Gorgeous beaches and soft sand are a huge draw to Key West. As appealing as they are, there are plenty of other amazing things to do in Key West besides suntanning!
Water activity choices are endless, with scuba diving, snorkeling, and paddle boarding among the most popular. Key West is also full of history, with endless museums and historic sites to explore when you’re not in the water.
Key West will really make you feel like you’re in another world. It’s the southernmost city in the United States and just 90 miles from Cuba. In Old Town Key West, you’ll experience a blend of rich cultures evident in the food, architecture, and people you’ll meet.
If you’re looking for a laidback vacation full of sun, fresh seafood, and key lime pie, Key West is where it’s at! Start planning your vacation to Key West with this guide to all the best Key West activities.
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8 Top Things to Do in Key West
1. Tour the Ernest Hemingway House and Museum
If you’re an Ernest Hemingway fan, you have to take a tour of the Ernest Hemingway House and Museum. You can take a tour of the full home and see what life was like for Hemingway in his Key West home. And if you’re not a fan, it’s still worth visiting.
Even more impressive than the house itself is the gardens and outdoor swimming pool. During the 1930s, a huge outdoor swimming pool was dug through the solid coral on the property. Although it might seem common now, having an outdoor pool over 60 feet long was unheard of during Hemingway’s lifetime.
If you think that’s interesting and a bit unique, wait until you hear this next part. On the grounds of the Ernest Hemingway House, you’ll befriend over 60 six-toed polydactyl cats. When Hemingway first lived in Key West, he was given a six-toed cat by a ship captain. All the cats on the ground are descendants of his original cat.
2. Explore the Key West Butterfly Nature and Conservatory
Home to over a hundred different butterflies, the Key West Butterfly Nature and Conservatory is a colorful and magical place. While gazing at the butterflies is the main attraction, the conservatory also has tropical plants, birds, and beautiful palm trees.
The waterfalls on the property are some of the best places to take photos. The birds and butterflies tend to hang out around the water, making for great photo ops.
After exploring the grounds, head to the Learning Center. The exhibit is full of caterpillars and interactive exhibits, and you can learn the anatomy and life cycle of butterflies. There’s also an art gallery and a gift shop at the end of the tour.
3. Shop in Mallory Square
Mallory square is great to visit any time of the day, but it really comes alive at night. During the day, you can check out the restaurants and shops. Most of the shops are small with locally-made items, including souvenirs and home decorations. Novelty gifts can be bought for your family and friends, including key lime pie-making packages and recipes.
The food scene is also amazing, with a mix of southern American, Caribbean, and Cuban food. Fresh-pressed tropical juice is a great way to cool off from the heat. And, make sure to get one of the guava pastries or other choices for dessert—you really can’t go wrong with any option.
Every night in Mallory Square, there’s a sunset celebration. You’ll see some of the most amazing sunsets in Key West, where the sky becomes an amazing mix of pink and orange over the Gulf of Mexico.
Before and during the sunset every night, they also have live entertainment. Sit back and relax while watching jugglers, artists, musicians, and clowns.
4. Take a Stroll Down Duval Street
Named after the first governor of Florida, Duval Street is just 1.25 miles long. It is a must-visit when you’re in Key West. Duval Street is the main part of downtown running north from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean to the south.
Most people call it the heartbeat of Key West. If you want a full tour of Duval Street, you can book a Key West Old Town Trolley Tour. Ride along on the trolley while a tour guide tells you all the history of Key West.
You can also just stroll by yourself. Whatever choice you make, you need to visit the Hogs Breath Saloon or the Green Parrot Bar. Both places have amazing mixed drinks and live music from local bands. Check out this pub crawl on Duval Street to enjoy all the hot spots!
5. Hike in Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park
Fort Zachary Taylor is a beautiful place to learn more about Key West’s history. Fort Zachary Taylor was built before the Civil War and now houses the largest cache of Civil War armament in the world. On the first and second weekends, you can also see local re-enactors do cannon and historic demonstrations.
It’s also a top spot for hiking. Most of the trails have paved portions and only slight elevation, so they are definitely kid-friendly. The canoe/kayak launch is at the front of the park, with rental options available if you don’t have your own equipment.
At the Chickee hut, you can get snorkeling gear or scuba diving equipment if you’re a certified diver. If you’re looking for a more relaxing day, you can rent a beach chair and umbrella and work on your summer tan near the water.
Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park is located at 601 Howard England Way, Key West, FL 33040. They open at 8 a.m. and close at sundown every day of the year. The fort closes at 5 p.m. The entrance fee is $6 per vehicle.
6. Get Your History On at Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Museum
If you’re interested in maritime archeology or shipwrecks, the Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Museum has artifacts and treasure pieces recovered by Mel Fisher during 1985.
The museum has over $450 million worth of gold, silver, and emeralds. You can also see sections of different shipwrecks, including the Nuestra Senora de Atocha and the Santa Margarita.
A section of the museum is a conservation lab where you can learn how underwater artifacts can be conserved after discovery. The Key West Turtle Museum is also part of the maritime museum, where you can learn about the history of Key West’s many sea turtles.
Mel Fisher’s museum is within walking distance to Mallory Square and Duval Street, so you can easily grab a bite to eat or have a drink after exploring the museum.
7. See the Southernmost Point
Traveling to Key West will bring you to the southernmost point in the continental United States. Just 18 feet above sea level, the southernmost point is marked by a painted anchored concrete buoy. Make sure to snap some photos around the buoy and get a clear view of the blue water behind it.
While at the southernmost point, you’ll actually be closer to Cuba than mainland Florida. Since taking some photos and enjoying the view won’t take much time, spend the rest of the day sampling from the many cafes in the area. Southernmost Beach Cafe and Ana’s Cuban Cafe are the top choices.
If you booked a tour on the Old Town Key West Trolley, it also includes a stop at the southernmost buoy.
The southernmost point of the continental US is located at Whitehead St &, South St, Key West, FL 33040. It’s always there, and it’s free of charge to see!
8. Take a Day Trip to Key Largo
Key Largo is another major island in the chain of the Florida Keys, and it’s just a 2-hour drive from Key West. Most people visiting Key West choose to take a quick day trip because there are so many things to do in Key Largo.
For the best snorkeling experience, head to Key Largo and visit the John Pennekamp Coral Reef. It’s 70 nautical square miles and lets you see marine life in both the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.
Key Largo has some great life nightlife options. So if you choose to stay overnight, make sure to grab a few drinks at Sundowners. Fishing, scuba diving, and stand-up paddleboarding are all also popular attractions in Key Largo.
How to Get to Key West
Key West has an international airport (EYW) that services some airlines from larger cities throughout the United States. Miami International (MIA) airport is another option not too far away. It’s much larger and has non-stop flights every day from most major US city airports.
Plus, flying into Miami means you get to take a stunning scenic drive down to Key West! It’s about a 3.5-hour drive on US-1 S. If you are near Fort Myers or Marco Island, you can also take the Key West Express Ferry to get to the islands.
How to Get Around Key West
Walking is the easiest way to get around Key West. It’s a pretty small island, so most of the main attractions are within walking distance of each other.
If you don’t feel like walking, you’ll see many bike rental places in Old Town. Taxis and rental cars are also available in town if you want to take a day trip or plan to venture outside of Key West. You can also book a trolley tour if you want to sightsee around the downtown area.
When to Visit Key West
The best time to visit Key West for cool weather and fewer crowds is between March and May. Hotel prices are at an all-time low during this period, and the temperature is always in the 70s or 80s.
If you are looking for the best time to go snorkeling or get an amazing tan, though, you might want to head to Key West during the summer months instead. The holidays can get extremely crowded with people trying to escape the cold weather, so hotel prices will be very high during this time.
Where to Stay in Key West
Budget: Key Lime Inn is within walking distance to the Ernest Hemingway House and less than a mile away from the butterfly conservatory. The hotel is simple but beautifully decorated. It has all the basic amenities you need. Enjoy free breakfast, an outdoor swimming pool, a fitness center, and WIFI.
Mid-Range: Hilton Garden Inn Key West is right off Duval Street, so you can walk to many attractions and restaurants. Old Town is also a 10-minute drive away. They have a free shuttle service, an outdoor pool with a bar, and a 24-hour shop if you happen to need anything during your stay!
Luxury: Ocean Key Resort & Spa offers the luxury and pampering you need during your stay in Key West. The best part is all the rooms have a balcony with a view of the Gulf of Mexico. They have a delicious on-site restaurant where you can see the beach and crystal blue water. Make sure to also visit the spa for a massage or a skin treatment.
Where to Eat in Key West
Latitudes is an upscale restaurant located inside the Westin hotel. Make sure to reserve a table on the patio for stunning views of the Gulf of Mexico. Order the seared sea scallops or the crispy salmon. The dessert menu and wine list are also amazing.
Seaside Cafe at the Mansion offers casual food and ambiance with outdoor seating. It has gorgeous views of the ocean, especially around sunset. Their signature item is their fresh lobster pizza, so make sure to give it a try! The honey butter lobster biscuits are also incredible.
Kermit’s Key West Key Lime Pie has some of the best key lime pie in the state. A trip to Key West isn’t complete without key lime pie! They also have a full food menu including fish & chips, hamburgers, and a large selection of wraps and sandwiches.
All the Top Things to Do in Key West Are Waiting For You!
Ready to head to Key West? A holiday to this island off the coast of Florida will be sure to be unforgettable. Once you’ve experienced the simplicity and fun of island life, you’ll be itching to get back as soon as you leave.
Key West also has some amazing day trips close by, with Miami being the closest city on the mainland. Don’t skip Key West in your next Florida road trip to see all the best places to visit in Florida.
Have you ever been to Key West? What was your favorite attraction or activity?
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