Key West reigns as one of America’s favorite vacation spots. Part of the Florida Keys archipelago, this luscious island is the southernmost tip of the continental United States and captivates visitors with its vast natural beauty. It’s a mix of idyllic beaches, lush tropical gardens and achingly beautiful national parks.
Key West’s charming charisma is underpinned by its consistently warm and sunny climate, making it a great year-round destination.
Top-notch activities in Key West include scenic sunset cruises, exploring the pristine Dry Tortugas National Park, dolphin watching and snorkeling (the island is home to North America’s only living coral barrier reef). there is!).
Key West is also home to a treasure trove of historic sites, including the historic mansion where Ernest Hemingway lived in the 1930s.
Ready to explore this subtropical paradise? Then read on to find our guide to the 15 best things to do when visiting Key West, Florida.
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15 things to do in Key West, Florida
key west lighthouse
The historic Key West Lighthouse was built in 1825 to help ships entering the harbor avoid dangerous reefs. Visitors can climb his 88 iron steps to the top of the tower and enjoy stunning views of Key West and the Atlantic Ocean.
The Key West Lighthouse is also home to the Keeper’s Quarters Museum, which displays nautical artifacts, antique furnishings and period photographs.
Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum
Across from the Key West Lighthouse is the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum. Surrounded by towering palm trees, this charming mansion was built in his French colonial style in 1851 by a wealthy marine architect. From 1931 to his 1939, the house was home to writer Hemingway and his wife Pauline Pfeiffer.
A guided tour is one of the best ways to explore this century-old mansion and discover the secrets of Hemingway’s life.
The living room displays rare photographs of Hemingway’s fishing adventures. The gardens are dotted with colorful flowers and feature a gorgeous swimming pool that was extraordinarily luxurious for a 1930s Key West home.
There is another interesting feature. Ernest Hemingway was given a six-toed white cat by the captain. There are currently approximately 60 polydactyl (six toed) cats living on the estate.
key west aquarium
Are you traveling with children? Next, the Key West Aquarium is one of the best places to visit in the city. Located in the famous Mallory Square, this aquarium is home to a wide variety of marine life.
Moray eels, barracudas, sharks, jellyfish, and sea cucumbers are some of the creatures found here.
You can explore the Key West Aquarium with a number of to-do lists. On a guided sea turtle conservation tour, visitors can learn about the aquarium’s four sea turtles, injured in the wild and now rehabilitated.
At the Atlantic Shores Exhibition, you can see unique marine life in Key West, including a living mangrove ecosystem.
Another must-see is the shark exhibit, where visitors come face-to-face with nurse sharks, the most common shark in the Florida Keys.
Mallory Square is a lively waterfront square with several shops, art galleries, restaurants and street performers.
Facing west toward the Gulf of Mexico, the square is known for hosting the famous “Mallory Square Sunset Celebration.” This is an evening party with magicians, jugglers, live music, food his truck, crowds and a fabled Key West sunset.
Dry Tortugas National Park
Dry Tortugas National Park is a sparkling jewel of nature. Accessible only by boat or seaplane, this achingly beautiful park offers 100 square miles of azure waters, dreamy coral reefs and lush gardens.
Proven activities here include snorkeling (with the chance to see the world’s third-largest Florida Keys reef system), swimming and sunbathing on idyllic beaches of pure white sand.
Known for its rich wildlife, the park is also home to rare birds found nowhere else in the continental United States, making it a prime spot for birdwatching.
The centerpiece of the Dry Tortugas is the massive Fort Jefferson. An unfinished coastal fortress made up of over 16 million bricks. Delve deep into Civil War-era history as you explore this ancient structure.
Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory
The Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory is one of Key West’s best family attractions. In this tropical paradise, visitors will come across hundreds of colorful butterflies of his 50+ species, exotic birds, a fascinating collection of flowering plants, and cascading waterfalls.
Key West Wildlife Center
Located in a 7-acre Indigenous Park in Key West, the Wildlife Center rescues and rehabilitates more than 1,400 wild birds, sea turtles and turtles annually.
The Key West Wildlife Center also has nature trails that are perfect for watching migratory birds in both fall and spring.
Key West Garden Club
Located in the West Martello Tower, a former Civil War fort, the Key West Garden Club is one of Key West’s quietest spots.
This scenic tropical oasis is divided into eight distinct areas, each with a rare collection of native and exotic trees and plants.
Orchids, cacti and bromeliads are some of the fascinating plants you’ll see while exploring the Key West Garden Club.
Key West Shipwreck Museum
Families visiting Key West cannot pass up the opportunity to visit the Key West Shipwreck Museum. Also known as the Key West Museum, this site recreates his 19th-century warehouse built by tow tycoon Assatift.
Through recreations and original artefacts discovered in the 1985 rediscovery of the Isaac Allerton shipwreck that sank in the Florida Keys in 1856, visitors will learn about Key West’s unique maritime heritage and how Key West is one of the most Learn about how it became a wealthy city.
Harry S Truman Little White House
Built in 1890 in the Old Town, this historic mansion served as the headquarters of a naval base during the Spanish-American War, World War I, and World War II.
From 1946 to 1952, the facility served as the Winter White House for President Harry S Truman.
The only presidential museum in Florida, the estate has an extensive collection of historical documents. A tour of the home is a great opportunity to hear fascinating stories about former President Harry and learn about Key West’s history.
Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park
A visit to Zachary Taylor Historic State Park is a must for any Key West vacation. Also known as Fort Taylor, the site is centered around a Civil War-era fort near the southern tip of Key West and is home to the world’s largest repository of Civil War weapons.
Tour guides are available for those interested in learning how the fort played an important role in the Civil War and the Spanish-American War.
Fort Taylor has been designated a National Historic Landmark for its historical significance and is a prime destination for nature lovers. The park has a beach and is not only a great spot for birdwatching, but visitors can swim, snorkel, and paddleboard.
Audubon House & Tropical Gardens
Located on Whitehead Street near the John James Audubon Gallery, Audubon House & Tropical Gardens is an oasis of calm in the middle of the city. The gardens are adorned with a stunning botanical collection of orchids, bromeliads, other tropical plants and herb gardens.
The garden-enclosed mansion was built in the 1840s by Captain John Hüring Geiger as a family residence. The store is lined with valuable antique furniture purchased from all over Europe.
Key West Tropical Forest and Botanical Gardens
The Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden is a 15-acre subtropical forest and botanical garden featuring plants native to the Florida Keys, Cuba and the Caribbean.
The garden is a tropical setting with plenty of rain and most trees are able to retain their leaves during the dry season (December to late May).
Aside from native trees, shrubs and palms, this tranquil nature reserve hosts migratory tropical birds from as far away as South America, with the exception of many rare birds in the Florida Keys. I’m here.
key west cemetery
Travelers who want to explore Key West off the beaten track will love visiting the Key West Cemetery. Founded in 1847 after a hurricane washed away the island’s former cemetery, it is believed to be the final resting place of his 100,000 people, far more than currently live in Key West.
Take a free guided tour of the 19-acre Key West Cemetery and learn the fascinating stories of Key West and its people.
dolphin watching cruise
Key West is a great destination for dolphin watching. Board a boat departing from Key West Historic Seaport and Harbour, and get the chance to see friendly dolphins in their natural habitat away from the island.
Take your adventure to the next level with snorkeling in Key West’s crystal clear waters. Chance to swim with sea turtles, majestic eagle rays and colorful reef fish.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are your favorite things to do in Key West?
Key West’s top attractions include:
- Key West Lighthouse;
- Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum.
- Key West Aquarium;
- Dry Tortugas National Park;
- Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory.
- Key West Wildlife Center.
- Key West Garden Club.
- Key West Shipwreck Museum;
- Nancy Forrester’s Secret Garden.
- Harry S Truman Little White House.
- Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park.
- Key West Cemetery;
- Key West tropical forests and botanical gardens.
- Dolphin watching cruise.
What is Key West known for?
The southernmost city in the continental United States, Key West is known for its beautiful palm-fringed beaches, lush tropical gardens, historic sites and stunning national parks.
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