11 reasons to jump on the next flight to sunny, beautiful Key West

Key West is famous for its nightlife on Duval Street, and for good reason. But this island is so much more than a party destination.

Island life is really a lifestyle, where visitors can settle in with the locals and relax by the pool or on the beach during the day, then enjoy the spectacular sunsets.

Here are some great ways to make the most out of a Key West vacation–by day and by night:

1. Check out Key West from up high

The 88-step circular iron stairway leading to the Key West Lighthouse deck offers a great view of the island and deep blue Atlantic. It is a great way to start off your trip. You can see the entire expanse of the island and pick your spots to explore. There is much to enjoy beyond the bar and club scene–as fun as that is, too!

2. Check into your room

Key West guesthouses are so charming, you’ll never want to check out. Some properties are clothing optional, such as Equator Resort and Island House, so be sure to lather on lots of suntan lotion. Your new buddies will be happy to get your back. But the coed options like Alexander Guesthouse and La Te Da are luxurious with sumptuous rooms. These guesthouses offer an experience that is quintessentially Key West, big on island style served with a low-key vibe. The rich foliage, from ferns to palms, alone will telegraph that you are in a different place where relaxation is the norm rather than the exception.

3. Enjoy the cultural riches

Key West features great museums, including the historic Custom House by Mallory Square. Catch their current exhibit, “You Don’t Know Dick,” a celebration of the art of Richard Peter Matson. Other favorites are the Ernest Hemingway Museum, located in the writer’s former home, and the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory, just as delightful for adults as it is for kids.

4. Shop til you drop

If you go on a trip but don’t come back with a bag of souvenirs, did it exist? Mallory Square has lots of shops and art galleries where you can pick up gifts for family and friends and some mementos for yourself. There are also clothing stores, where you can pick out a new swimsuit, such as Graffitti, also the place to pick up accessories for a boating expedition or just a sexy outfit for the dance floor later that night.

5. Feel the rhythm of the ocean

Key West’s island vibe is best felt on, or in, the water. The city is a natural deep water port, so it is a great place for boating, sailing, scuba, and deep sea fishing. Take a sunset cruise on one of the many sailboat charters in the harbor replete with cocktails. Blue Q offers all-male charters, should you wish for a boys’ day out, and Venus Charters offers all-female trips. Both companies offer traditional sails and snorkeling trips.

Related: 5 amazing ways to enjoy our own island paradise of Key West

6. Get some beach time

The beaches at Higgs Beach and Fort Zachary Taylor State Park are lovely, with palm trees providing just enough shade to cool off from the sun. Key West aficionados know to arrange dinner at one of the fabulous beachside restaurants and then stroll along the shore after.

7. Fun in the sun

In Key West, your sunglasses just might cover more skin than your swimsuit. The island vibe means anything goes. Come during Fantasy Fest in October, and you’ll see people not wearing anything at all!

8. Live like a local

Feeling adventurous? There’s plenty see in addition to Duval Street. Rent a bike and tour the island’s Old Town, and see the charming cottages where residents live, and how they decorate their front yards not just with indigenous plants but with fascinating folk art as well.

9. Coffee and smoothies: Key West is delicious

Key West has some of Florida’s best restaurants, but after a long night at the bars on Duval Street, sometimes it is best to ease into the morning gently. Start your day with delicious Cuban coffee at Cuban Coffee Queen or Ana’s Cafe Cubano, extra sugar, please. For the healthy option, pay a visit to one of Key West’s organic markets. Date & Thyme or Sugar Apple Cafe will make your fresh fruit and veggie smoothie.

10. Crab and Key Lime: Key West is delicious, part II

With all these languorous, picture perfect days, a picnic or five is in order. Stop by Eaton Street Seafood Market for some of Florida’s famous stone crab claws. Ask the fishmonger to crack the crab. Since you’ll be chilling those crab claws on ice, walk down to Mattheessen’s and pick up some key lime pie for dessert.

Related: 10 sizzling Key West hotel pools to maximize your sunbathing

11. Salute the sunset

Sometimes the best plans are no plans. Unwind while sipping a Key West signature cocktail such as a Rum Runner while watching the most spectacular show on the island, the gorgeous sunsets. Hotels such as the Casa Marina Resort & Beach Club boast excellent restaurants that offer ocean panoramas, perfect for watching the sun paint the sky pink as it sinks into the blue-gray ocean.

Photos provided by Key West Chamber of Commerce