25 Best Things to Do in Key West (Florida)

key west beach

Known for its fantastic tropical climate, Key West is a magnet for visitors, especially during the winter months.

Located approximately 4 hours drive southwest from Miami, the island is the endpoint of the famous Overseas Highway.

The tropical paradise guarantees the best scuba diving and snorkeling in the continental United States.

In addition to its Victorian and Queen Anne Architecture, the gateway to the Caribbean is a mixture between soft white beaches and lush tropical vegetation.

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If you have already decided to spend your vacation in Key West, here’s what not to miss:

1. Smathers Beach

smathers beach
Smathers Beach by Carla Arena/Flickr

Smathers Beach is situated in southeastern Key West and is considered the most popular beach in Florida Keys.

It offers a half-mile long stretch of powder-fine white sand and swaying coconut palm trees.

The beach is busiest during the winter season between November and April, when the average temperature during the day is at least 75°F (24°C) in combination with clear skies and plenty of sunshine.

Considering the geographic location of Key West, the quality of the turquoise water along the coast of Smathers Beach is quite good.

2. Hemingway House

hemingway house
Hemingway House by Michelle Maria/Pixabay

No matter how many days you have planned in Key West, Ernest Hemingway’s house should definitely be on your travel bucket list.

Completed in 1851, it is not only very beautiful, but also of exceptional cultural and historical importance.

Built in the French colonial style, it was home to the famous writer between 1931 and 1939.

He completed some of his most famous works here, including “Green Hills of Africa”, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” and “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber ”.

3. Bars of Key West

the dollar bar
The Dollar Bar by wurliburli/Pixabay

Situated only 94 miles from Cuba (the largest Caribbean island), Key West is known for the most relaxing and unpretentious atmosphere in the continental United States.

Whether you need some relaxing live guitar music in the evening or just want to enjoy some of the countless Caribbean cocktails available here, local bars are among the most important tourist attractions.

You have a great choice of places to visit, the most famous of which are located in the Old Town of Key West, especially along the popular Duval Street.

4. Higgs Beach

higgs beach
Higgs Beach by J. Stephen Conn/Flickr

Higgs Beach is a relatively small stretch of powder-soft white sand located in the southern part of Key West.

Like many other beaches in Florida Keys, it is also man-made with sands brought from the Caribbean.

The smooth azure water along the coast is around 75°F (24°C) even in January, so it is quite tempting for swimming and all kinds of water sports.

As there are many beach bars in the area, here you can enjoy a classic Caribbean cocktail under the shade of the coconut palm trees.

5. The Southernmost Continental Part of the USA

the southernmost point
The Southernmost Point by Paul Brennan/Pixabay

In 1983, a concrete buoy was placed in a small square on the south shore of Key West to symbolically mark the southernmost point of the continental United States.

You will find it on the corner between Whitehead Street and South Street. This is one of the major tourist attractions in the country and in Florida.

There is a text saying “Home of the Sunset” and “90 miles to Cuba”, although the Caribbean island is actually 94 miles away.

6. Captain George Carey House

captain george carey house
Captain George Carey House by Ralph Huber/Pixabay

The famous Captain George Carey’s mansion is a beautiful 19th century Classic Revival Conch House, located at 410 Caroline Street.

Initially built in 1834, the house was enlarged ten years later, in 1844.

As this is one of the oldest existing buildings in Key West, the mansion is of great historical and cultural importance.

Being the home of Captain Carey’s wealthy family, the mansion is well-known for its famous visitors, including the family of the writer Ernest Hemingway, and was the center of the island’s social and cultural life.

7. The Key West Lighthouse

the key west lighthouse
The Key West Lighthouse by Michelle Maria/Pixabay

When initially completed in 1825, the Key West Lighthouse was 65 feet (or 20 meters) tall.

In 1846, however, only 21 years after its construction, the lighthouse was hit by the Great Havana Hurricane.

The Category 5 tropical cyclone claimed dozens of lives and destroyed hundreds of buildings in the area, including the lighthouse, which was completely devastated.

The new lighthouse was built within 2 years. With a height of 50 feet (15 m), it was completed in 1848 and was 5 meter shorter than the previous one.

In 1894, however, the brick structure was additionally raised with more than 20 feet, reaching its final height of 72 feet (22 m).

8. Duval Street

duval street
Duval Street by Vincent Lammin/Flickr

Named after William Pope Duval, this is one of the busiest and most popular tourist streets in Key West.

It crosses the old part of the city from north to south and is well-known for its beautiful architecture.

Its old and aristocratic Victorian mansions attract visitors as a magnet. On the other side, the Spanish architecture brings a quite strong Caribbean flavour.

Indeed, walking around, you can feel the strong cultural influence of the nearby Cuba and the Bahamas.

The street is famous for its souvenir and cigar shops, bars, cafes and lovely restaurants.

9. Dry Tortugas and Fort Jefferson

dry tortugas national park
Dry Tortugas National Park by Karen Hoffmann/Flickr

Fort Jefferson is one of the largest and most impressive fortresses in the Western Hemisphere.

The unique structure is located 68 miles (109 km) west of Florida Keys and falls within the limits of Dry Tortugas National Park.

Its construction took place between 1846 and 1875, although it was never completed. The structure is built of red bricks and is 45 ft (13.7 m) high.

The sea around Fort Jefferson is known for its unique biodiversity. Shallow and crystal clear turquoise water covers the largest coral reef in the United States.

The place is a paradise for lovers of diving, snorkeling and kayaking, and the best season to come here is between November and April.

10. Caroline Street

amsterdam's curry mansion inn
Amsterdam’s Curry Mansion Inn by Terence Faircloth/Flickr

Created during the late 1820s, Caroline Street is well-known for its conch style wooden houses.

The street is one of the oldest in the Florida Keys and is of great historical importance. Most of the buildings are white and date from the 19th century.

Parts of the streets are mostly residential while others offer a wide choice of cafes, bars and restaurants to visit.

It runs through the northwestern part of the island, not far from the yacht harbour.

11. West Martello Tower

west martello tower
West Martello Tower by Matthew Dillon/Flickr

Situated amidst the powder-white sands of Higgs Beach, West Martello Tower dates back to the civil war and is one of Key West’s oldest landmarks.

Completed in 1862, today the red brick fortress houses the Key West Garden Club, which is why it offers a charming atmosphere and a wide variety of tropical flowers, trees and shrubs.

Of course, the beautiful view of the ocean also contributes to the charm of the old defensive structure.

12. Museum of Art and History

museum of art and history
Museum of Art and History by rjcox/Flickr

The Museum of Art and History is the most important cultural center of Key West.

Known for its rich collections and valuable exhibits, since 1991 it has been housed in a beautiful four-storey building in the Richardsonian Romanesque architecture style.

Completed in 1891, it looks quite different from the other predominantly wooden buildings in Key West. It was constructed of red bricks and is considered one of the most remarkable structures on the island.

Another attraction is the Key West Historic Memorial Sculpture Garden, known for its 20-foot tall memorial, named “The Wreckers”.

13. Key West Tropical Forest and Botanical Garden

key west tropical forest and botanical garden
Key West Tropical Forest and Botanical Garden by rjcox/Flickr

Key West Tropical Forest and Botanical Garden is one of the best places to enjoy a relaxing walk in Key West.

In addition to the lush vegetation, here you can see exotic species of butterflies and birds.

Small ponds along the trails make the walk even more relaxing. It is the only tropical botanical garden in the continental United States.

The place looks most beautiful in May, June and July, although because of the hot and humid climate, walking is most comfortable between November and April.

14. Mallory Square

sunset celebration at mallory square
Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square by Sridhar Saraf/Flickr

Founded in the 1820s, Mallory Square is the most famous square in Key West and Florida Keys.

You will find it on the west coast of the island, locked between the Оld Тown and the cruise ship port.

The place is known for a very romantic and beautiful local tradition called “Sunset Celebration”.

Every day of the year, approximately two hours before sunset, tourists, artists and locals come here, driven by the desire to enjoy the magic of the tropical sunset.

15. Shipwreck Museum

shipwreck museum
Shipwreck Museum by Jim Rhodes/Flickr

The shallow coral reefs off the coast of Florida Keys are a diver’s paradise, but in the 19th century they were a nightmare for sailors.

The waters in this area have seen more shipwrecks than any other place in the world, which is why the Shipwreck Museum is among the most recommended landmarks in Key West.

The main attraction here is the 65-foot tower (almost 20 meters), which served as an observation platform for sinking vessels in the area.

16. Take a Few Pictures of Roosters

roosters
Roosters by Jim Allen/Flickr

One of the most unusual local attractions are the numerous freely roaming roosters around the streets of Key West.

It all started in the 19th century, when the number of chickens began to sharply increase as they were used both for eggs and for entertainment.

In those times, cockfighting was not only allowed but extremely popular. Everything changed in the 1970s, when the sport became illegal and the birds became kind of unnecessary.

Nowadays, there are so many roosters that you can meet them literally behind every corner.

17. St. Paul’s Episcopal Church

st. paul's episcopal church
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church by inazakira/Flickr

Built in 1832, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church is among the most beautiful and remarkable buildings in Key West’s Old Town.

Located at the crossroads of Duval Street and Eaton Street, the church is easily recognizable on the background of the surrounding buildings.

Its elegant white façade stands out from afar as it is among the tallest structures on the island.

The 19th century building is known for its elegant interior and should definitely be part of your travel bucket list.

18. Key West National Wildlife Refuge

mangrove kayaking
Mangrove Kayaking by Jenni Konrad/Flickr

Established in 1908, Key West National Wildlife Refuge is one of the oldest protected areas in the country.

The unique natural treasure occupies an impressive area of about 189,497 acres (766.9 km²) between Key West and Dry Tortugas in the westernmost part of Florida Keys.

It includes 26 islands, vast mangrove forests and open waters and is home to thousands of species of fish, birds, mammals, reptiles, insects and many others, including a number of rare and endangered species.

The only way to visit this place is by boat, but you should know that some parts, including beaches, are forbidden for visitors.

19. Zachary Taylor Beach

zachary taylor beach
Zachary Taylor Beach by Barb & Dean Russ & Williams/Flickr

Zachary Taylor Beach is located on the west side of the south coast, right next to the eponymous historic park.

The place is a paradise for tourists and locals because of its shallow and warm turquoise waters and superb powder-soft white sand.

The smooth water surface makes the place ideal for swimming, and the combination of a rich variety of colorful tropical schools of fish and a very good underwater visibility attracts lovers of snorkeling.

The beach is also known for its convenient location near the Old Town and its numerous historical attractions.

20. Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park

fort zachary taylor historic state park
Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park by Patrick Emerson/Flickr

Opened on March 11, 1971, Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park is the southernmost in the continental United States.

The main attraction here is the fortress, which was constructed between 1845 and 1866 in order to protect the port of the city.

With its extensive green areas and quiet alleys, the park is among the most pleasant and preferred places for recreation and walking in Key West.

Interestingly, the fortress was originally built 1,200 feet (366 m) off the coast, but in the 1960s it was decided to increase the area of the island, and the fortress remained completely landlocked.

21. Key West Aquarium

key west aquarium
Key West Aquarium by Joe Parks/Flickr

The third largest coral reef in the world stretches along the shores of the Florida Keys, and that’s why the Key West Aquarium is an attraction not to be missed.

Established in 1934, the aquarium offers a wide variety of native species of sea creatures.

Here you can see not only colorful schools of fish inhabiting the warm tropical water in the area, but also dangerous predators such as alligators and sharks.

22. Conch Tour Train

conch train tour
Conch Train Tour by Karen/Flickr

Operating since 1958, the Conch Tour Train is one of the island’s leading attractions, especially if you have planned a relatively short break here but still want to explore as much as possible.

The route of the tourist train is adapted to show you the most remarkable places of Key West.

Considering the warm climate here, the train was constructed without covered windows so you can enjoy the pleasantly refreshing tropical breeze.

A full tour lasts about 90 minutes and offers the best way to visit all the major landmarks of Key West within a day.

23. Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory

key west butterfly and nature conservatory
Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory by Matthew Dillon/Flickr

Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory is located in the southern end of the popular Duval Street.

Here you will find a large covered garden, which is a real paradise. The place is home of a variety of butterflies, turtles and exotic birds, including flamingos.

If you need some positive emotions, the garden will not disappoint you. Here you can learn all about butterflies and their way of life.

As it is located under a glass dome, this is a good place to walk even on rainy days, although rainfalls here rarely last more than an hour.

24. Little White House

the little white house
The Little White House by Haydn Blackey/Flickr

The Little White House (also known as Truman’s Little White House) is a traditional Key West white wooden building that elegantly combines elements of West Indian and Victorian architecture.

Built in 1890, it originally served as Naval Station. In 1946, however, President Harry Truman was the first to use the house as a winter residence as he was advised to spend some time in a warmer climate for medical reasons.

The place turned out to be very suitable for the purpose thanks to its favorable weather conditions and winter temperatures between 75 and 81°F (between 24 and 27°C).

Later over the years, the house served as a winter retreat for many American presidents and their families, including Bill and Hillary Clinton.

In 1990 Truman’s Little White House was completely renovated and in 1991 opened as a museum, becoming one of the most recommended places to visit in Key West.

25. Oldest House of Key West

the oldest house of key west
The Oldest House of Key West by Roger W/Flickr

The oldest building in Key West is a traditional white wooden conch house with a spacious veranda.

Built in 1829, it is located at 322 Duval Street and as you can see, it is perfectly preserved.

Built by the captain and wrecker Francis Watlington, it houses the island’s famous Wrecker’s Museum.

Here you can find a rich collection of valuable items salvaged from shipwrecks. The house also has a beautiful tropical garden, which you will definitely enjoy.

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