Catching the last rays of the day in the Florida Keys
Key West, the southernmost city in the continental United States, is also beautifully situated for amazing views of both the sunrise and sunset. In fact, locals and tourists alike turn the setting sun into a big party on Mallory Square each night. Party time varies depending on the season.
The best times to watch the sun set
As a general rule, sunsets happen earlier in the winter and later in the summer. In Key West, January sunsets range from 5:50 to 6:15 p.m., but by mid-February, the sun sets later, around 6:20 p.m. By the time March begins, it’s 6:30 p.m., but that quickly moves to 7:30 p.m. when daylight saving time begins. April begins with sunsets around 7:45 p.m., hitting 8 p.m. by the end of the month and staying between 8 and 8:30 p.m. until the middle of August.
After mid-August, sunset begins moving ever earlier, reaching 7 p.m. by the middle of October. When daylight time shifts again, in November, the sunset goes all the way back to 5:45 p.m. Throughout December, it hits between about 5:30 and 5:45 p.m. This brings it all the way around, back to January’s 5:50 p.m. viewing time.
The “golden hour” is ideal for viewing and photographing sunsets, and it typically starts about an hour before the sun actually sets. It’s a good idea, particularly if photography is the goal, to check the local paper or an online site such as Weather.com to establish a more precise time each day.
The air quality in Key West is well above average, so there’s no hazy smog to interfere with the sunset view. In fact, the clouds in Florida are generally very beautiful and can make for truly spectacular sunsets, especially following a rain. The only time the weather makes sunset viewing less than optimal, in fact, is when it’s actively storming when the sun goes down. Even then, it can sometimes be stunning, when the setting sun is offset by lightning.
Best places to view the setting sun
The nightly sunset celebration at Mallory Square is a raucous affair, with hundreds of people gathering to watch street acts like a sword swallower, an exotic bird show, jugglers playing with fire, and much more. Nearby, the spectacle continues, with local acts like Dominique and His Flying House Cats and Speed Bump the Pig. Vendors sell conch fritters, key limeade and other homemade treats. It’s advisable to arrive at least 30 minutes before the sunset to get the full effect.
On the other hand, some people prefer a more low-key sunset. Sunset Pier, which is part of the Ocean Key Resort, offers dining, drinks and outside entertainment during the sunset hour. Another option is to take a sunset cruise, offered by various companies on the island. Of course, it’s also possible to rent a private boat and really get away from the crowds.