15 things to do in Key West (FL)

Located at the southernmost point of U.S. Route 1, the longest north-south highway in the country, Key West is an iconic Florida town known for its remoteness, abundance of natural beauty, and a heritage that dates back more than two centuries. Known for its quaint charm and history.

The waters off Key West are a world-renowned destination for large fishermen who, at different times of the year, entangle with the giant marlins that call the surrounding waters home.

Key West was also a frequent visitor to famed author Ernest Hemingway, whose house and writing studio are now a museum.

Here are 15 things to do in Key West.

1. Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum

Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum

One of the town’s most popular historic attractions, the Ernest Hemingway House and Museum on Whitehead Street was the first home for Hemingway and his wife in 1931.

Still filled with many of Hemingway’s possessions, the home is a mecca for literary genres and aspiring writers looking for inspiration.

Many of Hemingway’s classics were written while he was in Key West, and the descendants of his famous six-toed cat still roam the land with a plethora of toes like their famous ancestors.

Stopping at home and museums first is a great way to start your island exploration.

2. Harry S. Truman Little White House

Harry S. Truman Little White House

While it’s not as famous as the Hemingway Museum, the Harry S. Truman Little White House is another interesting piece of local history that also has a national appeal.

Back in the late 19th century, Key West had a naval base that played a major role in the Spanish-American War. Immediately after World War II, the building became Harry Truman’s winter retreat.

Later presidents also used the former residence as a resting place, especially during the Cold War.

Now, it is a museum open to the public. For those who want insider tips, it’s wise to sign up for a guided tour.

3. Key West Butterfly and The Nature Conservancy

Key West Butterfly and The Nature Conservancy

Key West’s subtropical climate is ideal for a variety of native and non-native butterfly species, and the Key West Butterfly and Nature Preserve on Duval Street is a perfect and peaceful escape destination amid the bars and music of the downtown area .

The sanctuary is home to dozens of species of butterflies and exotic birds, as well as beautiful, fragrant flowers that provide habitat and food for insects and birds.

It’s close to many of Key West’s most popular attractions, making it easy to visit with others, and there’s a great on-site gift shop.

4. Margaritaville

margaritaville

For fans of Jimmy Buffet and those familiar with the island culture and chilly atmosphere of the Florida Keys, Margaritaville needs no introduction.

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While the restaurant is now part of the chain, the Key West location is original and opened in 1985.

It’s not the biggest or the newest, but it’s still unique to music lovers and parrot heads. Close to many other bars and restaurants on Duval Street, this is a great pub crawl stop, they offer a wide range of traditional pub food and seafood, and host plenty of live entertainment.

5. U.S. Coast Guard Knife Ingham Museum

U.S. Coast Guard Knife Ingham Museum

Coast Guard Cutter Ingham has certainly retired with a lifespan of over 6 years, and the sturdy ship is now a museum dedicated to preserving the region’s rich seafaring heritage and the role the Coast Guard plays in keeping the nation’s coastline safe.

The museum’s exhibits include equipment, weapons, uniforms, and first-hand accounts of those who served on ships in times of war and peace. Many guests find that there is a wealth of fascinating history new to them.

Most guests end up spending over an hour.

6. Vandenberg

Vandenberg

The USS Vandenberg, an outdated Navy ship that sank off the coast of Key West in 2009 to build an artificial reef, has since become home to a variety of marine life that attracts divers from near and far.

The Vandenberg has served in various roles in naval warfare and is now located in about 150 feet of water, part of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, about 8 miles offshore.

There are many tours and diving options to choose from, but for those looking to dive under the waves, you’ll need an updated SCUBA certification, so make sure to do your research before you set off.

7. Florida Keys Ecological Discovery Center

Florida Keys Ecological Discovery Center

Located on East Pier Road in Key West, the Florida Keys Ecological Discovery Center is part aquarium and part marine sanctuary. It features a variety of native marine life in large aquariums built to look like their natural environment.

The Discovery Center is popular with visitors of all ages. Even adults noticed that they felt continuously engaged and learned a lot about the natural world in the field.

In addition to the exhibits, the center offers educational and interactive activities led by knowledgeable and fun staff, so check their website for details.

8. Sloppy Joe

Sloppy Joe

One of Key West’s most iconic bars, Sloppy Joe’s has been a favorite among Conch Republic residents since its founding in 1933.

Not surprisingly, for most of its existence, it was the favorite drinking destination of the notorious hard-living Ernest Hemingway and his cohorts.

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Sloppy Joe’s features a TV popular with the NFL crowd, a large stage with regular live music, and a bar open until closing time at 2pm.

If you’d rather avoid the loud crowds and loud music, consider the happy hour in the afternoon, where the atmosphere is usually softer.

9. Azure

Azur Restaurant, Key West

Located in the heart of historic Key West, Azur Restaurant is known for its vibrant Mediterranean cuisine and contemporary yet comfortable setting.

There is an indoor restaurant and in fine weather you can enjoy the covered terrace, which is the perfect place to enjoy a cold drink, a hot meal or both.

Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, Azur is a slight step up from many restaurants in the area, which tend to attract loud drinking crowds.

Many of Azur’s dishes include fresh Florida seafood, all carefully prepared with a contemporary twist, giving it a unique fusion feel.

10. Audubon House and Tropical Gardens

Audubon House and Tropical Gardens

The Audubon Estate and Tropical Garden on Whitehead Street dates back to the 1840s and was once home to wealthy Florida families.

In the mid-20th century, the house was abandoned and fell into disrepair, but has since undergone several renovations at the hands of historically conscious philanthropists and local organisations. Now, it is one of the most popular attractions on the island.

The cultivated gardens were vibrant and idyllic, and the home was filled with period art, furniture and homewares that were palatial by the standards of the day.

Admission is inexpensive and most guests will spend a few hours.

11. Key West Garden Club

Key West Garden Club

The Key West Garden Club on Atlantic Avenue is a local attraction known for its wonderful ocean views, well-groomed gardens and a Civil War-era castle towering above the ground.

Unlike many local attractions, the Garden Club is free to visit. In addition to its aesthetics and photography, it is full of history and most visitors find it both interesting and inspiring.

With orchids, palm trees and a pond full of water lilies, it is one of the most scenic areas on the island; there is even a waterfall and many gazebos, a great place to relax in the sun and take in all the splendid views.

12. Key West Historic Harbor and Harbor Walk

Key West Historic Seaport and Harbor Walk

The Key West Historic Seaport and Harbour Walk is located on a popular Key West pier and is close to a variety of historic attractions, shops, and dining venues, is free to visit, and often ends up taking up more visitor time than they originally allotted.

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The port is full of commercial and private fishing and pleasure boats; many of the latter are very luxurious and expensive, owned by wealthy individuals from all over the country.

Harbour Walk is a particularly popular afternoon and evening destination. You’ll often see fishermen posing for their catch, while restaurants and bars overlooking the water offer happy hour food and drinks.

13. Dry Turtle National Park

Dry Turtle National Park

Historic Fort Jefferson is the heart of Dry Turtle National Park and one of the most impressive surviving examples of the military architecture commonly found in coastal defense installations in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Located more than 60 miles west of Key West, away from the most convenient attractions in the area, but for those with mighty sea legs, plenty of time, and a desire to see sights unlike any other, Dry Turtle Country The park (Dry Tortugas National Park) deserves a place in your itinerary.

Most visitors choose to visit the park as part of a tour, which includes round-trip transportation and a historical narration on site.

14. Latitude on sunset key

latitude on sunset key

Sunset Key is a short boat ride from Key West, and while Key West itself is an escape destination, some tourists crave a more remote location. For those who do, Latitude on Sunset Reef will be the perfect place to listen to the rustling palm trees and island music in the afternoon or evening while sipping rum cocktails and staring at the vast expanse in front of you boundless sea.

Latitude’s dress code is called island-casual, which means no tank tops, cropped jeans, or “I’m with Stupid” T-shirts.

Their menu is filled with fresh local seafood options as well as steaks, soups and salads, many of which are island-inspired.

15. Sunset Pier

Sunset Pier, Key West

Few places have as stunning a sunset as Key West. For those looking to capture the essence of their visit, there’s no better place than Sunset Pier, as the sun slides over the waves.

Sunset Pier is part of the Ocean Key Resort and Spa, offering guests world-class dining, a pleasant pedestrian area and many unparalleled views.

For those who choose to dine, the restaurant is known for its fresh seafood, and oysters are especially popular when they are in season.

There’s also often live music, but it’s much more relaxed and low-key than many of the raucous bars on Duval Street.

Where to Stay: The Best Hotels in Key West, FL
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