So I’ve noticed a trend in the Midwest, lots of people head south for the winter because it gets so. damn. COLD! I found flights from Chicago to Miami for $130 return and treated myself to a weekend in the sun for my birthday. Yes, it was time to tick the Florida Keys off my bucket list and I headed down to Key West in December!
Disclosure: I received discount to some Key West attractions in return for a review. As always opinions are 100% my own.
Key West in December
December marks the end of Florida’s hurricane season. I even saw a cafe with a sign saying:
“Goodbye Hurricane Season, Hello December!”
Stupidly I didn’t think to take a picture of it! The hurricane season runs from 1st June to 30th November, for the whole of the summer season. The Keys have fallen victim to hurricanes in the past, so it’s something to bear in mind when planning travels.
Key West is the southernmost point of continental USA, it’s actually closer to Cuba in the Caribbean, than what it is to Miami! As you can expect, it therefore on average has pretty nice temperatures year round.
During my December visit, I was treated to temperatures around 86f/30c. While talking to a bartender, he said a couple of nights before I arrived, the evening temperature got down to high 50fs/14c and people were wearing winter coats and they had the patio heaters on!
Thankfully I only needed to wear a thin long sleeve hoodie on the first evening and even then I had the sleeves pushed up, still had shorts on and wasn’t cold. At 7am in the morning I could quite happily lay in a hammock with shorts and a vest top and be perfectly comfortable!
Key West at Christmas
When you visit Key West in December you are going to be able to experience Christmas Key West style! I loved seeing all the buildings decorated and all the various ‘ocean themed’ Christmas trees around the Downtown Key West area! One was made from buoys, another from crabbing pots and one had nautical decorations! I’ve never had a warm Christmas…I could definitely get used to it!
Some of the bars and restaurants were already playing Christmas music and there were adverts around town for all the up and coming Christmas celebrations. I wish I had been around to see the ‘Lighted Boat Parade’!
Sunset in Key West in December
One of the ‘must see’ things to do in Key West is the ‘Sunset Celebration’ in Mallory Square. Every single evening for 2 hours BEFORE sunset and 2 hours AFTER sunset, you’ll be able to catch the Sunset Celebration. But of course you need to know the rough time of when sunset will occur!
In December, the sun sets in Key West between around 5.40pm to 5.50pm depending on whether your visit is at the beginning or end of the month.
Mallory Square is one of the places to watch the sun set on the island. Everyone sits on the sea wall, there are food stalls selling snacks and drinks and the square comes alive with street performers.
The Mallory Square Market is also home to some nice souvenir shops with cobbled streets. You’ll also find a couple of different museums in this area, such as the Key West Aquarium and the Key West Shipwreck Museum.
This is also where the cruise ships dock in Key West. With there being enough room for 3 ships at one time! (If a 3rd is docked though, I’m not too sure how good the sunset view may be with a big ole ship eclipsing the view!)
Things To Do In Key West in December
As mentioned above, the Sunset Celebration is one of the Key West must sees. But there are plenty of other things to keep you entertained!
Key West is the closest place to the Dry Tortugas National Park, which is 70 miles out in the middle of the sea. The ferry departs only once a day and takes around 2 hours 15 minutes. It is a full day trip leaving at 7.30am and returning back to Key West around 5.15pm. Not going to lie, the tickets cost a fortune ($180 for an adult). The main attractions of the National Park being Fort Jefferson, snorkelling and bird watching.
As I was pushed for time, I decided against visiting the Dry Tortugas National Park and instead found similar experiences that were closer to Key West, which brings me to the first activity…
First things first, ironically I’m not good on boats. BUT I find that catamarans give a smoother journey and Fury run catamarans on their snorkel trips, WIN! They are also faster than sail boats, giving you more snorkelling time. My trip lasted for 3 hours.
Snorkelling can be affected by several natural factors. In all honesty, I’m not sure how much fun it would have been if it was 50f. Fury do offer the use of wetsuits but it’s much more fun when it’s warm!
The sea wasn’t warm as such, I’ve certainly been in warmer waters but then I’ve also been in sea a LOT colder. I jumped in and once I was in/wet I was fine but initially it was a little chilly.
Due to the direction of the wind leading up to my trip, the visibility wasn’t great (12m). Key West is just 7 miles from North America’s only coral reef in the Atlantic Ocean. However, Fury were very honest and up front with us, saying that conditions there were bad and instead we could go 7 miles into the Gulf of Mexico or reschedule for a different day. I was a little sad not to go to the reef but still had a great time…stay tuned for a full review!
Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park
If you don’t get to go to the Dry Tortugas, I felt like Fort Zachary Taylor State Park was the smaller, cheaper equivalent, which is within walking distance of Downtown Key West! Entrance to the State Park is $2.50 for a foot passenger (or $6.50 for a vehicle with passengers included) but then you get access to the beach and free entry to Fort Taylor!
The fort was built back in 1845 and has been used in several different wars through the years. You can join a free guided tour departing at 11am each day, or do a self guided tour using the leaflet and information panels around the fort.
Related Reading: Florida Keys: A Guide To Key West Beaches!
The Conch Train Guided Tour
When I don’t have long in an area, I like to do some form of a tour, so I can see and learn as much as I can in a short amount of time. I opted for the 90 minute ‘Conch Tour Train’…mainly because I have a bit of a soft spot for road trains!
I jumped on the last tour of the day at 4.30pm and there were only 3 other people on board. I saw it at other times throughout the day and every bench was packed to bursting point.
If you do go on an earlier tour you are a free to get on and off all day and entry to some attractions on the island are included as part of the ticket price.
The Conch Tour Train has been in business since 1958. The ‘Engineer’ was a fountain of information and I made a mental note of all the places I wanted to go back and see/photograph the following day!
Another option is the Old Town Trolley Tours. This guided tour has 14 stops (rather than 4) but the trolleys are smaller than the train and the tickets are slightly more expensive. On select dates in December, they do offer a 60 minute ‘Holiday Lights and Sights’ tour though if you fancy enjoying Christmas in Key West in a unique way!
Duval Street is the main street to hang out along in Downtown Key West! You’ll find plenty of bars with live music, restaurants and shops as well as attractions like the Key West Nature & Butterfly Conservatory. Some of my personal favourites were:
- Caroline’s Cafe for dinner (I had a burger that was literally bigger than my head)
- The Flying Monkeys at Fogarty’s for frozen slushy cocktails
- ‘Southernmost Key Lime Shop’ for Key Lime Pie!
- Seeing the ‘Smallest Bar in Key West’
Running parallel to Duval Street is Whitehead Street, which is quieter but still has lots of cool points of interest! A few attractions along Whitehead Street include:
- Ernest Hemingway’s House
- Key West Light House
- The birth place of Pan Am Airways – it’s now a bar but it was the first office for the airline. Their very first flight went from Key West airport to Havana, Cuba!
- The Southernmost Point of Continental USA (expect a line for photos!)
- Mile Marker 0 for Northbound Route 1 aka The Overseas Highway as it passes through the Keys.
Where To Stay In Key West (at a hotel on the beach, of course!)
Ibis Bay Beachfront Resort
If you are looking for a Key West hotel on the beach, I recommend staying at the Ibis Bay Beachfront Resort! I even got a free room upgrade to a beachfront room for my 30th birthday!
I originally chose the hotel for several reasons:
- It’s JUST as you get onto the island of Key West so it was a good option when driving the Overseas Highway
- FREE PARKING
- They have a free shuttle bus into Downtown Key West that runs throughout the day and evening
- Free continental breakfast
- A swimming pool
- Hammocks on the beach
- SO bright and colourful
- Tortoises, talking parrots and shark feeding
- It was cheaper than some of the other options.
I was very happy with my stay.
Key West Budget Breakdown
Not going to lie, Key West is EXPENSIVE. I found it hard to find budget accommodation on the island…so kinda gave up and went for a ‘cheaper’ expensive resort…
- Ibis Bay Resort – A weekDAY night in December from $120 or A weekEND night in December from $200. In PEAK SEASON (January onwards) rooms at the Ibis Bay Resort are $300 a night. This makes December a perfect month if you are after some winter sun without breaking the bank.
- Conch Tour Train – $31.45 Adult ($15.75 child ticket)
- Fury ‘Double Dip’ 3hr Snorkelling tour – $54.95
- Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park entrance – $2.50
- Cocktails range from $7 – $11 ($11 being one served in a coconut!)
- Average burger meal in a restaurant – $13
- Fresh seafood (lobster/crab etc) dinner $30 – $50
- Car Hire for 3 days to drive from Miami to Key West – $189
- Fuel for the round trip drive – $18.60 (AMAZING!!!!!!)
Free Things To Do in Key West
Like everywhere though, it IS possible to find free things to do in Key West. Some of my favourites include:
- Shark feeding at the Ibis Bay Resort. Yup, I got to feed a nurse shark! I’d imagine anyone could rock up and do this as it’s kinda attached to ‘The Stoned Crab’ restaurant. Shark feeding is at 1pm and 5pm.
- Southernmost Point of Continental USA marker
- Mile Marker 0
- Seeing the birth place of Pan Am
- The Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square
- ‘Greetings From Key West’ retro mural on the wall of ‘Cuban Coffee Queen’ on Margaret Street
- Seeing the Key West chickens…my goodness I’d be poor if I had to give away $1 for every time I said ‘why did the chicken cross the road…to get to the other side!!!’…I thought I was hilarious. The Key West chickens are now protected and happily roam the streets. The Cuban’s released them ‘into the wild’ after chicken fighting was banned, but now they are a bit of a Key West icon!
I would definitely recommend visiting Key West in December for a winter sun break!
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