The best things to do in Key West, FL

  • Post last modified:October 7, 2021
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Key West is a rather small island but it’s just packed with great things to do. To visit Ernest Hemingway’s Home, lounge on the beach and celebrate sunset at Mallory Square are some of the best things to do in Key West. The summer in Key West is endless and so are the things to do on the island.

1. Visit Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum

Ernest Hemingway lived in Key West from 1931 to 1939. During his time in the southermost city of the continental United States he wrote many of his most famous pieces.

And the best way to increase your knowledge about Hemingway and one of the best things to do in Key West is to head to Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum. A visit to the old house of Hemingway’s is both educational and entertaining.

A very appreciable thing with a visit is that the museum not only focuses on the history of Hemingway, but also on the history of Key West. So when you visit the Hemingway museum you get a good dose of Key West history as well.

Also a fun touch when you visit Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum is the cats that live on the ground. The cats that are famous for being blessed with six toes freely roam in and around the Hemingway house just like they did back in the days.

Ernest Hemingway House as one of the best things to do in Key West
Ernest Hemingway House and Museum

2. Enjoy Key West Lighthouse and its beautiful views

The perfect attraction to combine with a visit to Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum is the Key West Lighthouse and Keeper’s Quarters Museum just across the street.

Key West Lightouse opened in 1848 and was long essential in assuring safe arrivals of ships. But in 1969 it was decommissioned due to technological advancements. Today the lighthouse stands as a dedication to the maritime heritage of Key West.

When you visit you can walk to the top of the lighthouse and take in the breathtaking views. No other place in Key West gives you as impressive panorama views. It’s 88 steps to reach the top but the incredible view from up there makes it well worth it and one of the best things to do in Key West.

The lighthouse in Key West
The lighthouse on Whitehead Street.

3. Relax on a Key West beach

Key West can brag with endless summer and good beach spots where you can enjoy the warm weather are crucial. And having a lazy beach day is one of the top things to do when visiting Key West.

Fort Zachary Taylor Beach is a favorite beach and a great place to visit in Key West. It doesn’t tend to get as crowded as many of the other beaches on the island and it’s also a good spot to use your snorkeling gear.

The beach sits on the very western end of the island about 20 minutes by foot away from Old Town. And it’s one of the best places in Key West to go to for a relaxing day in the sun.

But of course there are other beaches in Key West as well. Other beach options are Smathers Beach, Higgs Beach and Rest Beach. These beaches are alternative spots to lounge on even though they usually aren’t as highly rated as Fort Zachary Taylor Beach.

Palm tree in Key West
Key West beach day.

4. Shop, dine and drink on Duval Street

Duval Street is the main street that cuts through Key West from the Mexican Gulf to the Atlantic side. This must-see street in Key West is vibrant and packed with shops, restaurants and bars. Here you have all the souvenirs, dining options and beverage providers that you need for your dream vacation.

You definitely don’t have to be a drinker to enjoy the buzz of Duval Street. To stroll along Duval and see what’s going on is a fun thing to do in Key West for anyone.

Bar with dollar bills on ceiling
Willie T’s on Duval.

5. Visit Harry S. Truman’s Little White House

Ernest Hemingway is definitely one of the most famous inhabitants that Key West has ever had. But the title for the most influential Key West resident must go to president Harry S. Truman.

Harry S. Truman’s Little White House was originally built in 1890 and it was used as headquarters for naval command during the second World War. From 1946 it was used as a winter White House for the president during 11 visits.

In total Truman spent 175 days of his presidency at the Florida White House. From Key West he could work and unwind in a warm and relaxing environment.

After Truman’s presidency many other presidents have come here too including Eisenhower, Kennedy and Clinton.

Today it’s a very interesting Key West attraction to go to. When you visit Harry S. Truman’s Little White House you learn more about not only Truman but also American history.

The Florida White House has been restored and looks just like it did in 1949 during the Truman era. Artifacts such as Truman’s piano and working desk are two of the gems in the historic and interesting house that’s one of the best things to do in Key West.

6. Go to Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory

At Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory you are let into the magical world of butterflies. It’s a true tropical paradise with more than 50 butterfly species and over 20 exotic bird species. And the conservatory is frequently ranked among the best places to visit in Key West.

Best of all when you visit is that you can walk among the hundreds of butterflies as you explore the conservatory. If you look inviting they might even land on you as you stroll through.

And if you want to learn more about the butterflies you can do so at the learning center. Here you get to know more about their anatomy, feeding, life cycle and more.

Visiting Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory is both fun and informative. But you don’t need to indulge in the learning center to appreciate a visit. Just to see the butterflies fly among you and maybe even land on you or your company is a great experience by itself and one of the best things to do in Key West.

Butterfly and banana on a plate
Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory.

7. Check out the Southernmost Point

Key West is the southernmost point of the continental United States. To celebrate and mark that out, a large red, black and yellow concrete buoy proudly sits on Whitehead Street.

In truth, the buoy doesn’t sit on the exact southernmost point of Key West. Nevertheless, it marks out that the town of Key West is as south as you can go within the continental US.

The buoy that marks out the Southernmost Point is one of the most popular photo opportunities on the island. So even though the large buoy is nothing more than a concrete marker, you often need to queue to get a perfect selfie with the Key West symbol.

The Southernmost Point marker itself might not be the most impressive visual object. Instead it’s what it stands for that makes it well worth a visit and one of the best things to do in Key West. And, it’s the perfect backdrop for a selfie or groupie.

Concrete structure in form of a buoy at the ocean.
The Southernmost Point in Key West.

8. A less crowded photo opportunity at Mile Marker Zero

The US Highway 1 zero sign marks the end, or the beginning, of the highway that goes for 2,369 miles (3813 km) from the Canadian border all the way down to Key West. It’s an iconic place to be at and another fun photo opportunity.

Compared to the buoy that marks out Southernmost Point and some of the other best things to do in Key West, the road sign at Mile Marker Zero doesn’t get much attention. But that’s just a positive thing as you usually don’t have to queue to get a nice picture with the humble but legendary road sign.

Mile marker zero
Mile Marker Zero.

9. Take a cruise on the waters surrounding Key West

The waters around Key West are easily explored with a boat tour. And sunset cruises are very popular and one of the best things to do in Key West. The sunset celebration on Mallory Square is great, but it’s something special about enjoying the sunset from a boat. Preferably, with a glass of champagne in your hand.

Another popular cruise and top thing to do in Key West is to take a dolphin cruise. Dolphins live in the waters surrounding Key West and a dolphin-watching cruise can take you to them. A dolphin encounter can truly be a memory for life.

Dolphins in Florida
Florida dolphins!

10. A day trip to the Dry Tortugas National Park

Dry Tortugas is a group of paradise islands that is located about 65 miles (108 km) west of Key West. And the only ways to reach the islands are by boat or seaplane.

Dry Tortugas National Park consists of seven small and uninhabited reef islands. Garden Key is home to Fort Jefferson, an old military fort which very strategically was built to protect the Gulf of Mexico.

A day trip from Key West to Dry Tortugas is the icing on the cake and one of the best things to do on any trip to Key West. Out there you can explore the history of Fort Jefferson and the rich marine life in its waters. Or you could just have a lazy day in the sun far away from civilisation.

Flight to Dry Tortugas National Park
A vacation on the vacation.

11. Go back in time at Audubon House & Tropical Gardens

When you visit the Audubon House and Tropical Gardens you step back in time to the mid 1800s in Key West. The house once belonged to captain John Huling Geiger, a maritime pilot who become rich through the lucrative shipwrecking business.

In the historic home you learn more about how it was to live in Key West in the 1800s, and all furnishings reflect the extravagant life for the rich Geiger family.

And the peaceful tropical garden, with its green trees and plants, complements the house so well and makes a visit one of the best things to do in Key West. It’s really a lush and quiet tropical oasis not far away from the contrasting buzziness of Duval Street.

12. See Key West from the saddle of a bike

Key West is a very walking friendly town. But a good alternative to exploring Key West by foot is to do so from a bicycle saddle. To see Key West by bike is both good for your health and a fun Key West thing to do.

By bike you can very quickly and easily explore the best things to do in Key West. A bike makes it easy to explore not only the traditional Old Town of Key West but also more hidden areas of the island.

If you have a bike you with little effort can use it to go between Mallory Square and Fort Zachary Taylor Beach in less than 10 minutes.

Exploring the best things to do in Key West by bike
Key West by bike.

13. Visit the Historic Seaport of Key West

A natural bight, or bend, on the northern end of the island creates a naturally protected harbor. And Key West has for more than 200 years provided safe anchorage for boats in the area. Today the nice stroll along the historic seaport is one of the best Key West spots to visit.

The Historic Seaport area of Key West is home to many restaurants and bars where you can have a bite to eat or something to drink while you take in the beautiful view of the marina. Take your time and check out the boats anchored. Sometimes you can spot very fancy yachts in the harbor.

Key West Historic Seaport as one of the best things to do
Key West Historic Seaport.

14. Celebrate sunset at Mallory Square in Key West

Mallory Square sits on the northern end of Old Town at the end of Duval Street and Whitehead Street. Here on the Gulf side of Key West, hundreds of people gather every evening to watch and celebrate the iconic Key West sunset. And the sunset celebration is one of the most iconic and best things to do in Key West.

Every evening Mallory becomes a melting pot with musicians, street performers and vendors. The quirky side of the island is really let loose here with all the creative performers.

To enter Mallory Square is at no cost and it’s one of the best free things to do in Key West.

But have in mind that Mallory is the most popular place in Key West for the sunset. So it’s always wise to arrive early to be able to get a good spot for the spectacular show.

Mallory Square sunset celebration in Key West.
Sunset celebration on Mallory Square.

Continue reading

Guide to visiting Key West >

The Miami to Key West drive >

Where to stay in Key West >

Places to stay in Florida Keys >