Key West will transport you to the islands. You may still be in Florida but it feels more like vacationing in the Caribbean. It makes sense considering the Key West is closer to Havana than Miami. The southernmost point of the continental United States is located here and it is only 90 miles from Cuba. If you want to escape to the Caribbean Islands without leaving the continent, Key West is the place to go.
There are so many things to do in Key West that even with three different visits to the Florida Keys, we still have more to explore. This comprehensive guide will take you to the typical tourist attractions like Mallory Square and Duval Street but we also share some of Key West’s more unique attractions like an eco-tour of the coast and a fun hydro bike sunset tour.
Top Things to do in Key West, Florida
The best way to explore Key West is on a road trip from Miami. Driving over the long bridges connecting the different Florida Keys is definitely a bucket list experience. It takes only 3 1/2 hours to drive to Key West from Miami airport, but you’ll want to give yourself a day as there are plenty of stops along the way. Plus, traffic can sometimes be very heavy.
If you have the time, we recommend staying overnight in Islamorada. It was one of our favorite places in the Florida Keys. So when you land at Miami international airport, get yourself a car and start driving south! You can compare car rental prices here.
Place to visit in Key West
1. Day Trip to Dry Tortugas National Park
Located (113km) 70 miles from Key West, Dry Tortugas National Park is one of the most remote national parks in the United States. Yes, it is not located in downtown Key West or on the key period, but it is in our opinion, the best thing to do in Key West. Its a beautiful day trip with snorkeling opportunities and cocktails as you sail to the remote island.
The Dry Tortugas was used as a fort between 1845 and 1876. Fort Jefferson was a giant military fort used to defend during the Spanish American War. It takes up almost the entire Garden Key. You can take a day trip out to explore the island and beautiful sandy beaches and you can even camp overnight on Garden Key.
You can book cruises from Key West to Dry Tortugas or you can book a flight to the national park as well.
2. Sunset Celebration Mallory Square
One of the most popular things to do in Key West is to attend the sunset celebration at Mallory Square. How do I know this is popular? All I had to do was look at the crowds! This place is packed. Each night a celebration takes place overlooking the Harbor from the waterfront where crowds of tourists and locals alike gather to watch the sunset.
Street performers put on some dazzling shows as crowds form around them. There are vendors selling local arts and crafts, food stalls, and street musicians all gathering in one place creating a festive atmosphere. It’s a fun place to hang out, but be sure to bring some small bills or change to tip the performers, they work hard for their money.
Address: 400 Wall St, Naval Air Station Key West, FL 33040
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Around the Square
You don’t need to visit Mallory Square only at sunset, there are plenty of things to do here during the day too. The Waterfront Playhouse is located just off the square and is the oldest continuously running playhouse in Florida. The Key West historic memorial sculpture garden is located directly in front of the waterfront playhouse at Mallory Square paying tribute to famous patrons of the theatre and residents. Take a stroll through the lines of sculptures of famous residents including busts of Hemingway, Harry S Truman, Tennessee Williams, and many other important people.
Make sure to visit the Key West Shipwreck and Treasure Museum too. There’s a 65-foot lookout tower, shipwreck artifacts, and actors recreating the 17th century feel dressed in period clothing. Book your ticket in advance here.
Address: 401 Wall St, Key West, Florida 33040
3. Take a Schooner Sunset Sail
If a crowd at the sunset celebrations isn’t your style, take a quiet sunset cruise on a schooner. Key West has a rich maritime history, so feel like you have stepped back in time while enjoying views of the Florida Keys. You’ll see Fort Zachary Taylor, the Sand Key Reef, and Sunset Pier from the deck of one of the finest boats on the schooner fleet.
You can book Book this top-rated tour here free from worries as tours can be canceled up to 24 hours in advance with a full refund. When visiting Key West you have to get out on the water and what better way to do it than with a glass of bubbly or beer, and fresh snacks while relaxing on the historic vessel complete with teak decks and mahogany-trimmings.
4. Pedal the Key West Hydrobikes
Another fun way to see the sunset in Key West is to hop on a tour with Key West Hydrobikes where you’ll pedal into the harbor on water bikes. Like everything in Key West, drinks flow freely, so you can even bring two drinks with you to enjoy a toast on the water at sunset. The city has an open drink policy so grab a couple of rum cocktails to put into the drink holders.
You can find Key West Hydrobikes at 0 Simonton St, Key West, Florida 33040
5. Boat Tours
If paddling a waterbike isn’t your thing, be sure to hop on one of the many sunset cruises or a boat tour. There is no shortage of boat tours around Key West. It is an island after all. This sunset buffet dinner with an open bar. Or look for sunset cruise tours here with Get Your Guide to find your choice of floating bars, schooners, and catamarans that will take you out to watch the stunning sunsets. They offer last-minute bookings and full refunds on cancellations within 24 hours of the tour.
6. Go On the Key West Eco Tour
For something different, one of the best things to do in Key West is to book a tour with Honest Eco Tours. This full-day tour is a sustainable tour that takes place on the first electric catamaran of its kind in the United States!
It was a full day of snorkeling, kayaking, dolphin spotting, and sightseeing along the coast of Key West. They served a full buffet lunch and gave everyone reusable water bottles making every inch of the tour eco-friend.
If you don’t have time for a full day, this 3-hour tour with Get Your Guide include a combination of dolphin watching and snorkeling with the only company in the Florida Keys with the prestigious “Dolphin SMART” certification, a national program that protects and promotes the responsible observance of dolphins.
7. Enjoy the Thrill of Dolphin Watching
200 bottlenose dolphins live in the warm waters off the Florida Keys, and seeing dolphins in Key West is a wonderful experience. These wild dolphins do not have human interaction so you are truly seeing them in their natural habitat. When booking a dolphin or wildlife tour be sure to use a sustainable recognized tour operator like Honest Eco Tours based out of Key West. We loved our full-day tour with Honest Eco. We combined a dolphin tour with other water sports including kayaking through a mangrove island of the Wildlife Refuge and snorkeling. For more information visit their website to book the full-day eco-tour.
If you don’t want a full-day tour, you Can book this Dolphin Watch and Snorkeling Tour in advance where you’ll board a catamaran into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico where you’ll head to the Key West wildlife refuge. Search for bottlenose dolphins in an eco-friendly way using the Dolphin SMART” certification, a national program that protects and promotes the responsible observance of dolphins.
8. Go Snorkeling in Key West
No trip to Key West would be complete without getting in the water. The clear turquoise waters are calling and with good reason. Did you know that Key West has the only living reef in the United States? A lot of people go scuba diving in the Florida Keys as there are plenty of shipwrecks in the area. But if you aren’t certified scuba divers, the snorkeling is good too!
The John Pennekamp State Park has decent coral to spot wildlife in the Keys. If you’ve never been snorkeling before, this might be a good introduction as the waters are calm and shallow but the reef lacks color and life but the Keys are working hard to bring the reef system back to life and we saw sea turtles, trumpet fish, and barracuda.
This tour is a great choice where you get to visit two locations on a high-speed catamaran. It includes beer, wine, and champagne after you are done snorkeling. (Free cancelation within 24 hours of trip)
9. Kayak through the Key West Wildlife Refuge
I didn’t even know that Key West had such an abundant wildlife refuge. This is one of the oldest wildlife refuges in the country established by Teddy Roosevelt in 1908. It’s a beautiful place to paddle through calm waters watching cormorants, frigate birds, pelicans, and herons fly from the trees.
The best way to explore it is to take a kayak tour through the mangrove forests. You’ll spy sea turtles, manta rays and be able to do some serious bird watching while kayaking this refuge.
This four-hour eco-tour includes a kayak tour, snorkeling, and dolphin watching plus light snacks and a beautiful end to the day at a prime spot for a Key West Sunset.
10. Key West First Legal Rum Distillery
The Key West First Legal Rum Distillery dates back to 1900 when it was Jack’s Saloon. After that, it was turned into a Coca-Cola Bottling center and there is plenty of antiques and memorabilia dating back to the turn of the 20th century in this building. It’s an excellent tour to learn how the rum is distilled, but it also is a lot of fun to learn about the history of the city. The rum distillery is definitely one of the most fun things to do in Key West.
Address: 105 Simonton St, Key West, FL 33040 Read their story here. It’s a good one!
11. Make Your Own Mojito
But it was the chance to make an authentic Cuban Mojito and bring their recipe back for everyone to enjoy. We were in Havana last winter, and we can attest, their mojitos tasted exactly like the classic Cuban Mojito and it will make a rum lover out of you! When you book this experience, you get to bring home your glass and tools to make your own mojitos at home. Make sure you buy a bottle of rum too, it’s delicious!
12. Bar Hop on Duval Street, Key West
Key West was made for partying and there is no better place to do that than on Duval Street. Once the sun goes down, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a sober tourist especially downtown in the party district. This is the main street for nightlife street and barhopping is a way of life when visiting the Keys. Just walking down the street is an adventure. At night people carry their drinks from bar to bar. (I don’t think it’s legal, but that doesn’t stop anyone) as music blares from the clubs. During the day, the street has lots of shopping and dining.
If you want to join a guided tour to see the top bars and restaurants of Key West while making new friends, check out this fantastic pub crawl tour that stops at five top-rated pubs with a cocktail at each stop. And you will get the T-shirt to boot!
Recommended bars on Duval Street
From upscale wine bars to dive bars, Key West has it all. There are the Key West staples like Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville, and the Hard Rock Cafe (Dave and I had to visit both on our first trip). The Hard Rock Cae in Key West isn’t your typical Hard Rock. You might not even notice it when you walk by as it is, it is located within a Victorian-style house that blends perfectly with the historic feel of Key West. According to legend, the ghost of its original owner still haunts the grounds. Margaritaville in Key West is the original of Jimmy Buffets’ popular chain. He lived in Key West for 30 years where he rose from a local street musician to the icon he is today.
A few other suggestions for where to eat in Key West are Lucy’s Retired Surf Bar, Sloppy Joes, Virgillios, Rick’s Café, and our personal favorite The Wine O Bar and Lounge. (430 Duval St, Naval Air Station Key West, Florida 33040)
13. Stop at the Southernmost Point
It may be touristy, but one of the must-see Key West attractions is the Southernmost Point Bouy. This historic landmark is the southernmost point of the United States mainland! Go early in the morning as the lines are long to take the obligatory selfie at the southernmost point buoy. It has one of the best ocean views on the island.
The cement marker claims to be the southernmost point of the continental United States but in actual fact, there is a more southern location in Key West at Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park but with this iconic landmark staking its claim since 1970, it is widely accepted as one of the top tourist attractions and no visit to Key West would be complete without a stop at. With colorfully painted lines and writing it lets you know just how close you are to Cuba, making for the perfect selfie spot.
Address: Whitehead St &, South St, Key West, FL 33040
14. Go Parasailing Over the Florida Keys
Key West was made for watersports. Everything from jet skiing to kayaking, you must get out to enjoy some fun in the sun. For something unique to do, try your hand at parasailing. The first time we ever tried parasailing was right here in the Florida Keys and it was so much more fun than we ever expected. Parasailing is the perfect way to see Key West’s beautiful coast. I think a parasailing adventure is certainly one of the most popular things to do in Key West and with good reason. From above you have views of the surrounding coral reefs in their crystal clear waters.
This top-rated parasailing tour aboard a state-of-the-art parasailing boat where you’ll sour high above the Florida Keys. You can book beachside parasailing directly from Smathers Beach. Check out tours here.There is easy cancellation within 24 hours of departure and you can do last minutes bookings as well.
15. Visit Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum
No visit to Key West would be complete without stopping by the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum. From 1931 to 1939 Hemingway called Key West’s old townhome. The highlight of visiting the Hemingway House is spying the Hemingway cats. They are everywhere and each cat is said to be a descendant of the six-toed cats that Hemmingway had as pets. Check out their paws, they really do have six toes!
Ernest Hemingway has been everywhere. We’ve visited his old haunts in Kenya, Cuba, Michigan, Paris, and Pamplona so it is pretty special that Hemingway decided to make Key West his home for so long.
Address: 907 Whitehead St, Key West, Florida 33040
16. President Harry S. Truman Little White House
You don’t really think of Key West museums when planning your trip, but the museums here are quite unique. It’s not every day you get to see a former president’s winter escape. The Truman Little White House of Key West is one of the more popular tourist attractions in Key West. This was President Truman’s winter, White House. This national historic landmark has been used as a retreat for other Presidents as recently as President Clinton.
Address: 111 Front St, Naval Air Station Key West, Florida 33040
17. Stroll the Key West Historic Sea Port
The old town of Key West is filled with historic structures and a great way to explore the history of Key West is on the waterfront. We love walking along the water and the Historic Sea Port has a beautiful boardwalk to take in the yachts and boat charters.
There are art galleries and boutiques, museums, and boat charters. There are plenty of restaurants along the boardwalk as well. Get yourself a Cuban Coffee at Fisherman Cafe. It was the best coffee we had on the island and it was cheap too! Oh, and be sure to pop into one for a slice of Key Lime Pie.
201 William St, Key West, Florida 33040
18. Eat Key Lime Pie
It was invented here and you’ll never have one that tastes so good as in Key West itself. Key West’s busiest place for Key Lime Pie is Kermits. You may even find the owner, Kermit himself standing outside on the corner. There is often a large line, so if you don’t want to stand in the heat, never fear, there are plenty of places in Key West to try Key Lime Pie.
Address: 200 Elizabeth St, Naval Air Station Key West, Florida
19. Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park
Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park can be visited in conjunction with a tour of the historic fort and a stop at the best beach in Key West. This National Historic Landmark predates the Civil War and gives a glimpse into the lives of soldiers during the Civil and Spanish American Wars. There is a small park entrance fee. Read more: 18 Best Beaches in Florida for Fun in the Sun
Address: 601 Howard England Way, Key West, Florida 33040
20. Climb to the top of the Key West Lighthouse
Key West’s Lighthouse stands tall over the old town and dates back to 1848. The first lighthouse tower was originally built in 1825 to help ships navigate the coral reef. Cool fact, the lighthouse of 1848’s first keeper was a woman! you can tour the keeper’s quarters before climbing the 88 steps to the top of the Key West Lighthouse for views from the observation deck.
We found that another good bird’s eye view of the island is from the top of the Crown Plaza Concha Hotel that gave us plenty of overhead views too!
Address: 938 Whitehead St, Key West, Florida 33040
21. Tour the Key West Cemetery
One of the most popular things to see is the Key West Cemetery. Similar to the LaFayette Cemetery of New Orleans, the Key West cemetery has above-ground vaults. One of the most notable tombs is a memorial to the U.S.S. Maine which was blown up in Havana Harbor in 1898.
Address: 701 Passover Ln, Key West, Florida 33040
22. Ride the Conch Train
If you are looking for guided tours to give you the lay of the land, you may want to hop on the Conch Train. This wasn’t exactly for us, but we do admit it gives you a good overview of Key West neighborhoods and highlights of the top Key West tourist attractions. Book your Conch Train tickets in advance here. The train departs from Front Street Depot and loops through the Old Town to end back behind the Depot at Mallory Square. The ticket also includes admission to the Sails to Rails Museum.
Address: 500 Truman Ave, Key West, Florida 33040
Book a guided tour of Key West in the Ghosts and Graveyards Tour – See why Key West was named one of the most haunted places in the US.
23. Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Museum
Known as the world’s greatest treasure hunter, Mel Fisher was one of the leaders in maritime ship recovery and his life’s work is on display here in Key West, Florida. The Mel Fisher Maritime Museum was opened in 1992 showcasing treasures that he salvaged from 17th century shipwrecks off the coast. Displays many artifacts from his finds are on display at the museum including the most valuable shipwreck ever discovered, the Nuestra Señora de Atocha which he successfully salvaged in July of 1985.
Address: 200 Greene St, Key West, Florida 33040
24. Key West Beaches
We haven’t talked a lot about the beaches of Key West, but there are a few to relax at. We found that we spent more time by the pools of our hotels when not enjoying the Key West attractions, but here are some suggested beaches to visit.
Fort Zachary Taylor Best is probably the best beach to visit from downtown. Located within Fort Zachary Taylor Historic Site this is a great stretch of sand popular for snorkeling, paddling, and fishing.
Smathers Beach is the largest public beach on Key West with a half a mile-long stretch of white sand. There are lounge chairs umbrellas, and water sports offered. If you are looking for a good beach to hang out at, this is the one.
Higgs Beach – Clarence S. Higgs Memorial Beach Park is a public beach that has an only shore-accessible underwater marine park in the United States. There are snorkeling opportunities, kayaking, SUP, and the civil war era fort known as the West Martello Tower.
25. Take a Haunted Pub Crawl
Key West is consistently ranked as one of the most haunted cities in America. And with good reason, with so many shipwrecks, cursed treasure, a voodoo pass, and a wild-west history, there are many stories to be told. One of our favourite things to do is to go on haunted tours.
This top-rated tour takes you on a two-hour journey through “Cayo Hueso” (Key West). Visit haunted pubs and mansions in the Old Town after dark.
26. West Martello Tower and Garden Club
We have visited a few Martello Towers in our life and we didn’t even realize that Key West had its own Martello Tower. That is because today, this historic tower is home to the Key West Garden Club. Admission is free and the gardens and property are maintained by volunteers. If you are looking for free things to do in Key West, this is certainly unique and beautiful as it overlooks the beach.
This historic tower was built in 1862 during the Civil War and is one of three remaining Civil War-era structures on the island. Although it was often used for target practice by the United States Navy, the fort was never actually involved in a battle. It is now home to the Key West Garden Club. The two martello towers of Key West were built as batteries for Fort Zachary Taylor. Although it never saw action, it was used in both World War II as a radio station and in the Spanish-American war for signaling and lookout. There is an east martello tower as well located near the airport.
27. Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory
The Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory is a tranquil stop on any Key West Tour. Not only are there hundreds of butterflies, but you’ll also see flamingoes and other tropical birds. Check out the live webcam here.
Address: 1316 Duval St, Naval Air Station Key West, FL 33040
Book a cycling tour of the Key West. Guided tours of Key West will take you through Old Town, the Southernmost Point, and the Key West Cemetery here. Plus enjoy a delicious slice of Key Lime Pie! Free cancellation and last-minute bookings accepted.
28. Key West Roosters
When walking around Key West, keep an eye out for the many roosters roaming the streets. The Key West roosters came from Cuba decades ago and were once used for cockfighting. Today they rule the roost and live a life of leisure. Roosters can be found running around everywhere on lawns, sidewalks, and at all of the top Key West attractions.
29. Audubon House & Tropical Gardens
Something we truly love about Key West are all of the old houses that line its streets. It seems that each one has a story. The Audubon House and Tropical Gardens are one of them. The house contains first editions from John James Audubon, a famous ornithologist who visited Key West in search of new birds for his “Birds of America book. He found and drew 18 of them while in Key West. Today you can tour the house to see the 28 engravings by John James Audubon and period furniture from the 1800s. When finished inside you can stroll the pathways through the one-acre gardens in search of tropical plants, butterflies, and exotic plants.
Address: 205 Whitehead Street, Key West, Florida.
30. Oldest House Museum and Garden
If you want to explore more old houses, the Oldest House Museum and Garden is just that. Also known as the Conch cottage, this house dates back to 1829. You can tour the three buildings and garden throughout the day between 10 am and 4 pm.
Address: 322 Duval Street, Key West Florida.
31. Bike Tour
One of the best ways to see Key West is to take a bike tour. This three-hour guided bike tour lets you see the top attractions in Key West from a local’s perspective. Visit the Old Town, stop at the Southernmost Point in the Continental USA, Visit Mile Marker Zero, and Higgs Beach. You’ll learn about the island’s smuggling history of smuggling and the shipwrecks that have crashed off its shore. You can cover a lot of ground on a bike seeing everything from Harry Truman’s Little White House to the Key West Cemetery. After all that hard work, celebrate with a slice of Key Lime Pie. Book your tour here.
32. Florida Keys Eco Discovery Center
The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is one of 15 marine protected areas in America. Together they make up the National Marine Sanctuary System so the ocean is definitely the heart of Key West. The Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center consists of interactive exhibits showcasing the work being done to manage the sanctuary, two national parks, and four national wildlife refuges. Admission is free!
Address: 35 East Quay Road, Key West, Florida 33040
33. Fantasy Fest
If you want to take partying up a notch, visit Key West at the end of October for Fantasy Fest. The annual 10-day festival has been running since 1979 and has grown to become a huge festival attracting visitors from around the world. During our first visit here, we drove down and didn’t even realize it was going on. Boy, what a shock we had when we walked into our hotel and saw a lot of pained, naked people walking around.
Fantasy Fest is like Mardi Gras on steroids. People parade down Duval Street nightly showing off their body paint and works of art. Live music blares out of the bars lining and vendors and street performers line the sidewalks. Since it is Key West, there’s a lot of alcohol involved too! This is a really fun and festive time to be in Key West.
Where to Stay in Key West
Perry Hotel Key West is a quiet retreat on the marina. This boutique hotel has elegant rooms overlooking the waterfront. What we loved about it was the local vibe. Many people from the marina stop into the pool bar for lunch and snacks. Check for Reviews and pricing on TripAdvisor / Booking.com
La Concha Crown Plaza is the perfect place to stay in the heart of the action, is located directly on Duval Street. You just have to step out of your door to be near all of the top attractions. The lobby is busy, but it is peaceful inside. There’s a pool for guests only. There is a luxurious rooftop spa and gorgeous sunset views. Check for Reviews and pricing on TripAdvisor / Booking.com
Now that we have you settled on how to get to Key West and where to Stay in Key West, let’s take a look at all the amazing things to do in Key West Florida to make the most of your trip.
How to Get to Key West
As we mentioned, the best way to get to Key West is to drive on a self-drive road trip. There are so many things to do in the Florida Keys, you’ll love having the freedom of your own car. But if you driving is not an option, there are other ways to get to Key West.
Key West International Airport – There is an airport in Key West and when flying internationally, you can connect from several hubs in the United States. Delta, American, United Airlines, and a few other smaller airlines fly into Key West.
Most people fly into Miami International Airport and then take a shuttle to Key West. The Keys Shuttle company offers transfers from both Miami and Fort Lauderdale Airports. See rates here
If you are looking for an alternative to a Caribbean Island vacation, Key West could be the choice for you. With Highway 1 connecting it to the mainland, United States. it’s an easy way to get to the middle of the Caribbean without having to hop on a flight.