Island destination weddings seem to have it all: beach, sand and sun. But what if you want all the benefits of an exotic island getaway without having to leave U.S. soil? Closer to Cuba than Miami, Key West, an island sitting at the southernmost tip of the Florida Keys, makes for a dreamy destination wedding that's just far enough away, while still being accessible from many major North American cities. You won't have to convince friends to fly down to Florida for a weekend of wedding festivities in a spot known to inspire everyone from singers like Jimmy Buffett to iconic writers and playwrights like Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams. From its blend of Bahamian and Cuban heritage to gingerbread mansion-lined streets and Old Town charm, Key West offers brides the most scenic of beach backdrops for their wedding—stunning sunsets included. Here are 10 more reasons that'll have you jetting (or driving) off to this locale when it comes time to say "I do."
1. Get married on the water.
Captains here double as officiants, so not only can you cruise off to your wedding by boat, you can take your pick of seaside spots. Tie the knot with your toes literally in the sand out on a secluded sand bar, or island hop over to one of the remote beaches where the only people witnessing your romantic exchange of vows are your spouse-to-be and party. You can also host the ceremony on board, opting for the comfort of a luxury yacht or historic tall ship.
2. Or under it.
In the Upper Keys, slip on a wetsuit and exchange vows on writing slates next to one of the most-photographed underwater sites in the world—the nine-foot-tall bronze statue of "Christ of the Abyss" at Key Largo's John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Want to make Florida wildlife part of the show? At Islamorada's Theater of the Sea, a chariot whisks couples across the water with dolphins swimming by their side for a pre-ceremony show that makes for the most memorable of entrances.
3. Key West is as LGBT-friendly as you can get.
While same-sex marriage is now legal across the country, Key West is one city that celebrates pride like no other. Over 200,000 LGBT travelers vacation here each year, particularly during events like June's Key West Pride and September's Womenfest. Not only will same-sex couples feel comfortable hosting a ceremony here, they'll also feel comfortable planning it with the help of LGBT-friendly wedding planning services.
4. You're already in the ideal bachelorette party destination.
Key West is essentially an island version of New Orleans. Head to the Spring Break spot a few days before the ceremony for a bachelorette party that can be as naughty (or nice) as you'd like. Post up in the budget-friendly NYAH in the Old Town, just a few blocks from nightlife-heavy Duval Street, where you can customize your room to fit up to six girls (think the grown-up version of college living) and take advantage of a bachelorette-themed package that includes everything from bike rentals to survival hangover kits. When the sun starts setting, toast to the festivities with drinks over the water on Sunset Pier before hitting the town. Highlights include bar hopping along Duval's infamous strip, where you'll find everything from live music at Irish Kevin's Bar to drag shows at Aqua. Looking for something a bit calmer? Head to chocolate heaven at Better than Sex, which if its name is any indication, you're in for a good time.
5. Key lime pie cakes.
Need we say more? This Key West favorite has made its way to the wedding market with local bakeries like Key West Cakes and Cakes by Karol weaving the flavor into fillings and frostings like Key Lime mousse. There's even Key Lime cake options available for those catering to the gluten-free and vegan crowd. While you could go all-out with Key Lime layers, frosting and filling, many bakeries also offer other tropical flavors that are equally as exciting, such as coconut buttercream, vanilla rum, piña colada and dulce de leche, inspired by Key West's Cuban influence.
6. Venues take on historic touches.
Looking for a venue that captures Old World beauty? At Casa Marina, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, you can have a Roaring Twenties-inspired ballroom reception, as well as ceremony in the sand right outside on Key West's largest stretch of private beach—which can be reached by private seaplane. For something more intimate (but just as scenic), exchange vows in a 19th century historic home at Audubon House and Tropical Gardens, where antique lanterns and orchid-filled trees lead the way to the ceremony. Fans of Ernest Hemingway can even get married in the gardens at the house where the writer lived throughout the 1930s, with the Hemingway Home & Museum opening up for private tours for your guests in the evenings.
7. Picture-perfect sunsets.
Sunsets here are so legendary, there's even a nightly event on the waterfront Mallory Square dubbed Sunset Celebration devoted entirely to watching one of the city's major attractions. No surprise then that one of the most popular times of the day for Key West weddings are sunset. To capture the best lighting in your wedding pics, start the ceremony an hour before the sun starts going down. Pair a sunset ceremony with dancing under the stars at Pier House Resort's Sunset Terrace, where panoramic shots of the water are all part of the package.
8. Easy spot for out-of-towners to reach.
One major perk about Key West is that it's convenient for guests coming from across the country, as well as the state. From other spots in Florida like Fort Myers and Marco Island, it's just a 3.5-hour ferry ride. From Miami, it's about a 4-hour drive down to Key West along the gorgeous Overseas Highway, which links the 125-mile-long island chain. Key West also has an international airport, and once guests land, they don't have to bother renting a car. Most places are walkable or just a quick scooter, bike or pedi-cab ride away.
9. Endless wedding activities.
In Key West, the hard part won't be planning your wedding. It'll be deciding which activities to plan for the weekend. While the beaches aren't up to Caribbean standards, you have top-notch watersport options from reef snorkeling to sunset sailing, jet skiing and parasailing. Want to visit some of the more untouched areas? Venture off in kayaks through the mangrove islands. Of course one of the best ways to get the true Key West experience is by sitting back and watching the world go by, preferably with a cocktail in hand at one of the rooftop bars like Roof Top Café.
10. Warmest winter in the continental U.S.
Your friends up north will be happy to trade in winter weather for Florida sunshine, with temperatures hovering in the high-70s in December. Summer can be balmy, but the sea breeze helps cool things down, so your guests won't be suffering too much if you plan on throwing a summer soirée—which is actually one of the most popular times to visit the Keys. Keep in mind that hurricane season runs from June 1 through November 30, but the highest chances of a hurricane hitting are during off-season—from mid-August until October 1—when hotel rates drop.