Key West – an island city and the furthest point of the Florida Keys is famous for its sub-tropical town full of life, color and celebration, yet still laid back enough to sense the history and tradition that makes it one of the unique destinations in the United States. There is an endless amount of things to do in the waters surrounding the keys. While this adorable island city is undoubtedly the water activity capital of southern Florida, you don’t have to leave it’s charming shores to find things to do in Key West. Even though this island is known for its pristine beaches, and mystical underwater playgrounds of coral reefs and marine wildlife to explore for the outdoorsy visitors, it also has tours on land for sightseeing and history buffs.
Based on my recent trip during the last Independence Day weekend, here’s my list of top 12 things to do in Key West that will make your trip memorable!
#1 Get yourself clicked at Southernmost Point
No trip to the Key West is complete without getting yourselves clicked at the Southernmost point, one of an iconic spot and most visited tourist attractions in Key West located at the corner of South Street and Whitehead Street. Southernmost Point Buoy is an anchored concrete buoy marking one of the extreme points of the United States as well as the continent of the North America. To beat the crowd, lines, heat, and lack of parking, try to visit in the morning!
#2 Visit Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum
Ernest Hemingway was a literary icon, journalist and well-known personality in Key West. His former home — which he lived in for less than 10 years but owned until his death in 1961 — is located in Old Town and is now a U.S. National Historic Landmark. The grand house itself is interesting, as it was one of the first in Key West to have indoor plumbing and a pool. Inside, the rooms contain memorabilia about Hemingway’s life and work. I did a self-guided tour around the house and spent some time (okay, a lot of time), playing with the cats that live there. Yes! you read correctly… the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum is home to approximately 40-50 polydactyl (six-toed) cats.
#3 Snorkel at Key West Marine Park
Close to shore and free of motorized boats and jet skis, Key West Marine Park is the ideal spot for beginning snorkelers. Swim-only lanes are marked by prominently visible buoys. Enjoy brilliantly hued fish and fascinating coral patches and reefs close to shore, and then wind up a fun-filled morning of snorkeling with a pleasant nap on the beach. Snorkeling from shore is the perfect way to adjust to the sport at your own pace, heading into the water from the beach for an hour or two of relaxed marine life explorations just steps from sunbathing spots and restaurants. Located near the popular White Street pier, the park is fast becoming a popular stop for folks looking for convenient Key West snorkeling tours.
#4 Click Snaps at Southernmost House
Southernmost House is one of the most historic Key West Beach hotels located adjacent to Key West Marine Park. This hotel was the favorite spot for Presidents, royalty, and famous figures like Ernest Hemingway. If you’re planning for an expensive getaway, you can stay at Southernmost House. If not, then just grab your camera and click its pictures to preserve your memories!
#5 Climb up the Key West Lighthouse & Keeper’s Quarters Museum
If you’re not claustrophobic and fascinated by heights, then you must climb up the tiny and constricting 88 steps to the top of the Key West Lighthouse for the splendid 360-degree views of the Key West. Don’t forget to visit the keeper’s house that has been transformed into the museum that surveys the history of lighthouses in the Keys, with photographs and various artifacts.
#6 Stroll on the Duval Street
Duval Street is one of the iconic street, located in the downtown in Key West, running north and south from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean. There’s a vibrant youthful energy on Duval Street surrounded by beautiful galleries, shops, bars and magnificent homes with huge porches. The sidewalks on Duval Street is full of people walking around with a drink in hand, stopping by the numerous souvenir and beachwear stores, and just having an all-around good time. Don’t forget to visit Sloppy Joe’s Bar, one of the legendary bars of Duval street for having some gala time!
#7 Explore the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory
If you love butterflies, this is the perfect spot for you.The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory is filled with about 50 to 60 species of the colorful winged creatures that seemingly float through the air in an enclosed 5,000-square-foot aviary. The butterflies share their home with 3,500 plants, along with more than 20 species of exotic birds. This is the serene place to explore the nature around!
#8 Visit Harry S. Truman Little White House
The Little White House was originally built in 1890 as naval command headquarters during the Spanish-American War, World War I and World War II. In 1946, President Harry Truman used this house as his winter vacation home and because he spent so many working vacations here, it became known as the Little White House. Since Truman’s days, many other presidents have also vacationed here, including Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. Today, the Little White House has been restored and turned into a museum. Exhibits document Key West’s role in naval conflicts, as well as the house’s history. It’s one of the must visit attraction for any Key West traveler!
#9 Take sun bath at Smathers Beach
Key West isn’t known for its beaches. However, the most bustling one on this island is Smathers Beach which is the largest public beach in Key West, Florida. The beach is famous for its spectacular sunset as well as it also offers picnic areas, restroom facilities, volleyball courts, Jet Ski rentals and free parking. If you’re a beach lover, then sunbathing is not a bad idea for few hours to escape the crowd and experience the sun, the sand and the sea of the perfect tropical Floridian vibes!
#10 Celebrate sunset at Mallory Square
For a great view of the Key West sunset, head to Mallory Square at the northwest tip of the island. During the Sunset Celebration (a free, nightly arts festival that starts about two hours before sunset), this is one of the best spots on the island to catch the sun’s last moments and revel in the end of the day. The only drawback is it’s extremely crowded with cruise ships tourists.
#11 Sail on a boat
When you’re not admiring the waters that surround Key West from the beach, enjoy them from the deck of a boat. Several companies offer sailing, snorkeling and kayaking tours, not to mention sunset cruises. Depending on the company you choose, tours can range from half-day to full day excursions, and most include beverages and light snacks.
#12 Energize at Smoothie Shuttle
You’ll require the hell lot of energy while enjoying all the amazing things to do in Key West. Therefore visit Smoothie Shuttle located at Key Plaza Shopping Center and try their amazing smoothies, healthy-drinks, protein supplements, and bars to delight your taste buds and beat the heat of Key West. I had the ‘Sunburn’ smoothie made up of strawberries, blueberries, bananas and milk and it was the best smoothie I ever had in my life! I also liked their Key Lime pie that was a real treat!
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Tips for visiting Key West
- The best way to get around Key West is by bicycle. There is no free parking in Key West and at times, you really have to struggle for finding a space in the public parking. Old Town trolley hop-on and hop-off guided tours are available which can be your best private transportation. If you love walking, then you can explore most of the attraction by walking as most of them are in the vicinity.
- As Key West is a popular holiday destination, it’s quite expensive. A good hotel will cost you minimum 250 USD per night and prices vary depending on the peak seasons. If you’re a budget traveler, you can think of staying at Miami or somewhere between the Florida Keys.
- If you have less time on your vacation, you can stay in Miami and drive to Key West and finish all the major attractions in a single day without spending a night out here.
- The best time to visit Key West is between March and May. The winter crowds will taper off, the hotel rates become reasonable and the weather is remarkably similar to winter’s blissful 70s and 80s. Speaking of winter — that season is the island’s busiest and priciest. The rainy and humid summer months see the fewest tourists but the best hotel rates. The trade-off might be worth it, but you’re still gambling against hurricane season (June to November).
- My only advice is – Don’t fly to Key West but rent a car from Miami or Ft. Lauderdale airport and experience the classic American Drive which is usually on the lists of most beautiful drives in the world. The breathtaking scenery of just you and the water surrounding for miles induces sensory overload. A 4-hour drive on Overseas Highway leading to US-1 awes you in its own right as an engineering marvel. To read more about my experience on Overseas Highway dream drive, you can click here.
Key west has plenty of things to explore depending upon the kind of traveler you are but it is among those few places in the world where if you visit 100 times, I bet that you’ll have completely different experience each time with all the different things to do!
Do share your experience if you’ve visited Key West, Florida in the comments below? If not, what do you think about this dream destination?