No trip to South Florida is complete without a stop in Key West. The westernmost island in the Florida Keys, Key West is one of the Sunshine State’s most popular destinations. And after basking in all the best things to do in Key West, you’ll agree.
Key West is famed among travelers for its Caribbean-inspired island vibes and raucous nightlife. Many of the top tourist attractions in Key West are jammed within its Historic District. Roam around Key West’s Old Town to admire its colorful 19th-century architecture. Inside the buildings hide cool boutique shops, hoppin’ restaurants & bars, and historic houses. Along Key West’s beautiful beaches, you’ll enjoy epic Atlantic Ocean sunrises and Gulf of Mexico sunsets. And once you’ve squeezed in all you can, you can take to its blue waters to experience its coastal pleasures.
Ready to plan out what to do in Key West? Supercharge your Florida Keys trip with this guide to the best places to visit in Key West.
Best places to visit in Key West, FL
Not sure where to start your Key West sightseeing adventure? Focus your attention on Duval Street. Surging through the center of Key West’s Historic District, the street is the island’s most famous. Many of the top points of interest in Key West dwell on or near Duval Street.
North to south, Duval Street stretches between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. Along the main stretch, you’ll walk past quaint boutique shops, cafes, restaurants, and bars.
To sample Key West’s legendary nightlife, grab a drink and pub grub at the world-famous Sloppy Joe’s. Open since 1933, the popular bar & taproom is a fixture in the Key West nightlife scene. Besides its drink-guzzling, Sloppy Joe’s is also a great spot to watch live music and nibble on favorite local dishes like conch fritters and key lime pie.
The 1890s-era landmark Green Parrot on nearby Whitehead Street is another classic option for low-brow Conch Republic hijinks.
Looking for the perfect start to your evening on your first day in Key West? Join in on a nightly sunset celebration at Mallory Square. Every evening before the sun sets, street performers & entertainers assemble on the square for a dash of fun & entertainment.
When the festivities draw to a close, set your gaze to the west. Watch as the blazing sun dips into the Gulf of Mexico behind Sunset Key. It’ll be an unforgettable end to the day and the beginning of an evening out on the town in Key West.
Built up an appetite? Mallory Square hosts a handful of superb restaurants & bars. Pull up a chair at El Meson De Pepe’s Restaurant & Bar for Cuban-inspired food & drinks. Or check out the dockside Sunset Pier for seafood and spectacular views over the water.
Key West Aquarium
The area around Mallory Square is also home to several top Key West attractions. If you’re visiting with kids, carve out a quick visit to the Key West Aquarium.
Although not large, the Key West Aquarium is a nice detour from the usual sightseeing activities. Inside, you’ll spot colorful marine life like sea turtles, jellyfish, stingrays, and sharks.
Due to the current health restrictions, the displays aren’t as extensive as normal. Word has it that the aquarium will be adding some new exhibits for the 2021 travel season. Stay tuned.
Kermit’s Key Lime Shoppe
Of all Key West’s lures, none is more bucket list-worthy for foodies than its key lime pie. And if you’re looking for some of the island’s best, look no further than Kermit’s Key Lime Shoppe.
Located in the Historic Seaport, this bakery & gift shop fuses the distinctively tart limes in everything from ice cream to BBQ sauces.
Of course, the big draw at Kermit’s is their key lime pie. The tasty treat is perfectly balanced between tarty and sweet with a creamy texture. Grab one (or more!) to go to see what all the fuss is about.
Key West is more well-known for its history than its beaches. Even so, that hasn’t stopped Smathers Beach from making a name for itself among the top Florida Keys beaches.
Running two miles along the island’s southern coast, Smathers Beach is one of the most popular beaches in Key West. Along the stretch, you’ll enjoy a wealth of amenities and watersports like jet skiing & paragliding. The public beach is particularly popular during Florida’s spring break weeks.
To see the Atlantic Ocean beach at its most magical, arrive just before its opening at 7 am. Smathers Beach is one of the best places in Key West to catch an epic sunrise.
Truman Little White House
The centerpiece of the Truman Annex area, Truman Little White House is one of Key West’s most important historical attractions.
The 19th-century home was built to house officers from the nearby naval station during the Spanish-American War. Years later, the home would gain notoriety as a summer residence for President Harry S. Truman. Several other presidents also spent time in the home, including Dwight Eisenhower, JFK, and Bill Clinton.
Rather than dignitaries Truman Little White House now hosts a small museum. History buffs will love checking out the home and its historical artifacts, including Harry S. Truman’s famous “The Buck Stops Here” sign.
Dry Tortugas National Park
Craving the Florida Key’s seaside pleasures? Hit the waves for a cruise to Dry Tortugas National Park. Located about 70 miles west of the island, the small chain of islands is one of the best Key West day trips.
For most travelers, the easiest way to experience Dry Tortugas National Park is with a visit to Garden Key. The small island is the only one in the chain that’s accessible by public ferry from Key West.
History buffs will love Garden Key’s mid-19th-century Fort Jefferson. Although it was never finished, the massive military fortress is the third-largest in the entire United States.
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After touring all the nooks & crannies of Fort Jefferson, hit the waters around the island. Garden Key is a popular spot for swimming and snorkeling. The area teems with diverse marine life from barracuda to coral reefs.
If you’re an advanced technical scuba diver, there’s also a handful of great scuba diving spots around Dry Tortugas National Park, including several shipwrecks.
Need to fuel up for a morning of exploring Old Town? Blue Heaven is the perfect spot. Located in Key West’s Bahama Village, the restaurant is as famous for its history as its delicious food.
Although it’s only been in business since 1992, Blue Heaven occupies a landmark building that’s seen its fair share of action over the year. The century-old building functioned as everything from a shady dive bar to an ice cream shop. In the 20th century, it even hosted boxing matches refereed by Ernest Hemingway, who lived nearby. (More on that later.)
The Florida-Caribbean fusion food at Blue Heaven is delightful & eccentric. Light up your tastebuds at breakfast with dishes like tropical pancakes. At dinner, you’ll revel in specials like Jamaican jerk chicken and heritage pork tenderloin.
Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum
Literature fans visiting the Florida Keys can’t miss out on the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum. Sitting within the Bahama Village, the house gives a glimpse of Hemingway’s lifestyle during his productive Key West years.
While living in his Florida home, Hemingway penned recognizable works like Green Hills of Africa and To Have and Have Not. Tour through the historic house and lush garden to imagine Papa at work at the height of his literary career. You may even spot one of the six-toed cats, descending from Hemingway’s own peculiar feline friends.
Key West Lighthouse
Located in the heart of the Bahama Village, Key West Lighthouse is one of the coolest places to see in Key West. Dating back to 1825, the historic lighthouse remains one of the island’s most recognizable landmarks.
Warm up your quads with an 88-step trek up to the top of the tower. From the observation deck of the Key West Lighthouse, you’ll marvel at spectacular views over the city and the water.
Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park
Love history and coastal paradises? Get a two-for-one at the Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park. Pressed into the southwestern tip of the island, the historic park is one of the most interesting places to go in Key West.
Fort Zachary Taylor State Park centers upon its namesake National Historic Monument fortress. Join a guided tour of the fort to learn more about its fascinating history from the Civil War to the Spanish-American War.
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After touring Fort Zachary Taylor, head to the southern fringes of the park. The beach is one of the most popular places on the island to take a dip or go snorkeling in the tropical waters.
Southernmost Point of the Continental US
Sure, it’s kitschy and showy. But one of the must-do activities in Key West is taking a selfie at the Southernmost Point of the Continental US.
Marked by a colorful buoy at the end of South Street, this point on the southern edge of the island is as far south as you can travel in the United States. (Outside of Hawaii and outlying territories, of course!)
Come to the Southernmost Point armed with patience: There’s often a line-up of tourists waiting for their chance to snap their shot.
Want to enjoy a quiet sunrise over the Atlantic? Venture down to Higgs Beach. Located on the southern tip of the Casa Marina neighborhood, the public beach is a favorite hangout spot for locals & travelers alike.
Besides enjoying its white sands, you’ll also find several historical attractions on Higgs Beach. Keep on the lookout for the historic West Martello Tower and the African refugee cemetery.
Audubon House & Tropical Gardens
Dating back to the 1840s, Audubon House & Tropical Gardens is one of Key West’s finest examples of 19th-century architecture.
Located on Whitehead Street, Audubon House housed the family of naval captain John Huling Geiger for more than a century. The home almost met its match in 1958 when it was set for demolition. At the last minute, the Mitchell Wolfson Family Foundation swept in with an offer to restore the house to its former glory.
Architecture & art lovers will love perusing Audubon House. The home earned its name from its large collection of original lithographs from naturalist John James Audubon. The house is also jam-packed with striking period furnishings.
Be sure to also save time to explore the home’s lush botanical gardens. Featuring orchids, bromeliads, and palms, the tropical gardens are considered some of the finest in the Florida Keys.
Mel Fisher Maritime Museum
Need a break from the hot Florida sun? Explore Key West’s maritime history at the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum. Wedged between Front and Whitehead Street, the museum showcases the booty from a 17th-century shipwreck.
For 350 years, treasures from the shipwrecked Nuestra Senora de Atocha and the Santa Margarita sat at the bottom of the Florida Straits. In 1969, famed treasure hunter Mel Fisher and his crew set on a mission to find it. After 15 years of searching, the crew finally struck gold. Literally.
Today, you can spot artifacts from Fisher’s exploits at this small Key West museum. Exhibits include gold & silver bars, coins, emeralds, jewelry, and silverware.
The Mel Fisher Maritime Museum is also home to a conservation and archeology lab. Take a tour of the lab to learn about its conservation and preservation efforts.
Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory
If you’re traveling with kids, a visit to the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory is a must. Visiting this unique family-friendly attraction is one of the most popular activities on the island.
The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory is home to over 80 species of butterflies and 20 exotic bird species. In the climate-controlled conservatory, a magical world unfolds. As you meander along its paths, butterflies flutter about its tropical greenery.
The Butterfly & Nature Conservatory also hosts a learning center and a small art gallery.
Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center
Ocean wanderers will love stopping in at the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center. Located steps from Fort Zachary Taylor Park, the marine sanctuary celebrates South Florida’s colorful native plants and wildlife.
Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center spans over 6,000 square feet, showcasing several interesting interactive exhibits. Be sure to sneak a peek at its Mote Marine Laboratory Living Reef. The exhibit centers upon a 2,500-gallon tank teeming with living coral reef and tropical fish.
The center’s Aquarius exhibit, modeled after the world’s only underwater ocean laboratory, is also quite a spectacular sight.
Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden
Located on Cow Key to the east of the city, the Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden is a must-see for gardening enthusiasts. The beautiful botanical garden spreads out over 15 acres of native South Florida forest.
The Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden is famous for being the only frost-free sub-tropical habitat in the continental United States. As you walk through its boardwalks and nature trails, you’ll slip past lush native flora, including palm trees and a collection of “champion trees.”
Keep your eyes peeled for several species of native birds that swoop in from season to season. Species spotted around the gardens in recent years include frigatebirds, scissor-tailed flycatchers, and purple martins.
Fort East Martello Museum
Occupying a Civil War-era military fortress, the Fort East Martello Museum is a Key West hot spot for history buffs and art lovers alike. The museum, run by the Key West Art & Historical Society, assembles an eclectic collection of Civil War relics, history exhibits, sculptures, and art from historic Florida Keys artists.
The “highlight” of the Fort East Martello Museum is the decidedly creepy Ghosts of East Martello exhibition. The exhibit swirls around Robert the Doll, a reputedly haunted doll that once belonged to local artist Robert Eugene Otto.
Intrigued by the Florida Keys’ shipwrecking past? Get the low-down at the fun & interactive Shipwreck Museum. Sitting next to Mallory Square, the museum digs into Key West’s mid-19th-century shipwrecking industry via archived footage and live shows.
Wander through the former shipwrecking warehouse to learn more about some of the island’s most infamous wrecks and wreckers. End your visit to the Shipwreck Treasure Museum with a trip up its 65-foot-high Lookout Tower where you’ll dazzle at views over Sunset Key and the Gulf of Mexico.
Nancy Forrester’s Secret Garden
Looking for a break for Key West’s buzzy Old Town? Slip away into Nancy Forrester’s Secret Garden. Set in a residential area just a few blocks east of Duval Street, the garden provides a sanctuary for rescue birds.
Among the residents of Nancy Forrester’s Secret Garden are colorful parrots, macaws, and cockatoos, hiding in spacious cages among the palms and orchids. Small plaques dot the habitat and tell the stories of the birds and their rescue. Forrester herself also jumps into the action at 10 am to give the low-down about these magnificent creatures.
Admission to the garden is just $10 with the proceeds going to the birds’ care.
Located on Eaton Street, Tropic Cinema is one of Key West’s must-see attractions for film buffs. The 4-screen multiplex cinema occupies a building doused in cool retro style.
Unlike other movie theaters in Key West, Tropic Cinema focuses more on independent and foreign films and documentaries than the typical Hollywood blockbusters.
Besides its movie screenings, the venue also hosts special events throughout the year, from concerts to lectures. Check out the theater’s official site to see what’s playing during your trip to Key West.
Key West Garden Club
Steps away from Higgs Beach, the Key West Garden Club is one of the island’s lesser-known gems. The tropical garden is not only a beautiful slice of nature but sits within West Martello Tower, a National Historic Site from the Civil War era.
Walking through Key West Garden Club, you’ll dazzle at the lush greenery, including both native and exotic plant species. Hardly surprising with its grand natural beauty, the tropical garden isn’t just one of the best things to do in Key West, but a favorite venue for local weddings.
After checking out its plant life, lily pond, and waterfall, venture over to West Martello Tower itself. The tower is open from Tuesday to Saturday between 9:30 am and 3:15 pm during the tourism season.
Where to stay in Key West for sightseeing
For travelers, most of the best places to stay in Key West fall within the Old Town. Many of the city’s top hotels lie on or around Duval Street, Whitehead Street, and Simonton Street.
Located near the center of Key West, the B&B offers rooms covering all travel budgets. You’ll love hanging out in the sun terrace and garden-like courtyard.
Steps away from the Historic Seaport, this Art Deco hotel is a superb choice for your Key West adventure. End a day of tackling all the top Key West points of interest with a chill-out session in the heated outdoor pool.
For the ultimate Florida Keys romantic getaway, couples will love this Key West luxury hotel. Located on Simonton Street, these suites are steps from all the action. Splurge on a deluxe king to enjoy your own private pool.