Key West vs Marathon Key: An Honest & In-Depth Comparison

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Is there a better place to spend a vacation than in the Florida Keys? 

With its turquoise waters, white sandy beaches, and balmy weather, the Keys are hard to beat. But which of the two main Keys – Key West or Marathon – is the best for a vacation? 

Here’s a look at the “Key” differences between the two keys.

ParticularsKey WestMarathon Key
Known forWatersports, Lively nightlife, Historic sites & Pastel, Conch-style architectureFishing, Diving, Eco tours, Boating, Snorkeling
BeachesNarrow white sand beaches with lively vibe & waterfront accommodationsNarrow beaches with a laid-back vibe and unspoiled beauty
Popular Tourist AttractionsSouthernmost Point, Hemingway Home, Fort Zachary Taylor Historic Park, Butterfly & Nature ConservatoryTurtle Beach, Dolphin Research Center, Sombrero Beach, Florida Keys Aquarium Encounter

Key West vs Marathon Key

Beaches 🏖

Key West

Key West Beach

The Florida Keys have some of the most gorgeous beaches in the world, and Key West’s beaches are no exception. Key West is a tropical paradise, with turquoise waters and white sand beaches. The southern shore has some of the best beaches with calm and cool waters.

Smathers Beach is amongst the most popular beaches on Key West with plenty of amenities for visitors, including showers, picnic tables, and a playground.

Fort Zachary Taylor State Park is another great option, and it’s located just a short distance from Old Town Key West. The park gets its name from the historic Fort Zachary which predates the civil war era and is also home to the largest Civil war armament in the world.

The park is also home to an amazing beach which is popular with stunning natural settings and is popular among locals and tourists alike for birdwatching, swimming, and snorkeling.

If you’re looking for a more secluded beach experience, you can check out Higgs Beach or Dog Beach. Both of these beaches are located on the island’s less-populated side and offer stunning views of the Gulf of Mexico.

🏖 Related post: Key West vs Siesta Key for a Vacation? An Honest and In-Depth Comparison!

Marathon Key

The beaches of Marathon Key are renowned for their soft white sand and turquoise blue waters. But there’s more to the beaches on Marathon Key than just their good looks.

The Florida Keys are home to some of the best fishing in the world, and Marathon Key is no exception. Marathon Key attracts anglers from around the country to try their luck at catching sailfish, marlin, tuna, and other big game fish. 

And if fishing isn’t your thing, then you can enjoy the other attractions that the Marathon Key has to offer, including amazing restaurants, bars, shops, and watersports.

Whether you’re looking for a place to relax or a place to get your adrenaline fix, Marathon Key has a beach that’s perfect for you.

If you’re looking for a beach that’s great for swimming and offers serenity, then Sombrero Beach is an underrated gem. The water is crystal clear, and the sand is white and powdery. There’s also a range of amenities on offer, including showers, restrooms, and picnic tables. 

If you’re after a more secluded spot, then Boot Key Harbor is worth a visit. It’s a beautiful sheltered cove with turquoise waters and a sandy bottom that are a treat to the eyes. 

And if you’re hoping to catch a glimpse of some marine life, then head to the historic Seven Mile Bridge. This stretch of water is home to a variety of fish, turtles, and stingrays which you can see either on foot, bike, or by taking a ferry ride along the bridge.

Whichever beach you choose, you’re guaranteed to have an enjoyable time in Marathon Key.

👉 Must-read: Is Marathon Key Worth Visiting? Pros and Cons to Help You Decide!

🏖 Related post: Islamorada Key or Marathon Key: Which is better for a vacation?

Who has the best nightlife? 🍻

Key West

Key West is without a doubt the go-to destination in the Florida Keys when it comes to offering lively nightlife. The nightlife in Key West mainly revolves around dive bars and live music venues. 

The iconic Duval street is home to a number of bars, clubs, and outdoor restaurants serving delicious southern cuisines with live music. 

Another great place to enjoy live music, dancing, and the extensive menu is at the Margaritaville Key West Resort and Marina

For those looking for a more laid-back atmosphere, Mallory Square is the place to be. This open-air marketplace is the perfect place to relax with a drink and watch the sunset and the backdrop of cruise ships docking in and out of the harbor.

As the sun sets, locals and visitors alike gather to watch the street performers and soak up the festive atmosphere.

Marathon Key

Marathon Key, although known for its peaceful Florida charm offers plenty of things to do at night, from watching the stars on one of the many beaches to dancing the night away at one of the many clubs and bars. 

But my personal favorite is taking a walk along the pier. There’s something about the rhythmic sound of waves crashing against the wooden planks that always seems to soothe my soul. 

And of course, there’s also the magnificent view of the stars twinkling overhead. It’s an experience that I never get tired of and one that I would recommend to anyone visiting Marathon Key.

If laid-back nights are not your thing then there’s no shortage of bars and clubs to choose from, and the party doesn’t stop until the sun comes up.

Whether you’re looking to dance the night away or simply relax with a drink in hand, you’ll find plenty of options to suit your needs. 

And if you get hungry, there are plenty of late-night dining options to keep you going until morning.

So if you’re looking for a place for a laid-back and casual night out enjoying the seaside bliss, then Marathon Key is the perfect destination for you.

Activities & Best things to do 🏄🏼‍♂️

Key West

Hemingway House Key West

There’s no doubt about it, Key West is a unique place. From the moment you arrive, you’ll feel like you’re in a different world.

And there’s plenty to do to keep you entertained, whether you’re looking for adventure or just want to relax and enjoy the views. 

Here are some of the best things to do in Key West:

1. Take a tour of the Hemingway House– This is one of the most popular attractions in Key West and for good reason. The house is where Ernest Hemingway lived and wrote some of his most famous works like “A Farewell to the Arms” and “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”, and it’s now a museum that gives visitors a glimpse into his life.

2. Go snorkeling or diving– The waters near Key West are filled with marine life, making it an excellent location for snorkeling or diving. There are numerous tour companies that offer tours, so you should have no trouble finding one that meets your level of experience.

3. Visit Fort Zachary Taylor State Park– This excellent state park, located on the southern tip of Key West, is home to one of the nicest beaches on the island, as well as a National Historic Landmark centered on a Civil War-era fort.

Apart from its historical significance, the Park also has wonderful hiking and bike paths, making it one of the top places to visit in Key West.

4. Watch the sunset at Mallory Square– Watching the sunset from Mallory Square is one of the nicest things to do in Key West. Crowds come every evening to watch the sunset on the horizon, and it’s an experience you won’t want to miss.

5. Take a glass-bottom boat tour– Take a glass-bottom boat excursion if you want to explore the undersea environment without getting wet. These cruises provide excellent views of the coral reef and the creatures that live there.

Marathon Key

Marathon Key is a beautiful place with plenty to do. 

The most obvious things to do in Marathon Key are the lovely pristine beaches and the abundant marine life surrounding the island making it one of the best spots for fishing in the world. 

You can go swimming, sunbathing, fishing, or just exploring the coastline. 

Marathon Key is also home to several amazing nature parks that are worth visiting. 

If you are an outdoor enthusiast and a nature lover then the Crane Point Hammock is a great place to explore the local wildlife, and it’s also a beautiful spot for a picnic. 

The Dolphin Research Center is another highlight on the Marathon Key – it’s a non-profit organization dedicated to rescuing and rehabilitating injured dolphins.

The Research Center offers great interactive tours where you can learn about these intelligent creatures and you can even swim with them if you want! 

Turtle Hospital
Image credit- Image by Isles Yacht Club on Wikimedia Commons

Have you heard about a hospital for turtles? In Marathon Key, you can visit one. The Turtle Hospital is the only non-profit organization in the world dedicated solely to the purpose of rehabilitating endangered sea turtle species. 

The hospital offers educational tours where you can get up close and personal with these gentle giants.

Do you love the lively nightlife? If yes, then there are plenty of bars and restaurants to keep you busy.

Overall, Marathon Key is a great place to visit and there’s something for everyone to enjoy at night.

Conclusion 👍

There’s something special about the Keys, isn’t it? 

Maybe it’s the endless stretches of pristine beaches that disappear into azure blue waters or the mesmerizing sunsets that seem to set the sky on fire.

Despite both being popular tourist destinations, both Key West and Marathon Key have retained their old Florida town charm. Whatever the reason, I really enjoy my time whenever I visit the Florida Keys. 

If you love a more lively vacation experience with lots of things to explore from beautiful beaches to historic monuments and lively nightlife scenes, then Key West is a better choice for a vacation.

If you want to experience the true old Florida vibes with a beautiful laid-back setting, and unspoiled landscapes, and love sightseeing and fishing, then Marathon Key is your best bet for a vacation.

No matter what you choose, both of the Keys offer an amazing vacation experience and they are both just a few hour’s drive away from each other, so why not try a night at both and decide for yourself?

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About the author
James Williams
Hey there! I'm James Williams, the guy behind I'm a born-and-raised Floridian, and I'm stoked to share my travel adventures with you. On my website, you'll get a taste of Florida through my eyes – the places I love, the hidden gems, and the stories that make the Sunshine State special. Join me on this journey as I take you through the heart and soul of Florida, one post at a time!

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