Key Largo vs Key West: Which to Choose and Why (2022)

Key Largo vs. Key West blog post cover image.  Text overlaying two images showing a comparison of Key Largo and Key West.

Two slices of tropical paradise await warm-weather chasers in Southern Florida seeking a well-deserved vacation… but which should you choose?!

In this guide comparing Key Largo vs Key West, we explain what makes each section of the Florida Keys special, as well as all considerations to think about when choosing which is right for your vacation.

These include things like budget, beaches, top attractions, restaurants, walkability, and general vibes.

Of course, you don’t have to choose just one! Key West and Key Largo are only a 2-hour drive apart and there is much to see and do in between. Queue some of these other guides before continuing if you are going to have the time and interest in seeing more:

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Key Largo vs. Key West Breakdown

Distance & Getting There

Aerial view of Overview Highway 1 in Florida Keys showing Pigeon Key and old seven mile bridge running alongside the new road surrounded by ocean.
Highway 1 between Key Largo and Key West is one of the most scenic routes in the US.

Most visitors to the Florida Keys will begin their journey in Miami. With this in mind, it’s worth taking into consideration the distance to Key Largo vs. Key West from Miami.

The distance from Miami to Key Largo is around 65 miles and takes approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes.

The Miami to Key West drive is much longer at around 160 miles and takes about 4 hours without stops and traffic.

While the drive to Key West is substantially longer, it is worth keeping in mind that the route is a spectacular drive with plenty of things to do along the way. Journeying along the Overseas Highway will have you crossing over 42 bridges with breathtaking ocean views.

Finally, there is also an airport in Key West so flying directly there is an option. This is typically more expensive but avoids long drive times.

Quick Takeaway
πŸš™ Key Largo is best for day trips and short visits from Miami.
✈️ Key West is best for longer road trips and vacations.

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Getting Around in Key West vs Key Largo

The Conch Train in Key West with passengers in front of the Southernmost Point, Florida Keys
The Conch Train is a fun way of getting around Key West and seeing all the top sights.

If you prefer to explore new places on foot or by bike, or are not wanting to deal with driving, Key West is the far better option than Key Largo!

All of Key West can easily be explored by bike, and the downtown is very walkable.

Additionally, you’ll find trolley services such as the Conch Train that will deliver you to all the main attractions. However, parking is much more difficult and expensive in downtown.

Conversely, Key Largo is not quite as pedestrian or bike friendly. It is the largest island of the Florida Keys and is more spread out. Therefore, you will likely need a rental car to ensure you can easily get around.

Quick Takeaway
πŸš— Key Largo is best explored with a vehicle.
πŸšΆπŸ½β€β™€οΈKey West is best for those that enjoy exploring on foot or bike.


Comparing Activities & Things to Do: Key Largo vs Key West

A scuba diver swimming over the tropical coral reef off of Key Largo
Diving in Key Largo aka. the “Dive Capital of the World”.

Quick Takeaway
🐠 Key Largo is best for relaxation and underwater adventures.
🏫 Key West is best for tourist attractions and history.

You will find plenty of things to do, no matter which island you choose.

Both islands offer world-class snorkeling and scuba diving, although Key Largo is known as the “Dive Capital of the World”. Home to the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Key Largo provides access to a truly remarkable underwater world.

However, Key West has a lot more to offer by land. Key West is the tourist hub of the Keys and as such has a wealth of activities to choose from, as well as a bustling nightlife.

Here you’ll find historical buildings and museums such as The Hemingway Home and Museum, as well as other popular attractions including the Southernmost Point, Mallory Square, and Duval Street.

Additionally, one of our favorite things to do in the Florida Keys can be found on Key West; The Butterfly and Nature Conservancy.


Comparing Vibes & Atmosphere: Key Largo vs Key West

A couple sat on a dock looking out towards the sun setting over the ocean in Key Largo, Florida Keys
Enjoy sunsets and serenity in Key Largo.

Quick Takeaway
🏝 Key Largo has a laidback, small-town feel.
πŸŽ‰ Key West is a bustling city with a vibrant nightlife.

Perhaps one of the biggest factors in deciding between Key West vs. Key Largo is the atmosphere and overall feel of being there.

Despite being the smaller of the two islands, Key West is the most populated city in the Keys with around 4,700 people per square mile. Additionally, Key West sees around double the number of tourists each year over Key Largo.

Key Largo is a larger, less developed island with only 1,000 people per square mile.

Due to this, Key West has more of a city and party vibe. This is perfect if you’re looking for an island with a pulse where you can socialize and enjoy the tropical city feel.

Conversely, Key Largo has a much more laidback pace and feels more like a small community. If you’re looking for somewhere to enjoy the water and take it easy, Key Largo is going to be the island for you.

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Comparing Accommodation: Key Largo vs Key West

An aerial view of a young woman floating in the swimming pool at Kona Kai Resort in Key Largo, Florida Keys
Relaxing at Kona Kai Resort in Key Largo.

Quick Takeaway
🏑 Key Largo typically provides more quiet, intimate accommodation.
🏩 Key West offers all types of accommodation.

Deciding where to stay is one of the most important decisions to make when planning a vacation and you’ll find great options in both Key West and Key Largo.

Key West offers accommodations ranging from high-end luxury hotels to hostels, and everything in between. Whether you’re looking for a romantic getaway, a party-filled weekend with friends, or a family vacation, you’ll find something here.

While you will find a few larger, luxury resorts on Key Largo, even these have a more intimate feel.

Key Largo’s accommodations are more ideal for a romantic getaway or a quiet escape. Many of the properties here also offer private beaches with access to watersports.

Key West Accommodation Recommendation

A young woman at the swimming pool at Parrot Key in Key West, Florida
Enjoying one of the four pools at Parrot Key in Key West.

If you decide to stay in Key West, then we highly recommend Parrot Key. Our β€œroom” was more like a house, and the views were just unbelievable.

Among the endless list of features and amenities you can expect, the most notable is their shuttle services to downtown Key West and Smathers Beach (the best beach in the region). This means you can just walk to the front desk and not have to worry about parking and driving in the busy streets of downtown.

Parrot Key also has FOUR pools for their guests, one with a full bar and a small restaurant.

Key Largo Accommodation Recommendation

A young woman in a white dress with a glass of wine sat by the window, looking out at the tropical ocean views from one of the suites at Kona Kai Resort, Key Largo.
Enjoying the views from our room at Kona Kai Resort.

Kona Kai Resort is an experience unto itself. This incredible resort provides an all-in-one staycation destination that may well have you scrapping your plans to spend more time at home base.

The harbor at Kona Kai provides a calm water break, perfect for exploring by paddle board or kayak… both of which the hotel provides for free!

The westerly views over the water provide an incredible scene for enjoying sunset and visitors can expect to see dolphins and potentially manatees right from the beach.

Our stay at Kona Kai was one of the most memorable of our extended travel lives. We cannot recommend this place highly enough!


Comparing Restaurants & Bars: Key Largo vs Key West

Comparing Key Largo vs Key West, consider the dining opportunities such as a sunset water table at Sol by the Sea restaurant in Key Largo.
Indulge in a sunset water table at Sol by the Sea in Key Largo.

Quick Takeaway
🍽 Key Largo has some great restaurants but few bars.
🍹 Key West has a buzzing social scene full of restaurants and bars.

Restaurants

The Florida Keys is an absolute delight for foodies.

You’ll discover some incredible options no matter which island you choose, with most restaurants offering local seafood and Caribbean and Cuban-inspired cuisine.

We pretty much ate our way through the Keys, trying all the Key Lime Pie we could!

However, for the sheer quantity of options available then Key West is the easy winner here. As it is more developed, it has significantly more to choose from, ranging from low-key pub grub to 5-star indulgence.

Bars

As for nightlife, the bars in Key West are world-renowned and you’ll find over 400 of them in the city! Many of these also come with interesting histories and you can pull up a stool at the same bar as famous patrons such as Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams.

The highest density of bars can be found along the iconic Duval Street. For those that like a challenge, you can participate in the Duval Street Pub Crawl. To successfully complete it you will need to visit 43 bars!

Finding a bar on Key Largo is a little more challenging, here you’ll find more dive shops than dive bars. Most of the bars in Key Largo are attached to restaurants or hotels. However, don’t let that put you off! You’ll still find some great waterfront spots to enjoy a cocktail (or two!).

Key West Restaurant Recommendations

Sunset at Latitudes is a must-do dining experience on any Florida Keys itinerary and a restaurant worth considering when comparing Key Largo vs Key West.
Enjoy fine dining at Latitudes at Sunset Key.

Our favorite Key West restaurants:

  • Latitudes at Sunset Key: Elegant service and mouth-watering food on a small, private island
  • Matt’s Kitchen Stock Island: Low-key restaurant with the best key lime margaritas and exceptional food.
  • First Flight Brewery: Casual pub with hand-crafted beer and exceptional comfort food in a garden-like setting.

Our favorite Key West bars:

  • Captain Tony’s Saloon: The oldest bar in Key West, ideal for history buffs.
  • Sunset Pier: Live music with the best views for sunset.
  • The Rum Bar: The name says it all, if you like rum this one’s for you!
  • Green Parrot: A more local, chilled vibe.

Key Largo Recommendations

A close up image of syrup being poured onto Key Lime pancakes at Key Largo Conch House.
Key Lime pancakes at Key Largo Conch House.

Our favorite Key Largo restaurants:

  • Mrs. Mac’s: A popular lunch spot and local favorite
  • Calusa: Delicious local cuisine with spectacular ocean views.
  • Sol by the Sea: Eat with your feet in the ocean with their romantic water table dining.
  • Key Largo Conch House: One of the oldest houses in the keys serving large portions of local fare.

Our favorite Key Largo bars:

  • Caribbean Club: The oldest bar in the Upper Keys with live music and a waterfront setting.
  • Gilbert’s Tiki Bar: Excellent waterfront cocktails.
  • Alabama Jacks: A local favorite dive bar with great views and live music.

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Comparing Beaches: Key Largo vs Key West

White sand and palm trees at Smathers Beach, Key West, Florida

Quick Takeaway
πŸ’¦ Key Largo beaches provide access to great offshore snorkeling.
πŸ– Key West beaches provide more facilities and beachside bars.

You may be surprised to know that the Florida Keys is not actually known for its beaches!

In fact, it is a common misconception that the area is full of stretches of white sand beaches. Rather, its main draws are the aquatic activities, history, and climate.

With that said, there are a few beaches in Key West and Key Largo that offer some vacation time with your toes in the sand. While not as large as Daytona and Miami Beach to the north, instead they are much quieter and more peaceful.

Best Beaches in Key West

A young woman on a palm tree lined boardwalk entry to Smathers Beach in Key West, Florida
Entrance to Smathers Beach in Key West.

Our favorite beach is Smathers Beach in Key West. Stretching almost a mile in length, it is the largest public beach in Key West and has everything you need for a beach day.

If you’re looking for more than just tanning, you can play volleyball on the beach or take to the water and enjoy many different activities such as jet skiing and kayaking. There are also several food trucks nearby to grab lunch or a snack.

Other great beaches in Key West include Higgs Beach and Fort Zachary State Park.

Best Beaches in Key Largo

Far Beach at John Pennekamp State Park in Key Largo.
Far Beach at John Pennekamp State Park in Key Largo.

On Key Largo, two of the best beaches can be found within John Pennekamp State Park: Far Beach and Cannon Beach. While more famed for its access to a spectacular underwater world, it also provides for those that

Both of these beaches provide ample parking and facilities and, when we visited, Cannon Beach even had a bucket of kids’ toys for the little ones to enjoy while there.

Harry Harris is another popular beach in Key Largo with its protected shore making it ideal for visits with kids.


Comparing Natural Beauty: Key Largo vs Key West

A silhouetted woman in a dress standing below a palm tree enjoying the sunset over the ocean in the Florida Keys

Quick Takeaway
🌴 Key Largo is more scenic with greater biodiversity.
πŸ™ Key West is beautiful but far more developed, leaving less natural beauty.

If you’re looking for a tropical paradise, you’ll find it in either Key West or Key Largo. Both provide scatterings of white sand beaches, glittering turquoise waters, and tall swaying palms.

However, being a larger island with less development and more biodiversity, Key Largo just pulls ahead. The island is home to mangroves, coral reefs, seagrasses, pinelands, and hardwood hammocks.

Not only is it beautiful from land, but the underwater world here is even more impressive. Due to the marine protection and fishing ban around Key Largo, you will discover more vibrant coral reefs and greater diversity in aquatic life here.

While still beautiful, Key West is a smaller island with much more development. Therefore, much of the natural beauty has been replaced with hotels, restaurants, and bars.


Comparing Crowds: Key Largo vs Key West

Duval Street in downtown Key West, Florida

Quick Takeaway
🧍🏽 Key Largo is larger and less developed so is quieter.
πŸ‘©β€πŸ‘©β€πŸ‘¦β€πŸ‘¦ Key West is a smaller island with much more development and, therefore, more crowds.

Being a smaller island with a greater population density, you can expect larger crowds in Key West than Key Largo.

Additionally, Key West sees twice as many tourists as Key Largo. Although this may sound like a bad thing, this is also what adds to the city’s pulse.

If you prefer to stay away from the crowds, you may prefer Key Largo. With less development spread out over a larger island, you’ll be able to find your own quiet slice of paradise here.


Comparing History and Culture

The living room of the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West.
Explore the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West.

Quick Takeaway
🎨 Key Largo has a strong art community and underwater historical sites.
🏚 Key West has a rich history, present throughout the city, and a number of museums and galleries.

For the history buffs among you, you’ll find the Florida Keys to be a real treat. In particular, Key West is steeped in history with many houses dating back to the early 1800s.

In Key West, you’ll find a multitude of museums covering all the different facets of the island’s history, as well as a number of art galleries. Even if you don’t venture into any of the museums, you’ll be surrounded by history just walking around the city with plaques on many of the buildings denoting their past.

You won’t find as many historical sites on land in Key Largo. However, underwater you’ll find many shipwrecks that tell the story of Key Largo’s past. Of these, some of the most popular to dive are the Norwegian SS Benwood shipwreck from 1942 and the British Hannah M. Bell wreck from 1911.

While there may be fewer historical sites in Key Largo vs. Key West, there is a thriving artist community here. There are a number of small art galleries, including a beautiful one at Kona Kai Resort.


Comparing Scuba Diving & Snorkeling: Key West vs Key Largo

Underwater photo of a fish in the colorful coral garden of Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
A gray angelfish seen diving in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary off of Key Largo.

Quick Takeaway
🀿 Key Largo is the diving capital of the world and its protected waters allow for an abundance of marine life.
🌊 Key West offers great diving and snorkeling but its waters are less protected, meaning slightly less biodiversity.

The Florida Keys is home to the continental US’s only tropical reef and the world’s third-longest barrier reef, much of which is protected by the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Therefore, it’s no surprise that it is a mecca for snorkelers and divers alike.

In fact, Key Largo is known as the dive capital of the world and is truly and underwater playground. Whether a new or experienced diver, diving off Key Largo offers something for everyone with reefs ranging from 15 to 50 feet deep. For technical divers, there are ample deeper dives and wreck dives too.

On top of this, Key Largo is home to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, the first underwater park in the US. Famous underwater attractions here include the Christ the Redeemer statue and a Spanish shipwreck.

The diving and snorkeling around Key West are still exceptional. However, it has slightly less diversity than Key Largo due to lesser protection from fishing.

The only downside to snorkeling or diving in the Florida Keys is that there is very little to see from the shore. Rather, you will need to book a boat tour to reach the best spots.


Comparing Fishing in Key Largo vs Key West

A large barracuda seen underwater off of Key Largo in the Florida Keys

Quick Takeaway
🚀 Key Largo’s waters are more protected making fishing more difficult.
🎣 Key West has incredible fishing year-round with multiple competitions and events.

If a fishing charter is a must on your Florida Keys itinerary, then Key West will likely be the better option for you.

Due to much of the water around Key Largo being a protected marine sanctuary, fishing is restricted in many places. With that said, there are still many companies that provide fishing charters in Key West and are able to take you to the best spots where fishing is permitted to reel a trophy fish.

However, the best fishing can be found in Key West. The island hosts numerous fishing competitions and tournaments year-round in a variety of locations with big prizes up for grabs for the serious fishers.


Packing for Key West or Key Largo

A snorkeler with a GoPro explores the incredible coral reef of the Florida Keys on a 5 day itinerary.

There are a few essentials that you will want to consider taking with you to the Florida Keys.

For a complete guide on what to pack, including a printable list, check out our ULTIMATE FLORIDA PACKING GUIDE.


Essentials

  • Reef-safe sunscreen: Traditional sunscreen is full of chemicals that are hugely damaging to coral reefs. Furthermore, it is hard to find reef-safe sunscreen in stores in Florida, despite being so close to marine sanctuaries. We use Stream 2 Sea sunscreen as it’s non-harmful and most of their bottles are made from sugarcane resin rather than plastic.
  • Insect repellent: As is often the case with tropical paradises, the Florida Keys has a fair few biting insects, namely mosquitoes and sandflies (or no-see-ums as they’re known locally). Packing some insect repellent is essential, particularly if, like me, you’re a bug magnet. Avon So Soft is a firm favorite with locals and is DEET-free.
  • Beach travel towel: Hotels will provide towels for use within their grounds but you will want to take a towel with you for the beach. We recommend bringing a travel towel specifically as they are small, dry quickly, and do not collect sand!
  • Snorkel gear: Unless you’re only planning on taking snorkel tours, it is cheaper and easier to bring your own snorkel and mask and fins than renting them each day. You can also buy these items as a snorkel set which works out cheaper still.

Photography Gear for Photographing the Florida Keys

A girl taking a photo on a boat at sunset.
  • Camera: The Florida Keys are truly spectacular and you’ll want to capture those moments to cherish. We use the Sony a7riii love it. However, beginners may wish to consider an entry level DSLR.
  • Waterproof camera: With incredible snorkeling and watersports to enjoy you may find yourself taking more photos from the water than on the land! We recommend either the GoPro or Olympus TG6, both of which we use.
  • Microfiber cleaning cloths: You will want to bring plenty of dry microfiber cloths to clean your lens between shots.
  • Filters: We strongly recommend learning how to use a Circular Polarizing (CPL) filter. These are incredible for enhancing natural colors by cutting glare the same way that polarized sunglasses do. The best CPL we have found is the Quartzline from Polar Pro.
  • Camera Rain Cover: You may want to consider a rain cover for your camera to protect it from both rain and saltwater spray. Both can damage your camera, but salt water is especially harmful

Key West vs. Key Largo FAQs

Use the drop-down boxes below to find the answers to the most frequently asked questions about Key West vs. Key Largo.

Is Key West nicer than Key Largo?

Both islands are beautiful, but Key Largo has more natural beauty whereas Key West has more tourist attractions and historical sites.

Key West is a small island city with a bustling nightlife and plenty of activity. Key Largo is a larger, less developed island with a more relaxed and laid-back vibe.

Which beaches are better Key West or Key Largo?

The Florida Keys are not known for their beaches. However, both Key Largo and Key West have a few small, white-sand beaches that are typically much quieter than those on mainland Florida.

The beaches in Key West have more access to beachside bars and restaurants, whereas those in Key Largo provide a gateway to a spectacular underwater world full of vibrant coral reefs and fascinating shipwrecks.

A photo of a clear boardwalk leading to the palm trees and blue water of Smathers Beach in Key West
What is the prettiest Key in Florida?

While Key West is the most popular island in the Florida Keys and has a distinct charm, Key Largo is easily the prettiest of the Keys. The larger island is less developed and therefore has much more natural beauty remaining, along with a tranquil atmosphere that allows you to feel like you’ve found your own personal slice of paradise.

Aerial view of Overview Highway 1 in Florida Keys showing Pigeon Key and old seven mile bridge running alongside the new road surrounded by ocean.
How far apart are Key West and Key Largo?

The drive from Key Largo to Key West is approximately 100 miles and roughly 2 hours without stops. However, it is an incredibly scenic drive so you’ll want to plan plenty of time to drive slowly and for stops to take in the scenery.

Which is the best Florida Key to visit?

The best Florida Keys island to visit will depend much on the type of vacation you wish to have. For the explorers that want to see it all, we highly recommend a Key West to Key Largo road trip. Those that want to relax on a laid-back island should choose Key Largo. Those who want access to the most amenities, activities, and party vibes should head to Key West.

More Florida Travel Guides

Drone photography from above Pigeon Key near Marathon on a Florida Keys Road Trip
Discover more about Florida in our travel guides.

We hope you’ve found this Florida packing list helpful. If so, you may also enjoy some of our other Florida guides as you plan your vacation.

Final Thoughts on Key West vs. Key Largo

We truly hope you have found this comparison of Key West vs. Key Largo useful for deciding which island to choose. If you still can’t decide, we highly recommend taking a Key West to Key Largo road trip and seeing both!

Now we’d love to hear from you!

If there are any questions we have not answered, revisions we need to make, or other suggestions for improvement, please let us know in the comments below.

Likewise, if you have found it useful and want to leave some kind words, those are always appreciated.

Now grab some reef-safe sunscreen and go prepare for the trip of a lifetime!

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