Key West sells itself as a laid-back haven year-round, but it seems that the true laid-back season really kicks in when majority of the tourists go home, after May. Sure, it’s the time of year that is the hottest and most humid, and that’s a fact that will last well into October, but the general mood calms considerably. Reservations or lines for bars and restaurants are no longer the expectation, popular attractions like The Ernest Hemingway House and Mel Fisher Maritime Museum aren’t choked with crowds, and the ocean settles, ideal for diving, snorkeling, and kayaking. Here’s how to fully enjoy Key West’s “quiet season.”
Activities & Attractions
See Fiery Foliage in July
While those classic vibrant shades of red and yellow are typically reserved for the northern half of the country come fall, Key West sees its own version of blazing foliage in June and July. That’s because it’s the peak blooming time for Royal Poinciana trees, which decorate much of the island and erupt in a brilliant display of red to orange flowers. One of the best ways to take in the dazzling display is from the top of Key West Lighthouse, where the surrounding area spreads out beneath you in a fiery patchwork.
Find Your Own Private Oasis
There aren’t many sandy beaches in Key West – which means when the mercury rises, the three usual options, like Smathers Beach, Fort Zachary Taylor Beach, and Higgs Beach, quickly get crowded with locals looking for relief. That’s why we suggest you skip the mainland stretches of sand altogether by booking a boat through Take Me There Charters. Owner Captain Tommy brings guests to a private sandbar where they can drop anchor for a couple hours of splashing and sunbathing on what feels like a private island. Just don’t forget the sunscreen or to pack a lunch and plenty of water.
Eat Fresh Florida Lobster
August 6th is the official start of lobster season in the Keys. While you can witness the thrill of the harvest through several local charters, the easiest way to get up close with the unique variety of crustacean – known down here as “spiny lobsters” for the spines on their body – is to head straight to one of the many seafood restaurants that wait all year to incorporate the sweet white tail meat into their menus. Try a traditional-style tail with butter sauce at Commodore Key West or go a little funkier with a famous lobster rueben special from Keys Fisheries.
Indulge in a Mango-Inspired Art Exhibit
To mark the beginning of mango season in June, when the ripe fruit hangs from seemingly every street corner, The Studios of Key West simultaneously premieres their annual “Mango Madness” exhibit. Close to a dozen local artists display their work in the main gallery, all of which depict – you guessed it – mangos in some shape or form, from still life and sculpture to the abstract and interpretive. While the exhibition is open to the public all June and July, the opening reception on June 7th is the only time you’ll have the opportunity to mingle with the featured artists over the event’s famous mango margaritas.
Dress the Part
There are many ways Floridians keep cool, such as taking a siesta during the hottest part of the day or swapping their usual cafe con leche from the iconic Cuban Coffee Queen with the iced version. It’s also about dressing smart, in light fabrics like cotton and linen in light shades. Dress like a local by stopping at AMRI’s boutique to browse their collection of Groceries Apparel, a 100-percent organic and cruelty-free clothing company that creates stylish basics out of recycled cotton. For linens, head to Fresh Produce, which carries an entire line of linen tops, bottoms, and dresses in contemporary styles.
Events & Festivals
Sixth Annual VFW Fishing Tournament, 6/11
This family-oriented angling tournament is open to anyone, no matter the skill level, with cash prizes awarded for dolphin, wahoo, snapper, and grouper, as well as heaviest fish caught by a lady angler and heaviest fish caught by a juvenile angler.
6th Annual Key Lime Festival, 6/30–7/4
This quirky festival celebrates the tiny citrus fruit and Key West’s most famous dessert, the key lime pie, with four days of pie-baking and -eating contests, cooking classes, dances, and a sip and stroll event.
Mel Fisher Days, 7/12–14
Over 30 years ago, Mel Fisher found over $400 million in shipwrecked treasure when he unearthed the Atocha, which sank in 1622 off the coast of Key West. Every year, the island celebrates that landmark find with this festival that culminates in a block party on the 14th featuring food, music, private tours of the Fisher Family Conservation Labs, and the chance to win a real Atocha coin.
Hemingway Days, 7/19–22
For a week each year, the Keys turn into a literary hotbed as Hemingway fans pour in for a weeklong celebration of Key West’s most famous resident author complete with readings, a look-a-like contest, a 5K race, and a “running of the bulls” that is too funny to be missed.
22nd Annual Key West Lobsterfest 8/9–12
The official start of lobster season in Key West is marked by this three-day party that includes a street fair, live music, craft shows, and lobster specials all over town.