Key West

Key West

Author Anne Plau

Key West, located in Monroe County, is a popular destination for cruises to the southern United States or the Caribbean. The city, which has a population of more than 26.000, extends over five islands. The main part of the community is the island of Key West with almost 14 square kilometers. The other islands contribute a few square kilometers.

Florida Keys - Seven Mile BridgeFlorida Keys - Seven Mile Bridge


A first look at Key West 

The climate is subtropical. In the summer months from May to October, the average temperatures are over 30 degrees, and even in the winter months of January, February and December 24 degrees are measured. Key West is in the Atlantic hurricane zone. Tropical cyclones are therefore not uncommon.

The lush vegetation immediately impresses every visitor. Key West is built up with low-rise buildings, there are no high-rise buildings. Buildings built in the Victorian style dominate. Even new commercial buildings have to adjust in terms of height.

The southernmost point on Key West is considered the southernmost point of the mainland United States. The southernmost point marked "90 Miles to CUBA" is marked by an oversized buoy.

Key West - Southernmost Pointe


Key West - Southernmost Pointe


Key West - Southern Most House


Key West - Southern Most House 


Some information about Key West 

The area was settled in the 1820s. For a long time, Key West was considered one of the wealthiest cities in the United States. The exploitation of shipwrecks as an industry (details in the next paragraph), cigar production, and the sponge trade made the community's per capita income higher than any other place in Florida. The connection to the railway network in 1912 brought further prosperity. The city and its port prospered from its proximity to Cuba, 145 kilometers away.

Prosperity ended when the railroad was destroyed by a hurricane in 1935 and cigar production relocated to Tampa, Florida. The railway line was not repaired.

Florida Keys - Old Bahia Honda Bridge


Florida Keys - Old Bahia Honda Bridge


Florida Keys - Overseas Highway sign


Florida Keys - Overseas Highway sign 


Instead, US Highway 1 was built, which leads to Key West over 42 bridges. Some old railway bridges were used, some new bridges were built. The distance between Miami and Key West is approximately 240 miles.

Since then, the city has been very successful in tourism. Popular attractions include Southernmost Point, the Key West Lighthouse and the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum. Key West is also a popular destination for water sports enthusiasts as it offers a variety of fishing, diving and sailing opportunities.

Tourist Offer - Sailboat off Key West

Tourist Offer - Sailboat off Key West


Exploitation of shipwrecks as a business model 

In the heyday of seafaring, 100 sailing ships passed the waters around Key West every day. On average, one ship is damaged every week. From these ship accidents, the lucrative industry of the "wreckers" developed. The area was searched for wrecks from towers up to 27 meters high. If a stranded ship was sighted, the race to salvage began. The sailors were taken off board. The rescued goods were brought to safety and auctioned off. Depending on the level of difficulty of the rescue operation, the professional "rescuers" retained between 25 and 50 percent of the proceeds. Key West thus became one of the wealthiest cities in America. Only in 1921 did these unusual practices end. Today we learn all about that time at Key West's Shipwreck Museum.

Key West Shipwreck Museum


Key West Shipwreck Museum


Key West - The Wreckers Monument


Key West - The Wreckers Monument 


The Conch Republic 

Something bizarre happened in 1982. In protest at immigration policies, liberal Key West broke away from the US on April 23, 1982 and proclaimed the Conch Republic.

The US had previously set up a checkpoint at Key Largo on US Highway 1, the only land route to Key West, to detect illegal immigrants. Tourism was made more difficult by the intensive controls. The city sued against this measure and failed in court.

In response, Key West proclaimed the Conch Republic, broke away from the United States, declared war on the nation, and surrendered a minute later. After that, the city is asking for $1 billion to rebuild. A short time later, the checkpoint on the US highway was dissolved. Since then, Key West has celebrated Independence Day on April 23rd every year. The Conch Republic flag can still be admired throughout Key West today.

The blue flag of the Conch Republic

The blue flag of the Conch Republic


Key West for cruise passengers

Key West has three cruise ship docks. Mallory Square and Pier B are within walking distance to the centre. The Navy Mole Pier is a little further away in the Marine Restricted Area. When ships call, passengers are taken to Mallory Square by shuttle bus.

Key West is one of those destinations where you should disembark unmolested by excursion programs and let yourself be carried away by the town, its museums, shops and bars.

Key West - Mallory Square


Key West - Mallory Square


Key West - Pelican grooming


Key West - Pelican grooming 


We report on this in detail in our article Key West attractions.

Update January 2023