Known to the locals at the Conch Republic, Key West is the country’s southernmost tropical paradise. Time moves slower here, and the mood tends to be more relaxed than it is in the rest of Florida. Maybe it has something to do with the endless bars (all within walking distance of one another), or the year-round warm and breezy weather. Whatever the case, if you want to visit, but don’t want to put a dent in your savings, here’s how to spend an inexpensive weekend in Key West.
Start by planning your vacation during off-season: June through December (with the exception of Fantasy Fest in October).
Then, rent a room at a place like El Patio Motel, which is located just three blocks from Duval Street and boasts a swimming pool and rooftop deck. The Art Deco-style accommodations here are comfortable and kind to your wallet, with rates starting at $114 per night. Or, try the pet-friendly Caribbean Guest House, located halfway between Mallory Square and the Southernmost Point, with rooms for just $100 per night during off-season. The best bang for your buck, though, is at the Seashell Motel, where offseason private room rates are just $100 and hostel bunks are $43.
If biking is your thing, your best bet is to rent a $10 cruiser from somewhere like We Cycle. They’ll deliver and pick up your wheels free of charge. Day-trippers can also hop aboard Key West Transit. Snag a single day-pass for $4, or a seven-day pass for $8, but party later than midnight and you’ll need to call a cab.
Cuban breakfasts are hard to beat, and you’ll find plenty of tasty, inexpensive options. Start your day at Cuban Coffee Queen or Riviera Coffee & Sandwich Shop, where a tostada (buttered Cuban toast) and cafe con leche won’t cost you more than $5.
Stop for lunch at Old Town Bakery, where a slew of sandwiches on fresh baked bread await (including vegetarian and vegan options), all under $10. Other solid lunch options include Blossoms Cajun Kitchen for gumbo and Mam’s Best Food for a kosher meal.
Fill up and drink up in the afternoons by hitting all the best happy hours in town. Alonzo’s Oyster Bar is one of the hottest spots, featuring half-off appetizers and drinks from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. 2 Cent’s is another popular afternoon joint, where their roll-the-dice happy hour can win you drinks as low as $1, with happy hour menu options from $4 to $11 and free bacon just because.
It’s easy to spend a weekend in Key West on a shoestring budget. Spend your mornings at Smathers Beach or Higgs Beach. Hit the former for a day of reading and tanning, and the latter to splash around in shallow waters with kids and pets.
Visit the Key West Wildlife Center to see pelicans, herons, and other rehabilitated sea birds up close (admission by donation). The Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center is another great option, with plenty of activities for kids, plus a 2,500-gallon reef aquarium to gaze at. And of course, no trip to Key West is complete without the obligatory selfie at the iconic Southernmost Point buoy at the corner of South and Whitehead; as well as an afternoon spent at Mallory Square, where acrobats, musicians, jugglers, artists, and more entertain the masses against breathtaking, colorful sunsets.