirky souvenirs to boutique-chain finds. You can also find several cafes, restaurants, and live entertainment in this outdoor shopping space.
Lincoln Road is also another shopping treasure trove. A Miami icon, this pedestrian mall houses an extensive roster of establishments. You can check out cafes, restaurants, performance spaces, and even art galleries. You can find several big-name international retailers here as well such as Zara, Macy’s, Apple, and Anthropology.
Other than its international lineup, Lincoln Road Mall has also been giving local brands the limelight. This is in support of their development.
If you’re up for some wildlife, you can visit the Zoo Miami, perfect for families and animal lovers. Zoo Miami is one of the world’s most unusual and animal-friendly zoos. Instead of being kept in individual cages with other animals of the same type, the animals are kept in enclosures. These spaces closely resemble their natural habitat.
They also dwell among other species and interact with them like they would in the wild. Zoo Miami is home to about 3000 animals, including over 30 endangered species.
Everglades National Park
The Everglades National Park is a 1.5 million-acre (607,028.46-hectare) swampland. The entire area is made up of shallow water that eventually drains into the sea. Several crocodiles, alligators, birds, and snakes can be seen if you visit the national park.
At the park, there is a tourist center as well as several walking routes. The Anhinga Trail is the most popular since it is only about a mile long and provides quick access to animals.
Filled with so much culture, history, and an ever-constant influx of creatives Miami is bound to have museums standing here and there. Whether you’re up for history, art installations, or even fashion, you can be sure to find everything here in Miami.
Perez Art Museum
Miami’s greatest art museum boasts an aesthetic unlike any other in the world. It features large rooms, rounded walls, and hanging gardens with more than 54,000 plants.
As the name suggests, HistoryMiami is dedicated to the preservation of Miami’s history, and the best to showcase it as well. It houses over 37,000 3D items. You can see prehistoric discoveries in 20th-century Afro-Cuban traditional art.
Which Is Better – Key West or Miami?
Miami is undoubtedly the better option when you’re visiting Florida. If you’re looking for a vacation destination, Miami practically has everything. It doesn’t just have beaches, it has a whole pack of other features.
You’ll have distinct neighborhoods, hotels, resorts, and restaurants to explore. It is the very definition of jam-packed. Plus, it even has historic attractions, natural parks, and reserves.
Key West on the other hand is also a great choice, but it isn’t as grand as what Miami offers. It is, however, like a smaller version of Miami. It still has a bit of everything, from natural features to great nightlife. Key West offers plenty of draws, yet the caliber it holds won’t stand against Miami.
Key West vs. Miami Weather
Located in the same region, south of Florida and the entire continental US, Key West and Miami has the same weather and climate. Both destinations have tropical conditions making them perfect sunny getaways for many Americans.
If you’re looking for a sunny getaway south of the continent, you can head to either Miami or Key West to get that gorgeous suntan and a much-needed dip in the sea.
Snorkeling in Miami vs. Key West
Key West’s proximity to several snorkeling spots makes it the more ideal place to snorkel. Nestled near the Florida Keys Reef Tract, expect to find a vast array of snorkeling spots. Each of them has varying features but all are equally fascinating and worth the excursion.
What Is Between Miami and Key West?
Miami is situated north of Key Largo, so if you take a look at it. You have the entire Florida Keys right between Key West and Miami. You can travel from Miami to Key West if you plan on having that great Southern Florida road trip. However, most people opt to fly between them as Key West has an airport serving the city.
Best Beaches Between Miami and Key West
Gifted with glorious coasts, and constant sunshine, you can easily find some best spots between Miami and Key West. Here are some of the most notable ones:
Sandspur Beach is a mile of magnificent beach with fantastic swimming in the middle of Bahia Honda State Park. Many people even consider it to be one of Florida’s most beautiful beaches. The offshore reefs make the water shallow and tranquil, ideal for splashing and playing with kids.
Sombrero Beach is located in the middle of Marathon where the water is a little deeper than most beaches in the Florida Keys. The beach is only ideal for strong and experienced swimmers. Keep in mind that there are no lifeguards on duty, but the weather is often pleasant. There are also restrooms and a great playground on the premises.
Anne’s Beach is a beautiful stretch of sand with mangrove trees and a relaxing boardwalk. The beach, on the other hand, has its own set of peculiarities. It’s common to see people lounging around in their underwear.
Anne’s Beach is a popular nudist beach, so feel free to swim in your underwear. There are numerous private coves where that tourists tend to avoid. Bring a picnic lunch and a cooler because there are several beautiful picnic tables.
Best Hotels Between Miami and Key West
Every that encompasses Miami and Key is an area booming with tourism. You can expect to find an extensive list of stays and accommodations along the stretch. Here are some of the most recommended:
Isla Bella Beach Resort
The Isla Bella Beach Resort & Spa in Marathon is close to the airport and on the beach. This resort is perfect for families. Plus, its aesthetic is reminiscent of Mykonos, Greece. It has whitewashed, Greek-inspired architecture and striking blue and white interiors.
Isla Bella Beach Resort is the latest addition to Marathon’s premier accommodations. It is also easily one of the best, and most elegant and sophisticated places there are.
Baker’s Cay Resort by Hilton
Baker’s Cay Resort Key Largo is a traveler’s favorite. It boasts an expanse of 13 acres (5.3 ha) with 200 rooms that has boutique overtones, decorated with a certain intimacy. The resort’s beach is quiet and cozy, perfect for those who want a secluded feel after a long drive across the Overseas Highway.
Hawks Cay Resort
Picturesque and fascinating, Hawks Cay Resort offers a true island getaway feel. It gives off an exclusive island setting. The resort boasts fresh and sophisticated suites aiming to provide a luxury feel without sacrificing the island vibe. The resort is perfect for families, it is equipped with kids’ programs and a plethora of family-friendly packages.
Best Restaurants Between Miami and Key West
With a slew of cultural influences, you can expect to find many interesting restaurants to sample the best flavors of Florida. And the best corridor to explore them is the stretch that lies between Miami and all of the Florida Keys.
Make sure to sample the flavors from these places:
Known for its Cuban Tacos, Caja Caliente is a Latino heaven serving all the Hispanic staples. This is one of the best spots in Miami to get a little bit acquainted with the city’s Cuban and Latin American overtones. Also make sure to sample their croquetas, quesadillas, and empanadas.
The Fish House
A must-visit in Key Largo, the Fish House has been around since 1982 serving the best seafood dishes. You can try out their mahi-mahi, grouper, and many others prepared in creative ways. Many Florida Keys-loving tourists will recommend the Fish House for plenty of good reasons. With its longevity, you can expect to leave nothing but good reviews.
El Siboney Restaurant
Since 1984, the El Siboney Restaurant in Key West has been feeding needy patrons. The restaurant specializes in Cuban cuisine, paella, and local seafood. Meals like ropa vieja, lightly breaded grouper, and delectable bowls of conch chowder, are on the daily menu. Weekly specialties are red bean soup and chicken enchiladas on Tuesdays.
Best Lunch Between Miami and Key West
Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen
Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen on Key Largo is a must-stop when you’re in the Upper Keys. The Overseas Highway makes it simple to stop here. It features standard American meals with a Keys twist. You can sample lobster bits and conch salad, as well as an extensive breakfast menu, which includes the must-try caramel bacon French toast.
Sanguich de Miami
Located in Little Havana, Sanguich de Miami is a must-visit for that legendary Cuban sandwich, a Miami staple. Six sandwiches, including the medianoche and pan con croqueta, and seven batidos are available on the menu. All of which are prepared fresh to order.
Stopping at Alabama Jack’s, along with an order of renowned smoked-fish spread, is a rite of passage for anyone visiting the Keys for the first time. It’s a dive bar known for conch fritters, live music, and a laid-back vibe.
Best Stops Between Miami and Key West
History of Diving Museum
The museum features interesting finds across the Florida Keys’ diving spots. But most importantly, the museum houses a collection of diving equipment that dates back hundreds of years. It showcases how diving culture and technology have progressed over the years.
Seven Mile Bridge
Not necessarily a stop, but the Seven Mile Bridge is an engineering marvel in itself. Driving through it with sweeping views of the key is enough for it to be a must-see while you drive to Key West.
Florida Keys Brewing Company
One of the best breweries in the area is the Florida Keys Brewing Company. On your way down the Keys, their bottle-cap-tiled beer garden and taproom are well worth a stop. After a sunny journey, you can easily have a quick beer break.