Planning a vacation through South Florida? Make time in your schedule to explore all the best things to do in the beautiful Florida Keys. Famous for its stunning state parks, endless wildlife sightings, and the beautiful Overseas Highway, the Florida Keys are a must-see destination for anyone exploring the Southeast USA.
The Florida Keys’ many state parks offer ample opportunities to explore the water by kayak or canoe. Made famous with world-class aquariums and wildlife research centers, the Keys give you a chance to get up close and personal with some of the world’s most exotic marine life.
Not sure where to start? Start planning your trip with this complete guide to the best places to visit in the Florida Keys.
Got more travel plans on the horizon? Check out all our other attractions guides and our Florida Travel Guide for more ideas on where to go, when to visit & what to do!
Best places to visit in the Florida Keys
Bahia Honda State Park
Looking to relax on some of the most beautiful beaches in Florida? Then Bahia Honda State Park should be on your Florida Keys road trip bucket list. Located on a small island right off the coast, this state park is popular for kayaking and paddleboarding as well as laying out on the beach, soaking up the sun. Why not make a day of it and enjoy a picnic under one of the many shady pavilions.
The gin-clear waters also provide ample opportunities to see wildlife or even go snorkeling. Tours also run every day to show you some of the island’s best wildlife and plants.
After spending the day in the waters of Bahia Honda State Park, stick around the shoreline to witness colorful sunsets.
Dry Tortugas National Park
Searching for the perfect day trip from Key West? Head to Dry Tortugas National Park for unmatched snorkeling and scuba diving. Sitting 70 miles west of Key West, the park is a collection of islands only accessible by boat.
To get to Dry Tortugas National Park, enjoy a breezy ferry ride to Garden Key, the main island. If you have your own boat, you can also dock it at the entrance for a small fee.
When you first arrive, spend a few hours exploring Fort Jefferson, the third-largest fort in the United States, to soak up its long history.
If you’re wondering where to start snorkeling and swimming, the most popular reef, Little Africa, is right off the shore in shallow water making it a great place to explore – just be sure to rent gear on the mainland before boarding the ferry if you don’t have your own.
If you’re feeling extra adventurous, why not camp overnight on the main island? With limited facilities like toilets or places to buy food, it’s a true wild camping experience. You’ll also get to witness stunning sunsets and countless stars due to the remote location of Dry Tortugas.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
Located on Key Largo, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park was the first undersea park with the famous coral barrier reef and marine life viewing a must-see when exploring this beautiful Florida Keys state park.
If you’re squeamish about swimming, hop onto one of the park’s famous glass-bottom boat tours to view all the tropical fish and the barrier reef from above. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can explore the reef up close by snorkeling or scuba diving.
John Pennekamp State Park is also a top destination for kayaking and canoeing. Paddle down the waterways through mangrove swamps and tropical hammocks to see the wildlife up close. If you prefer to stay on dry land, you can have a picnic, go for short hikes, or fish in certain areas of the park.
Duval Street is one of the most popular Key West tourist attractions. The street is only a mile and a quarter long, but it takes you all the way from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico.
To explore Duval Street with ease, grab a ticket for an Old Town Trolley Tour. You can hop on and off all day to explore all of Key West’s must-see places.
As it’s the main part of downtown, Duval Street is the city’s hottest destination for lunch and souvenir shopping in the day and drinking and dancing in the evening. To fit in with the locals, grab some evening drinks at the Hogs Breath Saloon or the Green Parrot Bar.
And, of course, no trip to Key West is complete without trying a slice of Key Lime Pie! Pop over to Pepe’s Cafe or Kermit’s Key West Key Lime Shoppe to enjoy some of the tastiest Key Lime Pie on the Keys.
Located at the northern edge of Key West’s Old Town, Mallory Square is one of the most popular places in the Florida Keys for nightly entertainment. Key West’s main square is famed for its nightly sunset celebration where every evening, street performers and artists gather in the square as the sun dips below the horizon.
Want to spend the day shopping? Mallory Square has over 26,000 square feet of boutiques and art galleries. Explore local art and crafts and pick up some unique souvenirs to support the local artists. With the area’s endless restaurants and dessert shops, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to sample local Key West delicacies including Key Lime Pie.
If you’re heading to Dry Tortugas National Park, you can catch the Yankee Freedom III Ferry from Mallory Square too.
Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum
If you’re a fan of Papa, the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West is a must-see attraction. The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum offers daily guided tours exploring the spots where Hemingway spent his days reading and writing. Tours are only 30 minutes long and the guides keep it fun and light-hearted.
After the tour, you can hit the gift shop to buy a few of Hemingway’s works or other souvenirs. Before leaving, be sure to explore the gardens and expertly manicured courtyard.
Even those who aren’t Hemingway readers will love the six-toed cats that roam the grounds – in fact, all the cats are descendants of Hemingway’s own cat, Snow White.
Truman Little White House
For history buffs, the Truman Little White House is one of the most visited places in Key West. Offering tours to learn about the fascinating history of Harry S. Truman, the Little White House is a popular spot to bring the entire family.
The Truman Little White House served as Truman’s Florida Keys winter home to escape the snow and get a little sunshine. The guided tour offers a complete timeline of Truman’s life, from his childhood to his life after his presidency.
If you’re a serious Truman fan, you can sign up for private tours or events held at the grounds where they do special presentations and luncheons.
Located in Marathon, Sombrero Beach is a great spot to get away from the hustle and bustle of the busier places in Key West. One of the most beautiful beaches in the Florida Keys, Sombrero Beach offers visitors a wide stretch of sand and warm water, making it a perfect spot for everyone in your family—whether you’re looking to get tan or spend the day in the ocean.
The ocean floor at Sombrero Beach is soft and sandy, so you won’t need water shoes here – perfect for the kids.
If you get tired of being down by the water, head to the nearby park for family fun at the playground or a game of volleyball. There’s also picnic tables where you can enjoy a packed lunch.
Dolphin Research Center
Located on Grassy Key, the Dolphin Research Center is a nonprofit organization dedicated to teaching people about bottlenose dolphins. They also have a dedicated team of doctors and scientists to help with research, promoting the health and wellbeing of dolphins in the area.
The research center offers a fun and holistic way for you to swim and interact with dolphins. Unlike water parks and shows, the dolphins are not trained to do tricks. They live healthy lives and you get to see them in action.
You can observe live research and learn more about the behavior of dolphins. You can also talk to the workers on-site and take tours to learn more about the rehabilitation program. There’s also a splash pad where the kids play in the water and cool off.
Key West Aquarium
Right in Mallory Square, you’ll find the Key West Aquarium. The aquarium is home to countless animals including sharks, jellyfish, and all kinds of tropical fish.
Make sure to take part in the sea turtle conservation tour to learn about how the aquarium is working to preserve sea turtle populations. The jellyfish are also a must! Learn how these unique creatures survive despite not having a respiratory or circulatory system.
What makes this aquarium especially popular is the touch tank, allowing you to touch marine life and have a truly hands-on experience.
Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park
Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park is located on the southern tip of Key West. The main attraction is the tour of the Fort Taylor historic fort that predates the Civil War.
Feel free to take a self-guided tour of the fort or go on the third weekend of the month to get live reenactment shows. You can also experience guided tours where you can ask the park rangers plenty of questions.
The state park is perfect for those who love history, but also those who want to enjoy some nature and swimming.
Into bird watching? Bring your hiking boots and binoculars to explore the wide variety of hiking trails that wind through the state park. Swimming, snorkeling, paddle boarding, and picnicking are also popular activities here.
Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center
Itching to learn more about the history of the Florida Keys and the environment that makes up the islands? The Eco-Discovery Center will take you on a journey to show you the plants and animals that call the Florida Keys home. You’ll also learn some helpful tips for preserving the ecosystem while on vacation.
With over 6,000 square feet of exhibits, the discovery center is sure to keep you entertained for at least half a day. There’s also a replica of Aquarius, one of the world’s only underwater ocean laboratories. Along with exhibits, there’s also artwork and short films throughout the center giving you a variety of things to see and enjoy.
Key West is home to the Southernmost Point in the continental United States. It’s only 18 feet above sea level and the point is marked by a colorful, painted buoy that makes for a great photo op. The sunsets at the pier are also incredible making it a popular spot to go in the evening.
Other than some picture taking and sunset watching, there isn’t much to do at the buoy, so don’t budget too much time here. It’s a convenient stop on the Key West trolley tour from Duval Street if you don’t have a rental car or don’t feel like driving.
Mel Fisher Maritime Museum
If you love learning about maritime history and ancient shipwrecks, the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum is an interesting place to spend some time while visiting the Florida Keys. With interactive exhibits and hundreds of artifacts to look at, it’s a perfect spot for the entire family.
Go back in time as you learn about famous 17th-century shipwrecks including Santa Margarita and Henrietta Marie. Most visitors choose to do the audio tour so everyone in your group can go at their own pace as they stroll along the exhibits.
If you only have a short time in Key West and you’re staying near the airport, Smathers Beach is a public beach close to the airport and mile marker one. It’s the largest and most beautiful Key West beach, so pro tip: get up early to get a parking spot and a place to lay on the beach!
The tall palm trees offer a shaded place to string a hammock or lay on the soft white sand, while the shallow water makes it a perfect swimming spot for kids. The nearby shops offer beach chair rentals and equipment to play in the sand.
Curry Hammock State Park
Away from the crowds in a secluded part of the Florida Keys, you’ll find Curry Hammock State Park. A large piece of undeveloped land between Key Largo and Big Pine Key, it’s a small piece of paradise with long stretches of water canals perfect for kayaking and paddleboarding. On windier days, you can get the adrenaline pumping with kiteboards.
It’s also one of the most active hot spots for migrating birds and peregrine falcons so make sure to bring some comfortable shoes for hiking to get close to the birds and wildlife.
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Don’t forget to check out some of the diverse ecosystems in Florida at Curry Hammock State Park including mangrove swamps and seagrass beds.
Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park
If you came to Key Largo mainly for plant life and animal watching, Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park should be the first place you visit.
The park is full of signs explaining the 84 different species of plants and animals that are found in the botanical state park, but if you want a more in-depth tour, stop by the visitor’s office and ask for a ranger to take you through the trails.
The six miles of nature trails are perfect for wildlife photography and birdwatching with most of the trails being paved. You can even ride your bike as you view the local wildlife.
Jules Undersea Lodge
For true scuba diver lovers, the Jules Undersea Lodge offers the adrenaline and excitement you’re looking for. Part of the Key Largo Undersea Park, the lodge also has the famous Jules’ Lagoon. If you’re already scuba certified, you can enjoy the lagoon on your own. If not, you can join classes and go with an instructor.
Spectacular overnight stays are available where certified divers can scuba dive to their hotel rooms 30 feet deep on the ocean floor! The rooms have unique windows where you can watch the marine life swim by as you lay in bed. Don’t worry about catching your dinner – the rooms are also stocked with free beverages and fresh pizza.
Florida Keys History & Discovery Center
For history buffs, the Florida Keys History & Discovery Center is a must. Located in Islamorada, the center has permanent and rotating exhibits to help you learn about all the most important events that have affected the development of the Florida Keys.
Stroll through the discovery center and learn more about the first people of the Florida Keys and the pirates and salvagers that ruined the land. Head to the second floor of the museum to see rotating exhibits including many from local artists.
Florida Keys Brewing Company
Craving a beer or two while in Islamorada? The Florida Keys Brewing Company has fun flavors of locally brewed beer fresh on tap. It’s right off the Overseas Highway with a large courtyard so you can relax outside with friends, a few pints, and listen to live music.
You can also visit the tasting room to see how the beer is brewed and to try different seasonal flavors. Make sure to visit the store before you head out and get some quirky souvenirs and some beers to take away with you!