Frugal Living, Travel

Your Budget-Friendly Way to See Key West

Even though you’re raising a family, that doesn’t mean you need to give up your love of travel. It just means you might need to be a little more thoughtful in planning your destination and itineraries. Key West is a great place to visit when you need to get away but your bank account is reminding you that it can’t be too far! This southernmost island in the Florida Keys is an easy trip by plane or car; in fact, it’s just a 3-hour drive from Miami along some of the most scenic views you could ever hope to see.

Keep it Simple 

Spend your first day in Key West taking it all in. All along Duval Street are shops, boutiques, restaurants, and cafes, along with art galleries and small museums. Window shopping is fun, but it’s also a great place to find unique holiday gifts for family and mementos for your children’s travels. And if you flew to Key West and are concerned about the added charges from increasing the weight of your luggage, most shops can ship your packages home for convenience. At the end of Duval Street is Mallory Square, where the nightly Sunset Celebration is free and open to all. The area fills up with live music, performers, and food and drink vendors as everyone says good-bye to another sunny day in Key West. For travelers with young kids, it’s a great way for the children to feel like they’ve had an exciting and late night out, while you can still get everyone to bed at a reasonable hour. If you choose to book one of the local babysitting services, you’ll still have time to extend your evening for a bit. Drop by the Little Room Jazz Club, where performances don’t start until 9 pm and you can linger over drinks and small plates. 

Great Local Dining on a Shoestring

Make it a priority to visit Eaton Street Seafood Market and Restaurant in Old Town Key West. They serve freshly caught seafood dishes for takeout and delivery, or enjoy your meal at one of their shaded outdoor tables. The lobster roll, conch chowder, conch fritters, and crab cake sandwiches are some of the most popular meals that have guests coming back every time they’re in Key West. 

Get a table at Camille’s Restaurant for a diner experience that’s family (and budget!) friendly. They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily in a warm and friendly atmosphere where guest service is a priority. The omelets are a top-rated dish, along with family favorites like sandwiches, chicken, and pasta. Other popular restaurants include the Conch Republic Seafood Company for seaside views and DJ’s Clam Shack on Duval Street, which is known for its fish tacos and their friendly staff.

Kid-Friendly Fun

Take some time to play on one of Key West’s beaches. They’re relatively small, so plan to get there early in the day; they’re also nice because they’re so small — they feel cozy instead of expansive and overwhelming like some miles-long beaches sometimes are. Smathers in particular is a favorite. The shoreline is sandy and there are lots of palm trees for natural shade, plus the public restrooms are open all day.

Stop by the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory for an up-close look at these delicate creatures as you walk through their world. An expansive screened garden has paths to explore as butterflies and exotic birds flit and fly freely. Sheriff’s Animal Farm is also popular with kids and families. Although the hours are extremely limited — just two Sundays a month — admission is free, so if your vacation coincides with one of these Sundays, it’s worth it. The animals cared for here have been rescued from abandonment, cruelty, and mistreatment or surrendered. Among the hundreds of animals to visit, you’ll find horses, pigs, and sheep as well as alligators, tortoises, snakes, turtles, emus, lemurs, and many birds. The Key West Aquarium, conveniently located at Mallory Square, has a touch tank for kids who want to learn more about sea life up close. Exhibits include fish, turtles, sharks, and sea birds. 

The Conch Tour Train is also a fun family experience. Open train cars have canopies for shade, and the driver makes several stops around Old Town Key West over 75 minutes. Your ticket to ride includes admission at the Sails to Rails Museum, located near the third stop, and guests can conveniently hop off and hop back on a later train. 

And if your children are a little older, a family fishing trip can be a great way to bond and experience something new together. Chartered fishing boats go out for half- and full-day excursions, and you can book a trip for reef, wreck, or deepwater fishing year-round.

With a trip to Key West, you can share your love of travel with your family without breaking your budget. From restaurants to activities and landmark attractions, Key West welcomes even the youngest vacationers. It’s never too early to show your kids the magic of traveling, and Key West is a great place to start.

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