It’s a place more like a Caribbean island than the rest of the USA – the Florida Keys are a tropical paradise that’s easy to reach by car from the mainland of Florida. In addition to being tropical, idyllic, and easy to reach, the Florida Keys are notorious for being expensive. A 2015 lodging study found that “hotel room rates in the Florida Keys have increased every month for over 5 years” and that “most travellers spent an average of $3,062 for total trip expenditures on a four- or five-night stay”. With careful planning, though, you can enjoy the Florida Keys for a small fraction of that hefty price tag. Here are some of the best tips and tricks I’ve learned over the years.
Make Homestead your base.
Nick-named the “Gateway To The Keys”, Homestead (aka Florida City) is the last town you’ll see before you leave the mainland of Florida and enter the Florida Keys. Less than 30 minutes away from Key Largo, Homestead is an entirely different world when it comes to the cost of hotel lodgings. There are multiple affordable, comfortable and clean hotels to stay at in Homestead for about $70 per night. Since a hotel in the keys will typically put you back $100-300 per night, you can save a significant amount of money by staying in Homestead during at least part of your stay.
The state parks are your friend
The Florida Keys are home to quite a few state parks which offer affordable recreation for individuals, couples, or families. There are admission fees to enter the parks, but they are all less than $10 per vehicle/family. My favorite state parks are Bahia Honda State Park near Marathon (in the lower keys) and Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park in Key West.
Know where the grocery stores are
Especially in a high cost area like the Florida Keys, feeding your family at restaurants can get expensive quickly. If you stay in Homestead, you’ll likely get a free continental breakfast with your room. (Tip: Of the hotels I’ve stayed at in Homestead, The Floridian has the most impressive breakfast.) That leaves lunch, dinner, and snacks. Most travelers will save a lot of money by picking up most of their food at a grocery store instead of eating every meal at restaurants. There are no Walmarts in the keys, but there are several grocery stores, including a Publix in Key Largo, Marathon, and Key West.
Check out these free attractions
There are a variety of excellent free attractions worth visiting in the Florida Keys. Here are several I suggest:
- Join the sunset party at Mallory Square in Key West
- Walk on The Old Seven Mile Bridge
- Visit the Florida Keys Wild Bird Center (donations accepted)
- Chill on the beach (I suggest Sombrero Beach)
- Relax and watch the tarpon at Robbie’s Marina in Islamorada
- Go fishing off one of the many bridges where fishing is allowed
- Get your photo taken at the buoy at the Southernmost Point in Key West
- Look for deer at the National Key Deer Refuge
- Stop by the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center
Plan ahead for camping
Camping at one of the state parks can be an excellent way to save money on your Florida Keys vacation, but you’ll need to plan ahead. During peak times, camping spots get booked up nearly a year in advance. If the state parks are booked up, there are several private campgrounds which are a little more expensive that may have room.
Know the times and seasons
In my experience, the most affordable time to visit the Florida Keys is September and October – that’s after the summer vacationers have left, but before the snowbirds and winter visitors come. That being said, you can plan a budget vacation any time of the year (just avoid major holidays) with careful planning. Note: The hotel prices in Homestead don’t fluctuate very much, so you can usually get a good price, even on a peak weekend.
Enjoy the journey
In the Florida Keys, getting there is half the fun, and other than a bit of gas money it’s free! When driving through the keys, you’ll spend much of your time crossing bridges and enjoying lovely views. Take your time and enjoy the journey!
If you follow these budget-friendly tips for your Florida Keys vacation, you can plan a great trip for hundreds of dollars, instead of thousands!
About The Author
Adam Thompson blogs at StayFloridaKeys.com, with a special focus on nature and outdoor activities in the Florida Keys. Adam’s favorite thing to do is head out to the reef for a day of snorkeling.