No matter how many tips you read or how much planning you do, there is no way Key West will end up being a cheap vacation.
Hotels there are pricey; budget restaurants are hard to find.
But the reason Key West commands those prices is that it is a special one-of-kind city with layers of history going back hundreds of years, well-preserved architectural gems, a funky street life and more places to go and things to do than you’ll ever get to in a single visit.
Happily, it is possible to make Key West more affordable. The key strategies are:
• Go during the off-season, roughly June to November (September and November are the cheapest of all).
• Shop around for accommodations and consider compromising on amenities or location.
• Seek out affordable, casual restaurants.
• Take advantage of the many free and inexpensive things to do in Key West.
WHERE TO STAY
Even in the summer off-season, your first search for basic Key West motels will come up with rooms starting at $130 a night. I’ve tried several strategies to beat that price — some successful; some not.
What didn’t work: I used “name your own price” on Priceline twice in Key West. Both times I ended up in the eastern part of Key West, three miles from Old Town. There are eight or 10 hotels clustered on Roosevelt Boulevard at the entrance to the island. They share a shuttle service into Old Town, which helps with parking.
The problem here is that the location isn’t ideal and the price included unexpected add-on fees — a $10 “resort” fee at the run-down Lexington and a $19.81 parking fee at the very nice $140-a-night Marriott Key West Beachside Hotel.
I had better luck finding accommodations where I compromised on amenities. One of the great charms of Key West is the historic bed and breakfasts in Old Town. Many go for $200 to $300 a night. But there a few quality places where several bedrooms share a common bathroom, and the savings are great.
We stayed at the Key West Bed and Breakfast, 415 William St. (305-296-7274, www.keywestbandb.com), a turn-of-the-century house decorated with original art, vibrant color and serving a spectacular breakfast of fresh fruit and homemade blueberry coffee cake. Our second-story room was one of four sharing two bathrooms, which were kept impeccably clean. Off-season, these rooms go for $79 to $99. (We loved Mo’s room for $99.) Rooms with private bathrooms rent for $115 to $155 off-season — still a very good deal for Key West.
Similar rates are available at the Angelina Guest House, 302 Angela St. (305-294-4480, www.angelinaguesthouse.com), another old house full of character. Here, rooms with shared bath are $84 off-season with other rooms running $104 to $144. Another comparable option is the Curry House, 806 Fleming St., 305-294-6777, www.curryhousekeywest.com (not to be confused with the more expensive Curry Mansion). Shared-bath rooms are $99 and other rooms are $165 in the off-season.
You might also try the Blue Parrot Inn, 916 Elizabeth St. (305-296-0033, www.blueparrotinn.com). Its smallest rooms are tiny with double beds but start at $90 per person off-season and include private bathrooms.
The other alternative for a reasonably priced room is to stay in the Upper or Middle Keys and come to Key West for a day trip.