Last updated on December 15, 2022 by Wandering our World
When people think about visiting a tropical paradise in Florida, they usually think about either Key West or Key Largo. Both are perfect locations for romantic getaways, summer vacations, and outdoor recreational activities.
In fact it’s quite common for people to not realize how much of a difference there is between Key West and Key Largo. After all, they are both islands in South Florida, and within 100 miles of each other.
Yet whilst they also both have stunning white sandy beaches with rich blue ocean water and mostly sunny days, there are significant differences.
For example Key West is one of the best islands in the Florida Keys for nightlife and historical sites. Whereas more laid-back Key Largo will likely be a better choice if you’re more interested in recreational activities, relaxation, and witnessing the natural beauty of South Florida.
However, those are just a few of the critical differences between Key West and Key Largo.
Thankfully we know both of these destinations in the Florida Keys well! So we’re here to show you what makes Key West and Key Largo different.
By the time you’re finished, we’re sure you will have made your final decision. Let’s get started!
- Which Has Better Beaches?
- Which Is More Beautiful?
- Which Has The Better Atmosphere & Vibe?
- Which Is More Accessible?
- Which Has The Best Historical Sites?
- Which Is The Better Choice?
Which Has Better Beaches?
You may be surprised to learn that Key West and Key Largo are not known for their beaches – but they should be.
The beaches on both islands are smaller and less popular than the more renowned beaches on the mainland like Miami Beach or Daytona Beach, but we think they’re much better. Plus, because they’re less well-known it often means smaller crowds and more privacy.
Key West: The Beaches
Key West has a beach called Rest Beach that’s well worth visiting. It’s a place where people enjoy walking their dogs, sitting at picnic tables under the palm trees, and searching for seashells. There aren’t too many people at this beach on any given day of the week, so you can enjoy some nice quiet time here.
Higgs Beach is another great white sand beach in Key West that offers a similar experience. There’s some lovely shore snorkelling opportunities here too.
Key West is also more developed than Key Largo, so there are more beach bars, cafes and restaurants. That could be a big plus if you’re looking for a vacation or day trip where everything is catered for.
Recommended: Sharks in the Florida Keys
Key Largo: The Beaches
Key Largo is quieter, less developed, and more laid back than Key West. It has two main beaches in public parks: Harry Harris Park and John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park.
Harry Harris Park is a popular location for families and teens to swim and tan. It is actually an entirely manufactured beach with new sand that gets imported in every couple of years.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is famous for its coral reefs, as you may have guessed from the name! Even though this state park has a small white sand beach, it is popular mainly with snorkelers who want to observe the exotic coral reefs underwater. In fact when it comes to snorkeling we think Key Largo is a better destination than Key West.
Snorkelers can observe a variety of marine creatures at this state park, as well as submerged statues that are home to lots of sealife, and a Spanish shipwreck too. Which makes the beaches in Key Largo perfect if you’re looking for more than just tanning on the shore.
Overall, Key West and Key Largo both have small, quiet and relaxing white sand beaches. The beaches in Key Largo give you access to coral reefs and a Spanish shipwreck – perfect for snorkeling. However Key West has more beachside bars and facilities. So we will have to call this beach battle a draw!
Which Is More Beautiful?
Both Key West and Key Largo are tropical paradises with tall palm trees, white sandy beaches, and picturesque ocean settings. But the biodiversity may be more prominent in Key Largo.
Key Largo is an island with a national park, two state parks, and many creeks, hardwoods, and natural aquatic lifeforms. The famous Hollywood movie “Key Largo” was also filmed in this location because of its beauty.
Key West is an island city and the southernmost city in Florida. It’s beautiful too, but the downside is that it is a city on a much smaller island. Much of the natural beauty that once existed on the island has been overtaken by the restaurants, bars, chic boutiques, high-rise resorts, retail stores, and similar.
So unless you visit a beach or a business on the coastline, you can easily forget you’re in Key West because it’s like any mainland city due to overdevelopment. This level of development is one big difference between Key West and Key Largo.
Therefore if you’re looking for natural beauty, then you should choose Key Largo to visit. It has nature reserves and parks for you to admire wildlife, trees, plants, and sea life.
You can enjoy the natural beauties of Key Largo even more if you participate in its numerous recreational activities, especially snorkelling.
Winner: Key Largo
Which Has The Better Atmosphere & Vibe?
You have to drive over the ocean on US-1 South to reach Key West, which offers beautiful sea views along the way. Key West is only an island roughly 4 miles in length and 1 mile in width, making it an excellent and easy place to explore, rent a vacation home or party with your friends.
There are nice bars and restaurants along the oceanside of the city, and a bustling, energetic and fun nightlife. So if you enjoy the “island city” atmosphere and a party vibe in the evening, you will love a vacation experience in Key West. Recommended: The Local’s Guide to Key West Nightlife
Key Largo is more of a small community rather than an island city. So it tends to be more suited for people who want a laid back atmosphere without the parties and crowds found in cities like Key West.
That’s why people who come to Key Largo are usually more interested in recreational activities, such as snorkelling, swimming, tanning, fishing and relaxing in general.
People who want to enjoy recreational activities and a relaxing atmosphere should choose Key Largo. But if you’re looking for a place where people can party, drink, and socialize then you should choose Key West.
That’s one very important difference between Key West and Key Largo that you have to consider before choosing your destination.
Which Is More Accessible?
Key West is about 130 miles from the mainland of Florida and you have to cross 42 bridges during your trip to get there! So, it’s a long journey that should be well-planned before deciding to visit.
Like Key West, Key Largo is also an island off the mainland. However, it is much closer to the Florida mainland than Key West. Key Largo is only around 23 miles from the nearest Florida city on the mainland and about 100 miles from Key West.
Therefore, there’s no doubt in our mind that Key Largo is more accessible than Key West. So when you plan a trip to the Florida Keys, make sure you have your heart set on Key West before going there.
And remember to watch the weather forecasts for potential hurricane developments. If a mandatory evacuation is ever imposed in the Florida Keys, leaving Key West would be more difficult than leaving Key Largo.
Winner: Key Largo
Which Has The Best Historical Sites?
Key West has a vast history. It is where the famous author Ernest Hemingway used to live and work and you can visit the Hemingway Mansion in Key West.
You will also see six-toed polydactyl cats on the outside of the property! This particular cat breed is nicknamed the “Hemingway Cat” because he owned cats just like these.
Another historical site in Key West is the Harry S. Truman Little White House. It is the house where President Harry S. Truman used to go during the winter.
Key Largo doesn’t have many historical sites on land. But if you’re a snorkeler, you can visit the shipwrecked 1942 Norwegian SS Benwood under the water. However many people would rather stay above the water, especially if it’s a family trip!
For us, Key West ultimately wins the historical sites competition.
Winner: Key West
Key West vs Key Largo: Which Is The Better Choice?
Key West is probably the most social and historic island in the Florida Keys.
So if you want to party, socialize, and sightsee, then Key West is the better choice than Key Largo for your trip to South Florida. But if you’re more interested in recreational activities, relaxation, and witnessing the natural beauty of South Florida, then consider visiting the more laid-back Key Largo.
Ultimately Key West and Key Largo both have something unique and different to offer tourists, and have some stunning beaches. For this reason, there is no real ‘better’ choice between the two – it just all depends on your interests. Have a great trip!