The Best Times to Visit the Florida Keys for Great Weather, Low Prices, and Fewer Crowds — According to a Floridian
These are the best times to visit the Florida Keys for every type of traveler.
Growing up, I thought my childhood summers spent snorkeling and sunbathing in the Florida Keys were unique, that my family had unearthed paradise and settled in. When my Miamian great-grandparents purchased our family “Keys house” in the 1970s, they set in motion a legacy of love for the seas and salty breezes of this sun-drenched island chain. This 90s kid spent many (deliriously joyful) spring and summer breaks in and around the waters of Key Largo with cousins.
The house has since been sold, and family gatherings beneath the tiki hut are now a distant memory, but my love for the Keys endures; luckily, this slice of paradise is an easy drive from my home in West Palm Beach and I can keep the tradition alive for myself, even if I now have to hotel-hop instead of slip a key in the front door.
Of course, as an adult, I now realize we weren’t alone in recognizing what a special place the Florida Keys is — more than five million people visit these 1,700 islands each year. While the Keys is pretty buzzy year round, some months are more popular than others:
High Season: Varies by island; generally, January to April, March to May (for Key West), July and August, and December, plus holidays
Shoulder Season: May, June, and August
Low Season: September to November
Popular months to visit can vary from the Upper Keys to the Lower Keys, and there are months, like August, that are desirable for some reasons (read: lobster season) while undesirable for other reasons (read: hurricane season and sweltering heat).
These are the best times to visit the Florida Keys, depending on weather, crowds, prices, and more.
Related: T+L's Florida Keys Travel Guide
Best Times to Visit the Florida Keys for Smaller Crowds
The Florida Keys are popular among tourists almost all year round, but there are certain months with lighter traffic and thinner crowds. You’ll find the sweet spots in the shoulder seasons: between the winter throngs and the summer rush, and as kids go back to school in the fall.
In late spring, crowds are lighter than they are throughout the holiday and spring break seasons, but temperatures haven’t heated up to their full furnace level yet. Crowds are lightest in the fall toward the tail end of hurricane season. Both are nice times to visit the Florida Keys.
Just remember that fall in the Keys isn’t the cool, breezy, leaf-tinged dreamscape you may be used to in northern climes; here, the weather is hot, muggy, and prone to rain.
Best Times to Visit the Florida Keys for Good Weather
Each month in the Florida Keys has weather pros and cons, so the best time to visit may depend on your vacation goals.
Summer is one of the most popular times to visit, but the weather is as hot as it gets, and hurricanes are a constant threat. Still, this is when the water is warmest and boating season is at its prime; the intense heat doesn’t seem to scare away the crowds.
Florida Keys weather is at its mildest during the winter months, from about November to February. That doesn’t mean it’s chilly: January sees the lowest average temperature of any month, but that low is a mild 65° Fahrenheit. Wintertime weather in the Keys is pleasant, but the water is also at its coldest during these months, so you may need to work a shortie wetsuit into any diving or snorkeling plans.
For many people, late spring in the Florida Keys offers the best of all worlds: the weather is pleasant but not too hot; hurricane season hasn’t yet arrived; the water is warm; and the summertime crowds have not yet descended in full force.
Remember that the Atlantic hurricane season is a potential threat to any Keys vacation from June 1 to November 30, with most storms popping up from mid-August to mid-October.
Best Times to Visit the Florida Keys for Lower Prices
Because there’s not really a bad time to visit the Keys, finding a low price can be a challenge no matter what month you try. However, you’ll likely have the best luck in “off” months like September and November.
Prices are usually highest in the heart of winter and the height of summer because that’s when the destination is in highest demand; in the shoulder seasons of fall and spring, you can sometimes score deals as good as they get.
Best Times to Visit the Florida Keys for Being Out on the Water
Beaches in this palm-lined island chain may be few and far between (though plenty delightful), but reefs are not — the Florida Keys is, undoubtedly, more boating than beach destination. Most people go with plans to get out on the water and dive, snorkel, fish, or just boat from reef to sandbar and back again.
While wintertime makes for nice boating weather, you won’t catch a lot of Floridians diving in at this time of year — the water is (subjectively) much too cold. On the flip side, summer promises warmer waters but sweltering temperatures (and quick sunburns). You’ll also need to dodge daily afternoon thunderstorms. Spring begins to heat up in and out of the water but can be windy; early fall sees both temperatures and crowd levels fall but can be rainy and wet.
Interested in the thrill of the catch? Floridians love going to catch lobster during “mini season,” or the two-day time frame when lobstering is allowed just before the main season (which lasts from early August to late March) begins. Lobstering is best done from your own boat, though some companies offer charters as well. Keep in mind that traffic along the single-lane Overseas Highway can be heavy during this short season.
Worst Times to Visit the Florida Keys
Choosing when to visit the Keys can be a double-edged sword; some of the best times to visit the Keys are also the worst times.
For example, everybody loves to go for mini season, but that’s exactly the problem: You’re not the only one with the bright idea to visit the Keys during these lobster-laden days. In the same way, nothing sounds better than Christmas in the Keys — but don’t expect to find any good deals on hotel rates at this festive time of year. In fact, all holidays tend to draw crowds and drive up hotel prices.
If you melt in extreme heat, avoid the Keys in the summertime. On the other hand, if you hope to dive and snorkel but hate cold water, don’t go in the winter.
And, of course, a violent hurricane (which can hit between June and late November each year) can really dampen your plans, but at least you’ll get several days' notice to make other arrangements.
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