Gay Key West · City Guide
Planning a trip to Key West? Our gay Key West city guide gives you all the top tips for exploring the Conch Republic.
Key West is known as the gay mecca, as it attracts over 300,000 visitors yearly from all over the world. Located on the southernmost tip of Florida, the city was home to a few LGBT icons, notably, Tennessee Williams and Liz Taylor. Here are some of the reasons why these icons loved the Conch Republic (pronounced Con-k).
People travel from all over the world to experience the thrill of partying in the relaxed atmosphere of Key West.
Duval Street is the nightlife hotspot of Key West, lined with a wide variety of pubs, bars and clubs. During the day, it is the perfect place for a relaxed stroll and browse. During the night time however, the entire area is alive and buzzing. Popular LGBT events include Key West Pride in June, September’s ‘Womenfest’, Tropical Heat and the Headdress Ball.
Venues in the area include Bourbon Street Pub which hosts clothing-optional events such as the nightly ‘Men of Bourbon’ and regular drag shows throughout the week. 801 Bourbon Bar is the sister establishment of Bourbon Street Pub and is surrounded by other gay bars, there is Karaoke three nights a week and is a great destination to go if you like to bar hop. If you’re looking for a more adult experience, Saloon 1 provides just that. It is the only gay leather club in Key West and is clothing-optional, so you can dance the night in a way you feel comfortable. These are a few examples of the varied nightlife in Key West. You can sing, dance, watch drag or cruise if you want to, making it the perfect gaystination.
Due to Key West being a popular destination for gay travelers, there are plenty of gay-owned and operated hotels dotted around the city. This is one of the only cities in the USA that has such a high concentration of gay-specific hotels.
Many are LGBT/gay-only hotels that often have a range of events and happy hours to keep you entertained. These include Alexander’s Guesthouse, a historically significant gay-only resort that is close to the nightlife of Duval Street. The Island House is a clothing-optional gay-only resort only 6-blocks away from the bustle of Duval Street, and also has a happy hour to help you relax into the evening. Alternatively, if you’re looking for an upscale option, Ocean Key Resort & Spa is one of the best choices. The gay nightlife of Duval is on your doorstep, you have access to the waterfront pool, as well as balconies to take in the gorgeous views. What’s not to like? Have a look at Gay Key West Hotels for more information.
Gay Culture in Key West
The Key West Philosophy is “One Human Family”, symbolising the areas all-inclusive attitude which makes it a welcoming destination for LGBT+ travelers. The city celebrates LBGT identities with pride all year round, with rainbow crosswalks being a permanent fixture. Key West Pride is internationally popular due to the city’s LGBT history. A 1.25 mile long rainbow flag was unfurled at the 2008 Pride, parts of this flag have been displayed at different Pride events globally ever since.
The Key West AIDS Memorial pays respects to all of those that lost their lives and is the world’s only official municipal monument of its kind, so is really worth a visit.
Key West is a pioneer when it comes to LGBT rights and visibility. In 2015 Florida had its first same-sex marriage in Key West, which became a public celebration. Richard Hayman is the United States’ first openly-gay mayor and in 2018, Teri Johnston became the city’s first lesbian mayor.
Things To Do In Key West
There are many things to do in Key West, both during the daytime and nighttime. Here is a list of some of them:
Art Galleries to visit:
- The Art Studio offers workshops and classes in painting, sculpting, throwing clay, fusing glass, jewelry making and painting & glazing ceramics.
- Florida Keys Public Art Collection
- The Connections Project: A Mosaic of the Keys, large scale mural created by hundreds of local artists.
- Tropic Cinema is a non-profit independent film multiplex that has showings of indie, foreign and alternative movies.
- Morada Ways Arts & Cultural District’s “walkabout” which occurs every 3rd Thursday of each month.
- Key West’s “Walk on White” held on White Street, it features exhibitions and receptions at galleries and shops.
- Upper Duval Street Stroll allows you to explore boutiques, galleries, wine and food on the 1st Friday of each month
Museums to Visit:
- The Hemingway Home & Museum tours, where you can meet the 6-toed cats that are descendants of Hemingway’s pets.
- The Key West Art & History Museum
- Audubon House & Tropical Gardens
- The Tennessee Williams Museum
- Key West Firehouse Museum
- Shipwreck Historeum Museum
- Flagler Station ‘Sails to Rails’ Museum
- Southernmost House
- Curry Mansion
- Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center
- Oldest House Museum & Garden
- Truman’s Little White House
- East Martello
Beaches in Key West:
- Smathers Beach
- Fort Zachary Taylor Beach (nicknamed Fort Liz Taylor Beach due to her frequent visits).
- Higgs Beach
- Rest Beach
- Dog Beach
- Simonton Beach
Beach Side Activities and Attractions:
10-minutes from Simonton Beach, you can take part in various water activities with Blu Q Gay Sailing Adventures. These include an “All Male Sail”, snorkel and paddle trips and other various water sports.
Visits to remote islands and sandbars are available where you can watch dolphins, stingrays and turtles in the crystal clear waters.
Also make sure you:
- Watch the legendary Sunset at Mallory Square
- Visit the African Cemetery at Higgs Beach where almost 300 enslaved Africans died in 1860
- Ride on a glass bottom boat
- Take a Southernmost Selfie
- Take a Seaplane to Fort Jefferson and the Dry Tortugas Islands
- Camping at the Dry Tortugas National Park
- Kayak Tours
Getting to Key West
Key West is accessible through all major transportation routes. There is the option to drive from both Miami International Airport and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, which takes approximately 3 and a half hours (between $13-$23). There is also the option to travel by Key West Express which is a high-speed passenger ferry from Fort Myers Beach and Marco Island.
- Greyhound Lines
- Keys Shuttle
- Florida Keys Express Shuttle
FAQs about Key West
Getting around Key West
Key West is generally accessible and easy to get around, providing you use the public transport listed above. Driving is doable, however you should note that parking is often difficult to find and expensive. This is where the Park ‘n’ Ride (read below) comes in very handy. Other options include renting bicycles or scooters which are perfect for if you are located further away from Duval Street, this way there’s no worry about parking.
Key West’s Park ’n’ Ride at the Old Town Garage entitles you and anyone in your vehicle to ride city routes of public transport, for $4 an hour or a $32 maximum daily fee.
Taxis are available from many parts of the island by phone call, an example fare is $18-$22 if you take a taxi from Key West Airport to Duval Street. Alternatively, Uber is also an option.
Is Key West Safe?
The crime rate in the Florida Keys is pretty low. However, caution should be used at night, particularly on Duval Street and especially near the water.
When To Visit Key West
Key West can be pricey due to its popularity, the winter season November-March are the busiest and most expensive months to visit. Visiting during the months of April-June (shoulder season), may help you cut back on spending for lodgings. You can expect to pay around $200 (mid-range) on average per night.
Why is Key West so Expensive?
The Florida Keys are the most expensive part of Florida. Part of the reason why is because of produce/supply having to be brought down from the Florida mainland. This means that there are limited quantities of everything. Adding to this, Key West is a very popular destination but in contrast, is a small place.
Smoking indoors is prohibited. However, Key West is one of the only places that is cigar friendly. You can smoke these outside on terraces or balconies in non-dining areas. It is always best to ask the establishment beforehand, otherwise, you can smoke outside.
The Key West Municipal Code prohibits open containers of alcoholic beverages in public.
Key West has a tropical climate so it gets extremely warm particularly between December-April, with temperatures reaching up to 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius) and 100% humidity. January is Key West’s coldest month. It is best to bring lots of sunscreen, light and airy clothing, comfortable shoes and sunglasses during the warmer months.
Key West International Airport receives connecting and direct flights from many Florida cities.
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