Where to stay in Key West
Where to stay in Key West? My favorite area is the Historic Center, possibly 2-3 streets away from Duval Street to avoid the noise but still close enough to enjoy the cafes, restaurants, bars, and the great nightlife.
There are however a few alternatives that may work better if you are on a budget, or you just want to stay by the beach, or you are looking for the best place to stay in Key West for a romantic trip. There are definitely some great boutique hotels on the island.
In this guide, I go through the top areas to stay in Key West, with the best hotels I recommend for the ultimate experience on this amazing island of the Florida Keys.
And now comes the best. I have t’s all recently updated, with no old stuff and hotels in need of love.
Table of Contents
- 1 Where to stay in Key West – Key points
- 2 best place to stay in key west on the beach
- 3 Where to stay in Key West on a budget
- 4 Historic Center – Best place to stay in Key West for couples
- 5 Best areas to stay in Key West – A quick summary
- 6 Top experiences in Key West
Where to stay in Key West – Key points
Here below I have summarized the best areas to stay in Key West based on the type of experience you are looking for. This table compares the different parts of the island, also based on restaurants, bars, etc
Swipe left or right on your mobile to see the entire table. Click on the area to see a full description.
|Area||Pros||Cons||Suggested Hotel||Accessibility to Historic Centre||Beach Quality||Restaurants||Family-friendly||Nightlife||Character|
|Smathers Beach||Longest beach, great for walks, water sports||Can experience seaweed and seagrass in the water||Margaritaville Beach||20 minutes walking or 5 minutes by taxi||Excellent||Good choice||Excellent||Moderate||Modern|
|South Beach||Family-friendly, clear shallow waters||Can get very busy during peak seasons||Casa Atlantic||20 minutes walking or 5 minutes by taxi||Excellent||Good choice||Excellent||Moderate||Modern|
|Higgs Beach||Less crowded, interesting spots nearby||Small beach||Alexander Palms Court||15 minutes walking||Very good||Great choice||Excellent||Moderate||Good, more character|
|Dog Beach||Allows dogs to play freely||Small beach||Santa Maria Suites||15 minutes walking||Good||Good choice||Moderate||Moderate||Good, more character|
|Fort Zachary Beach||Great for snorkeling, has an old fort to explore||No hotels or resorts in the area||Kimpton Lighthouse||15 minutes walking||Excellent||Just a cafe||Good||Closed at night||National Park|
|New Town||More affordable, proximity to budget eateries||Far from Old Town, less personality||Fairfield Inn||Good, most resorts offer a free courtesy bus to the center||None||Good, budget eateries nearby||Excellent||None||Moderate, less personality|
|Hostels in the Old Town||Affordable, close to affordable eateries||Can be expensive for a hostel||Seashell||Excellent, in the heart of Old Town||Close to Fort Zachary||Excellent, many options nearby||Moderate||Excellent||Excellent, historic|
|Historic Center||Charming, romantic, many restaurants and bars||Can be noisy, especially near Duval Street||Simonton Court Historic Inn||Excellent, in the heart of Old Town||Close to Fort Zachary||Excellent, many options nearby||Good||Excellent||Excellent, historic|
Here are a few key points based on the above table:
- Key West is not a big island (4 by 1.5 miles) however there are 5 distinctive areas that work for any budget and lifestyle: The Historic Center, the Historic Seaport, the beach on the southern shore, New Town, and the characteristic Bahama Village. I have organized a quick summary of all the areas below.
- Best places to stay in Key West on the beach: if you are looking for a long beach, great for walks, then Smathers Beach is a great option and Margaritaville Beach is the best hotel to be. For a nice family-friendly beach stay in South Beach, here you should check out Casa Atlantic. For snorkeling, plan to stay close to Fort Zachary Beach and book your accommodation at Kimpton Lighthouse Hotel. Keep reading below about other beaches to stay at.
- Where to stay in Key West if you are on a budget: not as easy, unfortunately. This island is as famous as expensive. Nevertheless, the best bets are in the New Town, and the Fairfield Inn may fit the bill, or book your stay in a hostel around the Historic Center, and the Seashell is a great bargain. Read more on budget stays below.
- Where to stay in Key West for couples: the best area for couples is surely the Historic Center, so characteristic, charming, and romantic. You will be also next door to so many cafes, bars, and restaurants with options for a late drink. The Simonton Court Historic Inn is one of the best boutique places to stay in Key West.
- Best area to stay in Key West for families and kids: anywhere except close to Duval Street where the late noise may be a concern. If on a budget, stay in New Town, otherwise the Southern Coast is a better option if you prefer to stay next to the beach.
If you are wondering where to stay in Key West on the beach then you should look no further than the Southern coast. You will be close to the beach and not too far from the Historic Center, with so many restaurants and bar options.
The east side of the southern coast tends to be more modern and with less personality, however, this is also where you will find some lovely resorts with a pool, just a couple of minutes away from the sand.
For more character, book you stay more on the west side of the southern coast, closer to Duval and Simonton Street, the heart of Old Town.
It’s got a bit of everything, from old Victorian houses turned into B&Bs to fancy beachfront resorts. It’s an awesome spot to enjoy beach life and feel the true Key West vibes.
Talking of beaches, Smathers Beach is a top pick. It’s the biggest public beach around, great for sunbathing and water sports. For something quieter, head to Higgs Beach. It’s less crowded and has some interesting spots nearby, like the African Refugee Cemetery and White Street Pier.
If you’re into snorkeling, you’ll love Fort Zachary Taylor Beach. It’s a beautiful beach with an old fort to explore too! South Beach and Dog Beach are also two alternatives.
Smathers Beach – Longest beach to stay in Key West
If you are wondering where to stay in Key West to enjoy a relaxing break by the water, then be sure that Smathers Beach is the place to be. It’s the longest beach around, with heaps of white sand, and it’s all about chill vibes.
The ocean is the kind of emerald green that makes for top-notch Instagram pics. Locals and visitors alike love hanging out here. You’ll see people playing volleyball, others trying out parasailing, or just cooling off in the water.
And if you’re into the lazy beach day thing, you can totally find your own quiet spot to kick back. So, for a laid-back, fun day in Key West, Smathers Beach is where it’s at.
There are days when you can experience seaweed and seagrass in the water, unfortunately.
There are a few Key West resorts next to Smathers Beach
The Margaritaville Beach Key West is one of the best hotels in Key West facing the beach. The rooms are spacious and clean. There is a lively bar and a pool area that’s perfect for unwinding after a day of exploring (see photos here).
You’ll appreciate the shuttle service to the old town, making it easy to see the sights without the hassle of driving. The staff is super friendly and helpful. And let’s not forget the breakfast – it’s a hearty spread with a nice view, setting you up for the day. All in all, the Margaritaville Beach House offers a great value stay in Key West.
Here are 2 other great hotels close to the beach
Brisa Del Mar ($$$$): Ocean front views, a lovely pool, and gated security. A gem in Key West.
Hampton Inn ($$-$$$): Relaxing escape with a heated ocean view pool, superb poolside restaurant, and efficient shuttle service.
South Beach – Best beach to stay in Key West for families
This is a nice family-friendly beach known for its clear shallow waters that are perfect for swimming (check the location on Google Maps)
You can also enjoy other water sports here including paddle boarding, snorkeling, and kayaking. It is generally a calm and lovely beach but can get very busy during the Island’s peak seasons.
The Casa Atlantic is a great 3-bedroom house that works fantastically well for big families or groups of friends.
It’s a lovely characteristic Key West house with a small pool in the backyard and a boutique rooftop terrace overlooking the island (great for sunset drinks). It’s one of the best places to stay in Key West on the beach, however, it’s often booked out.
Higgs Beach – Best beach to stay in Key West for a chilled-out time
Where to stay in Key West for a more chilled-out time by the beach? This has to be at Higgs Beach, a relaxing and almost hidden spot at the southern end of Reynolds Street
It has a restaurant on-site known as Salute! This is a simple Mediterranean-style restaurant on the beach. They serve a variety of snacks and light meals for you to enjoy before or after your meal. They also serve drinks to keep you cool and hydrated under the hot Florida sun.
Have a look also at the West Martello Tower, a quiet fort built in the 19th century, now a garden club, with a lovely lookout point.
Overall, this is one of the best areas to stay in Key West, being also a 15-20 minutes walk from Duval Street.
The Alexander Palms Court is located in one of the best spots in Key West, close to the beach and just 2 blocks from Duval Street! The express check-in and check-out are a breeze, and there’s on-site parking, which is a real score in this bustling area.
Fancy a dip after a day exploring the Keys? The pool’s a lush little paradise. You’ll find the rooms clean and comfy, and the staff? Super friendly and ready to help make your stay fantastic. Plus, free WiFi. It’s tropical, it’s quirky, it’s a slice of the Keys life
Here are 2 other great hotels close to the beach
Southwinds Motel ($$-$$$): A great value stay with friendly staff, clean facilities, and an unbeatable Key West location
El Patio Motel ($$-$$$): Charming vintage vibe, great location, friendly staff, tidy rooms
Dog Beach – Best beach to stay in Key West with a dog
Where to stay in Key West with a dog? Well, this hidden gem is every pet owner’s dream. Yes, it is a tiny beach, however, very nice and practical. If you brought your furry little buddy along with you on your trip then this is a beach you both will enjoy.
Here, dogs are allowed to play freely both in the water and in the sand. And who knows, your bestie might just make a few new friends while on your beach day out.
The Santa Maria Suites Resort is located a mere block from Dog Beach and vibrant Duval Street, super convenient. The 2BR apartments are well-equipped and the hotel boasts two fab heated outdoor pools.
Top-notch facilities include a fitness center, private parking, and family-friendly rooms. Dig into the complimentary ice cream bars or the fresh poolside smoothies. Did I mention the daily wine and hummus happy hour?
Fort Zachary Beach – Best beach to visit in Key West
This would be the best place to stay in Key West on the beach, however, it is part of the Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park and there are no hotels or resorts in the area.
Interestingly, unlike most of the other beaches in Key West, Fort Zachary Beach was naturally formed and features sand native to the land.
This beach is hands down the best place to snorkel in Key West given the abundance of underwater wonders it has to offer.
And when you get hungry you can just pop into Caye Hueso Café by the beach. This casual eatery offers a decent variety of light snacks and drinks to keep you going.
As previously mentioned, there is no accommodation on Fort Zachary Beach. However, you can always book in the Historic Centre area close to the park (within 15-20 minutes of walking by the beach)
Kimpton Lighthouse Hotel is truly a tropical paradise with all the lush greenery surrounding it.
It is just a short walk from Fort Zachary Beach as well as the iconic Duval Street. If you want a day off from exploring Key West, the hotel offers access to an outdoor pool, free Wi-Fi, and an onsite bar.
Where to stay in Key West on a budget
I must be honest with you. Check another island to book your hotel in the Florida Keys if you are looking for where to stay in Key West cheaply. This island does not have any economic accommodation.
Let me say first that it’s impossible to find accommodations below the $100 mark and even $200 is a challenging mark. In saying that there are a couple of options if you are after great value Key West resorts.
The first possibility is to book your accommodation in the area of New Town, north-east of the island, and the second option is to stay in a hostel close to the Historic Center, although don’t think it will come cheap.
New Town – The best area to stay in Key West on a budget
This is the new neighborhood of Key West which is sort of shared by a few resorts, a few shopping centers, a residential area, and the marina.
It’s not the most characteristic, nor the most charming, however, you will be able to find here the best deals on the island.
Unfortunately, settling for these accommodations means that you will be far from Key West’s Old Town, or around 5 miles.
On the positive side, most of the resorts in the area offer a free courtesy bus that will take you to the Historic Center and the beaches, so handy, especially in the evening.
New Town is not only a fantastic location to explore Key West in an itinerary of 2-3 days but also a great base to organize an itinerary of the southern part of the Florida Keys.
The other silver lining in addition to the affordability is the proximity to budget eateries like Kennedy Cafe. This is a nice mid to low-budget Mediterranean and Middle-East restaurant that is perfect for those nights you want to treat yourself to something without bankrupting your entire vacation.
Another place I highly suggest visiting for lunch is El Habanero, offering great Cuban food at probably the most affordable price in the Florida Keys. The owner is such a nice guy too, so friendly.
The Laureate Key West is one of the most affordable options in the New Town area.
The affordability does not compromise on the quality of your stay and you will still get to enjoy awesome views and nicely furnished rooms. You also get free Wi-Fi and an outdoor pool.
On my last visit, I decided to book at Fairfield Inn, part of the Marriott group. I had a great time with clean big rooms and a fantastic pool, actually too beautiful because my little one did not want to leave.
The service was great too. Breakfast can be improved with a wider choice but overall a great experience. Highly suggested it, especially considering it’s one of the best deals in Key West.
Hostels in the Old Town
A Hostel in the Old Town is another option for a cheap stay.
In the old town, you will find a few hostels and bunk-sharing accommodation options tailored to suit the needs and financial abilities of low-budget travelers.
The location also gives you access to affordable eateries like Mary Ellen’s Bar and Restaurant. This is a simple fusion cuisine restaurant that offers large quantities of delicious meals at really great prices.
If the budget is really tight I suggest using the common kitchen and stock at Fausto’s Food Palace, not the cheapest supermarket but, considering the distance from the mainland, it’s not that bad.
Seashell Motel and International Hostel is located in the Historic Center and offers great value for low-budget trips. You have also access to a beautiful outdoor shared lounge with dining spaces and a hammock. The rooms are air-conditioned and feature partitioned bunks for privacy.
Alternatively, consider turning your trip into a camping one to save money. In this case, Boyd’s Key West Campground is the best option.
Historic Center – Best place to stay in Key West for couples
Key West is one of the most romantic islands of the Florida Keys and the Historic Center is certainly the most charming and characteristic area on the island.
The Historic Center has also some of the most breathtaking boutique accommodation options set in picturesque historical buildings.
It is also home to some of the most romantically set restaurants on the island.
A great example of this is Seven Fish. At first glance, this looks like any other old seafood spot. However, at night the restaurant transforms into a beautiful dimly lit wonderland that sets the perfect mood for you to enjoy your date.
As a couple, in the Old Town, you will find plenty of options for a late drink too, or just a romantic cocktail, and even for some nightlife.
My only suggestion here is to stay a couple of streets away from Duval Street which becomes a bit too noisy in the late afternoon, especially on the northern side of it, close to Mallory Square.
The Simonton Court Historic Inn and Cottages is a lovely boutique accommodation right in the center of town, however far enough from Duval Street to have a quiet night’s sleep.
In addition to the unique location, this adults-only hotel offers complimentary breakfast in a quiet environment with great old charm and a pool for those hot days.
The Historic Seaport area is also a great place for couples, especially late in the day when you get to see one of the best sunsets in Key West.
Turtle Kraals is one of the best restaurants to enjoy the sunset. The beachfront eatery serves a fusion menu with their seafood options being the most popular.
The Island City House Hotel is a very unique-looking spot surrounded by beautiful trees. The property’s location and design offer much-needed seclusion and serenity which is exactly what most couples want or need for their retreats.
In addition to air conditioning and free Wi-Fi, the Victorian-themed rooms feature cable TV and kitchenettes for maximum comfort and convenience.
Best areas to stay in Key West – A quick summary
Key West is the most popular of all the islands on the archipelago and it is not so hard to see why.
Imagine amazing Caribbean beaches, turquoise water, a lovely old town, great restaurants, and bars to have a sunset dinner or drink.
The island is not too big, around 4 miles (6km) long and 1.5 miles (2.5km) wide.
It’s not all walking distance but you can most definitely cycle around it. Or at least take a quick taxi ride to/from any destination.
There are at least 5 great areas to stay in Key West, based on your type of holiday and your budget too.
Old Town & Mallory Square
This is the heart of Key West serving not only as the town center but also as island history and cultural hub.
It is, therefore, a major attraction to tourists. A place to experience even if you decide to stay somewhere else in Key West or the Florida Keys.
There is a lot to see here including the iconic Southernmost House and the Custom House Museum of History.
Duval Street is where you will find the action, with plenty of restaurants and bars, very busy towards Mallory Square, less so on the south side, close to the beach.
At sunset, Mallory Square is the place to be for the best view and for a drink. It’s a popular and well-known hub for visitors to the island.
Key West Historic Seaport
Strictly speaking, Key West History Seaport is a part of the Old Town District.
However, it has a more laid-back vibe and its own set of attractions.
This is a great place for the sunset view offered by the numerous waterside restaurants. I loved my time at the brewery with the excellent view to the old marina and the fantastic beers on tap
Beach on the southern shore
This is home to Key West’s best beaches including Higgs Beach and Smathers Beach.
This makes it perfect if you are looking exclusively for some fun in the sun and sand.
It is also home to a few really nice resorts that offer you a chance to stay as close to the water as possible.
And, after all, you are only a 5 minutes taxi ride from the old town
This is the newer-looking neighborhood on Key West and is located on the east end of the Island and north of the Airport.
In terms of attractions, you have a few options including the Cozumel Park for the family with kids. This is a terrific free playground with water features as well.
Key West Tropical Forest and Botanical Gardens are just 500m away from New Town, on Stock Island. Follow the Heritage Trail and you will be there in no time; turn left after the bridge connecting the two islands.
New Town has also the biggest shopping centers.
This is a small and colorful neighborhood in the southern part of Key West probably best known for being home to the Key West Light House Museum.
It’s a nice boutique village, perfect for a walk and wandering around. You will even experience the unusual free-roaming chickens. Bahama Village is also famous for a few nice restaurants and bars.
Top experiences in Key West
These are my suggested experiences that you should not miss once in Key West (free cancellation up to 24 hours in advance):
- A sunset sail on a dreamy 105-foot schooner
- A Sunset Party Cruise by Catamaran, including food and drinks, alcoholic too, a real bargain
- The unmissable snorkeling trip at the local reef, for the amazing colors. Or this combined eco tour including also dolphins watching
- For a fun family day, you should not miss out on the Hop-On/Off island tour on the Old Town Trolley
- For some real fun check out the Ultimate Watersports Adventure Tour