Some folks don’t realize that it’s possible to explore Key West on a budget. In fact, there are plenty of affordable activities to enjoy – you just have to know where to look.
There’s no need to delay your trip to Key West just because you haven’t amassed a fortune. If that were the case, the island wouldn’t see nearly as much tourist traffic as it does! We’re here to help you make the most of your Key West vacation even when you’re trying to save money.
When Is The Cheapest Time To Go To Key West?
You can start by selecting the right time of year to visit Key West. The high season typically occurs between December and February, when winter weather in the northern states drives vacationers south in search of warmth. A lot of cruise ships dock in the area during this time as well, making the crowd levels even more unbearable.
To visit Key West on a budget, try to plan your trip for the low season. This is roughly anytime between June and November, but we’ve found that September and November tend to be the least expensive. Be aware, though, that hurricane season also falls within this time frame, so you’ll want to pack and plan accordingly.
Assuming the weather cooperates, you should definitely consider adding a night kayaking tour to your itinerary due to its affordable price. The experience of paddling through the Gulf waters in a glass-bottomed boat is one that you’ll never forget. Visit our website and book our night kayaking tour!
Tips For Saving Money On Lodging
Most basic motels in Key West are priced at around $200 a night, even in the off-season. Upscale hotels will fetch an even higher per-night price. If that’s not in the cards for you, it’s possible to shave some money off your lodging bill.
For starters, you could look for hotels outside of Old Town. Roosevelt Boulevard in the eastern section of the island has several decent hotels offering rooms at affordable prices. Though you’ll be a bit off the beaten path, there are shuttle services available that help to offset this inconvenience.
You could also try your luck at one of the historic Old Town bed and breakfasts. While rooms with en-suite baths are still fairly pricey, you can save money by booking a room with a shared bathroom. This isn’t an appealing prospect to most American travelers, but it’s not unheard of in other parts of the world.
When booking rooms in Key West – or anywhere, really – keep an eye out for extra fees. Many hotels charge a per-day “resort fee,” and even some of the B&Bs will tack on “cleaning fees” or other surcharges that you won’t discover until it’s time to check-in. If you’re visiting Key West on a budget, be sure to ask about any extra fees in advance.
Staying Outside Of Key West
If you’d like the opportunity to explore Key West but don’t want to pay exorbitant hotel prices, consider staying on a different island. You can always come to Key West for a day trip or two, as long as you don’t mind the drive.
Little Torch Key, for example, is only 28 miles from Key West and offers some unique lodging opportunities. During the off-season, you can snag rooms for well under $200 per night. Big Pine Key is nearly as close, and you’ll have access to other enticing destinations (such as Bahia Honda State Park) if you choose to stay there.
Another option would be to stay at a hotel in Marathon and use that as a base for exploring each of the Florida Keys. It’s an hour from Key West, but the view from the Overseas Highway – particularly the Seven Mile Bridge – is unforgettable, and you’ll have plenty to see and do along the way.
Finding Inexpensive Restaurants In Key West
If you’ve looked at online menus for Key West restaurants, you may have blanched at the prices. It’s not easy to find bargains on dining at a tourist destination like Key West, but it’s not impossible either.
If you’re in Key West on a budget, drop by a few places during happy hour and make a meal out of the lower-priced appetizers. The Key West Historic Seaport is teeming with bars that offer enticing deals during the afternoon and early evening hours. Try the Boat House Bar & Grill or Alonzo’s Oyster Bar for starters. As a bonus, some bars will even feature live music during happy hour.
There are also numerous food trucks and take-out stands featuring fresh local food at reasonable prices. Some can be found in Old Town Key West, while others are off the beaten path. Here are a few of our favorites:
B.O.’s Fish Wagon – the go-to spot for fish tacos
The Conch Shack – an underrated Duval Street gem
Garbo’s Grill @ Hanks! – permanently stationed food truck with a funky atmosphere
Old Town Bakery – excellent Key Lime pie
Harpoon Harry’s – cash-only joint serving up diner-style fare
El Siboney – authentic Cuban restaurant
A Few Tips For Exploring Key West On A Budget
Once you’ve secured a deal on a hotel and mapped out a basic dining plan, it’s time to sketch out an itinerary. There are plenty of ways to keep yourself entertained in Key West without breaking the bank. Our top 7 suggestions are listed below.
1) Take A Day Trip To Fort Jefferson
No trip to Key West would be complete without a visit to the Dry Tortugas National Park. The site is worth a visit for more than just bragging rights, though – it’s also home to Fort Jefferson.
This Civil War fort was built to protect the harbor from enemy forces, which would have potentially been able to launch serious attacks along the entire Gulf Coast if they were allowed access to this area. The fact that the fort itself was never attacked stands as a testament to its success.
Unless you have access to your own boat, you’ll have to take a ferry to get to the Dry Tortugas from Key West. The trip takes about 2-1/4 hours and offers the opportunity to view the Florida Keys from a whole new perspective.
2) Stroll Through West Martello Tower
If you appreciate Civil War history, you’ll also want to check out West Martello Tower, a lovely oceanside garden nestled within the remains of a military fort. Maintained by volunteers, this tropical garden paradise is on the National Register of Historic Places and is a worthwhile place to spend a morning or afternoon. Admission and parking are free, and the site is open to the public.
3) Enjoy The Sunset Celebration At Mallory Square
This is another quintessential Key West activity that no visitor should miss. The Sunset Celebration is held nightly at Mallory Square Dock and hosts numerous arts and crafts exhibitors, live entertainment, food carts, psychics, and more. Key West residents and tourists alike crowd the square every evening to enjoy live music and witness the unforgettable view of the sun dropping into the Gulf of Mexico.
There’s no charge to attend the celebration in Mallory Square. It’s customary to keep the spirit of the event alive by supporting a couple of the local vendors, but how much you spend is up to you.
4) Visit The Ghosts At Key West Cemetery
Key West’s cemetery is another can’t-miss destination that doesn’t cost anything and makes for great photo opportunities. Located in the center of Old Town, the cemetery was founded in 1847 after a devastating hurricane washed away the previous gravesite.
As you wind your way through the paths of tombs and palm trees, you’ll encounter graves with humorous epitaphs, along with a sizable monument to the victims of the U.S.S. Maine.
5) Discover Your Inner Pirate At The Key West Shipwreck Museum
Key West has a rich nautical history that’s just begging to be explored, and you’re in the perfect position to do it. At the Shipwreck Treasure Museum, you’ll have the chance to discover artifacts recovered from the Isaac Allerton, which was wrecked on the Florida Keys reef in 1856.
While admission isn’t free, it’s a lot more affordable than some of Key West’s popular activities, and you can easily spend an entire afternoon here.
6) Take A Walking Tour In Key West
Even if you’ve opted for a hotel outside the beating heart of Key West’s Old Town, you can still enjoy the area. Take advantage of the photo opportunities at the Southernmost Point buoy and the Mile Marker 0 sign, stroll down Sunset Pier, and drop by the Hemingway Home and Museum.
If you want to extend your tour, take a walk over to Bahama Village and sample the Key lime pie at the famous Blue Heaven restaurant.
7) Soak Up The Sun At Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park
Perched on the southern tip of Key West, this national historic site dates back to the 1800s and houses the largest cache of Civil War armament in the entire world. It also has the distinction of being the southernmost state park in the continental United States. If you’re in Key West during the third weekend of the month, you’re in luck – that’s when local re-enactors conduct historic demonstrations in the park.
Fort Zachary is home to one of Key West’s best beaches. When you’ve had your fill of history for the day, go for a swim in the turquoise Gulf waters and have a picnic on the warm sand. Since the admission fee is so low, you’ll get to enjoy all the natural beauty of this distinctive state park while visiting Key West on a budget.
Preparing To Visit Key West On A Budget
Some of Key West’s most unforgettable pleasures can be enjoyed for free – or close to it. Whether it’s an evening stroll through Old Town or a walk through the historic cemetery, you can find ways to spend your time that don’t involve spending a fortune along with it.