6 Reasons Why Key West Should Be Your Next Family Vacation Spot

Jun 6, 2019

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Think of Key West, and you probably think of it as anything but a place you’d want to take your kids. Key West, with its walkable downtown area and a plethora of bars, is a favorite spot for a bit of good old-fashioned debauchery. At the right time of year, you will find spring breakers with drinks in hand barhopping along Duval Street or day drinking under the sun at any given beach.

Key West Duval Street
Duval Street in Key West. (Photo by romrodinka / Getty Images)

But that’s not all you’ll find in Key West. The chain of islands that make up the Keys are known for its quirky people, endless sunshine and warmth. I’m here to tell you that there’s a softer, charming side to Key West that is relaxed, fun — and perfectly appropriate for families with young travelers.

Here are six reasons we love Key West and why you will too.

1. The Ocean Is Everything

The water in Key West is borderline absurd. It’s a tropical gem on the East Coast of Florida: A crystal clear, aquamarine-tinted seascape that stretches until it abruptly butts up into a darker turquoise expanse. The lowest water temperatures hover around 70 degrees in January, and by July and August, the water can reach nearly 90 degrees. For young travelers, this means hours of endless water play.

Smathers Beach is the best public beach for kids. It boasts a sandy shoreline and tame waters, as well as public bathrooms, food concessions and rentable gear for snorkeling, kayaking and other water sports.

Key West Smathers Beach Sunrise
Sunrise on the Smathers beach. (Photo by aiisha5 / Getty Images)

A local hideout, Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park, is another beach favorite. The shoreline is mostly ground coral (bring your water shoes!), but the rocky bottom attracts tropical fish, so snorkeling here is exciting. Australian Pines and a few Palm trees offer much-coveted shade for a picnic and sun protection, and when you need a break from the water, there are two nature trails that wind through the park; you can also tour the fort itself. Entrance fees are currently $4.50 per single-occupancy car and $7 for a double-occupancy car, with each additional person just 50 cents. It’s $2.50 per person for pedestrians or bicyclists.

Paradise beach at Fort Zachary Taylor Park, Key West.
Beach at Fort Zachary Taylor Park, Key West. (Photo by Simon Dannhauer / Getty Images)

2. Family-friendly Lodging at Nearly Every Corner

Although Key West is just 7.24 square miles, you’ll find a plethora of options for family-friendly lodging. As you wander the streets, you’ll notice picturesque little bed-and-breakfasts that feature inviting porches and tropical, shady yards. Sadly, these spots do not offer any redemption opportunities, but there are a number of hotel chains on Key West that do.

Some points-friendly hotels in Key West include:

DoubleTree by Hilton Grand Key Resort Front Sign
(Photo courtesy of DoubleTree by Hilton Grand Key Resort)

3. It’s Affordable

I don’t know about you, but traveling with my family means an even stricter budget than we already have. To keep overall costs low, travel during the offseason. Aim for a visit between late March and May and you’ll likely secure lower prices and a tamer crowd. Use Ultimate Rewards points, like those from Chase Freedom (No longer open to new applicants), Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve, to cover lodging and hotel costs and help offset other expenses. Check out the Chase Travel Portal to see what’s bookable in terms of hotels and activities in Key West.

Here are some of the hotels -- all with on-site swimming pools -- that can be booked through the Chase Travel Portal using cash or Ultimate Rewards points.
Here are some of the hotels — all with on-site swimming pools — that can be booked through the Chase Travel Portal using cash or Ultimate Rewards points.

4. A Caribbean-like Vacation Right Here in the US

In addition to being affordable, Key West is extremely easy to get to. There is an airport in Key West, Key West International Airport (EYW), served by airlines that include American Airlines, Delta and Silver Airways. Otherwise, fly into Miami International Airport (MIA) and drive, with airlines including American Airlines, Alaska Airlines and Virgin Airlines. Fort Lauderdale International Airport (FLL) is yet another choice, where you can fly Spirit, Southwest Airlines and JetBlue, among others.

If you land in Miami or Fort Lauderdale, you’ll make your way down the 120-mile coral cay archipelago that makes up the Florida Keys. The last one of all is Key West, putting you about 90 miles from Cuba. The drive to Key West is sensational; it’s well worth it to fly into Miami or Fort Lauderdale just for the chance to make that drive (though traffic in peak season can be a bear; plan accordingly).

Once at your destination, it might feel more like a Caribbean getaway than a trip to a US state.

5. There’s No Shortage of Things to Do

Aside from beach time and biking around town, Key West has enough family-friendly activities to keep the kiddos enthralled, including snorkeling. At every beach and state park I visited, young kids were enthusiastically popping up out of the water to extol what they were witnessing below the surface.

Key West Snorkeling Reefs
Snorkeling in the reefs around Key West. (Photo by edb3_16 / Getty Images)

For in-town fun, try any of the following pastimes:

And make time for a photo op at the Southernmost Point marker. It’s a tourist trap, but it’s fun.

Use your Chase Ultimate4 Rewards points to book these -- and other -- Key West activities. Or, pay cash and earn more UR points.
Use your Chase Ultimate4 Rewards points to book these — and other — Key West activities. Or, pay cash and earn more UR points.

6. The True Gem of Key West Is Its Atmosphere

The best part of Key West is the feeling here that everyone is free to just be themselves. Simply put, Key West is eccentric. Island life is relaxed, open, and charged with a sense of joy. The atmosphere of modern-day Key West is rooted in its history, mixing its rowdy, raucous past with its relaxed, anything-goes present. It’s a delightful mix.

Bottom Line

It’s understandable if you’re on the fence about a family vacation to a well-known party spot, but you need not worry. Key West is absolutely a wonderful place to explore with little ones in tow. If you do little more than lay on the beach, snorkel and visit nearby state parks, it’ll still be a wild success.

Featured photo by Isabelle Raphael

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