Florida Keys: our ultimate gay travel guide

Stefan Arestis

The best sunsets EVER!

We've travelled the world extensively, and can hands down say that when it comes to stunning sunsets, the Keys of South Florida is the best place to come. There are of course many other reasons to visit the Keys: the terrific gay scene of Key West, the diving in the many coral reefs, beautiful beaches, and of course the star culinary highlight, the divine Key Lime pie! But for us, those magnificent sunsets stole the show.

The Florida Keys are a string of thousands of tropical islands stretching about 120 miles (193km) off the southern tip of Florida, between the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. The word “Keys” comes from the Spanish word “cayo”, which means ‘small island'.

The Keys begin at the southeastern coast of the Florida peninsula, about 15 miles (24 km) south of Miami. They then extend from Key Largo, all the way to Key West, which is the westernmost of the inhabited islands.

This is our gay travel guide to the Florida keys, where we set out the best gay hotels to stay, our favourite gay hangouts and top things to do.

One of the highlight for LGBTQ travellers in Key West is to a do a sunset cruise

MUST DO: a romantic sunset sail

One of our most romantic and memorable moments in the keys was our sunset aboard the Schooner America. We cannot rave enough about it. It's luxurious, not at all crowded and a simply spectacular way to enjoy the sunset with your lover to hand. You may also get lucky and spot some dolphins and sea turtles.

Find out more

Is Florida Keys a gay friendly destination?

Absolutely, hell yeah!

The Florida Keys is a very gay friendly destination, particularly the westernmost island – Key West. Key West is not only the most touristic part of the Florida Keys but also the main gay hotspot of the region. Whilst there are no official gay clubs/bars in the rest of the Florida Keys there are plenty in Key West.

The Florida Keys overall is a fantastic place to come for a gay vacation both for partying in Key West, adventures/activities in the tropical waters or just good old fashioned chilling in the more secluded and low key Islamorada Key.

The rainbow crossing in Key West is your first sign that you've found the gay neighbourhood!
Nomadic Boys celebrating their own gay pride in Key West!

Best gay hotels in Florida Keys

When it comes to gay hotels we recommend heading over to Key West. This is where you'll find the best male-only hotels that are made for gay men, especially Island House. For more info, check out our detailed guide about the 10 best male gay resorts of Key West.

For this section, we've highlighted the best gay friendly places across all of the Florida Keys that we tried and loved.

01

Casa Morada

Islamorada

Casa Morada is one of our favourite romantic places to stay in the Florida Keys, it's gay friendly and perfect for couples with lots of fun activities on offer

Why we love it


  • Romantic and secluded
  • Great sunset cocktail bar
  • Set among tropical gardens with sand paths leading to the seafront
  • Only 16 spacious suites

Casa Morada is one of our favourite gay friendly boutique hotels in Florida, perfect for couples!

The atmosphere here is peaceful and serene. For us, the highlight was the private island connected to the hotel by a footbridge with its own sunset cocktail bar.

This is where every morning we would join the sunrise yoga session, a fantastic way to start the day in the Keys.

With only 16 rooms across the two main buildings set among extensive natural gardens, Casa Morada feels like a romantic little nest. Each room includes modern amenities – a fridge, robes air con, and unique extras like yoga mats and super sleek walk-in showers. Furnishings include dark-wood furniture with a tropical theme and terrazzo flooring. We recommend splurging on one of the 5 suites that overlook the marina, particularly The Shangri-La Suite, which has panoramic ocean views, an additional outdoor shower and a whirlpool tub.

Communal areas include a freshwater pool, marina, gazebo, sun-loungers, hammocks, secluded cabanas and a bar with swings to enjoy those famous sunsets we mentioned at the start of this article. Casa Morada offers guests the use of their kayaks, paddleboards, snorkelling equipment and bikes.

In terms of location, Casa Morada is on Islamorada. It lies just off Highway 1 (also known as the Overseas Highway), which is the main road that connects all the Florida Keys. Islamorada is nicknamed the “Village of Islands” because it is made up of 6 islets – Casa Morada lies right in the middle. The location is also unique because Key West lies 80 miles (129km) to the West and Miami 80 miles (129km) to the East.

02

Island House Key West

Key West

Island House is a fabulous gay resort in Key West that's clothing-optional and men-only!

Why we love it


  • Men-only gay resort
  • A gay man's playground with plenty of hanky panky opportunities
  • Famous Sunday pool party with drag shows
  • Gym with five-man gang shower anyone?

The ultimate unapologetically gay resort! What happens in the Island House stays in the Island House…

We came to Island House as part of our obligatory rite of passage every gay boy visiting Key West needs to undergo! More specifically, their famous Sunday pool party. You can visit Island House as a Day Spa if you’re not staying here, and Sunday is the best day to come for it. It’s popular with locals who come to enjoy the crowd and hang out by the pool. They put on drag shows and some exciting (and pretty unique!) entertainment.

This bad boy of a hotel is infamous across the Florida gay community – a gay man’s playground. As well as being a resort, it’s got cruising areas, outdoor heated pool (and it’s smokin’ hot here!!), sauna, modern 24-hour fitness center/gym, outdoor shower, indoor shower, Jacuzzi, “video lounge” room, “five man gang shower”…and it’s all entirely clothing-optional, strictly men-only. Island House describes itself as a sanctuary where all men can feel comfortable, completely free from judgement. From our experience, we completely agree with this. There were men of all ages and sizes here, zero attitude!

We also love that they encourage guests to mingle with a daily evening happy hour of open bar from 5-6:30pm. Island House is located in Key West around 6 blocks away from Duval Street, around 15 minutes’ walk to the main gay bars. It’s located along the gay “Guesthouse Row” street towards the end of Fleming Street. Whether you want to make new friends, chillax in the communal spaces or just come for some good old-fashioned hanky panky fun, the Island House is calling out to your fabulous gay heart!

03

Playa Largo Resort & Spa, Autograph Collection

Key Largo

Playa Largo Resort & Spa is a truly luxurious choice of accommodation in the Florida Keys

Why we love it


  • Marriott Autograph Collection
  • Luxurious waterfront oasis
  • Infinity style pool with a magnificent archway
  • Romantic fire pits lit up for sunset

The Playa Largo Resort is a bastion of total luxury on Key Largo – the largest and northernmost of the Florida Keys archipelago. It is part of the Marriott Autograph collection so you expect to be treated like a Queen!

Upon entering you're met with hanging silver lanterns, a compass rose water feature and even hanging chairs. It’s located right by the waterfront, so the theme is reflected throughout the hotel with pops of blue and white.

The Playa Largo Resort is a massive 14-acre resort with no fewer than 178 rooms spread over 3 floors, each one with a balcony or patio. The sea theme continues in the rooms with a blue/white decoration complimented with wooden flooring.

What we loved most about the Playa Largo Resort is the gorgeous infinity pool. It needs to be featured on your Insta feed. It’s super pretty, with a dramatic classical archway towering over it. In the evening it’s particularly romantic because the staff light up the fire pits at sunset. It was one of the most beautiful moments we experienced in our trip in the Keys!

The Ocean Spa is a treat! Mint towels, spicy dark chocolate and iced herbal tea are included as part of the treatments, and when your massage is finished, they use the sound of a conch shell to wake you up. It’s quite cute and pretty unique moment we’ll never forget! The gym is also amazing. It’s huge and whilst working out, you have a view over the pool area below and sunset terrace.

In terms of food options, there are several excellent in-house restaurants like the La Marea steakhouse, the Sol by the Sea for Caribbean-inspired food, and Las Olas for ceviche.

04

Baker's Cay Resort Key Largo, Curio Collection by Hilton

Key Largo

Baker's Cay is a gorgeous resort in the Florida Keys, with a strong eco-friendly focus, lots of nature and delicious food

Why we love it


  • Luxurious tropical retreat
  • Part of the AMEX Hotel Collection
  • Has its own biologist on site!
  • Set in 14 acres of woodland

The Baker’s Cay Resort is super impressive! This luxury retreat is set in 14-acres of woodland, part of a 19th-century pineapple plantation. It has 200 rooms spread over two four-storey wings.

The gay friendly resort has an adult’s only beach area intended as a place for complete peace and relaxation. The woodland area also makes for lots of nature exploration with nature trails clearly marked out.

The original 1980s building was almost completely destroyed by Hurricane Irma in 2017 so it has been rebuilt/refurbished almost from scratch. As such it’s very modern with a strong eco-focus, including a strict no single-use plastics policy, which we applaud!

The rooms are generous at The Baker’s Cay, with large windows to maximise the sunlight and large balconies. The rooms are split between those with a view of the woodland area and those with a waterfront view. The best rooms are on the top floor because they have superb sea views, especially the Suites which have their own private Roman bathtub!

Calusa is the main restaurant at Baker’s Cay and it is excellent! It specialises in Caribbean-inspired Creole food for both breakfast (banana foster cakes anyone?) and dinner. We tried the jerk shrimp and blackened grouper, both were divine! For drinks they have the Dry Rocks bar on site, which has a large outdoor deck, firepit and live music.

The Baker’s Cay Resort is part of the Amex Hotel Collection, which means that if you're an Amex platinum card holder, you'll get noon check-in, room upgrade, complimentary daily breakfast for two, free WiFi, late checkout and a $100 hotel credit.

Gay bars and clubs in Florida Keys

The bulk of the gay scene of the Florida Keys is in Key West around Duval Street. That's where you want to head for the best gay parties and queer festivals like Fantasy Fest. If you're staying in the other Keys, we've also included a few gay friendly mixed bars we visited and loved. On the whole, we found the entire Florida Keys to be very chilled and Bohemian that there should be no issue of feeling out of place as a gay couple.

The gay scene of Key West

The gay scene in Key West is arguably the best in the Florida Keys, with lots of gay bars and clubs to experience

The gay scene of Key West is based along Duval Street in the section between Petronia Street and Angela Street. The area is marked by a permanent rainbow crossing so you can't miss it!

The gay scene of Key West is mainly based between 3 large buildings or complexes. These are the 801 Bourbon Bar, the Bourbon St Pub and Aqua. Each of these has several bars inside and a club, each with their own vibe, drag shows and handsome exotic dancers doing the rounds. Our best advice is to head here in the evening, especially on a Saturday, check out the vibe in each complex, then hang out in the one you like the most. Find out more in our gay travel guide to Key West.


No Name Pub in Big Pine Key

The No Name Pub is a quirky spot in the Keys for a drink and some of the best pizzas in the area

The ZAGAT surveyed over 700 South Florida restobars and rated this gem of a place as the “Best casual dining experience in the Florida Keys”. The No Name Pub initially opened in 1931 as a general store then evolved into the Pub it is today as the owners expanded. It's super quirky, with dollar bills plastered across the walls, and a slogan: “A nice place if you can find it”. They have some of the best pizzas in the Keys and a great place to come for a beer or glass of wine.

The No Name Pub is located at 30813 Watson Boulevard on Big Pine Key. It is open every day from 11am until 10pm.


Florida Keys Brewing Co in Islamorada

The Florida Keys Brewing Company is a great spot for a beer with a lovely chilled-out beer garden and regular live music

The Florida Keys Brewing Co is an institution in the Islamorada Key. We loved chilling in their beer garden, which often has live music. They are famous for their craft beers, which they brew right here! Try out some of the more unique flavours like beer infused with Key Lime – my favourite! Beer enthusiasts should check out their tasting sessions and the Brewery tour. It’s also a very chilled atmosphere here – they even allow you to bring your own food to eat with your beer.

The Florida Keys Brewing Co is located at 81611 Old Highway in the “Morada Way’s Arts and Cultural District” on Islamorada. It is open every day from around 11am until 10pm.


Gay Pride and events in the Keys

When it comes to gay events in the Keys, you'll want to be heading over to Key West. This is where all the best annual queer events happen. We summarise some of the best ones right here, but be sure to check out the Events Section of our gay Key West guide.

Key West Pride (June)

The main Pride event of the Florida Keys happens every June in gay old Key West. All the LGBTQ venues buddy up to host a week of parties, festivals, shows and comedy standups. The highlight is the Parade through the cutesy streets of Key West.

Tropical Heat (August)

Tropical Heat is Key West's hottest event for men, spread over 4 days with events and special pool parties in places like the Island House to watch out for! The equivalent for women is the Womenfest Key West in September.

Bear Weekend (Oct/Nov)

The big boys take over Key West in late October for this awesome weekend festival, which is famous for being one of the best Bear parties in all of Florida. The event includes plenty of parties and of course, the crowning of the Mr Key West Bear!

Where to eat in Florida Keys

This is where you'll find the best Key Lime Pie(s). It's actually become one of our favourite desserts in the whole world. Warning: every place will claim they have the best Key Lime Pie in the whole world – and they're usually right. Our advice is to try them all, at least twice or thrice, then judge for yourself 🙂

Beyond the delectable Key Lime Pie, there are many excellent restaurants to check out, which we set out for you right here. For Key West, check out the Restaurant Section of our Key West gay travel guide.

Mrs Mac's Kitchen in Key Largo

Most places in the Florida Keys say they serve the best Key Lime Pie, but our favourite was at Mrs Mac's Kitchen

Mrs Mac's is famous for having some of the best seafood in the Keys. It was originally founded by Jeff MacFarland in 1976 who named it in honour of his mother and her recipes. It's definitely one of the best restaurants we went to in the Keys – and we definitely rate their Key Lime Pie! Mrs Mac's is a local favourite – so popular that they've even opened a second restaurant called Mrs Mac's Kitchen II down the road.

Both of the Mrs Mac's Kitchen restaurants are located in Key Largo just off the Overseas Highway. They are open Monday to Saturday from around 11am to 10pm.


Marker 88 in Islamorada

Marker 88 is a restaurant in the Florida Keys with amazing seafood dishes and pretty incredible weekend brunches as well

Marker 88 is another top restaurant in the Florida Keys for tasty seafood. We tried and loved their Mahi Mahi, fresh lobster, conch and ahi tuna – all of which are unique to the area and must be at the top of your culinary bucket list. Marker 88 also specialises in brunch on the weekend, with lots of delicious food along with THE best cocktails and mimosas in Islamorada.

Marker 88 is (not surprisingly!) located at the 88-mile marker on the Overseas Highway. It is open on weekdays from 12pm-9pm/10pm. On the weekend it's open from 11.30am-9pm/10pm.


Morada Bay in Islamorada

Morada Bay is a very romantic restaurant set right on the sand serving yummy food and excellent cocktails

Morada Bay is one of our favourite gay friendly romantic restaurants on Islamorada. It's an outdoor Mediterranean bistro café set right on the sand. The ambience, delectable food and the friendly staff make this a memorable and really special experience. Palm trees line the beach and the views are simply glorious, especially at sunset as you can imagine! As for the food, uh-maaaazing! We loved and highly recommend their Thai shrimp tacos, fresh fish dishes and their cocktails.

Morada Bay is located on Islamorada at the Overseas Highway mile marker 81.6. It is open daily from midday until 8pm.


Top things to do in the Florida Keys

The #1 reason most come to the Keys is to Chill with a capital C – helped by the fact that the pace of life in the Keys is extremely chilled and Bohemian. The Florida Keys also offers a lot of adventures, activities…and let's not forget those phenomenal sunsets! Here's a flavour of some of our top things to do in the Florida Keys to inspire your trip:

The Stunning Sunset!

Nomadic Boys enjoying a romantic sunset on the schooner america in Key West
Nomadic Boys enjoying a romantic sunset on the schooner america in Key West

As we said at the start of this article, the sunsets of the Florida Keys are one of our travel highlights. Whether you watch it with a cocktail to hand from a beachfront bar or at the “Sunset Celebration” at Key West's Mallory Square, we guarantee you'll also fall in love with it as much as we did. Our favourite sunset experience was on a romantic cruise onboard the Schooner America. This is a must! It's worth every penny. everything is top quality, from the Champagne reception to the fresh hors d'oeuvres. Also, spaces are limited, so it doesn't feel crowded like some of the other cheaper sunset cruises offered in the larger boats.


John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo

The John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo was one of America's first undersea parks and is a fantastic spot for snorkelling in the Keys

This is the first undersea park in the United States. As well as a beautiful park to visit for a picnic, it also has mangrove swamps where you can kayak, as well as healthy coral reefs for snorkelling. The big underwater highlight here (other than the many tropical fish!) is the 8.5ft (2.6m) underwater statue of Jesus called, “Christ of the Abyss”. Fun fact, this statue isn't the result of a shipwreck or anything but was donated by an Italian “scuba entrepreneur” and is a replica of the Il Cristo Degli Abissi in the Mediterranean Sea near Genoa, Italy.


Snorkelling and kayaking through mangroves

Active travellers will love joining a kayaking eco-tour through some of the Florida Keys' most interesting eco-systems

If you don't make it to the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, you can also book an eco-tour which includes a mix of snorkelling and kayaking in the mangroves across 3 different marine ecosystems around the Florida Keys. We love to get active when travelling and this day trip was just the thing! We got to kayak through the mangrove tunnels (while keeping an eye out for manatees) and then ride a boat out to beautiful snorkelling spots. Our guide was a marine biologist, so we also learned a lot about the different eco-systems, corals and wildlife we spotted.


Shopping on Duval Street

Duval street has the best gay shops in Key West
“What do you think, Stefan, will it fit me?”

One of our favourite ways to soak up the atmosphere of Key West is taking a stroll down Duval Street during the day. Along with the many souvenir shops, galleries and bars, look out for gay shops like, “Leather Master”, “InTouch” and “Graffitti“. The vibe is quite different during the day time as well, before all the gay bars and clubs open up at night turning the area into a fabulous street party. This is also the place to get your quirky/whacky T-shirts in some of the more eccentric souvenir shops.


Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory

Seby thinking about Butterfiesy at the Butterfly conservatory in Key West
My little butterfly thinking about butterflies…

The Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory was one of our favourite places in the Florida Keys. It's a greenhouse-like garden with many different species of butterflies, some of which are really big! It's so mesmerising watching them flutter about so delicately. It's even more mesmerising watching an excited Seby act like a kiddie, trying to catch and play with the big blue butterfly… One big tip, we recommend using your phone's slow-mo feature to get some really impressive shots of a butterfly taking off.


Tarpon feeding at Robbie's Marina

If you head to Robbie's Marina in the Florida Keys you can hand-feed the big silver fish called Tarpons

Tarpons are large air breaching fish, sometimes called the “Silver Kings”. At Robbie's Marina on Islamorada you can buy a bucket of fish for a few dollars and feed the family of tarpons that reside here, often straight from your hand. Just watch out for those seagulls who'll stop at nothing to steal a few fish from your bucket – it happened twice to an unsuspecting Seby… Robbie's is also home to the Thirsty Tarpon Bar and Hungry Tarpon Restaurant, so you can grab a burger afterwards.


Snorkelling with rays at the Florida Keys Aquarium

You can get up very close and personal with sharks, stingrays and other marine wildlife at the Florida Keys Aquarium

We love this aquarium on Marathon Key. Just like the Florida Aquarium in Tampa, you can dive in the large tank and interact with wildlife, like nurse sharks and stingrays. We got close up to the stingrays in their tank and also hand-fed sharks through a safe hole between the tank walls. There are also opportunities to feed turtles, alligators and more tarpons. There are “touch-tanks” where you can interact with crabs, baby rays and the Queen Conch.


Helicopter tour over the Keys

See Key West from an exciting perspective by taking a scenic helicopter flight above

Is there anything more exciting and romantic than going on a scenic helicopter flight? We did a helicopter tour over Key West and absolutely loved it! It's certainly the most unique way to see Key West as well as the whole of the archipelago. You can choose from different departure times during the day starting from 10am, with one departing every subsequent hour until 5pm. We recommend getting the 5pm flight – ie close to sunset, but still with good light for photography.


Plan your trip to the Keys

We've put together some handy hints and tips to help you plan your own trip to the Florida Keys. Read on to find out everything the gay traveller should know before they go.

How to get there: Most domestic travellers to the Florida Keys will either arrive here by flying into Key West or Marathon airports, or by road-tripping (like we did), or via one of the many cruise ships that dock here. If you're flying, we recommend pre-booking your private airport pickup online, to minimise stress and ensure you're ready to have fun as soon as you hit the tarmac!


Getting around: The easiest way to travel between the Keys is by driving, which is why we hired a car to explore the area. The Overseas Highway can get very busy though, so if you don't want to drive you can also get public buses between the main cities.


Travel insurance: We never travel without the security of travel insurance and recommend all travellers do the same. For your time in the Florida Keys make sure you are covered in case of accident, missed flights or lost luggage by contacting World Nomads Travel Insurance. We've been using them for years and recommend them highly enough. Their coverage is very comprehensive and affordable, plus it's easy to make a claim online.


Accommodation: There are lots of fabulous places to stay all along the Florida Keys. We love to use Booking.com when we're planning our travels as they always have the best prices and often offer free cancellation, which is perfect if you want to be flexible with your time!


Sightseeing and adventure: For more fun things to see and do in the Florida Keys we also like using GetYourGuide. They have lots of choices for exciting, historic, foodie and cultural activities, plus the online booking system is super easy to use.


When to visit: The Florida Keys is a tropical destination so you can visit at any time and expect lovely warm weather. Winter is a very popular time for those who want to swap cold for sun, but if you visit during spring you'll encounter fewer other tourists and prices will be generally lower. The “wet season” between June and November sees the most rainfall and has the risk of hurricanes. However, when we visited in October/November, we never had any problems.


Florida Keys gay map

Here's a gay map of the Florida Keys which includes all the gay bars, clubs, hotels and sightseeing highlights we've mentioned in this post. Use it to plan your own amazing gay trip to the Florida Keys!

Use our gay map of the Florida Keys to plan your own fabulous trip to this stunning destination

For more inspiration:

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This our gay travel guide to the gorgeous Florida Keys with all our recommendations on where to stay, eat, party and play!

Disclaimer: Some links in this article are affiliate links, which means that if you purchase through them, we receive a small commission. This will never cost you extra and in many cases you receive a special discount. We appreciate your support!

Stefan Arestis

Stefan is the co-founder, editor and author of the gay travel blog nomadicboys.com. As a travel nerd, he has explored more than 80 countries across 5 continents. What he loves the most about travelling is discovering the local gay scene, making new friends and learning new cultures. His advice about LGBTQ travel has been featured in Gay Times, Gaycities, Pink News, Gay Star News, Attitude and Towleroad. He has also written about gay travel for other non-gay specific publications including Lonely Planet, The New York Times, The Guardian and The Huffington Post. Stefan is also a qualified lawyer, having practised as a commercial property litigator in London for over 10 years. He left his lawyer days behind to work full time on Nomadic Boys with his husband Sebastien. Find out more about Nomadic Boys.

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