Saturday, April 19, 2014

When is the best time of year to visit Key West?

Best time to visit Key West is January to May
Most visitors say the best time to visit Key West is January to May because the weather is perfect: it's not unbearably humid yet, and it's so cold at home. In fact, from November to March Key West is the hottest place in the entire contiguous USA. As a result, it's peak season, very busy and super expensive in Key West in these months. The off season (June to December) has its charms, but big downsides too, as I explain below, including a month by month guide.

Let's start with some Key West best time of year Frequently Asked Questions….




WHEN IS THE BEST TIME OF YEAR TO VISIT KEY WEST? - FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

I'm only coming for the weather - when is the very best month to visit?
March very best, but will be very good from January through May.

If I come in March, only for the weather, what are my chances I'll be disappointed?
Very unlikely. The temperature will be just right (mid to high 70s), unlikely to rain, little humidity, lots of blue skies.

Is it like this all year round? There are no BAD months to visit, right?
Wrong. It gets super humid July to November. Makes it very sweaty and uncomfortable being in Key West. You can also get some big rain days during this time.

I want it cheap, I'm on super budget - when is the best time to visit?
July or right after Fantasy Fest (beginning of November) through to end November.

Is it good to visit Key West for a specific event or festival?
Yes and Key West has a lot of them. A list of the best ones is towards the end of this post.

How tropical is Key West? Is it like the Caribbean?
Tropical means blue skies, palm trees, heat, strong sun, laid back "island life"vibe, sea, beaches, and peace and tranquility. Key West does all of these pretty well except the last two. Key West only has two beaches, only one of them is any good, and it's small. You can find peace and tranquility on Key West definitely, but just round the corner it can be mad, crazy, busy (as you'd expect from a party island, famous around the world, and which is visited by 1m tourists every year).

How long should I visit Key West for, and what is the best way to travel?
Go to my Key West vacation planning post for answers to these questions.

How quiet is Key West in the off season?
In the off season (July through to Fantasy Fest in late October) Key West is 50% to 60% less busy than peak. It's quiet and sleepy. Bars can get really empty and quiet. It's not good time for party, but good for relaxing. And it's cheap(er).

How mad and crazy is Key West? I've heard it's pretty wild.
Well, it's a small island and no way near as brash, rich, showy and decadent than somewhere like Las Vegas. No one is going to call Key West trendy or minimalist, like New York. But it's nicely compact, fun, yes definitely busy in peak time and eccentric and with lots of character.

KEY WEST WEATHER
Let's start with the weather which is one of the main reasons people visit Key West. I have some really great news for you...

The weather in Key West is awesome, and for most (BUT NOT ALL - keep reading!of the year:
  • There is a high chance your visit will see blue skies 
  • Some days you'll have not a hint of cloud, or a faint wind with a few clouds
  • Your sunsets will be remarkably beautiful
  • The rain will behave itself and fall during the night when you are asleep (honestly, it's common for Key West rain to fall at night, rather than many other places (like Miami, for example) when it falls in the late afternoon when the humidity has built up. This is, of course, not a 100% guarantee!).
  • You will be able to follow the visitors' Key West "shorts law": only ever wear shorts in Key West.  For your entire stay, day and night.  You won't need long pants (these are for local Conchs in the winter time so they can moan how freezing it is, even though it's fine).
Here a great Key West sunset after a lovely day…. 


So when should you visit to get the best weather? Read on.....

The peak season: January to April
It's fantastic weather.  Little rain, average temperatures in the 80s and Key West is busy, busy, busy.  Hotel and guesthouse occupancy rates near 100%. It really is very busy and lively. Bars are packed, you need reservations in many restaurants. Hotels and guesthouses charge their highest rates.

The shoulder season: May, June; and November and December
Starting to get hot and humid. Some cheaper hotel rates can be found. Still quite busy.

The off peak season: July, August, September, October
Hot (which means early 90s temperature), but the real problem is the humidity: it's drippingly humid. Hotel and guesthouse prices 40% lower than peak season highs. Key West is quiet, a small number of restaurants even close down totally for a month or two (they take their vacations during these months). So it's not deserted, but blissfully quiet!

August and September are peak rain months and so you could get some rainy days, but if you're lucky the rain will fall in the night.

LINK ON THIS BLOG:  My top 4 hotels in Key West

So what does all that mean for when to visit?  Month by month guide

New Year's - Key West is very busy for new year, hotels and guest houses will charge extra premium to stay for New year's eve.  The week after is a little quieter and nice time to visit.

Rest of January, Feb and March - Lovely, perfect weather. Very little rain. KW is the hottest place in America during these months. If you don't mind the high cost of hotels, and like it busy, busy, busy then this is the time for you. Bars will be full, Duval Street will be extra crazy, better restaurants will need reservations. Room rates are likely to be 40%  more expensive than off peak time.
The downside to January through April in Key West is the crowds. In the picture above visitors are packed in to every available space at Blue Heaven restaurant.  Breakfast wait at Blue Heaven in peak season will be an hour. In the foreground one way to deal with it: take a cold cocktail (or two) and chill!
March - watch for Spring Break, yes, even in Key West. If you don't like Spring Break, go in April. I'm going to try and avoid March from now on because of Spring Break. It's not a crazy Spring Break destination, no where near as bad as Miami for example, but I'd still rather avoid the Breakers because they are loud!

Here's a post I did on the most beautiful March afternoon  - spot the cloud!

April through June - Great weather and KW is busy, but just a little less mad busy than Jan to March. You'll find some bargain room rates in April and by the time we get to May (the official end to the high season) even in the best places and hotels, room rates will be reduced. Expect room rates in May to be 40% lower than in February.

Key West hotel recommendations - click here
July through August - Snowbirds go back north to home, only the die hard locals are left and a smaller number of tourists. It won't be that you will be the only tourists in town but visitor numbers are 50% less than January. Humidity takes hold. It's hot and very very sweaty. It's quiet around town but most places are open. If you don't mind the humidity then it's good time to visit. After all, you're in shorts all the time and have a swimming pool at your disposal!

August and September are peak rain months and so you could get some rainy days, but if you're lucky the rain will fall in the night. Here's what to do in Key West when it rains.
Key West is a tropical destination and so when it rains, it rains!  The wettest months are August and September.  But rain is not the only thing to watch for.... read below about the humidity....
September -  Really humid. Rains most days in the morning for a short while. Then it stops raining but it becomes even more humid!  But many restaurants, some art galleries and some B&Bs close.  Key West business people and staff have to vacation sometime and this is when they choose to quit the island, shutting up their restaurants for weeks on end.

I visited in September 2011 and wrote a post on Key West's closed restaurants. The flip side to this is that lots of good restaurants DO stay open, and in those you can always get a table without booking, the locals have more time to chat to you, and several restaurants do special offer menus, at 30% off prices outside of off season. BIG bargains can be had on room rates - ring / email and negotiate!
A storm in Key West means a day of wind and rain.  This in October.
October - Key West Fantasy Fest towards the end of the month is, of course, a way to get tourists into town when it's STILL hot, humid and rains a fair amount! But, take the risk, it's worth coming to Fantasy Fest for the parades and parties.  Fantasy Fest is BRILLIANT!  During this week, it's the busiest Key West will ever be.  Fantasy Fest is a rude, crude, loud party and you can't miss it. Note that as soon as Fantasy Fest is over (literally the next week) KW becomes quiet again for a few weeks and the prices go down too.

November - humidity dropping.  OK time to visit. Can be not as warm as you'd like, especially at night.

December - Humidity gone, party time is back. Getting busy again. Weather good, can be cool(ish) at night.

My favorite month to visit Key West
I like it quieter.  Key West is much easier that way!  So May to September, or immediately after Fantasy Fest. But that's me and I've visited Key West a lot and I love the challenge of the humidity!!

I recommend first time visitors to stick to peak season (January to April).

LINK ON MY BLOG: Planning a Key West vacation - your questions answered 

Key West climate - average temperature
As I said above, the absolute temperatures are never a problem in Key West, it's never been over 100 degrees here.  The problem is the humidity in summer. This makes it feel over 100 degrees and very uncomfortable. That's why so few visitors come here July to November.


Here are some average daily highs in degrees F:
January 75
February 76
May 85
August 90
October 85
December 77

Rain - averages
Here's when Key West's 39 inches of rain fall - the % are how much of the year's total falls in that month (data: Weather Channel):  

 Jan 2.22    6% 
 Feb 1.51   4% 
 Mar 1.86   5% 
 Apr 2.06   5% 
 May 3.48  9%  - rainy season is from May to October
 Jun 4.57    12% 
 Jul 3.27     8%
 Aug 5.4    14% 
 Sep 5.45    14%
 Oct 4.34    11%
 Nov 2.64    7% 
 Dec 2.14    5% 
 TOTAL 38.94 100% 

Should I be worried about Hurricane season in Key West?
Basically, no.

Here's why: Hurricane season is 1 June to end of November. Key West is never complacent about hurricanes, as it and the Keys has a long history with hurricanes. But it's unlikely your vacation will be disrupted.  KW last took a direct hit in 1998 by Hurricane Georges (September 24, the eye passed very close to Key West, the island was evacuated of tourists, 7000 locals remained). Often the KW is impacted by "smaller" tropical storms, or the fringes of storms - for example, Tropical Storm Isaac in August 2012. These "smaller" storms do happen in the summer months, especially August to October, and if you're unlucky enough to be here then you're vacation WILL be impacted: you'll loose a few days to dreadful weather.

The bottom line is: if you want the absolute guarantee of great weather, don't come July to November! Only come during these times if you are here for Fantasy Fest, or you enjoy Key West a little quieter, with less tourists clogging up the island!

Here are some stats from the Weather Channel:
  • The highest recorded temperature was 100°F in 1886.
  • On average, the coolest month is January.
  • The lowest recorded temperature was 41°F in 1981.
  • The maximum average rain occurs in September.
In Key West, it VERY rarely goes about 95 and has never been freezing (yet!).


EVENTS AND FESTIVALS IN KEY WEST

With 1 million visitors a year, Key West hosts many interesting and diverse events every year and some a very well worth you planning your vacation around. Here are the ones I can vouch for.

Fantasy Fest - 17 to 26 October 2014
This is very well worth coming specially to Key West for, as long as you don't like it super busy. There are 10 days of events, but I recommend the last two: the Masquerade March (Friday 24 October 2014) and the main parade (Saturday 25). For my full recommendations, hints and advice about visiting for Fantasy Fest - see here.

New Year's Eve
Count in the new year on Duval Street with Sushi and the "drag queen drop" televised live on network TV across the US. Strange but true, this has been happening for the last 16 years.

23rd Meeting of the Minds (MOTM) - October 29 to November 2 2014
The Parrot Heads in Paradise annual meeting here in Key West. They have many events which are private in a big Key West hotel but on Friday October 31 there is a public concert with a stage set up on corner of Fleming and Duval Streets. Great fun (fin? - JB fans will get this pun).

30th annual Key West Craft Show - 2015 date yet to be confirmed, likely late January
2 blocks closed, 100 stalls, 25,000 people, lots of fun tropical and local art. Excellent.

34th Annual Key West Super Boat World Championship - 2 to 9 November 2014
Recently they made a decision to commit to continuing this race here in Key West, so make the most of it! Even if you are not a speed boat fan seeing al the boats parade down Duval Street is amazing - they are powerful beasts - happens first Sunday of the event at 4pm.

Gay events 2014






Other stuff on my blog:



Key West hotels - the best hotels, my favorites, lots of picture, lots of information on where to stay. It's my totally independent and personal assessment.






Things to do in Key West - Conch train, Harbor walk, Lighthouse, Hemingway House, What's the best?

LINK - MY BLOG: Planing a Key West vacation - frequently asked questions such as how to get to Key West, dress code, how bad is the traffic, Key West for kids


Feel free to add a comment or question. David Key West