If you’re heading South, we’ve got the perfect list of things to do in Key West for every type of traveler: Our top picks, tours we love, things for people jumping off a cruise ship…even what we recommend for visiting with kids, touring on the cheap, or managing a rainy day.
Our Top Key West Picks
Conch Train Tour
The open-air Conch Train takes you around Key West, with hop on/off options allowing you to explore and learn simultaneously. We recommend making this your first adventure so that you get a lay of the land, and an understanding of the culture and history of the island. Buy Tickets Now
Fury Water Adventures
There are just so many options with Fury, from snorkeling to sunset rides. Our favorite experience was opting for BOTH on the Rum & Reggae Snorkel Sunset Combo.
We rode out to the reef, with antics from the crew the entire way! Such a fun group. Then we snorkeled the reef — even seeing a lemon shark! Great music was blaring and everyone was dancing and cutting up.
After rounding up all the snorkelers, the crew poured copious amounts of Rum Punch, plus beers (and sodas for the kiddos.) About a half-hour from hitting shore, the boat slowed and we experienced a glorious sunset on the water!
Whether you are a couple with no kids (like most everyone on this excursion) or you have kiddos yourself (we were one of about 4 other families) this is SUCH a fun experience! Heck, this is the ONLY coral reef in the US, and the 3rd largest in the world. You must, must, must head out to experience it.
Need to knows: You can bring your own gear, but unless you’re a professional, their gear will be better. Trust me. Bring towels and a sweatshirt, the wind gets cold when the sun goes down and you are wet. Bring snacks for the kiddos. You’re onboard for 3-hours total…and snorkeling is hard work. Bring cash tip for the crew (about $10 per person is customary) You will want to tip them – they are amazing and make this one of the best businesses to work with in Key West.
The Hemingway House was the residency of Ernest Hemingway when he lived in Key West, and is now a museum. Because of the stories about 6-toed cats…and The Old Man and The Sea being one of my favorite books of all time, well we HAD to visit!
With the kids, we opted to forego the guided tour and roam around ourselves. I wish the boys had the patience for the full tour, but it was a late afternoon and I was already pressing my luck. We still learned quite a bit by reading placards and eaves-dropping on other tours. Worth it either way to go!
The stories about the 6-toed cats are true! Descendants of Hemingway’s original 6-toed feline roam the property (there is even a cemetery for those who have passed.) Some are shy, but others will take all the affection you can offer.
Key Lime Pie
Having Key Lime Pie is a must when you are in the Florida Keys and there are a lot of options available. I wish I could tell you that I had time to nosh my way through the city, ranking each option as progressed…but in all honestly, we only visited Kermit’s – as recommended by Facebook readers and friends.
There are a few locations, including one in DeLand, which is where our 18-day Florida roadtrip began…but we opted for the original. It did not disappoint! We had a slice of key lime pie, a key limonade, key lime taffy, and a frozen key lime drink!
Want to know the secret to saving money in Key West? It’s the 2019 Key West Vacation Pass. It offers 2-for-1 tickets on many of the places we mention below.
When it Rains
Key West Aquarium
Plan your trip to Key West Aquarium at the right time of day so you can feed the sharks! They also have a touch tank and multiple shows that go on throughout the day. The aquarium is pretty small as aquariums go, but with feeding the sharks, the touch tank, and the shows it is worth it to make a visit. Buy Tickets Now
Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory
When it’s raining outside (and even when it’s not) you’ll find nothing but sunshine in the Butterfly Conservatory. Don’t miss the short film before you go in. Then make your way through 50+ species of butterflies fluttering about! My boys adored the bright gift shop with so many interesting items for nature-lovers.
Truman’s Little White House
In the late 40s/early 50s when Harry Truman was president, this house served as the White House during the winter months. It continued to be a place of relaxation for presidents and dignitaries after that. In fact, it’s called a “living museum” because it continues to host functions for government officials today.
You can tour the Truman Annex area of the house every 20 minutes or so, getting a look into his private life and politics in America during his presidency. Buy Tickets Now
First Legal Rum Distillery
When it rains in Key West, you drink! Key West’s First Legal Rum Distillery runs free tours 2-3 times a day, and your kids and pets are welcome, too. If you miss the guided tour, you are welcome to tour on your own.
The real fun, though, comes at 4:30 Monday – Saturday. They offer a free Mojito class and tasting. These guys trained in Mojito-making in Cuba, and they want to teach you how to do it right!
With The Kids
Shipwreck Treasure Museum
Of course you have to visit the Shipwreck Museum and learn all about the Key West Pirates. You can take a guided tour or just walk at your own pace through the museum to check out all of the artifacts. You can also go into the basement where you are actually below Sea Level. Spooky! Our favorite part about the museum was climbing to the top of the tower so we could look out over all of Key West. Buy Tickets Now
Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden
The Key West Tropical Garden is the only frost-free, natural conservation habitat, botanical garden in the continental United States. After you watch the short video, pick up a garden guide that describes the eight self-guided information tours, two wetland habitats and two butterfly gardens! Kids are free with an adult ticket.
Lagerheads Beach Bar
I won’t lie – Lagerheads saved the day for us. If you travel with kids, you know that you can only cram so much into one day. Just as the boys reached a breaking point…you know, they were weary and hangry… we came across Lagerheads.
It’s tucked in a backstreet, so there are not many people here. You can grab a lawn chair in the sandy beach and relax while the kids frolic in the water. We ordered some snacks and a few drinks, and relaxed here a good hour or so…with no hurry and no schedule…giving everyone time to re-energize. No wonder it’s Key West’s favorite beach bar.
Lucy’s Retired Surfers Bar
Lucy’s has a few locations around the world, but don’t let that stop you. It’s still a spot the locals adore – and so did we! Go in the evening and get a table outside where you can enjoy the Key West vibe and live music. The musician that night was Ike Kanakanui and he was amazingly talented! He even gave the boys a tambourine and maracas to play along with him!
I highly recommend you stop here – it was the best food and the best prices we experienced in Key West. Get the Tsunami Tuna Salad, for sure…and a Flamingo Punch! Yum!
Free and Cheap Things To Do
Southernmost Point of the US
When people think of what to do in Key West this always comes to mind. Is it exciting? No…but do you have to do it? Yes!
We planned to stop by on the way back to the hotel one day, but the line was so long – basically around the block. Why? Cruise ships! The best thing to do is go early in the morning; that’s what we did – the second time. We were in the area about 8:15ish….you’re close to White Street, so stop there and grab a Cuban coffee to go…then drive over to the point.
Before 8:30 there is plenty of street parking available, and no lines. We had one person in front of us, and then almost immediately 2 people behind us…and you don’t want to be by yourself anyway – someone has to take the photo! Just swap cameras with the other people in line!
Eco Discovery Center
The Eco Discovery Center is a 6,400 ft environmental facility where visitors can experience the underwater eco system of the area – all without getting wet! It showcases the local underwater habitats and upland barriers, and gives you special insight into the nearby living, contiguous barrier coral reef…a great place to visit before the Fury tour we mention above! And it’s free!
Mallory Square Sunset Celebration
Come down to Duvall Street and Mallory Square about 60 minutes before the sunset (give or take ) to catch the street performers and to watch the Sunset and celebrate with the locals and tourists at Sunset Celebration.
There are performers swallowing swords, walking on tight ropes, and doing all sorts of tricks – it’s tradition. Once the sun starts going down, find a place along the wall to sit and take it in!
While you are there, be sure to walk over to the Memorial Sculpture Garden. It features 36 cast bronze busts of the men and women who have had the greatest impact on Key West.
Fort Zachary Taylor State Park
This State Park is an old fort that you can walk around. It is a cool experience to see and imagine how the soldiers used to live here. You can also climb the stairs to the top and get a great ocean view.
There is a big area at the back of the parking lot where you can tailgate or setup your own picnic looking out over the ocean. This is also an amazing place to catch the sunset. As the sunsets you see all of the sunset cruise sailboats trying to give their passengers the best view.
Smathers Beach is located on the Atlantic side and is off of A1A. Key West isn’t generally known for its beaches, but this is a nice one – and the largest, and a half-mile. If you only do one public beach while here, make it this one.
You can rent chairs and umbrellas and water toys here. Plus there is a nice bike trail/sidewalk that the beach is off of. You could easily ride your bike here, hang out at the beach, then get back on your bike to ride to a restaurant to eat or to head into Key West.
Historic Seaport at Key West Bight
The Seaport is just a great place to walk around, do some shopping, grab a bite…There are catamaran and tall ship sailing excursions that leave from here, so the boat-watching is beautiful. There is also a neat museum highlighting the island’s history!
Coming Off a Cruise Ship
Find a local coffee stand and purchase a Cuban coffee. You’re only 90 miles from Cuba!! I guarantee once you have one you will want to have another one. They really are addicting – and oh so good!
You can take one through the cruise ships, but why not go on your own! Start at Schooner Wharf Bar for their morning happy hour. It’s where you will get a taste of true old Key West. Captain Tony’s is another stop you need to make. It was established in 1851 as an icehouse and then Key West’s first morgue. It also includes the “hanging tree” which was used to kill 16 pirates, plus a woman who killed her family. After several other transformations, it finally became a bar – said to have been frequented religiously by men who need no first name introductions – Hemingway, Capote, Silverstein, Williams and Buffet.
Green Parrot was voted the best bar in Key West. You’ll want to check out any events going on – like a Poetry Slam or a Divorce Celebration. Leave your pretense at the door. Finally, muster up to the bar at Hog’s Breath Saloon. You’ll love the live music and a Hogarita!
Key West Scavenger Hunt
How did Old City Hall become of the city’s oldest treasures? Which world-famous writer hung out on Duval Street? Find out on a scavenger hunt of Key West that doesn’t require a tour guide and that you can do at your own pace! We adore Let’s Roam for their scavenger hunts and Key West is no exception. It’s by far the easiest way to learn the MAX while mastering your own schedule.
Visit the Audubon House, and its glorious tropical gardens, ride the Conch Train, or climb the 88 steps at the Key West Lighthouse Museum. Word on the street is that parasailing and the train ride are the most popular option for cruisers, though.
Recommended For Tour-Lovers
When we travel, our FAVORITE way to explore a new city is with a tour. We couldn’t take all the tours on our 3-day visit to Key West…but here are some from a partner we know and trust. These are great ways to explore the island (and save some money.)
Day Trips and Full-Day Fun
Dry Tortugas National Park
When putting your list together of things to do in Key West this should be at the top. It is expensive and will take all day, but my friends at Crazy Family Adventure say it is totally worth it.
The Dry Tortugas are located 70 miles off of Key West and is a true paradise. You have to take a 2 hour boat ride to get there – and it is choppy – so bring your Dramamine. But once you pull up to the island it is all worth it!
There is an old fort on the island that you can explore, beautiful beaches, and a ton of conch shells to find (you can’t keep them – but they are still fun to find). You can either go for a day trip or you can plan on camping there for a few nights.
Fury Ultimate Adventure
This trip should NOT be missed! It is a 6 hour catamaran boat ride that will take you snorkeling, jet skiing, parasailing, and to an inflatable playground in the middle of the ocean. It is all you can drink (soda and water – then beer and wine after you are done jet skiing) and they provide breakfast, lunch and snacks.
You may think that 6 hours sounds like a long time but when our trip was done we weren’t ready to get off and could have stayed on longer! The crew does an amazing job making you feel comfortable and with all of the activities you are never bored.
You do have to sail to the snorkeling destination and then go for a little ways to get Fury’s “island” where they have the jet skis, parasailing, and water playground. So be prepared for that.
Also bring tip money for the parasailing crew and know that the food they provide is OK but nothing to special. So if you have dietary restrictions you may want to bring your own food. As a side note kids under 6 get on the boat for FREE but you have to be 6 to go parasailing . . . I will just leave that tip there for you to do with what you want.
If there is one trip I would recommend doing with your family to get out on the water when you are in Key West the Fury Ultimate Adventure is it. Pick a day, book it, and enjoy!
Where To Stay in Key West
While hotels are abundant here, we cannot recommend Havana Cabana more highly! They are spectacular! Great rooms, great location – and Key West’s largest pool!!
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Disclosure: Thank you to The Florida Keys for hosting us in Key West. Opinions here are all our own, as always. This post may contain affiliate links at no cost to you – we’re just looking for change to buy another slice of key lime pie.
After 18 years in software development, Lesli bailed on the corporate scene. When she’s not traveling, she’s hiking in the mountains or checking out Atlanta’s culinary scene, whiskey in hand.
Lesli has two kiddos -Cooper and Elliot- plus two bonus kids currently at UGA, and she’s happily married to her soul mate.