If you’ve checked hotel rates in Key West lately, you may have had heart palpitations like I did. My husband and I were trying to decide where to spend our 5th wedding anniversary modestly, but after an extensive google search, Key West didn’t seem likely. Over the last few years, Key West has exploded in popularity. To add to that, Floridians are flocking to local travel destinations more than ever since the pandemic hit. So when hostels are getting upwards of $400 per night in high season (yes, you read that correctly – hostels), you’d be hard pressed to find anything less than that on the island. Imagine how thrilled we were when we figured out a way to have an unforgettable weekend getaway in Key West for under $500 including accommodations and activities!
Why is it so expensive to stay in Key West?
According to Booking.com, the average cost per night for a 3-star hotel in Key West is $411/night and $610/night for 4-stars. You might be used to paying $400+ per night. However, you’re not necessarily going to get the kind of amenities that rate might offer you in other destinations. Key West is only about 8 square miles, so understandably lodging options are limited. The Keys also consistently rank in multiple spots of the top 10 most expensive places to live in Florida. With peak season only lasting a few months, businesses have no choice but to price accordingly. This is usually the case with small islands, especially as supplies can be limited. Lastly, and most obviously, Key West is a highly coveted tropical destination that packs a fun punch in a rather small area.
Is Key West is worth visiting?
Hopefully the reality of expenses didn’t deter your travel plans. The truth is, Key West is an incredible place to visit and it’s entirely possible to have an amazing trip that doesn’t break the bank. It’s beautiful, tropical and one-of-a-kind. Heck, Bob Dylan even wrote a song about it! It’s not only enchanting, but contains a good deal of history, too. Whether you plan to visit for a birthday, bachelorette or a relaxing weekend getaway, there’s something for everyone. In fact, visitors can enjoy an array of activities from water sports to nightlife, art, dining, historic sites, and nature.
Key West sunrises are a special experience.
Every Key West travel guide will tell you where to catch the best sunset, but not many mention how incredible the sunrises are.
The calming sound of waves lightly lapping against the shore, the symphony of birds and crickets, the chickens clucking, and a gentle breeze that tickles the sea oat grass.
It’s something of a spiritual experience that I highly recommend. Set your alarm and drink one less rum punch the night before to enjoy a magical morning with mother nature.
After sunrise we spent our mornings leisurely riding bikes to breakfast, followed by afternoons near the beach. The island is small so getting around is rather quick and easy. The evenings were a perfect time to peruse the shops until we found a place to have dinner. Indeed, one of our favorite aspects of dining out in Key West was the laid-back atmosphere. More often than not, you’ll find live bands playing trop-rock music in each establishment – a fun perk to dining out or bar-hopping if you ask me! To add to that, Key West is both family-friendly and fiesta-friendly, so even if you’ve got kids in tow theres no shortage of fun to be had.
If you’re within driving distance, the road trip alone is an exciting part of the adventure. From Miami, Key West is only 160 miles, much of which you’ll find yourself surrounded by sparkling blue ocean. Of course there are some interesting pit-stops along the way to dine by the sea, stop for souvenirs or rest beachside. On the other hand, do note that there are also long stretches with nowhere to stop. If you don’t plan on stopping, the wise move is to drive down with a full tank of gas and have a few snacks on hand to make the trip seamless. Additionally, it’s important to plan your arrival and departure times with rush hour in mind. There is one lane each way in many parts of the route and it can get congested during peak hours/days.
You will cross 42 bridges when driving from Miami to Key West, with one being 7 miles long!
Seven Mile Bridge is the longest segmental bridge in the world!
* Remember to bookmark this post to save you time and money!
How to spend under $500 on a weekend getaway
Okay, so here are the juicy details you’ve been waiting for! After hours of (disappointing) research on the internet, we had a moment of ingenuity. What if we didn’t actually stay in a hotel?? I follow a couple of road trip accounts online that highlight cute camper vans and have always dreamed of doing a trip in one myself. Shout out to @vanlifecamper & @vanlifevirals for the inspiration!
It didn’t take long to find the perfect rental company for our Key West weekend getaway. Ondevan had one van remaining for the weekend and The Runa fit all the parameters we required: price, mileage package, great reviews, amenities, cleanliness, and pick up location. The total cost for three days/two nights was only $377 total! This included the van, basic insurance, tax, cleaning fee, a 200 mile package, as well as some other comfort and convenience amenities. Gas cost us about $60 total to get from their Hallandale Beach pick up location to Key West and back. Once we arrived in Key West we only got around on bicycles or by walking so the van was parked for the duration of our stay there. I couldn’t believe it was actually possible to stay in Key West for the weekend *with a beach front view* for under $500!
What comes with The Runa:
- Fully stocked kitchenette
- Coleman burner Gas Stove
- 26Q Ozark Trail Cooler
- Coffee maker
- Propane gas bottle
- Cookware (Pots, Pans, Plates, Bowls, Utensils, etc)
- Sleeping accessories
- Full Kit: Duvets + 02 set of pillows + 02 towels + cover (sleeps 2)
- Comfy dream bed
- Privacy curtains
- 06 custom made roof cabinets
- LED reading lamps
- Power Inverter (12V DC to 110V AC Rechargeable LED lantern
- USB adapter + USB cables
- Emegency kit
- 50′ outdoor extension cord
- 2 camping chairs + picnic table
- 12V fan + Front sunshade
- Camper features
- MAXXAIR ceiling fan: 10 Speed, Intake & Exhaust + control remote
- A dream comfy bed
- Water Pump System + sink + 7 gal. water tank
- 04 drawers’ kitchen cabinet
- AIMS Power 600 Watt Pure Sine Inverter Charger + Deep cycle battery AMPs
- LED Dimmer Switch Brightness DC 12-24V + 04 Ceiling LED lights
- External hook-up plug 13 Amp 125V AC Port
- cigarette lighter sockets 12V
- 02 110V output sockets + 03 12V Dual USB 2A/1A
- 02 Swivel chairs (Driver & passenger)
- On the road
- Online Ondevan road trip map
- Free extra drivers
- Radio / AUX / Bluetooth / CD player + back up camera
- Extra storage room + cabinets
When nature calls
You may have noticed the list doesn’t include a bathroom. Depending on the kind of experience you’re looking for, this might be the only thing that could be seen as an obstacle. Luckily the folks at Ondevan have you covered with a free secret map for booked customers that lists public restrooms, showers and parking sites (or $9.99 for non-customers). To be honest, we had no need for the map as we easily found everything we needed. Our parking spot was conveniently located near a public restroom so it was never an issue for us. Plus, when you’re spending less than $500 for an entire weekend in Key West, the extra effort didn’t bother us at all.
Good to know:
- Van pick up locations: Miami, Ft.Lauderdale & Orlando
- Vans can roam freely throughout the U.S. and Canada
- Items like car seats, hammocks, GPS and more can be rented for an additional cost
- The interior is over 6′ tall (no crouching necessary for most of us!)
- The rental fee includes an electronic toll pass
- Pick up and drop off times are flexible
Trip Price Breakdown (not including food)
- Camper van: $377
- Gas: $60
- 2 bicycles (Fri-Sun): $24
- Entry for two at Zachary Taylor State Park: $5
- Ondevan secret road trip map: free!
- TOTAL : $466
Free things to do in Key West:
- Mallory Square: Head to Mallory Square at least an hour before sunset for live entertainment ranging from fire breathers and tight rope walking dogs, to local artisans and musicians. Need a snack? Street vendors sell yummy popcorn, churros and fresh coconuts to munch on. Afterwards head to dinner at a nearby restaurant. Duval Street is only about a block away and has plenty of options!
- Florida Keys Eco Discovery Center: The center features over 6,000 square feet of interactive exhibits, including a mock-up of the world’s only underwater ocean laboratory, Aquarius. The Living Reef exhibit houses a 2,500 gallon aquatic tank with living coral and fish. *Family Fun bonus: Discovery Saturday is held on the 3rd Saturday of each month. K-5th grade children may participate in a free learning workshop from 10-11am.
- The Oldest House & Museum: The oldest house in South Florida is located right on Duval Street! It’s open to the public every day from 10am to 4pm except on Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s. You’ll find original family portraits and furnishings, along with periodic pieces, clothing and documents. Step into the backyard to to relax and soak up the sun!
- The Southernmost Pointe Buoy is a very busy tourist landmark, but a Key West weekend wouldn’t be complete without the photo op, right? In peak season, there’s a long line of people waiting to snap a picture at all hours of the day. Beat the crowd (and the heat) by visiting first thing in the morning. Alternatively, you could take a photo in front of a miniature replica of it at the Southernmost Point Bar less than 500ft away.
- Parking can be difficult to find in non-residential areas, plus you’ll get a more intimate experience with the island traveling by bicycle like the locals do. We got a great deal at The Bike Shop on Truman Ave. ($12/per day).
- As the sun goes down Mallory Square becomes crowded with tourists vying for a spot along the dock. To enjoy a peaceful, unobstructed sunset like a local, head to Zachary Taylor State Park. Entry for bikes is $2.50 per person ($4/car) and it gives you all-day access to enjoy the beach, trails, BBQ pits and historic fort.
- The best insider tip I can recommend is to rent a camper van! Clearly we found this to be an extremely useful travel hack. However, if you know of another way to spend an entire weekend getaway in Key West for under $500, leave a comment and let me know! 😉
Interesting facts about Key West
- Despite the Southernmost Point Buoy being considered the the most southern point of the United States of America, the actual southernmost point is about 100 ft. away but unaccessible to the public.
- People born in Key West are referred to as “conchs” (pronounced like ‘konks’).
- In 1982 the citizens of Key West advocated for it’s secession in response to the U.S. Border Patrol setting up road blocks and inspection areas for anyone wishing to cross the overseas highway. This was a terrible nuisance for tourists and was eventually dismantled.
- Key West is closer to Cuba than Miami! Key West to Cuba is approximately 90 miles. To Miami it’s about 150 miles.
- Key West was once the richest city in the U.S. per capita. Locals would resell or auction off valuable cargo found from ships wrecked off-shore.
- Key West is only 8 square miles! (Approx. 4 miles long by 2 miles wide)
- Key West is a misnomer. Early Spanish settlers named is Cayo Hueso (translated as Bone Island), referring to the remains of the Calusa Indians who used to inhabit the island. English speakers misinterpreted Cayo Hueso as Key West and the name stuck ever since.
- Although there’s no shortage of key lime pie, Key West no longer grows its own key limes. They’re imported from India, the West Indies and Mexico.
- Author Judy Blume is one of Key West’s 25,000 full-time residents.
- The 3rd largest barrier reef in the world is in Key West.
I hope this guide helps you create an amazing itinerary and saves you both time and money! Did you use this guide to plan a weekend getaway in Key West for under $500? I’d love to hear from you – drop a comment and tell me how your experience was!
Pin for later!
Traveling through Florida? Why not visit the iconic Bonnet House Museum & Garden!