Since Key West is so far removed from the mainland, there are certain downsides that come along with that remote location. For example, the island – and all of the Florida Keys – are vulnerable to hurricanes. And considering there’s only one main road to and from the island, knowing how to react in the event of a storm is imperative.
Speaking of that road, the Overseas Highway is the only one that leads through the Keys from top to bottom, which means traffic can be an issue. But, if you plan your trip wisely, you can avoid a headache.
The same goes for the weather. Each season has its pros and cons, so it’s all about your priorities as a visitor. Want warm ocean water for swimming? Prefer cooler weather? Hope to avoid crowds? You can’t have it all, but you say know what to expect with these tips I’ve gathered during two decades of visiting Key West.
Do you have to worry about COVID-19 restrictions in Key West?
Where COVID-19 is concerned, most of Key West has returned to normal operations. Although masks are not required, some people continue to wear them. Be sure to read up on any new variants before visiting as protocols may change.
Do hurricanes impact the island?
Hurricane season is from June 1 to November 30 every year. The Keys are very vulnerable to storms because the islands are so small and located at sea level. If you’re visiting during hurricane season, keep an eye on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast and local news for all the latest updates.
Key West is in evacuation zone 1, Key West High School is the designated island hurricane shelter, and visitors are asked to evacuate before residents. And the evacuation route is the same way you got to Key West: the Overseas Highway.
Don’t freak out, though. In all my years visiting the Keys, I’ve never been there during a hurricane, though some have come close.
When is Key West the best time to visit?
Florida is winter, when temperatures in the Keys range from 75 degrees to 80 degrees, it’s peak season for tourists, and lodging rates are at a premium. However, the ocean water is usually chilly, which guests often grumble about.
So if you can stand the summer heat (we’re talking temps above 86 degrees and high humidity), that can be a good option to avoid the crowds, get the best rates, and enjoy warmer waters for swimming. Of course, you have the threat of hurricanes.
The bumper seasons of spring and fall are, unsurprisingly, more crowded than summer and less crowded than winter, with hotel prices (and air and water temps) falling somewhere in the middle.
Another option for avoiding crowds and securing a good rate is to visit during the week and not on the weekend. I have recently visited from Monday to Wednesday and had just as much fun as usual – if not more. (Just ask the bartender at Hog’s Breath Saloon.)
Is traffic bad to and from the island?
When you’re leaving Key West, keep in mind that the Overseas Highway, or US 1, is only a two-lane road in many areas, with little opportunity for passing. So if you get stuck behind a slow driver, it could significantly extend your time drive.
Also, since the Keys are such a popular weekend destination for South Florida residents, especially in the winter, traffic can get really heavy on Sunday afternoons when everyone’s leaving. The earlier you can depart on a Sunday, the better your chances of getting ahead of the traffic.
Note that locations along the Overseas Highway are referred to by their mile-marker number. In fact, you can find the sign for one mile marker near downtown Key West, at the corner of Fleming Street and Whitehead Street – another popular photo-op location.
View Insider’s comprehensive guide to visiting Key West, Florida.