Planning a trip to Florida and wondering what to pack for Key West? No matter what time of year you’re looking to get away, Key West is the perfect choice for a relaxing vacation spot. Key West beaches are some of the best in the United States. The blue water and tropical climate make Key West one of the best places to unwind from the stress of everyday life.
Keep reading to find out what needs to be on your packing list for your trip to Key West so you can continue to pack light, be prepared, and be stylish all at the same time.
Want more resources on packing for Key West? Find more in the following posts:
- What To Wear: How To Dress on Your Key West Vacation
- Florida Packing List: How to Pack for Miami and The Keys in March
What to Pack for Key West: The Tops & Dresses
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If you’re following my 5-4-3-2-1 method of packing, in any capsule wardrobe, you’re allowed 5 tops. Depending on the time of year you decide to visit Key West, you can mix and match these different kinds of tops. You’ll be able to create versatile outfits with just a few tops or dresses.
1 | A lightweight sundress
One of the best things about a sundress is that you can dress it up or down depending on your plans that day. A good rule of thumb for creating your packing list for Key West is to keep it casual. Another good thing about packing a sundress or two is that they take up a lot less room than some other items and they make a complete outfit. That way you don’t have to try to match tops with different bottoms to create different vacation looks.
The Columbia Women’s Freezer III Dress is one of my favs because it’s flattering, wicking, and comes in dozens of colors and patterns.
2 | Breathable shirts
As the southernmost point in the United States, it can get pretty hot and humid in Key West. Breathable and lightweight items will help keep you cool and comfortable while you’re at the beach or touring Old Town Key West. As a bonus, flowy breathable shirts will dry a lot faster if your beachwear is still a little damp when you’re ready to leave the beach.
3 | Tank tops
In the summer months, high temperatures in Key West can get up into the 90s Fahrenheit. When the weather is that hot, wearing as few clothes as possible is the best way to keep yourself cool. However, if you prefer to keep things a little more covered, up, there are still a lot of great lightweight options that work for warmer weather climates.
4 | A nicer dress for the evenings
Unless you’re in Key West for a special occasion like an anniversary or milestone birthday, you shouldn’t feel the need to dress the entire time you’re there. The live music and restaurants on Duval Street are pretty laid-back, just like the rest of the city, so you should wear whatever makes you feel comfortable and confident.
If getting a little dressed up in the evenings is part of your vacation routine, you should definitely take advantage of your time away from home to look and feel your best. Something that I suggest is using the items that you’ve already packed to create nicer outfits. You can do this by switching up the shoes you’re wearing, the jewelry, or even changing your hairstyle. Since you likely won’t be wearing a nicer dress for long each night, feel free to rotate it during your trip to Key West so you can make the most of the space in your suitcase.
What to Pack for Key West: The Bottoms
In my travel capsule method of packing, you’re allowed four different bottoms, so depending on the weather where you’re going and the different looks you want to create, you can choose from these great staple pieces.
5 | A stylish pair of shorts or a skort
Whether you’re planning to spend the day on the beach or visit different attractions in town, a solid pair of shorts can be an integral part of your wardrobe while you’re in Key West. I suggest choosing a pair of shorts that is a solid or neutral color, that way you can mix and match different tops with them in order to create versatile outfits.
6 | A pair of jeans in the winter months
In the winter months, high temperatures in Key West range from the mid-70s to the low 80s. It’ll be especially chilly in the early mornings and late evenings, so a pair of jeans may be your best bet in order to keep yourself warm and comfortable. I talk about the versatility of a good pair of jeans a lot in my other packing guides because the outfit possibilities that you can create with them are truly endless.
If you have a cooler day in your forecast, you can create a casual daytime look with a well-fitting pair of straight-leg jeans, or pair them with some nicer shoes and a top for a put-together evening look for the jazz club.
7 | Lightweight skirts
When the weather is warm, another great piece to include in your packing list is a flowy, lightweight skirt. A skirt will give you even more breathability than a short pair of shorts will, so they can be a great option if you know that you’re more likely to get warm during the day.
What to Pack for Key West: The Shoes
I mentioned that the dress code for Key West is pretty casual, and that goes for shoes as well. There’s no need to take up space in your bag with chunky high heels unless you really feel the need to bring them. If you’re going to be spending a lot of time at the beach, especially, just focus on bringing shoes that are functional.
8 | Flip flops for the beach
The sand and saltwater have the ability to ruin a nice pair of shoes if you wear them down to the beach. Normally, in my other packing guides, I’ll tell you to leave the flip flops at come because they have a tendency to give off a touristy vibe in international destinations. However, a beach destination such as Key West is a great place to make use of flip flops.
They’re lightweight, don’t take up a lot of room in your bags, and they’ll minimize the amount of sand that you track into your hotel room at the end of the day. I’m all about packing shoes with a purpose, and in Key West, flip flops are an important addition to your packing list.
9 | A comfy pair of sandals
For evenings when you’re walking around Duval Street or visiting local bars, a stylish but comfortable pair of sandals is the way to go. With the right pair of sandals, you’ll be able to create a ton of different outfits, whether it’s something nicer for a sunset cruise, or just eating at Sloppy Joe’s.
One of the things I’m always sure to stress in my packing guides is that your shoes must be comfortable. When you’re packing light, you need to make smart choices, especially when it comes to shoes because they tend to be bulkier. Swap the heels for comfortable sandals and I’m sure you’ll thank me later.
10 | Water shoes
This is another specialized and specific shoe choice that you’ll only need if you have certain activities planned. Some people prefer to have water shoes on hand whenever they go to the beach, but they’re especially important if you’re going to be doing any exploring around the coral reefs.
Of course, wearing water shoes doesn’t mean that you have the ability to stomp all over the reefs (we should still respect these ecosystems), but they will give you a little more protection because parts of the reef can be sharp and have a tendency to cut you if you get too close.
11 | Sneakers for walking days
If you’re planning on doing a little more walking and exploring, flip flops may not be the most comfortable choice of footwear. If you don’t wear them often, they may give you blisters, which no one wants on vacation. Instead, when you’re touring places like the Ernest Hemingway House or Dry Tortugas National Park, slip on a pair of comfortable sneakers that are comfortable to walk in.
The key is to make those sneakers work for different outfits. For example, if you decide that you’re going to pack sneakers that are more athletic-looking in nature, make sure that you can wear them with a more stylish outfit as well. I always suggest white sneakers for an easy versatile look. They can be dressed up with a nicer pair of shorts or with athleisure wear.
What to Pack for Key West: The Accessories
Because of the casual dress code in places like Key West and Key Largo, you don’t need to have a lot of fancy or expensive accessories on your packing list. Instead, keep things more minimal and try to limit your accessories to essential items that you’ll need if you’re going to be spending a lot of time in the sun.
12 | Sunglasses
For your next Key West vacation, sunglasses should definitely be at the top of your packing list. Not many people think about your eyes getting sunburnt, but it can happen if you don’t protect your eyes from the harmful rays of the run. Just like you put on sunscreen, be sure to cover your eyes.
Sunglasses also make an easy accessory for your different beach wear outfits if you feel like your shorts and tank top need a little something extra.
13 | A hat to keep the sun off your face
Some people prefer a baseball cap at the beach, others like a floppy sun hat. Whatever your style is, just be sure that it’s something that will give your face a break from the sun if you need it. When you’re packing light, hats can be a challenging item to pack because some of them don’t fold up or condense down without ruining them. If you’re not planning on wearing your hat on travel days, just choose something that can be folded or clipped to your carry-on bag to save a little extra space.
14 | Simple jewelry
Since you’ll most likely be spending a lot of time in the sun and saltwater, I recommend keeping your jewelry choices to something simple and minimal. It’s much easier to protect your jewelry if you just leave it at home instead of taking it on and off whenever you head to the beach.
However, fun and bright jewelry can be a great way to spice up your different outfits without changing the tops or bottoms too much. Jewelry also takes up a lot less room than a whole new dress does, so it can be a great way to feel like you’re creating a whole new outfit without taking up too much space in your bag.
15 | Small crossbody bag
When you’re out and about, and not on the beach, a smaller crossbody bag is a great option to keep all of your essential items together. When you’re out for dinner, you shouldn’t need more than your wallet, lip balm, and face mask, so there’s no need for a larger bag. Of course, if you’re packing up to go to the beach for the entire day, you’ll probably need something a little larger for all of your beach gear.
If you’ve read our travel capsule method post already, you already know that outerwear is the category that you only get one of when you’re packing light. Depending on your trip and the needs you need to fill for warmth and weather, we recommend one of these staple items for your next trip.
Luckily, Key West is relatively warm, even in the winter months, so you won’t need to pack any heavy coats or jackets no matter when you decide to visit.
16 | A cute coverup
A lightweight and stylish coverup is a must for any Key West trip. If you’re planning on being near the water for most of the day, you’ll be totally fine wearing a cute coverup if you decide to take a walk through town or stop for some lunch somewhere.
17 | A light sweater for evenings
If you’re traveling to this island city during the spring or summer months, packing a sweater may not seem necessary, but the breeze from the Atlantic Ocean can really cool things down after the sun sets. A light jacket or sweater is something that will fit easily in your suitcase or personal item and give you a little extra warmth when you need it. It’s best to be prepared for all different kinds of weather when you’re traveling so you’re not stuck shivering at dinner.
18 | Rain jacket or waterproof jacket
Tropical storms and hurricanes are more likely to pop up during the late summer and early fall in the Atlantic. Hurricane season isn’t the best time to travel to Key West, but as long as you take a look at the weather forecast ahead of time, you should be prepared for the changing weather conditions. If you are traveling in the late summer or early fall, you should be sure to pack some kind of rain jacket just in case you encounter some unexpected inclement weather. Like I said of the cooler weather in the evenings, it’s best to make sure you’re prepared while packing instead of getting caught without an umbrella or rain jacket when the rain hits.
Besides the clothing basics, there are a few other important things that should be on your packing list. If you forget a few things, you can always pick them up in local drug stores, but prices in vacation hot spots like Key West can be a bit higher than they are at home.
19 | A few different bathing suits
At the risk of sounding too obvious, be sure to pack at least two different bathing suits. No matter the season, you’ll have a lot of opportunities to spend time either at the beach or at the pool while you’re in Key West.
20 | Compression Packing Cubes
Compression packing cubes are perfect to keep your luggage organized. I like these Taskin bags in particular because there is a side with a mesh window and the other side that can be used as a laundry dry bag.
If you would like to see other types of packing cubes, here is a post for more reading! 10 Best Compression Packing Cubes: Pack Like a Pro.
21 | Reef-safe sunscreen
If you’re packing light, specifically only using a carry-on bag, you might find yourself limited to only travel-sized liquids. If this is the case, plan on buying your reef-safe sunscreen at the grocery store when you get to Key West. I like to do this because you’ll likely use most of the bottle anyway, and then you don’t have to worry about transporting sunscreen back home. There’s nothing worse than opening up your suitcase at home and finding that your sunscreen exploded all over the contents of your bag.
22 | Beach blanket
If you have some extra room in your suitcase or carry-on, try to see if you can fit a lightweight beach blanket. A beach blanket will make a huge difference if you plan on spending one or more days at the beach. Claim your spot on the shore and keep the sand off yourself and your belongings.
23 | Leave-in conditioner
Saltwater and sun can really dry out your skin and hair. The worst thing about coming home from a beach vacation is realizing that your hair is fried to a crisp. A great way to combat this is to bring a leave-in or deep conditioner with you to give your hair some moisture back. After a long day at the beach, your hair will feel replenished after adding this small step to your beauty routine.
24 | Reusable water bottle
Any time you’re heading to a destination that’s warm and sunny, be sure to have some kind of reusable water bottle with you. These won’t take up a lot of space in your personal item and they’re the best way to make sure you’re hydrated for the duration of your trip. While you’re at the beach, have your water bottle handy to make sure you’re replacing all of the water you lose by being in the heat.
25 | Cooler bag
A cooler bag isn’t something that you’ll likely have room for if you’re planning on flying to Key West, but if you live nearby or plan on road tripping to this small island, it’s something that you should definitely pack in the car. Not only will a cooler bag keep your snacks and drink cold while you’re in the car, but you can also bring it to the beach as well. A cooler bag is essential if you’re traveling with your family. Keeping everyone fed on vacation is the best way to make sure everyone’s having a good time.
FAQ: What to Pack for Key West
Still have lingering questions about what you can expect from your next Key West vacation? Keep reading to have some commonly asked questions answered so you feel fully prepared for your time in paradise.
When is the best time to travel to the Florida Keys?
If you want to avoid heavy crowds, the best time to visit Key West is anytime from June to August. January and May are also great times to visit Key West, but the beaches in May will be a bit warmer than they are in January.
How many days should you spend in Key West?
The whole point of a beach vacation is to relax, right? That being said, you should give yourself at least 3-4 days in Key West so you can unwind from travel days and still have a few days of relaxation before you have to head home.
What do you wear in the Florida Keys?
During most of the year, the temperature in Key West will be around 80 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. However, due to the humidity, this can make the weather seem much hotter. The best way to beat the heat while you’re in Key West is to dress in lightweight, breathable layers. Fabrics like cotton and linen don’t trap sweat so they’ll keep you feeling cooler for longer.