Pack your bags and tick that box on your bucket list and head to Key West, an island paradise located at the southernmost point of the continental United States. From its unique local culture to its abundance of outdoor activities, there is something fun for everyone in the Conch Republic and you should check it out.
Key West is one of the coolest little cities in the United States. It's full of charm and rich history with a laid-back vibe. We were there for three full days and filled our itinerary with the best things to do in Key West. We hope this list of the top things to do in Key West will help you have a great time in the Southernmost city.
1. Visit the Ernest Hemingway House
Start your trip with a visit to Hemingway House, where Ernest Hemingway wrote many of his most famous works. Tour the house and take in all its historical charm while learning about this literary great. The house is also home to dozens of six-toed cats, another example of the island’s unique spirit.
On the tour, you will learn about the famous residents, past and present. (Here's looking at you Joe Dimaggio, the cat.) Our tour guide did a great job telling us about Ernest Hemingway and his family.
The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum is located at 907 Whitehead Street. It is open daily from 9:00 am until 5:00 pm. Admission is $18 for adults and $7 for children ages 6-12. You must pay with CASH for admission.
2. Climb To the Top of the Lighthouse
Across the street from the Hemingway House is the Key West Lighthouse and Keeper's Quarters. Climb the 88 steps and take in the breathtaking view from 360 degrees. Pace yourself - 88 steps may not sound like a lot, but your muscles will tell you otherwise.
The current lighthouse opened in 1848 and was in service until 1969. It was ahead of the times - the lighthouse keeper was a woman!
Admission to the lighthouse and keeper's quarters is $17 for adults, $13 for seniors, and $9 for children ages 7-18. Active military personnel are admitted free. (You can save money by booking online.) Hours are from 10:00 am until 4:30 pm daily.
3. Watch the Sun Set at Mallory Square
Make sure you also check out Mallory Square. This iconic spot along the Key West historic seaport offers incredible views of the sunset over the Gulf of Mexico and some of Key West's most popular restaurants and bars.
It’s also home to the quirky Sunset Celebration, live music, and a nightly gathering of jugglers and other street performers. There are food vendors selling the famous local delicacy - conch fritters.
4. Take a Sunset Cruise
Sunset cruises are a great way of taking in the breathtaking Key West sunsets. Enjoy a drink as you sail around the island, taking in the amazing views and relaxing in paradise. We booked a Wind & Wine cruise through Danger Charters and sampled 7 different wines while gliding through the calm waters around the island.
We boarded a beautiful schooner and were treated to wine and delicious hors d'oeuvres which complimented the different wines. The 2-hour cruise started around 6:30 pm and we were all treated to amazing views of the spectacular sunset.
Danger Charters offers three different sunset cruises: Key West Wind & Wine Sunset Sail, Stock Island Wind & Wine Sunset Sail, and (a) Private Wind & Wine Sunset Sail.
5. Explore the Beaches
You don't go to Key West for the beaches. However, there are some and the three most popular public beaches are Smathers Beach, Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park Beach, and Higgs Beach.
- Smathers Beach is the largest of the three and it is located just 1 mile to the west of the Key West International Airport. It's free to go to the beach, but you may need to pay for parking. If you notice a smell like rotten eggs, it could be from sargassum, a type of seaweed that has been washing up on the beaches in the Caribbean.
- Fort Zachary Taylor Beach is considered the clearest beach, but you will have to pay to get into the state park. Admission is nominal and parking is included in the fee. There is a rocky bottom and rock formations in the water which attract tropical fish making it a great spot for snorkeling. There are palm trees, a cute cafe, and umbrella rentals, restrooms, and showers.
- Higgs Beach is a small beach located near the West Martello Tower (a site that was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1976) and it has a small volleyball court, beach umbrellas for rent, and public restrooms. Higgs Beach is a free, public beach.
6. Step Back in Time at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park
In 1845, just after Florida became a state, construction began on a fort at the southern part of the Keys. Named after the 12th president of the United States, Fort Zachary Taylor has provided harbor defense through four wars: The Civil War, Spanish-American War, World War I, and World War II. The fort was active until 1947.
In 1968 the discovery of guns and ammunition from Civil War times led the fort to be added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. Today, the fort serves as a state park and visitors can learn about Florida’s rich history and get an up close and personal look at some of the fort’s best artifacts.
The park also has a beach where visitors can relax and soak up the sun. If exploring ruins and lying in the sun causes you to work up an appetite, you can make your way to the Cayo Hueso Cafe and enjoy BBQ, Cuban food, hot dogs & pizza, and salads, sandwiches, and wraps while taking in both the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.
Admission to the park includes the fort and beach access. Park entrance fees are:
- $4.50 for one person in a car
- $6.50 for two people in a car, with each additional person $0.50.
- Riding or biking in is $2.50.
The park is open daily from 8:00 am until sunset. The fort is open from 10:00 am until 5:00 pm daily. A guided tour takes place daily at 11:00 am.
7. See Butterflies
At the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory, you can explore a world of butterflies in natural surroundings. This tropical paradise is home to over 50 butterfly species from around the world, making it an unforgettable experience for kids and adults alike.
Along with hundreds of butterflies, there are colorful birds, turtles, and the resident flamingos, Rhett and Scarlett.
The conservatory is located at 1316 Duval Street and is open from 9:00 am until 5:00 pm. (The last admission is at 4:30 pm.) It closes at 2:00 pm on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and on Christmas Day with the last admission being at 1:30 pm.
8. Touch a Sea Creature at the Key West Aquarium
Located in the heart of Old Town Key West, the Key West Aquarium is a must-visit. This interactive aquarium showcases sea creatures like sharks, stingrays, and seahorses up close and personal.
In the touch tank, visitors can touch conchs, sea stars, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, giant hermit crabs, and horseshoe crabs.
The aquarium is located near Mallory Square at 1 Whitehead Street and is open from 9:00 am until 6:00 pm daily with the last admission at 5:30 pm. Admission is $20.99 for adults and $11.99 for children ages 4-12. Children under the age of 4 are admitted free.
9. Go Parasailing
If you’re looking for a more extreme adventure, give parasailing a try. Soar hundreds of feet in the air and take in the breathtaking views of Key West from above.
We experienced our first parasailing adventure with Sebago Watersports. It was an awesome experience that we were able to do together. While up in the air, we spotted sea turtles swimming and even saw a spotted ray jump out of the water.
Sebago offers parasailing trips (and more!) every hour on the hour starting at 9:00 am until 5:00 pm. While rates are usually $89.95 per person, be sure to check the Key West Sebago website for special offers.
10. Take a Tour on the Conch Tour Train
Take a narrated tour of Key West on the Conch Tour Train. Designed to look like a vintage-style train, this fun tour takes you around the island and stops at some of its most popular attractions.
The tour lasts approximately 75 minutes and includes a full loop through Old Town Key West. The guides are knowledgeable, friendly, and sure to keep you entertained throughout. You'll learn about famous residents, why chickens are everywhere on the island, and so much more.
The Conch Tour Train leaves Mallory Square at 9:00 am every morning and runs until 4:45 pm. Ticket prices vary and start from $39.95 for adults and $19.90 for children (ages 4-12). You can save money by buying your tickets online.
11. Hop On and Hop Off
If you're looking for a unique and exciting way to explore the island, consider taking a trolley tour. The Old Town Trolley Tours is another great way to learn about Key West from the comfort of your seat. The tour covers all the major sites and attractions in Key West, including the Truman Little White House, Bahama Village, East Martello/Robert the Doll, and the Southernmost Point.
The 90-minute tour stops at 13 different points of interest, giving you the opportunity to hop off and explore some of the city's most popular attractions. There are 4 booth locations where you can start your journey: Mallory Square, Simonton Row, Truval Village, and Angela Street.
You can purchase 1- or 2-day tickets, each allowing you unlimited re-boarding. Prices start at $78.70 for adults and $20.95 for children ages 4-12. You'll save money by ordering your tickets online.
12. See the Shipwreck Museum
Discover artifacts from some of the most famous shipwrecks in the area and learn about what life was like centuries ago for the wreckers who salvaged them at the Key West Shipwreck Museum.
Children will love the re-enactments and interactive displays. There are also several hands-on activities for visitors of all ages. And if you want some of the best views of Mallory Square, be sure to climb the 65-foot tall observation tower.
The museum is located at 1 Whitehead Street and is open from 9:00 am until 5:00 pm daily. Tickets start from $18.26 for adults and $79.66 for children (ages 4-12). You can save by buying tickets online.
13. Discover Recovered Treasures
The Mel Fisher Maritime Museum is a must-visit for any history buff or treasure hunter. Here, you can explore artifacts recovered from some of the most famous shipwrecks in Florida and learn about legendary wrecks such as the Atocha and the Santa Margarita.
The museum is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and sharing the history of shipwrecks and the people who salvaged them. Visitors can see real treasures, coins, artifacts, and more.
For those who wish to know more, the museum also offers lab tours which allow one to take a behind-the-scenes look at the conservation and restoration process of shipwreck artifacts. The tours take place twice a day - at 11:30 am and at 2:00 pm Monday through Friday. (There is a supplemental charge of $40 for lab tours.)
The museum is located at 200 Greene Street and is open daily from 10:00 am until 4:00 pm. Tickets begin at $17.50 for adults and $8.50 for children ages 6-12.
14. Sample the Local Cuisine
No trip to Key West is complete without sampling the island's delicious cuisine. Enjoy fresh seafood caught right off the coast, sample some of the island's famous key lime pie, or tantalize your taste buds with spicy Cuban dishes.
If you’re looking for a unique experience, book a food tour and take a stroll through Key West’s historic district while tasting signature dishes from its most iconic restaurants.
15. Stroll Duval Street
Be sure to also spend some time exploring Key West's vibrant art and culture scene. Stroll down Duval Street, the most famous and most traveled street in the city, for a taste of the city's diverse street art, or visit one of its many museums, galleries, and theaters.
You will want to see some of the famous landmarks, like Sloppy Joe's Bar, one of Ernest Hemingway's favorite haunts. Duval Street is also home to the very first Margaritaville which opened in 1987.
16. Catch a Fish
Key West is all about water, water sports, and catching fish. Take a fishing charter and explore the beautiful waters of Key West in search of different species of snapper, grouper, tarpon, or even shark.
We booked an evening tarpon fishing trip through FishingBooker.com. We headed to Hurricane Hole Marina and set sail after 4 pm. Unfortunately for us, the tarpon were uncooperative that night and we did not catch a single one. But overall, we had an enjoyable time and got to experience Key West from a different perspective.
17. Bathe in a Tropical Forrest
Forest bathing is a deeply calming and rejuvenating experience where you spend time in nature by simply walking slowly, soaking in all its sights, sounds, and smells. Head to Stock Island to go to the Key West Tropical Forest and Botanical Garden for an unforgettable experience that will leave you feeling refreshed and energized.
The forest is "the only frost-free, sub-tropical, natural conservation habitat, native plant botanical garden in the continental United States." The forest and garden are a slice of paradise, where you will find lush foliage and might even spot an iguana or two.
When you visit the lush gardens, the first thing you want to do is to get a map to help you navigate the various trails and keep you from getting lost. Be sure to not miss the Cuban Palms Exhibit where you will see makeshift boats that were actually used by people to flee Cuba.
Admission is $10 for adults, $7 for seniors, and free for children and active & retired military. The gardens are open from 10:00 am until 4:00 pm daily. The gardens close at 1:00 pm on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and New Year's Eve and are closed on Christmas Day and New Year's Day.
18. Walk in President Harry Truman's Steps
Last but not least, be sure to visit the Truman Little White House. This historic landmark is where President Harry S. Truman spent 175 days over 11 visits during his term in office.
The house was originally built in 1890 as a two-family residence by the United States Navy. In 1918, Thomas Edison called it home for 6 months and created 41 new weapons during World War I. Upon taking the advice of his doctor in the 1940s, it became the location Truman chose for a warm vacation.
Today, the Truman Little White House is open daily and offers 1-hour guided tours from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm daily. Tickets start at $22.95 for adults, $10 for children (ages 4-12), and $20.95 for military.
Best Time To Visit Key West
Any time is a good time to be in Key West. The Florida Keys have a tropical-maritime climate. This means that the weather is influenced by the ocean and in the Keys, the typical low in January is around 67 degrees and the hottest month is August with a typical high of 91 degrees.
Though Key West is a great destination year-round, weather-wise, the best time to visit Key West is from March to May, the Spring shoulder season.
Key West has a rainy season which typically runs from June until October. Hurricane season begins June 1st and goes through the end of November. Don't let that scare you. According to AccuWeather, Key West only has a 16% chance of being impacted by a hurricane during the Atlantic hurricane season. For peace of mind, look into travel insurance.
No matter what time of year you choose to visit this beautiful Caribbean-like destination, there’s sure to be something for everyone in Key West.
Be sure to check out The Florida Keys and Key West website for more great things to do!