This comprehensive guide to the best things to do in Key West will take you through the traditional sites like Mallory Square and Duval Street but we also share some of the more unique attractions in Key West like a tour of the coast and marina on hydro bikes.
Key West Fl 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 United States is located here and it is only 90 miles from Cuba!
Best Things to do in Key West
The best way to explore Key West is on a road trip from Miami. Driving over the long bridges connecting the different islands is definitely a bucket list experience. Click here to search all the car rental agencies and get the best price for your road trip.
1. Key West Eco Tour
One of the best excursions you can have on the water is with Honest Eco Tours. This full day tour is a sustainable tour takes places on the first electric catamaran of its kind in the United States!
Our day began with handing out reusable water bottles for each passenger to fill up at their leisure and a helping of fresh fruit. As we made our way out to the open seas, we were shown a map of where we’d be going and what we’d be doing. After that, it was a full day of snorkeling, kayaking, dolphin spotting, sightseeing along the coast of Key West and delicious food.
2. Dolphin Watching
The tour starts with dolphin watching. Captain Billy has a keen eye for spotting dolphins and we watched them from a safe distance for 30 minutes before moving on to our kayaking destination.
200 bottlenose dolphins live in the warm waters off the Florida Keys, and having never been fed or trained, it is the perfect way to watch dolphins swim and play in their natural habitat. We never tire of seeing dolphins in the wild.
Book a full day Key West Eco tour in advance with Get Your Guide.
3. Key West Wildlife Refuge
The day continued with Sea Kayaking through the Key West 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.
As we paddled through tiny openings of mangrove forests we entered into an entirely new ecosystem of quiet coves and still waters. We saw jellyfish, stingrays, sharks, and other fish from our vessels.
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, the snorkeling is good too! The John Pennekamp State Park is the only remaining coral reef in the United States, it isn’t great.
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. You have to hand it to the Keys though, they are working hard to bring the reefs back to life with conservation and planting plenty of shipwrecks to help the coral grow. With this day on Honest Eco Tours, we had the chance to do most of the best Key West water sports. We highly recommend this tour.
- Book all of the above at Honest Eco Tours
6. Key West 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 are 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.
But it was the chance to make an authentic Cuban Mojito and brought 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!
- Read their story here. It’s a good one!
7. Key West Hydrobikes
Most people head to Mallory Square for sunset but if you want to see a beautiful sunset without the crowds, book this tour. The Hydrobikes are a lot of fun to scoot out to Sunset Key just before sunset.
You can bring two drinks with you. The city has an open drink policy so grab a couple of rum cocktails to put into the drink holders. By the time the sun goes down, you are back near the dock watching the sunset free from crowds and heads in the way.
If paddling a waterbike isn’t your thing, be sure to hop on one of the many sunset cruises. There are floating bars, schooners and catamarans that will take you out to watch the stunning sunsets.
- Book your sunset tour at Key West Hydrobikes
8. Southernmost Point
It is definitely the most popular of Key West Attractions and a trip to the Southernmost point of the United States is a must! Go early in the morning as the lines are long to take the obligatory selfie at the southernmost point bouy.
The cement marker is located on the southernmost point of the continental United States. With colorful painted lines and writings it lets you know just how close you are to Cuba.
Book a cycling tour of the Key West. Guided tours of Key West will take you through Old Town, the Southernmost Point, Mallory Square, and the Key West Cemetery here. Free cancellation and last minute bookings accepted.
9. Dry Tortugas National Park
Located (113km) 70 miles from Key West, the Dry Tortugas is one of the most remote national parks in the United States. 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.
10. Sunset at Mallory Square
Mallory Square is a great place for sunset in Key West. Each night a sunset celebration takes place overlooking the Harbor from Mallory Square. Street performers put on some dazzling shows as crowds form along the large square. 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.
Be sure to arrive early to take advantage of all the sites at Mallory Square. But there are plenty of other sites to keep you occupied like the Shipwreck Museums honoring the ships that went down off the coast of Key West and the Maritime Museum honoring it’s long maritime history.
After sunset, you can catch a show at the Waterfront Playhouse. My favorite was the memorial sculpture garden is located directly in front paying tribute to famous patrons of the theatre and residents. Busts include sculptures of Hemingway, Truman, Tennessee Williams, and many other important people.
11. Ernest Hemingway Home
Ernest Hemingway has been everywhere. We’ve visited his old haunts in Kenya, Cuba, Michigan, Paris, and Pamplona to name a few. And you guessed it, Hemingway lived here too! From 1931 to 1939 Hemingway called Key West’s old town home. It’s no wonder he spent so much time in Cuba.
The highlight of visiting the Ernest Hemingway house is spying the Hemmingway 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!
12. 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!
13. Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory
The Key West Butterfly & 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.
14. Duval Street Key West
Key West was made for partying. Once the sun goes down, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a sober tourist especially downtown in the party district. Duval Street is the main bar and nightlife street and barhopping is a way of life when visiting the Keys.
From upscale wine bars to dive bars, it has it all. There are the staples like Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville, (which Dave and I had to visit on our first trip) and the Hard Rock Cafe. But a few other suggestions are Lucy’s Retired Surf Bar, Sloppy Joes, Virgillios, Rick’s Café, and our personal favorite The Wine O Bar and Lounge.
15. Fantasy Fest
If you want to take partying up a notch, visit Key West at the end of October for Fantasy Fest. 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. Since it is Key West, there’s a lot of alcohol involved too!
16. Key West Roosters
When walking around keep an eye out for the many roosters roaming the streets. These roosters came from Cuba 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.
17. 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.
One of the most popular things to see is the Key West Cemetery. The conch train passes it as it weaves through the Old Town. It is interesting to visit on a walking tour. 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 that was blown up in Havana Harbor in 1898.
- You can book a trolley tour of Key West in advance here.
- Book a guided tour of Key West is the Ghosts and Graveyards Tour – See why Key West was named one of the most haunted places in the US.
18. President Harry S. Truman Little White House
We visited Washington DC for the first time two years ago and saw the White House, so it was cool to see the Truman Little White House of 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.
19. 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.
20. Key Lime Pie
It was invented here and you’ll never have one that tastes so good as in Key West itself. One of the best places to try 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.
21. Fort Zachary Taylor Historic Site
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,
22. 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 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.
Smather’s Beach is the largest public beach on Key West at a half a mile long. There are lounge chairs umbrellas, and watersports offered.
The first time we ever tried parsailing was here. Parasailing is such a fun way to see Key West’s beautiful coast. I think a parasailing adventures is certainly one of the most popular things to do in Key West and with good reason.
You can book a beachside parasailing ride from Smather’s Beach. There is easy cancellation withing 24 hours of departure and you can do last minutes bookings as well. Check out tours here.
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.
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.
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.
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Our trip was sponsored by Key West Tourism. All opinions are our own.