Key West is easily the most visited destination in the Florida Keys and one of the most popular vacation destinations in all of America. It’s no secret why. With beautiful beaches, fantastic restaurants, a lively Duvall street, and a vibe that will make you feel as though you just stepped out of a Jimmy Buffet music video every day, Key West is a destination not to be missed.
Whether on a Florida Keys road trip or spending an entire week in Key West, let’s dig into the best Key West activities to enjoy!
In this Key West travel guide, we’re going to take a look at:
- Where is Key West
- Why Key West is a Must Visit
- Best Things to do in Key West
- Best Restaurants in Key West
- How to Get to Key West
- How to Get Around Key West
- Where to Stay in Key West
- The Best Time to Visit Key West
Where Is Key West?
Key West is a key in the Florida Keys and a US island city. It is not only Florida’s southernmost point but also the southernmost city in the United States. It’s just 90 miles north of Cuba.
People travel from all over the world to experience Key West’s beaches, delicious seafood, and overall laid-back island vibe. It’s a dream destination, unlike anywhere else I’ve been in the US, and a must-visit when visiting Florida.
The Best Things To Do in Key West
1. Key West Lighthouse Museum
Constructed in 1847, The Key West Lighthouse is an iconic fixture on Key West’s coast and is one of the top 25 things to do in Key West.
While it’s no longer a working lighthouse, it’s open to visitors who wish to learn about what it was like to be a lighthouse keeper. Inside, you’ll find photos and exhibits showcasing items that belonged to former lighthouse keepers and their families.
- Location: 938 Whitehead Street
- Tip: Climb the 88 steps to the top of the lighthouse where you’ll enjoy spectacular views.
- Price: $17.00 per adult
2. Ernest Hemingway Home
When Ernest Hemingway arrived in Key West, it was love at first sight and in 1851, he built this home. This striking Spanish Colonial mansion, which is now a National Historic Landmark, features a 60-foot swimming pool, beautiful gardens, a collection of Hemingway’s personal items and a colony of six-toed cats.
- Location: 907 Whitehead Street
- Tip: Take the 30-minute guided tour that’s included in the admission price and learn more about the property and Hemingway himself.
- Price: $13.00 per adult
3. Take a Conch Tour Train
It’s not very hard to get around Key West but one of the best ways to get familiar with it is with a ride on the Conch Tour Train. Operating since 1958, this tour is rated one of the best things to do in Key West. Along the way, you’ll see stunning views, learn about the history of the region and pass by more than 100 of the island’s attractions.
- Location: 201 Front Street
- Tip: Listen closely to the commentary that includes fascinating tales of pirates, hauntings, treasure and artists.
- Price: $50.60 for a 90-minute tour.
4. Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center
Within this facility’s 6,000 square feet of exhibits, you’ll find an array of interactive features that offer a personal look into the unique ecosystems of the region.
As you explore this fascinating place, you’ll see a satellite map of the Florida Keys, a model of the only underwater ocean laboratory and a camera that monitors the condition of coral reefs. You’ll learn about various marine habitats such as mangroves, beach dunes and sea grass flats and you can also watch a film about these ecosystems.
- Location: 35 East Quay Road
- Tip: Don’t miss the incredible Living Reef exhibit which features a huge tank with living corals and tropical fish.
- Price: Free
5. Wild About Dolphins
Captain Sheri Sullenger is passionate about dolphins, and she loves sharing everything she knows about these incredible creatures with visitors. The Wild About Dolphins experience is one of the top things to do in Key West.
Board the Amazing Grace and head out to a known dolphin habitat where you can go swimming, snorkeling, reef exploring and interacting with friendly dolphins. Along the way, you’ll also explore deserted beaches and shallow sandbars.
- Location: Stock Island Yacht Club & Marina at 6000 Peninsular Avenue.
- Tip: Don’t forget to take a swimsuit or you’ll miss the most important part of the tour!
- Price: Starting at $550.00 for three hours
6. Mallory Square Sunset Celebration
You have to attend the Mallory Square Sunset celebration at least once during your visit to Key West. This nightly event draws locals and visitors alike who gather to watch various entertainers, such as tight-rope walkers and musicians. There are also many vendors on site, so grab a margarita and enjoy the tunes as the sun goes down.
- Location: Mallory Square at 420 Wall Street
- Tip: Arrive at least an hour before sunset to get a good spot to watch the main event.
- Price: Free
7. Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory
Escape into a peaceful world surrounded by nature where you can relax and escape the crowds for a while. At the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory, you’ll explore a beautiful sanctuary for many species of butterflies and birds who prosper in the conservatory’s tropical environment.
Along the way, you’ll find fountains, benches, gardens and a glass-enclosed exhibit featuring cocoons.
The highlight of the conservatory is its two resident flamingos, Rhett and Scarlett. This famous Key West couple charms all visitors with their mating calls, foot patting dance, and mesmerizing pink color.
- Location: 1316 Duval Street
- Tip: At the on-site gift shop, you’ll find many unique items including beautiful butterfly artworks.
- Price: $14.00 per adult
8. Fort Zachary Taylor State Park
At this lovely park, you get a taste of two worlds; nature and history. The beach is clean, large and sandy and is one of the best beaches in Key West. Beach equipment, including chairs and water sports equipment, are available to rent and snorkelers enjoy exploring the coral reef. Nature trails and a picnic area are also on-site.
Fort Zachary, which was built in 1866, is a fascinating place to explore with a long and interesting history.
- Location: 601 Howard England Way
- Tip: Tours of the National Historic Landmark take place daily at 11:00 AM
- Price: $7.00 per car
9. Stroll Duval Street
If you’re wondering where the party is in Key West, look no further than Duval Street. As the island’s main street and town center, this is where you’ll find all the best Key West restaurants, bars, pubs and cafes.
By day, browse the little galleries and shops and admire the Victorian mansions. By night, party until the wee hours in the area’s best bars including Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville, The Flying Monkeys Bar, The Bull and Whistle and Bourbon Street Pub.
- Location: Old Town, Key West
- Tip: On Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday evenings, you can join the Duval Pub Crawl.
- Price: The pub crawl costs $34.95 per person. Strolling Duval Street is free!
10. Harry S. Truman Little White House
Since the late 1800s, Key West has been a favorite presidential retreat and Harry S. Truman was one of those presidents who cherished his time on the island.
This once belonged to him and his wife Bess and he even presided over important events from the location. The beautifully restored property is now a living museum and during a guided tour, you’ll see how the president lived during his time there.
- Location: 111 Front Street, Naval Air Station
- Tip: Head to the intersection of Whitehead and Caroline Streets to see the Presidential Gates.
- Price: $24.67 per adult
11. Key West First Legal Rum Distillery
An intriguing story and fabulous rum. That’s what Key West First Legal Rum Distillery is known for. As a thank you to the Cuban people who ran rum to Key West during prohibition, the owners were the first Americans to do the same for Cuba and became trained Mojito masters in the process!
Taste prize-winning rum aged in salt-cured barrels and using only local and natural ingredients. Key West First Legal Rum, Key West Devil’s Rum and Cuban Coffee Rum are some of the rums available.
- Location: 105 Simonton Street
- Tip: Participate in one of the Mojito-making classes that are offered on site.
- Price: Tours and samples are free
12. Take a Tiki Cruise
Cruisin’ Tikis offers a fun and unique experience where you can embark on a seafaring journey in a Tiki-inspired watercraft. There are several different cruises available including a sunset cruise, swim stop cruise and Garrison Bite Cruise. Tours last from 90 to 180 minutes.
- Location: Cruises depart Mellow Ventures dock at 1605 N Roosevelt Blvd, The Hurricane Hole Marina at 5110 Overseas Hwy and Schooner Wharf Bar docks 202 William Street.
- Tip: There are iced coolers on board so bring your own snacks and drinks.
- Price: Prices vary depending on the tour but average between $59.00 and $80.00
13. Edward B. Knight Pier
If fishing is something you look forward to doing during your visit to Key West, the Edward B. Knight Pier is one of the best spots. This 200-meter-long pier is also a popular place to take a stroll at sunrise or sunset.
- Location: White Street
- Tip: Dogs are allowed on the pier so it’s a great place to take your furry friend for a walk.
- Price: Free
14. Shipwreck Museum
Key West is known for its maritime history which includes many shipwrecks. At the Shipwreck Museum, you’ll learn about this fascinating history and the unique livelihoods of the people who recover artifacts from these shipwrecks. Along the way, see many amazing treasures that were recovered from various wrecks.
- Location: 1 Whitehead Street
- Tip: Climb the 65-foot Observation Tower where you’ll enjoy views of the surrounding area.
- Price: $18.26 per adult.
15. Dine at Blue Heaven
Blue Heaven has the best brunch in Key West but anytime is a good time to visit this fabulous eatery! Upon arrival, you can choose to take a seat in the courtyard with the free-roaming cats and chickens or inside the treehouse dining room.
Dine on Florida-Caribbean dishes such as Jerk chicken sandwiches, snapper in citrus sauce, lobster Benedict, carrot and curry soup and scallops provençale.
- Location: 729 Thomas Street
- Tip: The renowned key lime pie is said to be the best on the island.
- Price: Prices range from $22 – $42
16. The Southernmost Point
Key West is home to the southernmost point in the Continental United States and it’s famously marked by a colorful concrete buoy that’s one of the most photographed attractions in the country. People start lining up at sunrise to be photographed with this iconic buoy, so be patient while trying to get a photo!
- Location: Whitehead Street
- Tip: Venture to this spot just before the sun goes down to enjoy a spectacular sunset.
- Price: Free
17. Kayak through Mangrove Swamps
Kayak Kings offers one-of-kind eco-tours through unspoiled mangrove swamps. Navigate your kayak through the narrow river tunnels and along the way, see a variety of plant and animal life. Groups are small so you’ll get a personalized experience with knowledgeable guides.
- Location: Cow Key Marina at 5001 5th Avenue
- Tip: Take a bathing suit, towel and plenty of sunscreen – these are beach essentials!
- Price: $45.00 per person for two hours
18. Take a Boat Tour
Whether you want to view dolphins, explore sandbars, do some snorkelling, go island-hopping or chase a sunset while sipping your favorite boozy cocktail, Fun in the Sun Charters has just the adventure for you! Tours last from 2.5 to six hours.
- Location: 6000 Peninsular Avenue
- Tip: If you know how to operate a boat, you can also rent one and go on an independent adventure.
- Price: Between $495.00 and $895.00 depending on which adventure you choose.
19. Audubon House
This stunning mansion was constructed in the mid-1800s for Captain John Huling. When the house was about to be demolished in 1958, a local foundation stepped in and beautifully restored it.
Today, it’s a museum depicting a way of life that was enjoyed by wealthy residents in the 1800s. Inside, you’ll see period furnishings and a collection of lithographs.
- Location: 205 Whitehead Street
- Tip: Check out the beautiful tropical gardens that are on site.
- Price: $15.00 per adult
20. Key West Garden Club
The Key West Garden Club is a beautiful place overlooking the ocean is run by volunteers with the goal of teaching visitors about tropical gardening. Bromeliads, orchids, a water lily pond and a waterfall are some of the features you’ll see as you explore the gardens.
- Location: 1100 Atlantic Boulevard
- Tip: Check out the West Martello Tower which is a Civil War citadel that was built in 1862.
- Price: Free. Guided tours are available on certain days for $25 per person
21. U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Ingham Maritime Museum
At this unique attraction, you’ll explore a historic, well-preserved Coast Guard Cutter that was used in many wars and life-saving missions between 1936 and 1988.
- Location: On the Truman Waterfront on Southard Street
- Tip: Browse the on-site gift shop. On some nights, museum staff host a sunset happy hour with cocktails.
- Price: $15.00 per adult
22. Key West Aquarium
This aquarium is one of the oldest in Florida and it features a range of fascinating exhibits and experiences. American Alligator Exhibit, Jellyfish Exhibit and Atlantic Shores Exhibit are some of the interactive displays you’ll see as you explore the site. You can also participate in a variety of experiences including touch tanks and feedings.
- Location: 1 Whitehead Street
- Tip: Guided tours are available throughout the day.
- Price: $22.56 per adult
23. Mel Fisher Maritime Museum
If you haven’t had enough sunken treasure, you can see more incredible finds, including silver and gold bars and centuries-old artifacts, at this museum. Many of the items on display are from ships that were wrecked in the 1600s.
Some of the exhibitions include The Treasure Gallery, The Search for the Atocha, the Science of Shipwrecks and Piracy in the New World. This must-see attraction is another one of the top 25 things to do in Key West.
- Location: 200 Greene Street
- Tip: Behind-the-scenes lab tours are offered on weekdays at 11:30 AM and 2:00 PM.
- Price: 17.50 per adult
24. Key West Cemetery
While a cemetery may not sound like a place you would usually visit on vacation, the Key West Cemetery is no ordinary cemetery!
Some have estimated that up to 100,000 people are buried across its 19 acres. Some of the headstones date back to the 1800s but the most interesting thing about many of them is their humorous, and sometimes even mischievous, inscriptions.
- Location: 701 Passover Lane
- Tip: Be sure to check out the map at the entrance so you can easily find the most interesting plots.
- Price: It’s free to enter but a guided tour costs $15.00.
25. Smathers Beach
Smathers Beach is the other popular sandy beach in Key West and heading here for a day at the beach is one of the best things to do in Key West. It tends to get less crowded and at this public beach, you’ll find calm, shallow waters that are safe for swimming, picnic areas, volleyball courts and Jet Ski rentals.
- Location: 2601 S Roosevelt Boulevard
- Tip: Food trucks are usually on site so you can grab something to eat without leaving.
- Price: Free but parking is $5.00 per hour.
26. Enjoy a Coffee from Cuban Coffee Queen
An iconic thing to do in Key West is grab a quick cafe con leche from Cuban Coffee Queen near the harbor. They are quick and easy, so if you are running short on time rest assured you can grab a quick bite and coffee here. And snap a “Key West photo” while you’re waiting.
- Location: 284 Margaret St, Naval Air Station
- Price: $1.50-$10.50
27. Paddleboard Yoga with Lazy Dog Charters
For a leisurely morning out why not try some yoga, except make it Florida Keys style and practice your down dog on the water. Lazy Dog Tours runs paddleboard yoga tours right on Stock Island.
Tours typically last about two hours, one hour of yoga and one-hour of paddling. If you are lucky you’ll get to see some manatees beneath your board! Make sure to put on lots of sunscreen and cover up with an outdoor hat as there is little shade.
- Location: 5114 Overseas Hwy
- Price: $40-$55
28.Enjoy Key Lime Pie on a Stick at Kermit’s Key Lime Café
You can’t visit the Florida Keys and not have a taste of the famous Key Lime Pie! There are plenty of places selling Key Lime Pie in Key West! However, none stand out as much as our FROZEN key lime at Kermits. Kermits is well known in the Key Lime world. Kermit Carpenter himself still bakes some of the pies himself, even after 28 years in business.
To say this place is an institution is an understatement, and even if you’ve already had Key Lime Pie in the keys, it’s well worth popping in here. There are now two locations, the original at 200 Elizabeth Street and one right off Duval Street.
- Location: 200 Elizabeth St, Naval Air Station
- Price: $3-$6
29. Land’s End Sunset Sail with Sebago Key West
I didn’t know what to expect when we boarded the Sebago Catamaran, but their sunset boat tour ended up being a highlight of our time in Key West. The Sebago sunset sail is truly for those that want to let loose and listen to island music while drinking rum punch as the sun sets on the water.
Booking an evening with Sebago starts at 6:30 and ends after sunset; a ticket includes all-you-can-drink, appetizers, and plenty of entertainment. Oh yea – and epic views as the sun sets in the beautiful Florida Keys.
- Location: 205 Elizabeth St, Naval Air Station Key West
- Price: Sunset tours start at $70
Tacos at Fisherman’s Café
A great lunch spot to head to is Fisherman’s Cafe right on Lazy Way Ave. It’s a fun takeaway spot with delicious lobster tacos!
Best Things To Do in Key West Map
Best Restaurants in Key West
Key West has some of the best seafood in the US, so it would be a crime not to eat at some of the best restaurants in the city.
No trip here is complete without finding some deliciously locally-made fare, mostly pertaining to fresh and fantastic seafood dishes cooked up in the traditional styles of the area. A few of our favorites are:
- Matt’s Stock Island Kitchen and Bar: Amazing seafood and other fares set right on a romantic spot in the harbor.
- El Siboney: Authentic and affordable Cuban cuisine in the city!
- Thirsty Mermaid: For all the best shellfish you can’t go wrong with dinner at the Thirsty Mermaid!
How to Get to Key West
By Air: Key West International Airport is served by several airlines, and is not far from the core area of Key West. There are direct flights to most cities in Florida, Atlanta, and Charlotte, as well to a few destinations in the Bahamas. Flying into Key West is a good option if it’s your only destination, though fares are often higher than flying into Miami or Fort Lauderdale and driving to Key West.
By Car: The Overseas Highway links all the towns in the Keys with mainland Florida, it’s one of the best road trips in the world, and driving from Key Largo to Key West was a particular highlight for us. A popular option is to fly into Miami or Fort Lauderdale, rent a vehicle and drive down to Key West. You can either fly out of Key West or return to the airport you came from on the mainland! If you don’t have your own car for this journey, it’s best to rent one in either Key West, Key Largo, or Miami. We search for the best deals on car rentals on Discover Cars.
Shuttle/Bus: There aren’t many shuttle or bus options, but the Greyhound Bus Service does operate a route between Miami, Key Largo, and Key West. It only serves those few stops, so it’s not ideal for most travelers. However, it is an option for those that can not drive. If you want private transportation, you can hire a company like Florida Keys Express Shuttle. You can also check out Miami to Key West Bus which operates one way buses and tours.
By Sea: Check out Key West Express which connects Fort Myers and Marco Island to Key West via their jet-powered catamarans.
How to Get Around Key West
We traveled from Key Largo to Key West in a rental car, and although the car was extremely helpful for the road trip, once we got to Key West, we found it to be a bit of a hindrance and left it parked at our hotel most of the time.
Parking is expensive in Key West, and the roads are quite busy. Most of Key West is so compact you can easily get around by walking or biking. It’s also possible to rent a scooter or golf cart (though this option still requires parking).
Biking is easily the most popular option, and bike rentals can be had for $10 a day (Check Eaton Bikes). Many hotels also offer bike rentals to guests so make sure to check beforehand.
Uber and Lyft also work well in Key West and is a great way to get around. Uber is never too expensive since any destination you’ll be going to will be relatively close.
There is also a Free Duval Loop Bus that runs every 15 minutes, 7 days a week in the core downtown area. You can see more here!
Where to Stay in Key West
If you don’t mind not being in the center of all the Key West action, Oceans Edge Resort is a great place to stay on Stock Island. This secluded resort allows guests to enjoy peace and tranquility in Key West, all in a beautiful setting.
All rooms at Oceans Edge have ocean views and access to the marina. There are six swimming pools to enjoy with bar service to all! Oceans Edge also has kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and bicycles for free on-site. When you are ready to head into Key West, there is a free shuttle that runs hourly downtown, which means you don’t have to deal with the hectic parking situation in Key West.
The oceanfront rooms all have a balcony, high-speed WiFi, and large flat-screen television. The rooms are larger than average and decorated with modern beach decor. We stayed three nights here and never wanted to leave!
Other Great Options for Key West Accommodation are:
- Opal Key Resort & Marina
- Hyatt Residence Club Key West, Windward Pointe
- Margaritaville Beach House Key West
Key West Weather
The best time to visit Key West is between the months of December and April. This is when the Florida Keys are the dryest and temperatures are bearable. Don’t worry – they will still be plenty pleasant enough for your vacation.
May through October is normally the wet season, and if you visit around this time you will likely experience a bit of rain. We visited Key West in early May and had fantastic weather, though it was often hotter during the middle of the day than we are used to.
The worst time to visit Key West is during the Atlantic hurricane season, which begins in June and runs through November, with the highest chance of a hurricane being during August and September. Key West is said to be the driest city in Florida.
Plan For Your Trip
- Protect Your Trip: We don’t travel without travel insurance, nor should you. You never know what can happen while traveling, so it’s best to be prepared. HeyMondo provides excellent short-term and long-term travel insurance plans.
- Travel Adapter: Make sure you find a good adapter to keep your personal electronics charged. Otherwise, you may be paying for a cheap one once you land. Purchase one here.
- Travel Backpack: We like the Nomatic Travel Backpack for our travels. Check the price here.
- Our Favorite Travel Shoes: Our answer to this question is always ALLBIRDS! Check them out on their site!
- Get a Travel Credit Card: We travel worldwide for free because we have leveraged our spending into points. See why you should get a travel credit card and how you can do the same with our favorite travel credit cards.