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Key West, one of the most well-known island getaways in the United States, is a small island but is packed to the brim with things to do. From fascinating historical treasures, stunning views, and exhilarating water adventures, it encapsulates everything you’d want from an island experience. Whether you’re an adventure go-getter, or a you prefer the slower pace, Key West, or otherwise known as the Conch Republic, has something for everyone.
Visit a Beach
While the beaches in Key West aren’t some of the best Florida has to offer, they are still an enticing place to relax, do some sun bathing and swimming. Bring along your water shoes, since some of these beaches have rocks or sea grass at the bottom of the ocean floor.
Smathers Beach – One of the largest and best public beaches in Key West with free access
Fort Zachary Taylor Beach – boasts one of the best and most swimmable beaches in Key West but does have a fee to get into the park
Higgs Beach – Close to Smathers beach but more of a calm setting with a nice stretch of sand
Other beaches include the Rest Beach, South Beach and Dog Beach if you’re keen on continuing discovering all of the sand and waters Key West delivers.
Take a Tour
The island has a plethora of tours to take and for good reason. Taking a tour of the island is a good way to see all of the main attractions and learn the history of it all. It’s especially perfect for those who only have a day or two on the island.
Some popular tours include:
- Conch Train Tour
- Hop On Hop Off Trolley Tour
- Old Town Trolly Tour
- Historic Key West Walking Tour
- Ripley’s Museum
- Food Tours
- Pedi Cab Sightseeing Ride
- Charter Tour
The best place to view the sunset from the island is to head over to the northwest side of the island to Mallory Square. It comes as no surprise that every night there is a Sunset Celebration, a free festival at the square that starts about two hours before sunset.
This festival features jugglers, clowns, acrobats, local musicians, artists and food vendors, entertaining and captivating tourists and locals alike.
The square is also a good place to do some shopping, souvenir purchases, or getting a bite to eat at any time of day. Stroll along the plaza and walkways to watch the yachts and cruise ships coming and going.
If you’d rather escape the crowds to watch the sunset, a sunset cruise is the perfect getaway. The glistening evening sun and water isn’t the only thing that will make the evening special. Many cruises offer a dinner and drinks, and even live music. The calm evening, is sure to be a memorable one, seeing the breathtaking colors of the sky, right out on the water.
Eat Key Lime Pie
No visit to Key West is complete without tasting the famed Key Lime Pie. One of the best places to get a taste is at the Key West Key Lime Pie Co., but you really can’t go wrong with any place since most restaurants, stores and even gas stations sell this sweet treat.
It is the perfect island dessert, bringing the citrusy flavors into a delicious, creamy goodness. Traditional pie, however, isn’t the only Key Lime thing on the menu. Across the island there are places where you can find variations of Key Lime ice cream, fried pie, and chocolate coated frozen pie popsicles.
As with most cities, Key West has its own main street that runs from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean, jokingly known as the “longest” road in the world.
Taking a walk through, you will find the street filled with restaurants, shops, and art galleries at every turn. There you can find the perfect souvenir, or watch an artist in action at one of the galleries. Don’t forget to take a look at the buildings themselves as well, such as the Strand Theater. Having been restored, it portrays the island style of the 1920’s.
Naturally, being on an island, water activities take the lead in things to do. Take your pick of the water adventures or opt to do them all for an exhilarating vacation. Some of the more popular activities include Snorkeling, Parasailing, Jet Skiing, Dolphin Watch and Kayaking.
More water activities available are:
- Deep Sea Fishing Charters
- Schooner Adventures
- Full Day Sailing and Water Sports
- Glass Bottom Boat Cruise
- Private Boat Charters
Dry Tortugas National Park
A short boat or airplane ride away, the Dry Tortugas islands are the westernmost territories of the Key West islands.
The central feature is Fort Jefferson, where you will be able to learn about the captivating stories and history of it all.
After exploring the fort, head over to the beach where you can enjoy swimming or sun bathing by the crystal blue waters. The snorkeling is not to be missed as well, since the park offers some of the best snorkeling in the Keys. For a more unique experience, you have the chance to camp under the stars on the island, 70 miles from the nearest civilization.
Key West Lighthouse
Having a lighthouse was essential for an island like Key West. Since establishing the Navy Base, it was important for the safety of the vessels navigating the waters.
The original lighthouse was opened in 1848 and has been upgraded and restored since then. Today it stands as a historical museum and monument, dedicated to the men and women who kept the light burning throughout the decades.
The walk up is 88 steps to the top of the light where you can explore the belongings and photographs of the lighthouse Keepers. Not only that, but you will be rewarded with stunning views of Key West and the beautiful blue ocean.
Picture Worthy Stops
One of the most photographed and recognizable landmarks in the Keys is the Southernmost Point Buoy. The concrete buoy marks the southernmost point in the Continental United States with just 90 miles to Cuba.
Come during the day and you’ll find yourself waiting in line to take a photo at this spot. However, it is one of those things that you have to check off of your Key West bucket list.
Key West Postcard Mural
Literary postcard perfect, this mural is located at the Cuban Coffee Queen and is a classic photograph stop for anyone traveling to Key West.
The green Mile Zero sign is simply the marker of the beginning (or the end) of U.S. Highway 1 but it is a popular Key West photo spot. It marks one end of the route that runs 2,369 miles all the way to the Canadian border.
Explore a Museum
Since Key West is so rich in history, sea life and its own culture, there are many museums to explore and learn all about it.
- Mel Fisher Maritime Museum
- Key West Shipwreck Museum
- Museum of Art and History
- Audubon House and Tropical Gardens
- Key West Aquarium
- Key West Tropical Forest and Botanical Garden
Ernest Hemingway Home
Key West is the place of the famed writer and Nobel Prize winner, Ernest Hemingway. The house itself was built in 1851, and occupied later on by Hemingway in 1931.
The house still boasts the original furniture that was used by the family. The most unique part of the estate perhaps are the extra-toed cats roaming around the home, descendants of the cats the family used to own.
Butterfly and Nature Conservatory
From the bustling streets full of tourists, the Butterfly and Nature Conservatory is a relaxed and quiet atmosphere. Filled with a variety of 50 to 60 butterfly species, 20 bird species and numerous plants, the center is an environment of beautiful nature.
Learn all about the butterfly anatomy, physiology, life cycle, feeding and migratory world at the Learning Center and browse the gift shop for all things butterfly.
For another little nature getaway visit the Key West Garden Club.
Harry Truman Little White House
The only presidential site in the State of Florida, the Harry Truman White House is an important part of the United States history. Constructed in 1890, the house had numerous visitors including Thomas Edison, scientist Edward Hayden and has been used by six U.S. presidents.
The most extended stays at this house were by president Harry Truman who spent 175 days of his presidency on this island. Amid intense world issues, the house was a peaceful and restorative getaway for the presidents.
Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park
Although there is an entrance fee to get in, you should visit this park at least once on your stay in Key West. It is home to one of the best beaches on the island and a beautiful park, where you can swim, snorkel, picnic or just lounge around surrounded by the beautiful scenery.
Immerse yourself in history at the Fort Zachary Taylor, where you can walk around the fort’s brick walls, see the cannons, and learn about this National Historic Landmark that had a significant role in the early days. While it was constructed prior to the civil war, one of its main roles was to serve as headquarters for the U.S. Navy’s East Gulf Coast blockade squadron. In later years, the fort was used again during the Spanish-American war.
Rent a Bike
What better way to explore the small island than on a bike? Breeze through on your own terms taking in the salty air and sunshine, or consider taking a guided bike tour. One of the top bike tours are Key Lime Bike Tours, where you will discover the Old Town, make stops at the top destinations and end with a tasting of the local delicacy, the Key Lime Pie.
For those wanting to see the top spots on their own with a little more relaxation, four seat electric cars and golf carts are also available for rent.
If you feel like you’ve gotten a good taste of the island, why not take a drive down the road among the islands. You’ll be met with stunning blue waters, less crowded beaches, and more stops along the way worth exploring.
About the Author: Angela Miller
Having the travel bug since a very young age, Angela has been on countless adventures around the world and she’s not planning on stopping any time soon.