All About the ‘Swim Around Key West’ Marathon, Including Where to Watch
The water is an integral part of life in Key West, and with that comes amazing opportunities for open water swimming. The 46th annual ‘Swim Around Key West’ Marathon is back on July 2, 2022, allowing for what will undoubtedly be amazing views of the coastline for swimmers (or spectators!). We’re breaking down all there is to know about one of the longest continuously running marathon swims in the world.
About the ‘Swim Around Key West’ Marathon
‘Swim Around Key West’ is a 12.5-mile waterway course that encircles the southernmost Key. The swim begins at Smathers Beach and runs clockwise around the island, ending back at Smathers Beach. Click to see the ‘Swim Around Key West’ map. This year, the race will be held July 2, starting around 9:20 a.m. and closing at 5:20 p.m. (dates and times change annually, so that the best tidal currents are in the swimmer’s favor). This gives swimmers an eight-hour window to complete the course. The race is divided into three categories: solo swimmers (swimming the full 12.5 miles) or relay teams of two (6 miles each, consecutively) or three people (4 miles each, consecutively).
The competitive swim around the island started in 1977 as a way to promote open water swimming and a healthy, active lifestyle. It is a true test of endurance and strength! Slots to participate in this annual gauntlet of tropical elements are limited, but if you’re planning to be a spectator, there’s plenty of comfortable areas around the island to catch a glimpse.
‘Swim Around Key West’ Tips
To learn more about the marathon, check out the journals of Bill Welzien. The open water swimmer and Race Director of ‘Swim Around Key West’ has completed 123 circumnavigation swims around Key West to date. His journals are full of information that may help you prepare for swimming conditions. Perhaps Welzien’s journals will help you beat the current ‘Swim Around Key West’ record, 3:31:28, and be rewarded with a $1,000 prize.
Best Places to Watch the ‘Swim Around Key West’ Marathon
Helpful tip: The best way to spot swimmers? The most visible part of the race is the support kayaks, which carry water and other supplies alongside the swimmers.
The obvious choice is Smathers Beach, where the race will begin in two waves: one at 9:20 a.m., the other at 9:50 a.m. To avoid the crowd at the starting line, consider watching from Higgs Beach or the Southernmost Point on the corner of South and Whitehead streets. You can also plan a trip to Fort Zachary that coincides with the event to see swimmers pass by.
The relay swimmers will make their first exchange near Mallory Square. Head to the popular tourist spot on the west side of the island to see expansive views of the gulf and the swimmers. The Key West Bight is also an excellent place to post up and enjoy a meal at a waterfront restaurant while swimmers pass. Places like Schooner Wharf Bar, Boat House Bar & Grill, Half Shell Raw Bar, and Conch Republic Seafood Company all open before noon.
Swimmers reaching the end of the course may start as early as 12:45 p.m., with a steady flow continuing until 5 p.m. Book your stay with The Gates Hotel to watch swimmers from the front of the property as they make their way to the Cow Key Channel. Another option is to rent a bike with us and ride on the sidewalk of Roosevelt Boulevard, which faces the water. The race ends at Smathers Beach, which is an island favorite for its sandy shoreline.
The Gates Hotel makes it easy to explore the island at your leisure with our Bike Around Key West package. Your stay includes two bike rentals per day, plus helpful accessories like a basket, helmet, bike light, lock, and keys.
Where to Stay for the ‘Swim Around Key West’ Marathon
Like Smathers Beach, The Gates Hotel is also located in New Town, putting you closest to all the marathon action. The Gates Hotel is a Condé Nast award-winning hotel offering shuttle service to Old Town and exciting onsite amenities - like a spectacular swimming pool, food truck, and a cigar lounge.
Participating in the race? Have a post-race celebratory Rodriguez Cigar at our cigar lounge to experience a taste of Cuban-Key West history, or channel the days of Prohibition with specialty rum and rum cocktails from our exclusive partnership with First Legal Rum Distillery at our pool bar & lounge, Rum Row. When hunger hits, satisfy your cravings at The Blind Pig, our onsite food truck serving up tasty dishes inspired by regional cuisine and local ingredients.
Now for a limited time, Florida residents can enjoy the Florida Residents Escape package for a special nightly rate, plus free parking and complimentary welcome cocktails.
If you’re thinking about a visit to Key West, don’t delay! It’s always summer in the Conch Republic. See our special offers online and see what guests are saying about us:
“We loved everything about this hotel and would recommend it to anyone! They even offer a hotel shuttle so we did not have to rent a car, however the concierge did get us set up with bikes and a scooter so we were able to maximize our stay! We loved it so much and really appreciated all the time that went into making our stay memorable and amazing!” - krystalsweeney87, TripAdvisor
"It was a beautiful room and pool area. We loved the rum bar and The Blind Pig. Shuttle was very convenient and we had fun on the bikes one day also. The concierge was knowledgeable and got us a snorkel trip on the right day and suggested a great breakfast restaurant on Duval.” - shanna, TripAdvisor
“Gates is Great!!! Great hotel! Loved everything about the hotel. Clean, comfortable, nice decor, pleasant staff, and super convenient. Starbucks is next door and they have a food truck called The Blind Pig. In addition, they provide a shuttle service into town and drop you off in Mallory Square. Oh and they don’t charge for parking which is a plus!!!” - naidianao, TripAdvisor