So, is Key West worth visiting? Yes, it is because you can experience and enjoy so many different activities here and it’s a great location for adults and children. In Key West you can enjoy beautiful beaches and sunsets, discover local wildlife and immerse yourself in maritime, literary and political history. Our 21 reasons to visit Key West will persuade you to add Key West to your itinerary when you next visit Florida.
Where is Key West USA?
Key West is situated in the south of Florida and is the most southern point of continental U.S. It is about 160 miles south of Miami and 90 miles north of Havana in Cuba.
How to Access Key West
The most common way to access Key West is by car from Miami. To do that, you need to drive along U.S Route 1 until its end. The journey from Miami is about 160 miles (260 km) and during your journey you will cross 42 bridges. You can also fly directly to Key West International Airport from many U.S cities or you can take a bus.
For me, driving is the best solution. The roads and bridges are a unique experience. Driving can sometimes be repetitive, but you will notice the landscape gradually changing after each bridge. You will depart from the busy city of Miami and arrive at peaceful Key West where you need to stop rushing and take your time to explore.
What To Do in Key West?
1. Walk Along the Main Street, Duval Street
Duval street is the main tourist road on the island. You need to take your time to explore this street and it’s the perfect place to start your journey. Walking along Duval Street will certainly relax you. You will see many beautiful historical houses. Make sure you take time to have a coffee in this area. The key to enjoying Key West is to take your time. Duval street ends at the southernmost point in the continental U.S.
2. Southernmost Point in the Continental U.S
The most southernmost point in the continental U.S is located 90 miles (145 km) from Havana, Cuba and is marked by a concrete buoy 18 feet above sea level. This buoy is famous for being brightly painted and it’s easy to recognise. Written on the buoy is: “90 miles to Cuba, the Conch Republic, Southernmost Point, Continental U.S.A, Key West, Home of the Sunset”. In 2017, the paint was damaged by Hurricane Irma but it has now been restored.
3. Ernest Hemingway’s Home
This Spanish colonial house was the home of the famous writer Ernest Hemingway for more than 10 years. You can visit the house and the garden. Your visit will transport you back in time and you can soak up the atmosphere which inspired Ernest Hemingway’s writing. I enjoyed this visit, not just because of Hemingway, but also for the beauty of this colonial house and garden.
Did you know that the house is also the home of approximately 40–50 polydactyl (six-toed) cats? Ernest Hemingway received a six-toed cat from a ship’s captain and this white cat was the first cat of the house!
4. Books & Books
After visiting the house of Hemingway, you may like to carry on to this book shop. The shop belongs to Judy Blume, author of famous children’s and young adult novels such as, “Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret” and “Tales of Fourth Grade Nothing”. Who knows? You may get lucky and meet her at the checkout!
5. Harry S. Truman’s Little White House
This historical house started life as a naval station’s Command Headquarters until 1946. Afterwards, the house served as a winter White House for the President Harry S. Truman. You can join a guided tour of the house which is open 7 days a week and 365 days a year.
6. Fantasy Fest
Historically, October was a dead month for business with business owners needing to wait until the winter tourist season. As a result, a group of local businesses decided to create an event to attract tourists sooner. In 1979, the first Fantasy Fest was launched. At first, it was a small parade in the streets of Key West, but the parade has continued to grow year after year, and now attracts a lot of tourists to Key West in October and is a sight to be seen!
7. Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory
This is the place to visit if you want to see butterflies and birds. You will actually have the opportunity to walk and be surrounded by butterflies! More than 50 butterfly species live here with 20 exotic bird species. You will also have access to the Learning Centre where you can find out more about the beautiful butterflies.
8. Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park
This is the best place to enjoy the sea. Clear water makes this location ideal for snorkelling at Smathers Beach (see reason number 17). The State Park also has plenty of space to enjoy a barbecue. Fort Zachary Taylor was built in 1800 and was used during the Civil War. Now, you can enjoy a guided tour which run twice daily. Located on the westernmost point of the island, this is one of the best places to eat and relax.
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9. Key West Cemetery
Entrance to Key West Cemetery is free and it’s situated in the Old Town, so why not to explore it? The 19-acre cemetery has some interesting inscriptions on the tombs. Take time to read them and you might be surprised. Some famous epitaphs include, “I told you I was sick” and “I’m just resting my eyes”. This cemetery is often compared to the cemetery of New Orleans.
10. Dry Tortugas National Park
Dry Tortugas National Park is one of the best day excursions from Key West. Located 70 miles (113 km) west of Key West, the park has seven small islands and is home to Fort Jefferson. The fort was built to control and protect the Gulf of Mexico shipping channel and afterwards became a jail. Today, the fort is part of the National Park. Blue water, the Florida Keys reef system (the third largest in the world) and bird life makes this park a very good place to visit. One of the best activities is to get in the sea and discover the abundance of marine life.
11. Florida Key Eco-Discovery Centre
Discover the biodiversity of the Keys at the Florida Key Eco-Discovery Centre. This centre features over 6,000 square feet of interactive exhibits. Entrance is free and it’s a great place to bring your kids. With plenty of interactive areas, kids can learn a lot about marine life in the Keys.
12. Martello Tower
The historic Martello Tower was built during the Civil War. The tower was never during a battle and today forms part of the Key West Garden Club. Admission is free and the tower can be found on the Atlantic Boulevard at Higgs Beach overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Next to the tower is Higgs Beach, a white sandy beach with wooden pier, which is a popular beach for weddings. Locals also love to go to this beach. If you have kids, you can also go to Astro City just across from the beach.
13. Key West Boat Tour
If you want to explore the Key West area, the best way is to take a boat tour. Enjoying the views from the deck of a boat is a great experience. You can even opt for a sunset boat tour to have the best view from the water. Other tours include dolphin watching and snorkelling. You will find plenty of companies offering these kinds of tours in Key West.
14. Mallory Square
If you don’t want to pay for a sunset on the boat, you can go to Mallory Square to have the best view of the sunset on the island. There is plenty of entertainment in the square as well including street performers, vendors and jugglers which create a great atmosphere. You will also find shops and other attractions in this area. Be aware that this place can get very busy during the evenings.
15. Audubon House & Tropical Gardens
Located in old town next to Duval street, Audubon House & Tropical Gardens will transport you back in time. Not only do you get to visit a historic home, you will also learn how a wealthy family lived at this time. You will see original furniture, accessories and books… It’s just like being on the set of a period movie.
16. Oldest House
Built in 1829, this house is the oldest in South Florida. This charming house offers you the chance to learn about the history of Key West including information about the local ship industry. The house has original furnishings, a garden and an exhibit pavilion.
17. Smathers Beach
Smathers Beach is the most bustling beach on the island and is very popular during Spring Break. The beach is well shaded with all the comforts to make your day easy and relaxing. You will find food trucks, bathrooms and chair and umbrella rentals. The only downside is the beach is close to the airport which can create some noise.
18. Key West Lighthouse & Keeper’s Quarters Museum
The ticket fee to this attraction will give you access to the lighthouse and the museum. You need to be prepared to climb the 88 steps to the top and not be afraid of heights or suffer from claustrophobia as the stairs are tiny. The good point is that, when you reach the top, you will have an excellent view. The view is worth the effort of the climb. Be aware that the viewing balcony is narrow. After enjoying the view, you can look around the keeper’s quarters. The house is now a museum.
19. Key West Aquarium
When first built, the Key West Aquarium was an open-air aquarium, but a roof was later added. In fact, it was the first open-air aquarium in the U.S. A Sea Turtles conservation tour, shark exhibit and touch tanks are the main attractions of this aquarium, but there is plenty of other things to see and do. This aquarium, like all aquariums, is a good place to bring your kids.
20. The Shipwreck Treasure Museum
The Shipwreck Treasure Museum is an interesting museum about the salvaged cargo from various ships that perished along the Florida reefs. You will step back in time as you discover Key West’s maritime heritage. Inside the museum, you will re-live history through a mixture of actors, films and actual artefacts from the wrecked vessel Issac Allerton, which sank in 1856 on the reef. Immerse yourself in the life of the wreckers as they fight the storm to save lives and cargo.
21. Mel Fisher Maritime Museum
This museum is dedicated to the diver, Mel Fisher, who discovered several shipwrecks. Before becoming a museum, the building was used as a “storehouse for supplies and accounts” by the U.S. Navy. You will discover plenty of artefacts which were found under the sea. The museum also explains the Florida slave trade.
Is Key West Worth Visiting ?
I travelled here by car when I visited and, in my opinion, there is plenty to do in Key West for adults or kids alike. So, yes, Key West is definitely worth visiting.