Key West isn't just a city; it's a state of mind, where every sunset is celebrated, and love knows no bounds. “One human family” is the island city’s motto – an easy sentiment for the LGBTQ+ community to get behind.

Just 90 miles from Cuba, Key West is the perfect blend of Caribbean flair and American spirit. Nestled at the southernmost tip of the United States and surrounded by the shimmering waters of the Atlantic on one side and the Gulf of Mexico on the other, the tropical island is the perfect backdrop for a gaytopia. After all, how can such a tranquil setting be anything but liberal!

But is all the hype justified? We set out to answer the question: just what makes Key West so special!

Image Credit: Key West

Beauty and the Reefs

The Keys are undeniably beautiful. They resemble an exotic beauty, stretching her bare leg out into the Caribbean with Key West daintily resting on its foot. A favorite hangout amongst LGBTQ+ locals and visitors alike is the unofficial gay beaches, Higgs Beach and Fort Zachary Taylor Beach. There you’ll find many a bronzed body enjoying the perfect climate under swaying palm trees.

Key West’s geographically unique location also opens up a whole world of oceanic adventures. Sailing, kayaking, and paddleboarding…if it involves the sea, you can do it in Key West. Furthermore, LGBTQ+ owned businesses, such as Blu Q Sailing Adventures and LGBT Charters LLC, provide the means. Snorkeling and diving opportunities abound with colorful coral reefs teeming with tropical fish and over 1,000 shipwrecks resting gracefully along the seabed.

And for those with the cash to splash, so to speak, yachts can be rented and sailed out into the seas – the best way to catch the gloriously colorful sunset back over Key West.

Image credit: Key West LGBTQ

Pirates, Hemingway and Trains

Key West has history! And a fair bit of herstory too. 

The discovery and ownership of The Keys was first attributed to Spain, only sold to the States in 1822. Shortly after it became the raiding grounds of some of the most vicious pirates of the age, such as the infamous Blackbeard – who one can imagine as quite the bearded daddy. Pirates like Blackbeard were drawn to Key West with hopes of salvaging treasures from the wrecks of ships cast against its reefs. Nowadays, one can delve deeper into this era of history at The Key West Shipwreck Museum – a literal treasure trove of historical artifacts.

For more recent history, you simply can't visit Key West without paying homage to one of The Keys’ most famous ex-resident, Ernest Hemingway. At The Hemingway Home and Museum, you can gain insight into the literary giant through the vast display of mementos found there and – if you’re lucky – catch a glimpse of the six-toed cats that call the place home. Allegedly the cats are the descendants of a singular, in every sense, cat, which Hemmingway was given by a passing sea captain.

As for LGBTQ+ history, it was during the 20th century when Key West became increasingly known as a destination for LGBTQ+ individuals to find community and acceptance. In the 1940s and 1950s, renowned figures such as Tennessee Williams, Elizabeth Bishop and Truman Capote sought refuge in Key West, contributing to its reputation as a haven for artists and intellectuals, leaving an indelible mark on the island's culture.

The Tennessee Williams Museum pays tribute to the legendary gay playwright. Williams lived in Key West from the 1940s to 1983 and was boldly before his time in how open he was about his sexuality. Key West also boasts a variety of LGBTQ+ cultural landmarks and queer focused attractions around the city, including the Key West AIDS Memorial on Higgs Beach and the LGBTQ Visitors Center, which serve as important reminders of the community's history and heritage.

Modern day Key West has other “must-see” locations ranging from the Old Town with its colorful Victorian homes to the eclectic arts district of Bahama Village to the often-Instagrammed Southernmost Point Buoy. Those with limited time can take a “best of” tour on the rather anachronistic Conch Train.

Image credit: Island House

More than Just “Gay-Friendly” Places to Stay

Queer culture isn’t just accepted in Key West, it’s woven into the very fabric of the island. As such, there are a wealth of gay resorts to choose between, set up by LGBTQ+ locals. Some of the most popular include the Alexander’s Guesthouse, Equator Resort, New Orleans House and Island House. These resorts are like idealistic adult playgrounds, as much gathering places as places to stay – and a lot are clothing-optional.

Island House has boasting rights as one of, if not THE, very first gay guesthouse in the world, with a groundbreaking opening in 1976, it fell into some disrepair for a while but in 1999 was bought by local gay legend Jon Allen, and modernized into the award-winning gay clothing-optional resort it is today. Jon sadly passed in 2022, but his legacy remains in Island House – as a slice of gaytopia within gaytopia.

Image credit: Blue Heaven

Eating Your Way Through Key West

Like the pirate kings of old, your belly will never be empty in Key West. The city offers a gastronomic adventure that reflects its eclectic community, including LGBTQ+ owned restaurants that contribute to its rich tapestry of flavor.

The city’s food scene gleefully blends Caribbean delights with the best of America's excesses and Cuban influences. Dining in Key West is not just a meal but a celebration of flavors and identities. Conch fritters, key lime pie, and Cuban sandwiches are among the local specialties.

For those craving authentic Cuban cuisine, El Siboney is a must-visit. Owned by a local LGBTQ+ couple, this cozy eatery serves up mouthwatering dishes like ropa vieja and picadillo, right from the streets of Havana. For more of a Southern experience, Blue Heaven is known for its whimsical ambiance and delectable brunch offerings – set in a lush garden, this LGBTQ+ friendly establishment features a menu brimming with Southern comfort food staples like shrimp and grits, accompanied by live music and a laid-back vibe. Visitors seeking a taste of Key West's seafood bounty flock to DJ's Clam Shack, owned by a queer chef. Here, guests can savor succulent lobster rolls and fried shrimp baskets while soaking in the island's maritime charm. These are just three of Key West’s many offerings. 

Image credit: Key West LGBTQ

Because the Night Belongs to US

Key West might be so laid back it's practically horizontal, but that doesn’t stop it from having a gay nightlife scene to rival even its rowdier neighbor, Miami. 

Duval Street is where all the gay scene action goes down in an area known as the “Pink Triangle”. There, you’ll find all manner of LGBTQ+ locales. Bourbon Street Pub (owned by “Joey” who also owns the aforementioned LGBT Charters LLC and New Orleans Guesthouse) is a key, pun intended, staple of the scene with live music and feisty go-go boys to entertain the masses. Sidebar and Saloon One are two other bars who also hold their own when it comes to kicking off a night doomed to end in a visit to Key West’s Hangover Hospital in the morning – yes, it really has one of those! 

In Key West, drag queens rule the night, as they well should, and Aqua Nightclub and 801 Bourbon put on eclectic shows every night of the week – ranging from drag bingo and comedy to cabaret shows and drag race style lip syncs. Sushi, Key West’s most iconic drag queen, may have recently retired, but the night is now full of queens competing to fill her stilettos.

Image credit: Key West LGBTQ

The People Make the Place

Any place, no matter how beautiful, is a blank slate without its people. And what truly sets Key West apart is its diverse and welcoming community. From artists and musicians to drag performers and activists, Key West is a melting pot of creativity and acceptance – most especially for the LGBTQ+ community. 

This is evidenced throughout history by the LGBTQ+ luminaries who lived there like Judy Blume and the aforementioned Tennesse Williams; in the LGBTQ+ business owners who fell in love with the island at first sight so set up shop there; and in the wild annual events that take place there, such as the annual Key West Pride celebration and the renowned Fantasy Fest extravaganza.

So yes, the answer to the question is Key West is indeed the gaytopia it appears to be. Key West is a shining example of how the whole world could be, leaving us hoping the island’s message of love spreads upwards and outwards and, just like love, knowing no bounds.

To learn more about the Florida Keys and plan your visit go to or for LGBTQ+ specific information and resources.

The article is sponsored by the Florida Keys & Key West