AAA Travel Tips / Take a Key West Vacation on a Budget

Take a Key West Vacation on a Budget

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By AAA Travel Editor Sherry Mims
December 16, 2021
Key West is a bucket-list trip, but that doesn’t mean you have to pay bucket-list prices. Plan your getaway in advance, taking into consideration parking, tips and hotel resort fees, which are common at local hotels. If you arrive during the low season, around September to early December, you’ll save even more.
Luckily, this world-class destination offers an abundance of year-round attractions, which are either free or very affordable. Check out a few of the following tried-and-true ways to save money on your trip to Key West, especially if you’re planning a family vacation.
Florida Keys News Bureau/Bob Krist

Consider Transportation

Before you drive, think about where your vehicle will end up, as free parking in Key West is limited. (In downtown, you’ll find some metered street parking.) Whenever possible, plan to walk, ride-share or rent a bike (about $18 a day). Another option, the Conch Train, costs more but takes visitors to various attractions in a hop-on, hop-off fashion. You’ll see fun places to go but avoid the hassles of parking.
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Plan a Beach Day

Enjoying the sun and surf is among the top things to do in Key West, so consider a few local beaches for cheap family fun. Near Duval Street, you’ll encounter parking for Higgs Beach, a sandy, pet-friendly location with bathroom and shower facilities, a boardwalk and even a playground. It’s also a great place to snorkel and features a number of sights to see, including the African Cemetery at Higgs Beach and the Key West AIDS Memorial (near White Street Pier). Get there before dawn to avoid the crowd and partake of one of Key West’s famous sunrises.
Smathers Beach receives raves for convenience as well as gentle waves, making it another family-friendly option. Want to rent a chair or umbrella? Vendors congregate nearby, which makes renting beach gear and planning activities a breeze. Look for metered street parking on nearby South Roosevelt Avenue.
South Beach, not to be confused with that famous beach in Miami, is also great for families. This beach – located on the southern end of Duval Street — is on the smaller side, so you won’t find bathrooms or as many amenities as the other beaches. However, chair rentals are affordable, about $5. It’s also close to the Southernmost Point, the must-have selfie for any Key West vacation. Your best bet is to walk here if you can; otherwise try your luck with metered street parking.
iStockphoto.com/Brycia James

Snap Pictures at the West Martello Tower

Surround yourself with beauty at West Martello Tower—an especially photographic paradise at 1100 Atlantic Blvd. Amid the remains of the unfinished Civil War fort are flowering tropical plants and visiting butterflies. Though open to the public, donations are appreciated. The historical site is maintained by the Key West Garden Club, whose members provide gardening and other educational programs. Note: There’s parking, but visitors are encouraged to walk since it’s close to nearby attractions.
Florida Keys News Bureau/Bob Krist

Revel in the Key West Sunset Celebration

Locals and vacationers alike celebrate the sun’s descent into the horizon by gathering at Mallory Square (400 Wall St.). Said to have been inspired by the applause that late playwright Tennessee Williams once gave at sundown, the event draws revelers daily. Though it’s a free thing to do, you’ll want to bring some spending money as there are food carts, vendors, street performers and other live entertainment on-site. If you drive, expect to pay for a spot in the city-owned lot or to search for street parking.
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Save with These Affordable Activities

In addition to the Southernmost Point, the Key West Sunset Celebration and San Martello Tower, there are a few other places to keep on your radar. The Key West Eco Discovery Center, at 35 E. Quay Rd., presents a variety of exhibits and videos about the region’s ecosystem as well as a 2,500-gallon coral reef tank. (Note: The center is temporarily closed.) For a history lesson with a view, head southeast by foot or bike to Fort Zachary Taylor State Park, 601 Howard England Way. This Civil War site, which charges a small entrance fee, features demonstrations and armaments like cannons as well as outdoor activities like fishing, swimming and snorkeling.
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Tour Key West

Tours are a great way to see a destination, but you don’t have to pay a lot in Key West if you create your own. Duval Street is always a popular choice to wander, with bars, shops, galleries and restaurants competing for your attention. (The people-watching is free, at least.) Then there’s centrally located Key West Cemetery; this is where you’ll find the well-known headstone of B.P. “Pearl” Roberts, which reads, “I Told You I Was Sick.” If you’re not hunting for spirits of a different nature, take a detour to First Legal Rum Distillery (105 Simonton St.), a former saloon that offers tastings, mojito classes and complimentary tours. (Kids and pets are allowed with an adult.)
To cover various points of interest in an organized manner, visit the Key West Chamber of Commerce, 510 Greene St., where you’ll receive information about the Pelican Path, a route through historic Key West with points of interest designated by pelican signs.
Courtesy of BEST WESTERN Hibiscus Motel

Stay at a Local Hotel

Hotels aren’t cheap, but some AAA Preferred Partners, including Best Western, Hilton, Hyatt and Marriott provide special member savings and discounts in Key West. Book in advance when you can for the best prices. Also consider venturing out of Old Town. The tradeoff is that you’re not in the middle of the action; however, you may get even more bang for your buck. Around New Town, one AAA inspector recommends The Laureate, an all-suite property — said to feature nautical Key West décor and some of the largest guest rooms in the area.
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Start your Next Vacation With AAA

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