Friday, August 9, 2013

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. But, 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.

But, let's start with some really great news...

The weather in Key West is awesome, and for most 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 remarkable
  • The rain will behave itself and fall during the night when you are asleep (really, it's common for Key West rain to fall at night, rather than many other places 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 some gratuitous picture of fine weather in Key West.

When to get this fabulous weather?... read on.....

The peak season: January to April
It's fantastic weather.  Little rain, average temperatures in the 80s and Key West is packed.  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, but the real problem is the humidity: it's dripping humid. Hotel and guesthouse prices 40% lower.  Key West is quiet, a small number of restaurants close for a month or two (they take their vacations during these months because it's really pretty quiet in Key West.  Not deserted, but very quiet!).

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

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

January 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. Here, visitors like you packed in to every available space, at Blue Heaven restaurant.  Expect to book in advance and wait in line. 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 them because they are loud!

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.

LINK ON MY BLOG: My article on why you should consider Key West guest houses and B&Bs - and pictures of the 2 best in Key West

July through August - Snowbirds go back home, only the die hard locals are left (almost)! 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!

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 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: Planing a Key West vacation - your questions answered about travelling down, cars in Key West and wearing shorts

Key West weather - 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 F:
January 75
February 76
May 85
August 90
Oct 85
December 77

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!).

LINK: ALSO ON MY BLOG... Planing a Key West vacation - your questions answered about travelling down, cars in Key West and wearing shorts

Here's my special post on what I do when it rains in Key West and how nor to make it ruin your day - click here

Other interesting stuff on my Key West blog:
Key West hotels - the best hotels, my favorites, lots of picture, lots of information on where to stay.  This is my post on this blog, not an advert!  It's totally independent personal assessment.

Things to do in Key West - Conch train, harbor walk, lighthouse, Hemmingway house, bars and drag shows.  What's the best?

LINK - MY BLOG: Planing a Key West vacation - your questions answered about travelling down, cars in Key West and wearing shorts

Note from me, David: Lots and lots and lots of people visit this page - so if I have not answered your question then please leave a comment for me in the section below so I can add to this blog. In this way, you can help your follow Key West visitors, and those considering a visit.  Thank you very much for your comment.