Famous for its warm, sunny weather, sandy beaches, romantic wedding venues, breakfast spots, great restaurants, hostels, family attractions, parks, spectacular views and many historic attractions, Key West, FL should be on everyone’s vacation list. Tour the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, visit the Harry S. Truman Little White House, stroll through the historic Old Town, explore beautiful tropical gardens or visit one of the free attractions. Top things to do in Key West include excellent scuba diving, snorkeling, trolley tours, kayaking, sailing, RV parks, and day trips to Dry Tortugas National Park.
1. The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum
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The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, one of the top Key West, Florida attractions, is a beautiful Spanish Colonial style mansion built in 1851 from rock native to the area. Ernest Hemingway and his wife Pauline first moved here in 1931 when Pauline’s rich uncle Gus bought the house for them. The house still features the Hemingways’ personal effects and unique European antiques they collected during their many trips.
Hemingway brought the animal trophies and skins scattered around the house from his African safaris and hunting expeditions. Visiting the studio where Hemingway produced so many of his wonderful books is particularly exciting. It was in this studio that he wrote his novel about the Key West in the Great Depression "To Have and Have Not." Interestingly, the museum serves as a home to the numerous descendants of Hemingway’s six-toed cat.
907 Whitehead Street, Key West, Florida, Phone: 305-294-1136
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Located on Wall Street in Key West’s historic Old Town, Mallory Square is a waterfront plaza just west of Duval Street. The square faces west towards the Gulf of Mexico, and because of this convenient location, its “Sunset Celebration” is one of the most popular things to see and do in Key West.
If you are wondering what to Do in Key West, Florida today, this is a great place to start exploring. Every evening about two hours before the sun begins to set, hundreds of tourists gather here to watch the beautiful sunset and to enjoy exhibits of arts and crafts, taste what the food vendors have to offer, and see street performers like clowns, jugglers, magicians, and local musicians. This tradition began in the 1960s, and the fun parties for which the area is famous still take place every day.
3. Harry S. Truman Little White House
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The Harry S. Truman Little White House started its life in 1890 as the headquarters of the command of the naval station during the Spanish-American War. It served the same function during both world wars. In 1946, the building became President Harry S. Truman’s winter White House. Later presidents used it as a place to rest and unwind, particularly during tense situations like the Cold War.
While the house is still used by the country’s leaders as a retreat and a business venue, it is also a museum open to the public. The museum’s official trip logs are interesting documents to investigate, as they mention such details as the dates of President Truman’s visits, the individuals he met, and other interesting tidbits related to the 11 trips he took to Key West. The Harry S. Truman Little White House is one of the best things to do in Key West FL for history buffs. Guided tours provide more information about the presidency of Harry S. Truman, the Cold War era, and the Key West Naval History.
111 Front Street, Key West, Florida, Phone: 305-294-9911
4. Audubon House & Tropical Gardens
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The Audubon House & Tropical Gardens is a beautiful mansion that was built in 1840 for Captain John Huling Geiger and his family. Geiger made his fortune in the shipwreck industry, which flourished during that time period. In 1958, the dilapidated house was slated for demolition, but the Mitchell Wolfson Family Foundation stepped in and restored the house to its former glory. It has been wonderfully kept up to this day, and it now serves as a museum that shows the way of life of a wealthy Key West family during the late 19th century.
The house features unique period furniture, as well as an extensive collection of hand-painted original lithographs of famous naturalist John James Audubon. Don’t miss the wonderful tropical gardens with winding brick pathways that will take you past amazing orchids, crotons, bromeliads, and tropical palms.
205 Whitehead Street, Key West, Florida, Phone: 305-294-2116
5. Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center
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The Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center is a marine sanctuary that features exhibits of animals and plants that are native to the Florida Keys. Located on East Quay Road, the Center has exhibits that feature both land and aquatic plants and animals in its 6,000 square foot facility, which includes a 2,500 gallon reef tank. Since the establishment emphasizes education, there are many interactive exhibits on marine ecology.
There is also a mock-up of the world’s only underwater ocean laboratory called Aquarius. The Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center is one of the best things to do in Key West with the whole family.
Some of the land habitats that are exhibited include beach dunes, hardwood hammock, and upland pine lands. Mangrove shorelines, sea grass flats, and coral reefs are some of the marine habitats that visitors can experience.
35 East Quay Road, Key West, Florida, Phone: 305-809-4750
6.Key West Garden Club
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The Key West Garden Club, also known as the West Martello Tower, is located on Atlantic Boulevard on Higgs Beach overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The garden is free and open to the public, and volunteers are responsible for its upkeep. Its educational goal is to teach people about tropical gardening.
There are brick pathways that lead visitors through arched courtyards amid lush tropical plants including bromeliads and orchids; there is also a lovely water lily pond and a waterfall. The West Martello Tower is a Civil War citadel that is listed in the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. Special events such as weddings are often held in the garden’s white gazebos.
1100 Atlantic Boulevard, Key West, Florida, Phone: 305-294-3210
7.Fun in The Sun Private Charters, Key West, Florida
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There is a large part of Key West visit that can really only be experienced from the water. Sunset cruises, dolphin watching, island hoping and camping, sandbar trips, fishing, lobstering, bird watching, snorkeling, and back-country exploring are a few of these activities. Fun in the Sun Charters and Boat Rentals will take you on an exciting adventure in one of their three fast and comfortable boats to explore little hidden KeyWest coves and unforgettable bays.
The boats accommodate a maximum of six passenger, ensuring a more intimate and personal trip. The trips last from two and half hours to six hours depending on the adventure you choose. More independent tourists can rent one of their boats to do some leisurely exploring on their own.
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8. Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory
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Located on Duval Street in the middle of all the hustle and bustle, there is a peaceful, almost magical oasis known as the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservancy. It houses an incredible collection of about 60 species of the most beautiful butterflies imaginable and more than 20 exotic species of birds. These creatures spin and flutter about the thriving, humid tropical habitat of the Conservatory.
Enjoy the fragrant flowering bushes and watch butterflies glide from one plant to the next in a mesmerizing dance of colors and shapes. You can also see how caterpillars feed on their host plants and transform from one stage to another. The Conservatory has a nice gift shop where you can purchase the artistic butterfly compositions of artist Sam Trophia.
1316 Duval Street, Key West, Florida, Phone: 305-296-2988
9.Lloyd's Tropical Bike Tour
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Imagine visiting a new, exciting place and getting your best buddy to take you around to all the cool spots. That the role Lloyd fills for tourists who book one of his informative, unpredictable, and entertaining bike tours. Tours start every morning at 9:45 and leave from Moped Hospital on Truman Avenue. You will spend two hours of easy biking along flat Key West streets, during which Lloyd will take you to see practically everything Key West has to offer and a bit more.
You will visit the Key West Wildlife Center, a botanical garden in the old fort, private secret gardens that belong to his friends, and interesting old houses that belong to various celebrities. Lloyd will tell you stories, introduce you to the local characters, and let you sample some of the fruits that are in season. You won’t stop moving during this tour, but you’ll love every minute of it.
601 Truman Avenue, Key West, Florida, Phone: 305-428-2678
10. Dry Tortugas National Park
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For history buffs, a visit to Dry Tortugas National Park with its spectacular 19th Century Fort Jefferson is a must. The park, which consists mostly of water and seven small islands, is located about 70 miles from Key West. It lies in magnificent blue waters surrounded by a variety of healthy coral reefs and diverse marine life. There is also a large colony of migratory and tropical birds.
You can get to the park using your own boat, a chartered boat, a seaplane, or the ferry. Enjoy the 45-minutes guided tour of the Fort to learn about its history or take a walk along the moat for a spectacular view of the surrounding reefs and sea life. Snorkeling and swimming, available in designated areas, are thrilling activities in which you can participate.
11.Lazy Dog Adventures
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It is very tempting to simply laze around Key West and watch the world pass by. However, if you feel the need for some action on the water, Lazy Dog Adventures has many fun options. Located at the Hurricane Hole Marina, Lazy Dog consists of lazy dogs Bonny, Casey, and Tucker and their owners, who offer a fleet of kayaks, some nice new paddleboards, and all sorts of snorkel equipment.
They will take you on a tour of mangroves and waterways, give you paddleboard lessons if you need them, or provide you with a map and point you in the right direction to start your adventure. You can even bring your dog with you.
12.Key West Attractions: U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Ingham Maritime Museum
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Bring the kids to roam around the historic CGC INGHAM, a Coast Guard Cutter that is 50 years old. This old Coast Guard workhorse has seen many wars and played an important role throughout much of the 20th century history. Ingham was active from 1936 to 1988, participated in both world wars, and saved many lives.
The ship received two Presidential Unit Citations. Located on the Truman Waterfront at the western end of Key West, Ingham is today the Maritime Museum & National Historic Landmark. If you are looking for unique things to see on your weekend trip, don't miss this fascinating historical attraction.
13.Wild About Dolphins
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Located on Peninsular Avenue at the Key West Harbour Marina on Stock Island, the island just east of Key West, Wild About Dolphins is a tour that enables visitors to learn about local wild bottled-nosed dolphins and have encounters with these special marine animals.
Captain Sheri Sullenger leads the tours on a boat called “Amazing Grace,” taking tour goers through the warm local waters that are the natural habitat of the dolphins to the “Dolphin Playground.” Here, visitors can swim and snorkel in the shallow reefs and see many kinds of marine life. They can also visit the nearby pristine beaches and interesting mangrove island habitats where they have the opportunity to see many kinds of birds. Phone: 305-294-5026
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The Vandenberg is a former United States Navy ship that was intentionally sunk in 2009 to create an artificial coral reef. The Vandenberg originally served as a missile-tracking ship as well as a military troop transport ship. It is located in about 150 feet of water in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary approximately seven miles south of Key West.
Creating artificial reefs helps to protect natural coral reefs by redirecting scuba divers and offering them a new experience. Other benefits include adding to the numbers of marine animals, providing a new location for research and education, preserving the history of the ship, and boosting the local economy.
15. Key West attractions: Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park
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Located on Truman Annex near the southern tip of Key West, Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park is a popular park and beach that offers many activities. Also known as Fort Taylor or Fort Zach to the locals, it is a Florida State Park that is listed as a U.S. National Historic Landmark because of its Civil War-era fort.
There are several special events that take place in the park, including Civil War reenactments that last for a week. Considered to be one of the best beaches in Key West, the park also offers beach equipment like chairs and water sports equipment such as snorkel gear and floats. There are several places to eat throughout the park.
16.Historic Seaport at Key West Bight
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The Key West Historic Seaport and Harbor Walk is a popular tourist destination located on Key West Bight Marina. t is home to many activities, attractions, restaurants, and shops. The historic seaport, also known as the Inner Harbor or as Key West Bight, has been the thriving center of Key West’s cultural and economic life for nearly 200 years.
Fishing boats and coastal shipping boats used the seaport until the early 1990s. Today, visitors can walk along Harbor Walk where there are several waterfront restaurants serving fresh seafood. They can also enjoy dolphin watching, snorkeling, and scuba diving trips on catamarans, sailboats, and yachts. Jet skiing, kayaking, and parasailing are also quite popular.
17.Key West, Florida Attractions: Lagerheads Beach Bar, Key West, Florida
A visit to Lagerheads will make you think you’ve walked on to the set of a movie centered on Caribbean life: you’ll see sandy white beaches, endless ocean views, and a little beach bar under an umbrella. Lagerheads is the kind of beach bar tourists dream of discovering. It’s the place where locals hang out, exchange stories, and eat fish straight from the sea.
Located where Simonton Street meets the beach, this quaint area is as much Key West as it is Caribbean. The food is exactly what you want from a beach bar: fresh, simple and delicious. The fish tacos are legendary, and you just have to try them to understand. Lagerheads also rents out snorkeling and fishing gear, and they will take you on a boat tour to fish or watch dolphins.
1 Simonton Street, Key West, Florida, Phone: 305-509-7444
18.Key West Seaplane Adventures
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Located on South Roosevelt Boulevard at the Key West International Airport, Key West Seaplane Adventures offers the only air service to Dry Tortugas National Park. Experienced pilots take visitors on sightseeing tours that begin with a view over Key West and continue 70 miles west to Dry Tortugas, the last islands that make up the Florida Keys chain.
On the narrated flight, every guest is given a headset and a window seat. As they travel to the Dry Tortugas, guests sometimes see dolphins, porpoises, rays, sharks, and turtles. Pilots also point out several shipwrecks including the “Arbutus” and the “Patricia.” After a safe water landing, guests can visit Dry Tortugas National Park. Phone: 305-293-9300
From the outside, Pepe's looks like it has not been touched since it first opened in 1909. Once you step inside, you will be transported back in time to the romantic Key West of Papa Hemingway. Signed photos of former patrons and other memorabilia cover the eye-catching walls. If you prefer eating outside, request a seating option on the large patio in the back, which benefits from the shade of several large trees.
Whatever you decide to eat will be wonderful and made from scratch. Dishes are made with fish caught that morning, the biscuits and Key Lime Pie are prepared daily, and they freshly squeeze the orange juice just for you. Their breakfast is fabulous; the menu changes daily and its selections depend on what is fresh and available. Pepe’s is located on Caroline Street on the old commercial waterfront.
806 Caroline St, Key West, Florida, Phone: 305-294-7192
20.Key West Lighthouse and Keeper's Quarters Museum
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The Key West Lighthouse originally opened in 1848. The U.S. Navy had established a base in Key West in 1823 and recognized the importance of building a lighthouse because of the many coral reefs and shallow waters around the island. Over the years, improvements were made to the lighthouse including the addition of the lighthouse Keeper’s Quarters and eventually the electrification of the light.
Because of new technologies, a keeper was no longer necessary, and thus the lighthouse was decommissioned in 1969. Today it serves as a museum dedicated to the lighthouse keepers. Visitors can climb the 88 steps and look at the photographs and belongings of the former keepers.
938 Whitehead Street, Key West, Florida, Phone: 305-294-0012
21.Key West attractions: Sunset Pier
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When visiting Key West, sunset watching becomes one of those things you just have to do every day, and Sunset Pier is the restaurant that offers the best seats in town. Situated just off famous Mallory Square, the Pier juts out into the Gulf from the Ocean Key Resort & Spa in which it is located. You can perch on a bar stool at the enormous bar or sit in one of the colorful chairs along the Pier; every seat will offer a spectacular view of the sunset.
While waiting for the sun to set, enjoy colorful rum drinks and sumptuous Key West food prepared in the restaurant. The raw oysters are especially delicious when in season. The menu is celebrated for its fresh seafood and bold Caribbean flavors. There is some kind of live music most of the time, which often leads to a dancing party. It is Key West, after all.
22. Key West Aquarium
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Located on Whitehead Street adjacent to popular Mallory Square, the Key West Aquarium was built between 1932 and 1934. Originally built as an open-air aquarium, it is the only public aquarium in Key West and is one of the oldest aquariums in Florida. Some of the aquarium’s exhibits include the American Alligator Exhibit, the Atlantic Shores Exhibit, and the Jellyfish Exhibit.
The aquarium offers several educational programs such as Touch Tank/Aquarium History, Sea Turtles Conservation Tour, and Shark and Stingray Interactive Feedings. The aquarium offers regularly scheduled tours as well as group tours, and it can be rented for special events like parties and receptions.
1 Whitehead Street, Key West, Florida, Phone: 305-296-2051
23.Sebago Day Tours
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Feel the wind in your sails on board of one of Sebago’s six magnificent sailing boats, and take an adventure on the warm tropical waters around Key West in high style. You can relax in luxury on a sunset cruise with a glass of champagne glass in hand or wake up early to have a fun morning snorkel.
If you prefer more action, you can request the full package: try their Power Adventure with snorkeling, jet skiing, parasailing, kayaking, and paddle boarding. All tours provide gourmet food, snacks, and drinks, and the attentive and experienced crew will make you feel like a rich jet setter – at least for a few hours. Tours last from two and half hours to the full day. Boarding takes place the Key West Seaport. Phone: 800-507-9955
24. Ibis Bay Beach Resort
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If you are bringing the kids to Key West, Ibis Bay Beach Resort is the place for you. With 600 feet of pristine white beach, hammocks hanging from the palm trees, large pool, colorful macaws, and peaceful tortoises, it is a true tropical heaven for the whole family.
If you decide to stay in one of the lovely coral rock cottages with your own little garden and a secluded beach area, you will understand why so many writers have written about Key West. The rooms are colorful, neatly organized, and feature authentic decorations from the old resort that existed in the same space years before. If you decide to eat in The Stoned Crab, the resort’s celebrated restaurant, you won’t even have to leave the resort.
3101 N. Roosevelt Blvd, Key West, Florida, Phone: 305-296-1043
25.Curry Mansion Inn
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Staying at the Curry Mansion Inn feels like paying a visit to a wealthy relative. It is luxurious and opulent yet cozy and inviting at the same time. In fact, the inn is more like a home than a hotel. The mansion was originally built as a home for the family of William Curry, the first Floridian millionaire. Today, the Mansion is the home of innkeeper Edith Amsterdam, a colorful character in her own right.
The inn’s rooms are wonderfully decorated with antiques and wicker furnished. They feature modern amenities and have private baths, air conditioning, and cable television. The guests can stay in the mansion, in the Guest Wing across the street, or in the James House. There is also a swimming pool and hot tub. Guests are more than welcome to use the computer located in the library. The Curry Mansion functions as a museum, and it is part of the National Register of Historic Places.
511 Caroline Street, Key West, Florida, Phone: 800-253-3466
25 Best Things to Do in Key West
- The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, Photo: Courtesy of PHB.cz - Fotolia.com
- Mallory Square, Photo: Courtesy of Platinum Pictures - Fotolia.com
- Harry S. Truman Little White House, Photo: Courtesy of lunamarina - Fotolia.com
- Audubon House & Tropical Gardens, Photo: Courtesy of Olena Bloshchynska - Fotolia.com
- Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center, Photo: Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center
- Key West Garden Club, Photo: Courtesy of virsuziglis - Fotolia.com
- Fun in The Sun Private Charters, Key West, Florida, Photo: Courtesy of Roman Stetsyk - Fotolia.com
- Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory, Photo: Courtesy of Irina Schmidt - Fotolia.com
- Lloyd's Tropical Bike Tour, Photo: Courtesy of lunamarina - Fotolia.com
- Dry Tortugas National Park, Photo: Courtesy of Thomas Barrat - Fotolia.com
- Lazy Dog Adventures, Photo: Courtesy of digital whiz - Fotolia.com
- Key West Attractions: U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Ingham Maritime Museum, Photo: Courtesy of Foto Factory - Fotolia.com
- Wild About Dolphins, Photo: Courtesy of Andriy Bezuglov - Fotolia.com
- The Vandenberg, Photo: Courtesy of Richard Carey - Fotolia.com
- Key West attractions: Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park, Photo: Courtesy of Ronald Manera - Fotolia.com
- Historic Seaport at Key West Bight, Photo: Courtesy of Alessandro Lai - Fotolia.com
- Key West, Florida Attractions: Lagerheads Beach Bar, Key West, Florida, Photo: Lagerheads
- Key West Seaplane Adventures, Photo: Courtesy of benny marty - Fotolia.com
- Pepe's, Photo: Pepe's
- Key West Lighthouse and Keeper's Quarters Museum, Photo: Courtesy of f11photo - Fotolia.com
- Key West attractions: Sunset Pier, Photo: Courtesy of SENPHO - Fotolia.com
- Key West Aquarium, Photo: Courtesy of phubadee - Fotolia.com
- Sebago Day Tours, Photo: Courtesy of disq - Fotolia.com
- Ibis Bay Beach Resort, Photo: Ibis Bay Beach Resort
- Curry Mansion Inn, Photo: Curry Mansion Inn
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of FotoMak - Fotolia.com