How to Plan a Trip to Key West with Kids

March 8, 2024

How to Plan a Trip to Key West with Kids

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Considering a domestic warm-weather adventure and wondering how to plan a trip to Key West with kids? You’re in the right place. 

Here at Mango Tree Travel, we’re all about tropical getaways. Every winter, we take as many journeys as we can to the islands. Sometimes, though, we forget about the islands close to home! Key West is a unique family-friendly destination – and planning a trip to the Florida Keys can scratch that Caribbean itch. 

We asked Sabrina Morrice, a trusted member of our Mango Tree team and avid family traveler, to tell us all about her recent experience planning her family spring break in Key West.  Fresh off her family trip to the Florida Keys, Sabrina shares what she learned, what her kids loved, and how she planned the ultimate family trip to Key West from start to finish.

Mom showing how to plan your trip to Key West with Kids
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How To Start Planning A Trip To Key West 

As a Midwestern family of five, we are no strangers to the struggle. Gray skies. Snow. Bone-chilling winds. And the allure of a land of sand, sun, and sea when we’re in the middle of another winter season. 

When the midwestern winter hits, we desperately need a tropical vacation to look forward to.  But then we’re faced with something even more daunting: the logistics of flight bookings, packing, contingency plans, the great unknown, and a lot of tasks leading up to that respite of a vacation we so desperately need. 

I have been traveling with my kids since they were 18 months old, and we’ve been all over the USA and to Europe, too. 

I will say that without question, the biggest question I get asked is HOW do I plan all those trips? When do I start, how do I do it–everyone wants the roadmap. So here it is.

When I begin travel planning, I focus on what type of travel I am looking for. Key West and the Florida Keys as a whole, are a great choice for family travel because it’s approachable, laid-back, and easily accessible. 

How to get to Key West

How to get to Key West

When I first start the trip planning process, I think about what type of trip I want to take, and then start looking at flights. Where can I go that will satisfy our travel goals? 

Key West, and the Florida Keys more generally, is a great choice for family travel because it’s approachable, laid-back, and easily accessible. There are a few different ways to get there, and I love having options, as it can help tremendously with the budget to be flexible. 

The most direct route to Key West is to fly to Key West International Airport. First, check to see if you happen to have direct flights – you may be surprised that direct flights to Key West are available from many US cities. 

The most popular way to get to the Florida Keys, though, is through Miami International Airport or even Fort Lauderdale depending on where you’re flying from and your preferred carrier for getting to South Florida. For some, renting a car and turning the gorgeous drive down the Florida Keys into a mini-road trip is a big part of the adventure. 

For our family, direct flights are king, even if sometimes they can sometimes cost a bit more. The price is justified for us with less hassle and a lower chance of luggage being lost in the wind. When we planned our family trip to Key West, flights to Miami were direct and way cheaper than flights to Key West International, so I booked those flights. 

Best Time To Visit Key West With Kids

When To Travel To Key West

If cost is a concern when planning a trip to Key West with kids, I try to be flexible on dates.  

I always think outside the box when looking for flights and be as flexible as possible for low prices.  Instead of traveling Saturday to Saturday during the most popular spring break week in March, look at flights right before peak seasons or shoulder seasons. 

If the prices are meaningfully different, consider letting your kids miss school INSTEAD of booking during spring break when the prices skyrocket. 

If I know one thing for sure, the education our kids get while traveling far surpasses anything they will learn at home at their desks.

For this reason alone, I never hesitate to pull them out to travel. I get that not everyone shares these sentiments, and that’s okay! Just be prepared to spend significantly more money if you book a family trip to the Florida Keys during peak March break weeks. 

If you need to stick to a holiday, May is one of the best times to visit Key West, so consider taking a few days off on either side of Memorial Day. 

How far is Key West from Miami

How far is Key West from Miami?

Miami is 164 miles by car and the drive takes around three and a half hours. Travel time can vary, though, depending on traffic on the two-lane road through the Keys, so be sure to have the right mindset for the drive from Miami to Key West: It’s part of the experience. 

Next up in your travel planning, find accommodations! 

Insider Tip: The rental car service desks in the Miami Airport are FAR from the gates. Hoof it across the airport and take a light rail to the desks. Mentally prepare and save snacks for this tough transition moment.
Where to Stay in the Florida Keys with Kids

Where to Stay in the Florida Keys with Kids 

Once we find good flight options, then I move into finding a spot to call our home away from home during our trip. This part has been a huge undertaking in the past, but lucky for all of us, we now have Mango Tree Travel as our guide and this has made this process as close to painless as it can be!

When planning our trip to Key West, the 3.5-hour drive from Miami to Key West, while I knew it would be beautiful, also felt a bit daunting with kids. So I took some time to understand an overview of the Florida Keys to come up with a solution for the drive that I felt would work for our family. 

For us, the solution was to stay in Marathon – the biggest island in the Middle Keys, and I’m so glad we did. 

Key largo 7 mile Bridge

We took our time driving from the airport to Key Largo and on a whim and reviews from Google, stopped at The Buzzard’s Roost for lunch and a break from the travel grind. Some conch fritters and a daiquiri later, we were on the way for our last leg to Marathon – only about an hour from our lunch pit stop. Totally manageable drive with kids. 

If you choose to stay in Marathon with kids, the road trip through the lower keys to Key West proper was only a little over an hour, which was the perfect amount of time for a day trip. It didn’t eat up the whole day, and the kids could handle it. The drive between Marathon and Key West is beautiful, with the trip over the famed Seven Mile Bridge and the sprinkling of islands between the two cities. 

Best Family Hotel in the Florida Keys

How To Pick The Best Family Hotel in the Florida Keys

Choosing accommodations has become a huge part of the trip planning process since having kids.

When you travel with kids, space is paramount. And little details you never thought about before can suddenly make all the difference.

Considerations when picking a Key West Family Hotel

Will there be rooms with DOORS for the baby so we aren’t hanging out in the bathroom on the floor reading magazines at 9 PM? 

Is there a kitchen or something to make food for my picky eater? 

Will I have a hotel with amazing staff that actually makes my life easier?

These are just a few of the pieces of intel that every single hotel listing on Mango Tree has and it makes all the difference. Add in a search function and intuitive filters and you’ll be able to find your dream hotel in no time.

And if searching the right fit still feels like not your idea of a good time, you can lean on us to find the gem you’re looking for. Just answer a few questions to get started.

 
Best Hotel in Key West with Kids

Our Favorite Hotel For Families near Marathon Key 

If you choose to stay in the middle keys with kids and take day trips up and down, the best home base is Isla Bella Beach Resort.

Isla Bella has multiple-bedroom suites for families, a private beach, pools, and activities to keep the kiddos entertained.  

When you book Isla Bella Beach Resort through Mango Tree, you’ll receive $100 resort credit, full breakfast for two, and a VIP spot on the upgrade list.

Our Favorite Key West Hotels For Families

If you decide to make the full trek to stay in Key West proper, you’ll need to avoid the adult-focused party hotels and find a family-friendly place to call home.  Here are a few hotels Mango Tree Travel recommends for Key West with kids: 

Once our flight and accommodations are booked, I always feel a HUGE sense of relief. The hardest parts are over! Now I can plan the fun parts like what to do and where to get a coffee in the morning before the crew gets up with the locals. 

My next stop in the planning process is to focus on my favorite part of exploring a new place: the food! 

What to Eat in Key West

What to Eat in Key West 

When we travel, with kids or without, we sometimes orient our days around the places to eat. 

Where to drink coffee in the Florida Keys 

For adults, the Florida Keys are a perfect dream for Cuban Coffee. Strong, sweet, and addictive, I went to the same shop in Marathon (La Ninã Restaurant!) for three mornings in a row, elbow to elbow with the locals. Stop at the Cuban Coffee Queen in Key West, with multiple locations in town. We liked the waterfront one best, and the kids loved the views. 

 

Insider tip: If you visit La Ninã Restaurant, back into the parking spots or park across the street. Backing out onto Highway 1 with a rental car is NOT a good time.

Where to eat conch in the Florida Keys 

We love seafood and were not disappointed with our seafood options in the Keys! We loved 

trying conch in all the ways-lightly fried, in fritters, and other variations. The best ones we had were at The Buzzard’s Roost in Key Largo. 

In Key West, introduce your kids to conch fritters at the Conch Shack

Where to Eat in Key West West with Kids

Where to eat Key Lime Pie in the Florida Keys 

What’s a visit to the Florida Keys without Key Lime Pie? Although we’ve never been super fans of it, everyone loves a good challenge, and we set out to try as many kinds as possible to find the best! 

Don’t miss the Key Lime Pie in Key West at Pepe’s Cafe, a staple in Key West since 1909! 

In Marathon, I still dream about the Key Lime Pie from Burdine’s Waterfront, coupled with their observation deck–perfect for catching the sunset (just use the bug spray at the hostess desk!). My husband swears the fried version was better, but I am doubling down on the airy chiffon-like texture winning the competition.  

Best breakfast in Key West with Kids 

I am still thinking about our breakfast at The Breakfast Club, Too when we landed in Key West. It was possibly the best breakfast I have ever had, and as a breakfast person, that’s saying something. They had a great kids menu, and the kids couldn’t stop raving about too! They are famous for their large and eclectic Bloody Mary menu. A must-visit!

Other Kid-Friendly Restaurants in Marathon Key 

My last two tips in foodie land are to stop by Irie Island Eats in Marathon for the incredibly fresh, interesting, and eclectic food that had me immediately saying “wow” out loud upon first bite. 

And last but not least, a big cheers to the best painkiller (the drink, not the pill, but what a name, right?) at a roadside tiki bar next to a taco truck on the overseas highway.  AKA: The world’s best combo we didn’t even know we needed

The Takeaway? When a roadside eatery catches your eye on the drive through the Florida Keys, definitely stop.
Top Kid-friendly Activities in Key West

What to do in The Florida Keys with Kids 

Once the food is squared away, I move into the last leg of my planning: things to do in Key West! 

This is a monster list, so buckle up! We went for a week, and we still felt like we scratched the surface of all the things we wanted to do while in the Florida Keys with kids.

We’re the outdoorsy/cultural-y kind of family more than beach bums. Our family loves the pool and beach but also loves to find outdoor activities and museums, so I blended a bit of it all when planning our trip to Key West.  

Insider Trip: When thinking about how to plan a trip with kids, try not to fight against your kids’ natural rhythm. Instead, let naps and meals provide the structure to your day.

We find that there’s so much to see and do that can quickly tire our kids out to the point of no return. As we all know, burnt-out kids are not fun, so we plan one activity per day that involve some effort, and one more lowkey activity. 

Often, in the afternoons on vacations with kids, our activity was just to hit the heated saltwater pool or find a tiki bar and restaurant on the water.

We have three kids under 9, so our game plan is to pick one thing before nap and one thing after nap. During the midday break, the older kids hang out and read or catch up on that dreaded homework packet so they aren’t flooded and overwhelmed when we return.
How To Plan A Trip To Key West With Kids

Best Activities in the Middle Keys with Kids 

We spent a big chunk of our trip exploring the middle Keys near Marathon, which we all loved. There’s just so much to do.  Here are some of our favorites: 

Sombrero Reef

This is one of the best beaches in Marathon, and it has a beautiful view of the sunset. For beachcombers like us you can find a ton of coral and unique shells. In 2024 the beach was not very wide, but with all beaches, that may change from year to year. 

They have a great playground shaded with a windsail that our kids loved, bathroom facilities, and ample spots to hose off the sand. The walk from the paid street parking to the beach was short, which helped. We’ve all lugged beach gear a country mile to our spot — not great with the little ones in tow. 

Florida Keys Aquarium Encounter

Aquarium Encounters is open-air and right on the water. You can feed the stingrays and other animals and also attend live feeding sessions where the super knowledgeable and helpful staff and marine biologists talk about the animals and ask questions. We saw a Goliath Grouper that was over 400 pounds, and it was bananas. A must-visit while in the Keys! 

The Aquarium was one of our top things to do in Key West that the kids AND parents couldn’t stop raving about. It was such a cool spot, unlike most other aquariums we’ve been to.
Key West with Kids

Bahia Honda State Park

Bahia Honda is a magical place. There are no words for how stunning it is at this state park. Near the end of the Seven Mile Bridge, you’ll find Bahia Honda. There’s a campground, concession stand and store, lovely bathrooms, and the best off-shore snorkeling in the Florida Keys with incredible coral reef. There are three beaches at Bahia, and they all have a different vibe. One faces the Bahia Honda Bridge and the Gulf of Mexico with the Seven Mile Bride in the background. This cove is small and has lovely views-great with kids. The Old Seven Miles Bridge is open for walking–a perfect spot to capture an incredible sunset. 

Our favorite beach faced the Atlantic, with Sombrero Reef far away near the horizon. This beach has the best off-shore snorkeling and a ton of tide pools for exploring with young children. White sand, shallow crystal-clear water with a slow slope towards deeper water, excellent beachcombing and the view made this the adult’s favorite spot we visited in all of the Keys. 

The Turtle Hospital

Tied for Bahia Honda for the favorite activity of the trip was The Turtle Hospital! We went on a 1.5-hour tour of the hospital that covered the facility’s history, the operating room, and the current residents. We even fed some of the permanent residents, which our kids were delighted by. 

By a stroke of good fortune, they had a turtle release scheduled for the next day in Higgs Beach in Key West! These typically happen every 4-6 weeks. If you’re lucky and visit when they have one scheduled, the turtle release party is a must-do! It was a core experience for our family. More on that in a bit. 

Traveling to Key West with Kids

Tips For Driving from Marathon Key to Key West 

We also ventured down from Marathon to Key West proper. As mentioned above, the drive was only about an hour, making this an easy day trip. 

Parking in Key West is notoriously difficult. The streets are narrow, and parking is expensive. There are a few free parking lots, but they fill up quickly. We picked a spot by the downtown district and paid a pretty penny for it, but it was worth it to be close to the places we visited. 

With older kids, you could consider parking a little further and renting bikes to get around. But with one under 3, that felt like too much work for this particular trip.

Insider Trip: The road from Marathon to Key West can get super congested. We left early in the morning with our early rising crew. Leaning into the natural rhythm of traveling with kids made the drive easy.
Turtle Release in Key West with Kids

Top Kid-friendly Activities in Key West

Walking or Biking

We walked a ton in Key West, including Duval Street, old town, and Mallory Square. We were much more intrigued by the Hemmingway House and other historic buildings around the city. Key West is not super wide, but with kids walking from one side to the other it can feel like a lot. Bikes and scooters are plentiful and ideal ways to get around versus a car–at least in the historic downtown districts. It’s a tight squeeze!

Check out a Bookstore

We trekked across the island to Higgs Beach but stopped at the Key West Island Bookstore along the way. On every trip we take, we find coffee shops and bookstores. It’s kind of our thing. This one is women-owned, eclectic, and has a nice mix of new and used books, along with a bookstore cat! 

Experience a Turtle Release!

At noon, the Turtle Hospital released two sea turtles at Clarence S. Higgs Memorial Beach. There were hundreds of people of all ages waiting, and when the truck finally arrived, we made a tunnel to the sea for the crew to release them into. It was windy, raining and one of the coolest core memories we’ve made as a family.  I highly recommend working this into your itinerary when planning a trip to Key West. 

How to Plan a Trip to Key West with Kids

Plan your Winter Vacation in Florida with Kids 

Whether you’re a seasoned traveling family or just dipping your toe into traveling with your children, Key West in the winter months is a great destination with something to offer for every type of traveler in your crew.  Much as we love the islands, you don’t need to head international for every trip to get a tropical fix. 

If you have been kicking around the idea of a Florida Keys vacation that never seems to get booked, let us help! We have so many ways to support you in making that a reality. From 1-1 consultations to full done-for-you trip planning, we are here to help you make unforgettable memories without the heavy lifting. 

We promise that the trip of your dreams is closer than you think and that working with us will ensure it’s the easiest trip you’ve ever planned. 

Sabrina Morrice

Sabrina Morrice

Sabrina Morrice is a business owner, mom of three, and an avid traveler. The minute she returns home from a trip, she starts planning the next one to always have an adventure ahead of her. We're thrilled to have her as a contributor to the Mango Tree blog.

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