Miami Beach Vs. Key West

Summer holidays are often synonymous with beach holidays. Whether you like the sun, sand, and surf, classical architecture, or you prefer the nightlife, beaches around the world cater to most needs. Within the States, Florida is renowned for its spectacular beaches, particularly those close to the Gulf of Mexico. But which is better: Miami Beach vs. Key West?

Miami Beach and Key West share several similarities. Both are island-based beach cities located off the coast of Florida state, connected to the mainland by roads. Both have a rich history and a thriving tourism industry. Miami Beach and Key West have similar climates and many activities for all.

Although Miami Beach and Key West share many similarities, some prominent deviations exist between the two popular beaches. We’ll compare the similarities and differences between these two Floridian tourist hotspots by investigating their physical features, history, cost of living, and what there is to do and see.

Miami Beach Vs. Key West: Overview Of Similarities And Differences

The best way to compare Miami Beach and Key West is by pitting them head to head.

The table explores some significant similarities and differences between Miami Beach and Key West.

CharacteristicMiami BeachKey West
Size9 miles long and 1 mile wide. Approximately 7.69 sq miles (of land).4 miles long and roughly 2 miles at its widest. Approximately 7.2 sq miles.
Location3 miles offshore from southeastern Florida, USA.100 miles offshore from southwestern Florida, USA.
ElevationRoughly 3.3 to 3.6 feet.The highest point is 4.7 feet.
Summer average temperatureAverage low: 77° F. Average high: 86° F (up to 89° F).Average low: 79° F Average high: 86° F (up to 89° F).
Winter average temperatureAverage low: 64.4° F (but down to 60° F). Average high: 75° F.Average low: 67° F (but down to 65° F). Average high: 76° F.
RainfallAverage 59 in.Average 44 in.
Hurricane riskHigh from 1 June to 30 November.High from 1 June to 30 November.
Best time to visitBetween March and May (Spring).March to May (Spring).
Accessibility4 major causeways.42 bridges on the Overseas Highway.
Built-Up Vs. UntouchedBuilt up/developed.Built up/developed with open spaces.
Hotel rooms20 61115 000 (across the Keys)
Local population87 56326 804
Cost of living126 out of 100 (US average)154.8 out of 100 (US average)
Beach popularity#14 in America#17 in America

Miami Beach is slightly larger than Key West, with more people squeezed onto the island. Miami Beach also has a significantly greater number of hotels than Key West. Although the cost of living for Miami Beach and Key West is above the US average, Key West is slightly more expensive.

Miami Beach is also more popular than Key West.

Miami Beach Vs. Key West: Physical Characteristics

The best way to understand the differences and similarities between Miami Beach and Key West is to examine their physical characteristics, including their size, geography, climate, environmental factors, and buildings and infrastructure on the beaches.

Miami Beach General Description And Geography

Miami Beach forms part of the Miami-Dade County of southeastern Florida. Although it has the word “beach” in its name, Miami Beach is a bustling island city that connects to mainland Miami via bridges.

Miami Beach lies on a barrier island separating  Biscayne Bay from the Atlantic Ocean.

Climate And Environmental Factors

Miami Beach benefits from a subtropical climate. The epitome of a subtropical climate is hot, humid summers with mild winters (with a slight chill). Due to the climate, there are roughly 127 days of precipitation annually.

Another added benefit of a subtropical climate is that the summer and winter seasons don’t differ drastically in temperatures. Hence, while the rest of the US bundles up in winter, Miami Beach enjoys mostly warm days.

On average, Miami Beach receives 0 inches of snow, with around 252 sunny days per year.

Development And Infrastructure

Miami Beach has no industries; the only transportation services to and from the island are the roads from Miami on the mainland.

Miami Beach has several arts and Jewish culture museums (a large contingent of Jewish people residing there).

One of the most notable tourist hotspots is the Holocaust Memorial, particularly the 40-foot bronze sculpture of a hand protruding from the ground. Listed on the sculpture are the names of the Holocaust victims.

South Beach features a large district of Art Deco buildings (which were restored).

Miami Beach connects to the mainland via 4 major causeways:

  • The MacArthur
  • The Venetian
  • The Tuttle
  • The 79th Street Causeway

Key West General Description And Geography

Key West falls under the Monroe County of southwestern Florida (and forms part of the Florida Keys). Key West (like Miami Beach) is a small bustling city, the southernmost of the continental USA.

Key West is part of a coral cay archipelago made of sand and coral.

Climate And Environmental Factors

Key West also benefits from a subtropical climate. There are 0 inches of snow in a year, and the hot, humid summer and mild winters make this one of the more pleasant winter holiday destinations in the US.

Key West has roughly 260 sunny days annually. Almost 50 inches of precipitation falls over 102 days in a year.

Summer can be almost too much for those not used to this climate. The humidity makes the already warm temperatures (around 89° F) reach excruciating conditions.

Development And Infrastructure

Key West connects to the other islands by various roads and bridges. A railway ran through the islands to Key West, but it has since been left in disarray after the hurricane of 1935 destroyed most of the railway.

Before its destruction, this railway line was the primary route to Key West between 1912 and 1935.

Key West accommodates airplanes, vehicles, and boating trips to the island.

Miami Beach Vs. Key West: History

The USA has a rich history predating the first European settlers.

The Native American Indians and other indigenous people of the US moved across most of the North American continent, using the landscape for hunting and farming. Some tribes moved down to the coastal regions and became fishermen and traders.

Once the settlers arrived, they began colonizing the east coast and discovered many of the wondrous places we enjoy today. Florida is among these regions.

Miami Beach’s History

Before the European settlers arrived, the Tequesta and (later) Seminole Indian tribes inhabited Miami Beach. Before its transformation in 1912 into a plantation, the area was a mangrove swamp. The original coconut plantation failed and was (subsequently) replaced by a more successful avocado grove.

During the next few years, John and James Lummus, John S. Collins, and Carl Fisher developed the area’s real estate, and eventually (in 1915), a bridge was built connecting the beach to the mainland, where it was called Ocean Beach, which Changed to Miami Beach in 1916.

During the real estate development, they dredged the surrounding waters to claim additional land.

Miami Beach was not without hindrances to its growth and development. In 1926, the Miami hurricane collapsed the Florida land boom, and the Great Depression of 1929 followed shortly after.

As tourism in the area began to improve by the middle of the 1930s (due to the construction and popularity of Art Deco-style buildings) and the area became popular again, World War 2 erupted and hampered the tourism industry.

However, many of the houses in the area were converted into barracks, housing military trainees.

After WW2, Miami Beach returned to its status as a popular tourist area and grew into a retirement destination.

Key West’s History

Much like the rest of Florida, Key West has a rich history. Key West was originally called Cayo Hueso (Bone Islet/Island) by the Spanish explorers who discovered the bleached limestone (which looked like bones) island in 1521. The name “Key West” is an English alteration of the Spanish name.

After roughly 300 years of Spanish control, Juan Pablo Salas (a Spanish army officer) sold the island to John Simonton, an English businessman, in 1822 (the island was given to Salas in 1815 by the Spanish crown).

During the same year, Mathew Perry, and the US forces under his control, captured the island. David Porter then turned it into a naval base of operations against the pirates in the area. The fire of 1886 destroyed a large portion of the town, which they rebuilt.

In 1898, during the Spanish-American War, Key West became an important center for naval operations.

Aside from being a strategic military island, Key West was an important economic center for fishing, cigar making, and shipwreck salvaging. From 1912 to 1935, a railway line provided important land-based transportation of goods.

In 1938, after the hurricane destroyed most of the railway in 1935, the “Overseas Highway“ became the primary land route. This highway connects Key West to the mainland via 42 bridges of varying lengths (the longest bridge is 7 miles).

A lighter note of Key West’s history was in 1982 when the citizens declared themselves as a republic from the US as part of a demonstration against the Federal roadblock along the Overseas Highway.

They quickly removed the roadblock (set up to search for contraband), but the citizens of the Conch Republic celebrate their “secession” annually.

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Miami Beach Vs. Key West: Activities And Events

Whether you prefer to lounge around on a beach, soak up some sun at a hotel pool, visit some fascinating historical landmarks, or hit the nightlife, Miami Beach and Key West offer a wide variety of activities.

Activities And Places Of Interest In Miami Beach

Recently, Miami Beach became a popular luxury resort and convention center. Tourism is still a huge part of Miami Beach, with an average of 3 153 000 overnight visitors.

Popular areas in Miami Beach include:

  • The South Beach area
  • Biscayne National Park
  • Raspoutine Restaurant
  • Highbar
  • Nikki Beach
  • Art Deco Museum
  • Colony Theater
  • Miami Beach Botanical Garden
  • Stanton Marriott South Beach Spa

Miami is busy, with many annual events along its various promenades, live entertainment at bars, and other festivals.

Some of these include:

  • The World Travel Expo at the Miami Beach Convention Center.
  • Art Deco Weekend in the Art Deco Historic District.
  • Ocean Drive Promenade Shows and events.

Activities And Places Of Interest In Key West

The largest industries in Key West are tourism and fishing. Key West is full of interesting and exciting places to see, including:

  • Old Town
  • Ernest Hemingway’s home (a famous author)
  • John James Audubon’s residence during his stay (an ornithologist)
  • Fort Zachary Taylor State Historic Site
  • Key West Aquarium
  • Mel Fisher Maritime Museum (for artifacts from shipwrecks)
  • Key West Shipwreck Museum (displaying re-created shipwrecks and salvage operations)
  • The Wreckers’ Museum
  • Many National Parks and Sanctuaries

Key West has one of the largest homosexual communities in the US. It is also a melting pot of various American, Cuban, Bahamian, and West Indian cultures.

Key West features stunning 19th Century wooden homes and other impressive architecture.

Key West also boasts its fair share of nightlife and other events. Some important annual events in Key West include:

  • The Key Lime Festival, where the locals celebrate the small citrus fruit they are famous for.
  • Key West Mermaid Festival, where the Truman Waterfront Park becomes a mermaid-themed market.
  • Hemingway Days Festival, culminating in a “look-a-like ” competition at Sloppy Joes, the deceased author’s favorite haunt.

Miami Beach Vs. Key: West Safety And Security

Although Miami Beach and Key West are generally safe areas, tourists/visitors must practice caution as there are often petty crimes.

Pickpockets are the most common issue you might experience. To avoid being a victim of pickpocketing, move in groups, especially when out at night time.

It would be best if you always swam in the areas demarcated by lifeguards when at a beach, as there could be rip tides and other strong currents. Depending on the season, jellyfish, sharks, and other marine life might be present, so pay attention to lifeguard flags.

Miami Beach Vs. Key West: Popularity And Cost Of Living

One of the significant downsides of effluent beach areas is that they are poorly kept secrets.

Those who enjoy the hustle and hubbub of city life (but in a beach setting) will find this to their liking. For those who prefer secluded beaches with private nook coffee shops, Miami Beach and Key West might not be your liking.

According to US News, Miami Beach ranks:

  • 2nd Best Spring Break Destinations
  • 2nd Best US Nightlife Cities
  • 6th Best Place to visit in Florida
  • 6th Best Places to visit during May
  • 14th Best US Beach

Key West ranks:

  • 4th Beast Cheap Spring Break Destination
  • 4th Best Place to visit in Florida
  • 17th Best US Beach
  • 21st Best Place to visit in the US

With great popularity comes great room for increased costs. According to, the cost of living for Miami Beach and Key West is as follows:

CriteriaMiami BeachKey West

These values are out of 100, which is the average for the US. Anything higher means that it is more expensive than the US average. Lower means that it is cheaper.


Miami Beach and Key West are popular tourist destinations of the Floridian coastline. These beaches have diverse and rich histories. They offer similar activities and cater to a broad range of visitors. Both beaches have pleasant weather, although they tend to be a bit too humid in the middle of summer when hurricanes are also a concern. The best time to visit either beach is in the Spring.