Do you need a car in Key West to access and enjoy the beaches, the downtown bars and restaurants, and the rest of the Florida Keys?
We asked several experienced travelers to the Keys as well as long-time residents to find out the best approach for having a car on the island.
We considered both vacationers who may want to rent a car as well as potential residents who are thinking of bringing their car or buying one here.
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Do You Need a Car in Key West? Advice for Travelers
We will start with the Key West vacation planners. This advice will vary based primarily on how long you plan to stay in Key West and whether or not you would like to explore the other islands along the Florida Keys.
Generally, those who are planning to stay directly in Key West for the full duration of their vacation will likely not need to rent a car. The island of Key West is just 4 miles long, so most sites are accessible by walking, biking, or taxi. Key West is incredibly pedestrian and bike friendly, especially around the Key West Historic District Old Town area.
It earned a walk score of 63 out of 100 and a bike score of 86 out of 100 from Walkscore.com. Bicycles are actually very common around the city and are used as a major form of transportation for tourists and locals alike. There are plenty of places that rent bikes by the hour and by the day, so you should have no problem getting one once you are there.
There is even a functioning public transportation system around Key West. There are 5 bus routes that circle the island as well as the Lower Keys Shuttle that can even get you as far as Marathon in the Florida Keys. It is quite reliable, too, running about every 20-30 minutes during peak hours. Check out this website for more information on car-free living in Key West.
Additionally, it is quite cheap and easy to take a taxi or Uber from the airport to wherever you would like on the island. Key West International Airport is located on the easternmost part of the island and getting to Old Town on the westernmost area costs less than $10 by taxi or Uber. In fact, there are fixed rates for taxis, with the rates for 2023 ranging from $7.00 to $9.00 per person based on which zone you would like to reach.
Meanwhile, cruise ships dock on the west side of Key West, giving passengers direct access to Old Town. You could walk or bike the length of the famous Duval Street right from your cruise ship and enjoy its numerous cafes, bars, and restaurants without worrying about a car.
However, you may still want to rent a car if you are planning to stay for a longer period of time or if you would like to explore the rest of the Florida Keys.
Having access to a rental car would give you a chance to uncover hidden gems off the beaten path and would help you find quieter neighborhoods with less crowded beaches and restaurants. It also gives you the opportunity to hop along all of the other islands of the Florida Keys and really diversify the sights and sounds of your vacation.
The Florida Keys are a chain of islands that stretch over 100 miles with over 40 bridges connecting the whole area. There are a countless number of cool sights across these majestic islands and each region of the Keys has something unique to offer. Having a car would also allow you to drive across the legendary U.S. Route 1 all the way to Miami.
But, renting a car in Key West (and the rest of the Florida Keys) will also come with some extra costs that you may not be aware of. Parking is quite limited around the Keys, especially in Key West. Some hotels and restaurants may offer their customers complimentary parking, but don’t be surprised if you cannot find any free street parking in downtown Key West.
You can expect to pay about $4.00 an hour or $30-$40 for overnight parking each day. Additionally, gas prices are usually higher in Key West than the rest of the US. In 2023, it has routinely been over $3.00 a gallon, which is about 10 to 20 cents more per gallon than the national average.
There is also the extra concern of the traffic around Key West in the form of cars, but also with bikes, scooters, and pedestrians. You will need to be aware of all of these hazards while driving around downtown.
If you are certain that a rental car is right for you in Key West, then you can easily pick one up directly in the city. All the big names like Enterprise, Avis, and Hertz offer their services at the airport.
Don’t forget about car sharing platforms like Turo, where you can rent someone’s personal car for a day. The last we checked, there were a handful of Mustang and Camaro convertibles available for about $100 a day. There were even some Teslas available if you would like to try something new.
Do You Need a Car in Key West? Advice for Potential Residents
Our research and advice will not differ much for people thinking about moving to Key West for a longer period of time. Key West remains a very pedestrian and bike friendly city, so having a car is not necessary for day-to-day life. But, a car would come in handy if you are often looking for adventures and want to stretch your experiences outside of the core downtown area.
The same concerns remain about the limited parking and higher gas costs, but if you are able to afford living in Key West, then these issues may not be a true dealbreaker. But, not all houses and condos come with a parking space included, so be sure to check that out before committing to bringing a car to the island.
Also, if you are looking to buy a car once you get to Key West, be aware that there are only a handful of brands that have a dealership on the island. While there is the Keys Auto Center that represents Ford, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, and Toyota, you will need to go to Miami to find all of the major luxury brands.
If you are looking to move to the Florida Keys, then check out our latest research on the cheapest places to live in the Keys. Or, if you would like to expand your search to the whole state of Florida, then don’t miss our latest publication on the top cities in the state.