Looking for the best things to do in Key West? We got you. Welcome to the southernmost point of the continental United States, where crystal-clear azure waters and vibrant sunsets meet in perfect harmony in this tropical US paradise.
Key West is a small island located 90 miles north of Cuba at the southernmost point of the Florida Keys, packed with history, culture, and an abundance of outdoor activities. From sipping on margaritas at the famous Sloppy Joe’s Bar, walking around the vibrant streets alongside the wild chickens, to snorkeling in its coral reefs teeming with marine life, there’s something for everyone in this tropical paradise.
Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a seasoned traveler looking for hidden gems, here are some of the best things to do in Key West that will make your trip truly unforgettable and make planning your trip as easy breezy as your time at one of the most popular warm winter vacation spots in the United States.
Whether you’re visiting for a day on a cruise ship, stopping to enjoy all the best Key West attractions on a Florida Keys road trip, or coming to Key West for your full vacation, this guide has all the must-do Key West activities you’ll want to check out during your visit!
Disclaimer: this post contains affilaite links.
Address: 907 Whitehead St, Key West
The person most famously associated with Key West is perhaps the renowned author Ernest Hemingway. He first visited Key West in 1928, and after a few years of visiting the Keys, he ultimately decided he wanted a place of his own on the island.
He purchased a Spanish Colonial style house that was built in 1851, but he had his work cut out for him because the house was in a state of disrepair. He fixed up the property, which became known as the Hemingway Home, and today it is one of the best things to do in Key West.
You can visit this National Historic Landmark, and get a sense of how Hemingway liked to spend his time. The centerpiece of the home is the pool, which was the first of its kind in Key West because it was the first in-ground pool in the city. Actually, it was the only pool for 100 miles when it was completed! What made constructing the pool difficult was that workers had to dig through solid coral, which is no easy feat.
A unique feature of this property (and one of my purrrsonal favorite Key West activities to enjoy) are the polydactyl cats that call the grounds home. The cats have 6 toes, hence the term polydactyl, and it generally looks like they have a thumb on their paw.
The backstory is that Hemingway was gifted a white polydactyl cat he named Snow White, and from there the number of cats only increased. There are 60 polydactyl cats that roam around, so if you love cats then this is a real treat!
The museum is open every day from 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM. Reservations are not needed, and you can get tickets at the door but it is cash only. If you forgot cash, there are two ATMs within a 5-minute walk of the Hemingway Home and Museum on Duval Street (724 Duval St & 1075 Duval St).
The guided tours last 20-30 minutes, and afterwards you can hang around and explore the property, pet the cats, and enjoy the vibrant flora and greenery. Visiting the Hemingway Home is a must do in Key West.
If you’re a huge Hemingway fan and want more, check out this Hemingway’s Life and Local Food Walking Tour which takes you to various landmarks that were important to Hemingway in Key West while eating local specialties along the way!
Address: 1316 Duval St, Key West
A fantastic and family-friendly Key West attraction is the Butterfly and Nature Conservatory. The experience here is all about spending time in the plant-filled habitat where butterflies fly unrestricted, for an up-close and personal adventure.
It doesn’t even feel like you’re indoors, it feels more like you have been dropped smack dab into the center of a rainforest. You will see dozens of various species of butterflies, as well as different types of birds and two flamingos, as you walk through the lush surroundings.
The habitat has a glass ceiling, which adds the perfect touch to the environment. Be sure to check out the Learning Center, where you can watch a brief film about butterflies, and learn about their life cycle, anatomy, and other interesting tidbits. There’s also an on-site gift shop, where you can browse all kinds of butterfly-related items, and an art gallery called “Wings of Imagination” which showcases original artwork.
This terrific place to visit in Key West is open 7 days a week, from 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM, and there is a fee for general admission (with discounts to seniors, kids, military, and kids under 3 are free). The last entry is at 4:30 PM, so plan your visit to this Key West attraction accordingly!
Address: 1400 Whitehead St
This is what to do in Key West if you’re looking for the most iconic photo from your vacation! You may be generally familiar with where Key West is located on a map, but did you know that it is known for being the southernmost point of the continental U.S.?
The southernmost point of the continental United States is represented by this concrete buoy that visitors love getting photos with and is a must-do in Key West, even if it’s just walking past it.
Well, technically the actual southernmost point is located on private property nearby and inaccessible to visitors, but this is close enough. To give you an idea of its proximity to other destinations, this spot is actually 90 miles away from Cuba’s coast. You can find this famous Key West attraction at the intersection of Whitehead and South streets.
The monument resembles a red, navy, and yellow horizontal striped buoy. In addition to the monument, there are a handful of hotels, restaurants, and gift shops that play into the theme of “Southernmost Point”. While you’re visiting the Keys, you must visit the southernmost point of the U.S., because why would you miss out on one of the most iconic things to do in Key West!
One of the things that you must do in Key West is indulge in at least one slice of fresh key lime pie. Key limes, which are needed for the namesake dessert, are bountiful here. And as a result, there are several spots to grab a delicious slice of key lime pie.
So where’s the best key lime pie in Key West? That’s highly debatable, but we will do our best covering the famous spots.
First up, institutions like the Food Network and National Geographic have bestowed Kermit’s Key West Key Lime Shoppe with the title of ‘Best Key Lime Pie’. It is a can’t-miss place to visit in Key West. Look for the yellow building with lime green trim near Duval Street, and you’ll find Kermit’s. They have been in business for a couple of decades, and not only serve key lime pie, but also key lime creations like cookies, salsa, olive oil, and more.
True to their name, Key Lime Pie Bakery serves up fresh baked key lime pie. Enjoy your treat on one of the green benches out front, then head back inside to explore the products lining the shelves on the walls and grab a souvenir.
Blue Heaven is an excellent brunch spot and restaurant/bar where plants and other foliage surround you, and chickens and cats walk around. Not your normal dining experience! Come here for an entire meal, or just a piece of delectable key lime pie.
You absolutely must put this tangy dessert on your list of things to do in Key West. And if you’re a Jimmy Buffet fan and love Key West, you’ll want to try this unique Jimmy Buffet’s Key West and Key Lime Pie tour! The tour stops at all the spots in Key West that are connected or inspired Jimmy Buffet’s famous vacation soundtrack hits as well as a slice of that famous key lime pie.
Aside from key lime pie, Key West has a fantastic culinary scene. Cuban and Caribbean cuisine has made an impression on the dishes that you’ll find throughout the Florida Keys and Key West.
You can make your way around the city and hit up different restaurants on your own, or you can do a food tour, if you’ve been around this website and used our recommendations and travel guides in the past, you’ll know just how big of a fan we are of food tours at new destinations. Not only do you get to sample a ton of great food, but you get to learn the history too – so it’s a win-win!
We did the Southernmost Food and Cultural Tour on our visit and it was an awesome choice. The tour take you to five different spots to enjoy the best that Key West has to offer. Relax while your guide takes you around the city, entertains you with stories and trivia about Key West, all while making stops to enjoy fare like conch fritters and fish tacos.
Since the tour takes no more than seven people at a time, this is a great thing to do in Key West for couples or groups of friends!
There’s also the Key West Secret Food Tour which prides itself on getting out of the more famous spots for vacationers and hits up more of the ‘local’ spots while learning about the history, culture, and architecture you pass along the way in the Old Town district.
If you love fresh seafood dishes this is what to do in Key West for you! This Key West seafood food and cultural tour lets you try 6 different local seafood specialties on this carefully curated tour focusing on local dishes and the history behind some of the most fascinating ones plus learn about Key West along the way.
The most active and vibrant place to visit in Key West is, without question, Duval Street. It’s only a mile in length, but it runs from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean, and has lots going on and your quirky tourist attractions. From live music and art galleries, to coffee shops and restaurants, there’s a bit of everything for visitors to Key West!
As far as entertainment goes, The Strand Theater shows movies and the Red Barn Theatre offers live performances, and shows are both located on Duval Street.
Switching over to restaurants and bars, check out Sloppy Joe’s and Rick’s Bar for a fun time. Sloppy Joe’s is a famous bar that has been around since 1933, and it’s located at Simonton and Greene Street in Old Town. Rick’s Bar is actually eight separate bars, each with its own distinct vibe, that make up what is known as “Rick’s Bar”. Depending on whether you want to listen to live music, or get out on the dance floor, or just enjoy a drink in a fun environment, Rick’s is where to go!
And speaking of live music, Duval Street is filled with fantastic places to listen to good tunes. Green Parrot Bar is a local spot that’s over 100 years old, and it’s typical for touring bands to play here. And at Hogs Breath Saloon, listen to local and national bands play while enjoying food and drink at an outdoor table.
Address: Waterfront of Key West Harbor
The waterfront plaza in Old Town, known as Mallory Square, hosts one of the biggest Key West attractions known as the Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square.
Looking out over the Gulf of Mexico, this particular spot is where people come to watch the watercolor sunsets paint the sky. Hence the sunset celebration! This is not an annual event, or even monthly, or even weekly. This is a daily occurrence! Two hours before sunset, the area fills up with street performers, food carts, and artistic vendors. It’s like a party every night, and there is live music, stunt performers, and comedy shows.
In addition to the Sunset Celebration, people come here to watch the boats and cruise ships, and browse the local art galleries, eateries, apparel and accessories.
While you’re at Mallory Square, you should check out some of the other unique things to do in Key West here.
If you’re interested in shipwrecks and the treasures on old ships, check out the Key West Shipwreck Treasure Museum which is located right here too, this museum is filled with treasures found from shipwrecks off of Key West!
The Key West Aquarium is also right here and where you can see sting rays, sharks, and sea turtles.
The Key West Shell Warehouse is another fun stop and shop full of all kinds of beachy gifts and souvenirs. Also, check out Key West Sponge Market next door for sea sponges used for personal care!
Address: 111 Front St, Naval Air Station Key West
In addition to Ernest Hemingway, another famous person who was known to spend time in Key West was president Harry S. Truman. He originally came here for a brief vacation, and wound up staying for a total of almost six months during the years he was in office. Not hard to believe, with how beautiful and tranquil The Florida Keys and Key West are.
The place where he stayed became known as the Harry S. Truman Little White House, and visiting this museum is one of the best things to do in Key West. While it was initially built as housing for naval officers in 1890, due to Truman’s continued visits it became known as Truman’s “winter White House”.
He continued on with his presidential duties from this property during his frequent stays. Six presidents have stayed here, notably President Eisenhower spent time here recovering from his heart attack, as well as the inventor Thomas Edison during WWI.
At the museum, you can see a collection of Truman’s personal items, furniture, and other pieces. Tours are offered, and this tour is one hour long, and the guide provides interesting information about this museum and the people who have stayed here.
Address: the best place to get on the Conch Train tour is at the 501 Front Street stop
If you want to give your feet a rest while still checking out Key West attractions, consider taking the Conch Train Tour. Grab a seat onboard and enjoy a breezy ride while your guide narrates the sights as you pass them by.
Additionally, the guide will talk about famous Key West figures like treasure-hunter Mel Fisher. The tour stops at four strategically located spots and lets you get off the train and explore the area. Many of the places mentioned in this guide are very close to points where the Conch Train Tour stops, and this includes the Hemingway Home, Southernmost Point, Mallory Square, Shipwreck Museum, the Key West Lighthouse, and the Butterfly and Nature Conservatory.
The price for the tour buys you a one day pass to ride the Conch Train, and is one of the best ways to explore all the famous things to do in Key West.
Address: 205 Whitehead St, Key West
For a serene escape, head over to the Key West attraction known as the Audubon House and Tropical Gardens. Here, you will see how people lived in Key West during the nineteenth century.
This house was constructed by Captain John Huling Geiger in the mid 1800s. He was rather wealthy, and built this home in the American Classic Revival style.
The name of the house, Audubon, comes from John James Audubon, the artist known for documenting all types of American birds in their natural habitat and is one of the most prolific ornithologists of all time. He made his way to Key West in the early 1830s, and drew almost two dozen birds that he saw.
At the property today, you can get a look at many of his art pieces. Other exhibits around the home shine a light on daily life in the nineteenth century. The property includes the main house, separate cook house, and gardens.
Be sure to look out for the koi fish pond, and medicinal herbal garden from the 1850s. The Audubon House and Tropical Gardens is open Monday through Sunday, from 9:30 AM – 4:15 PM. There is a fee for admission, and be sure to check out the tours they offer.
Another historic Key West attraction is the Fort Zachary Historic State Park. This National Historic Landmark spans 54 acres, and is named after President Zachary Taylor.
Not too long after Florida officially became a state, the building of Fort Zachary began in 1845. The fort played a key role in the Civil War, as it was the base for the Navy’s East Gulf Coast blockade squadron.
Fort Zachary has the biggest collection of Civil War cannons in the United States. Specifically, they had 10 inch Rodman and Columbiad cannons, and this was integral in the designation of Fort Zachary as a National Historic Landmark.
When you visit, you can check out the guided tours of the fort that are offered. In addition to the fort, the beach here is fantastic. Swimming and snorkeling are very popular, and you you might see parrot fish, yellowtail snapper, and hard and soft corals. Fishing is allowed under certain conditions, and there are nature trails to go for a peaceful stroll.
Grills and picnic tables are scattered about, so you can have a picnic by the water. But if you prefer a sit-down meal, head over to nearby Cayo Hueso Cafe. There is a hut with rental equipment, and you are able to rent umbrellas, chairs, and snorkeling gear.
And a tip if you want to hit up the beach, it is a coral beach, so it is recommended that you bring water shoes. Make sure to include Fort Zachary Historic State Park in your list of places to visit in Key West.
Address: 938 Whitehead St, Key West
With Key West being out in the open waters, there is bound to be at least one lighthouse to check out. Enter the Key West Lighthouse and Keepers Quarters, one of the best things to do in Key West if you enjoy visiting lighthouses.
In the 1800s, it became obvious pretty quickly that a lighthouse would be quite beneficial in guiding ships through the dangerous reefs. The Key West Lighthouse started operating in 1848, and it had a woman as the first lighthouse keeper, which was truly exceptional at the time.
Today, you can visit the lighthouse and ascend 88 steps to the very top for spectacular views. You will be able to check out various possessions, photographs, and other items of past lighthouse keepers. There is a fee for admission, and it is open Monday through Sunday, 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM.
Also, I loved the view of the lighthouse from the Hemingway Home too! You can see it from the second floor outdoor terrace.
There are a number of rum distilleries around this area, making it one of the greatest things to do in Key West if you’re looking to sample some local rums. Prohibition in the 1920s led to rum running in Key West, and rum was brought in from the Caribbean. In fact, the famous Rum Runner cocktail can be traced back to this area.
Papa’s Pilar Rum Distillery is named after Ernest Hemingway’s boat, Pilar. They offer tours, cocktail classes, and even an experience where a guide takes you through Hemingway’s books while sipping on rum. Be sure to check out what’s happening when you visit.
The Key West First Legal Rum Distillery is known for Chef Distilled rum. The staff here consider themselves chefs first, and distillers second, hence the name. One of the fun experiences here is a mojito class, which must be booked in advance. Free tours are offered every 30 minutes from 12:00 – 5:00 PM, and it is open 7 days a week.
Address: 2601 S Roosevelt Blvd, Key West
You may be surprised to learn that Key West actually doesn’t have a ton of beaches. In fact, you can count the number of beaches within the city on one hand. There are only four beaches in the city of Key West, and Smathers Beach is at the top of that list and definitely one of the top places to visit in Key West.
Smathers Beach faces the Atlantic Ocean, and clocks in at just about half a mile long. Smathers Beach is the biggest public beach in Key West, and has white sand, crystal blue water, and palm trees as far as the eye can see.
In addition to quintessential beach activities like sunbathing and swimming, there are volleyball nets and courts, jet ski rentals, restrooms, and showers.
A couple of things to note are that this beach is especially popular during spring break, and it is located somewhat close to the airport, so you may hear noise from the airplanes taking off and landing. But overall, Smathers Beach is a must do in Key West when planning a beach day.
Address: 1000 Atlantic Blvd, Key West
One of the other notable beaches here and best places to visit in Key West for it’s unbelieveably clear water is Higgs Beach. Also known as Clarence S. Higgs Memorial Beach Park, you can have a beach day as well as view some important nearby landmarks.
There is an AIDS Memorial, as well as an African cemetery close to the beach, both deserving of a visit while you are here.
At the beach, activities include swimming, snorkeling, sunbathing, beach volleyball, tennis, and pickleball. And, there are barbecues, picnic tables, and even six picnic tiki huts. There is a spot to rent equipment like chairs, umbrellas, kayaks, and paddleboards.
Lastly, be sure to check out the 400-foot long Reynolds Street Pier, as well as the nearby White Street Pier which juts out in the ocean. For a relaxing beach day, hitting up Higgs Beach is one of the top things to do in Key West.
Address: 1 Whitehead St, Key West
Keeping with the oceanic theme of this city, the Key West Shipwreck Museum is one of the best things to do in Key West for educational entertainment and those curious about treasures lost at sea.
Way back in time, before railroads and transportation on land, about 100 ships would journey by Key West each day. The waters were rather dangerous, causing a shipwreck about once a week or so. When this happened, Key West residents would race out to the site of the shipwreck to begin salvaging what they could.
This became somewhat of an industry for the city, and resulted in Key West becoming one of the richest cities in the United States. The Shipwreck Museum uses actors, as well as items and artifacts from a wrecked ship in the 1850s named the “Isaac Allerton”, to paint a vivid picture of that time. There is a fee for admission, and this is a great family-friendly Key West activity.
Address: 711 Eisenhower Dr, Key West (departure point)
A unique experience, perfectly suited for the tropical environment of Key West, is to rent a private floating Tiki Bar. Spend time out on the water, scoping out the marine life like sea turtles and dolphins, and just chill out in paradise!
The four hour private excursion lets you explore by NAS Key West Homes, Jewfish Basin, the Florida Keys, and Key West as you enjoy food, drinks, and music onboard the boat. You will have time to get out on a sand bar and sunbathe or swim in the bright blue waters. The cruise includes a bluetooth stereo and floaties, and you bring whatever food and beverages you would like.
You’ll want to to rent your floating tiki bar in advance as this is one of the most unique things to do in Key West. If you’re on vacation with your significant other, this is a great thing to do in Key West for couples or groups of friends.
Address: 631 Greene St, Key West (meeting point)
How does an afternoon out on the water, watching dolphins and snorkeling sound? If that kind of adventure calls to you, check out this Dolphin Watching and Snorkeling Eco Cruise Tour is what to do in Key West for you.
Get onboard a catamaran, sip on a cold beer or smooth wine, and make your way towards the Gulf. Catch bottlenose dolphins playing out in the water in their natural habitat as the boat heads for the Key West Wildlife Refuge. Once you’ve reached that spot, you will be able to jump in the water to go snorkeling.
And during the three hour tour, your guide will be providing insight as you cruise along. This activity is a must do in Key West for dolphin and marine life lovers.
Address: 205 Elizabeth St, Key West (departure point)
One of the more romantic activities in this Key West guide is taking a sunset cruise aboard a schooner. For two hours, you will sail out on the open waters and watch the gleaming sunset fade into the night sky.
To add to the experience, there is a full bar onboard, so you can choose from wine, beer, sangria as you cruise along. See some of Key West’s attractions from a different perspective, like Fort Zachary Taylor.
And, you can jump in and help raise the sails of the 2-masted wooden schooner, which is a bit of a tradition. This is a particularly great thing to do in Key West for couples.
Key West is near some really cool locations, one of those being Dry Tortugas National Park. Situated in the Gulf of Mexico, it is about 70 miles west of Key West.
Dry Tortugas National Park is made up of seven islands, including coral reefs, and it can only be accessed by boat (operated by Yankee Ferry) or seaplane (operated by Key West Seaplane Charters).
Popular activities here include snorkeling, diving, swimming, and camping. Within Dry Tortugas, Garden Key is the park headquarters. Here you will find Fort Jefferson, one of the biggest forts from the 1800s in the United States.
There are several beaches ideal for snorkeling and swimming on Garden Key. These include South Swim Beach, Seaplane Beach, Dinghy Beach, and North Swim Beach.
The largest of the islands is Loggerhead Key, and if you make your way out here you will see the lighthouse and Loggerhead sea turtles. To get the full experience of the Keys and the surrounding areas, a day trip to Dry Tortugas National Park is one of the best things to do in Key West and a true bucket list item!
Address: 720 Whitmarsh Ln, Key West
If you’re looking for a quaint, B&B style place to stay in Key West, Courtney’s Place is a great choice. This charming cottage property is a family run B&B with a relaxed atmosphere just one street away from Duval Street and walking distance to some of the best things to do in Key West.
There are various options for accommodation style here from individual rooms to renting an entire cottage. Cottages come with kitchens or kitchenettes depending on which one you rent as well as porches.
There is a pool on site, free breakfast, tropical garden, barbeque area, and bike rentals available. Book Now on Booking.com
Address: 7001 Shrimp Rd, Naval Air Station Key West
Located about a 10-minute drive away from all the action in the heart of Key West and Duval Street, this is an ideal place to stay in the Florida Keys party central if you’re looking to remove yourself from the party when you sleep. Perry Hotel Key West has a quiet location right in the Stock Island Marina.
The rooms are cozy and modern with balconies or terraces overlooking the water or outdoor pool area.
There are scooters available for rent on the property to take around exploring all the best Key West attractions or you can use their free shuttle service. There’s a great restaurant and bar on site as well.
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Address: 1319 Duval St, Key West
Going back to options for where to stay in Key West near all the popular attractions and in the center of all the action on Duval Street is Southernmonst Beach Resort.
This gorgeous colonial-style hotel is right on the water with a prime location next to the Southernmost point of the continental US! Most of the airy, cozy rooms have views of the water and some even offer waterfront balconies.
There are 4 bars on the property, full spa services, 3 pools, croquet, bocce ball, beach chairs, fitness center, and parking. There’s also access to a private pier and beach for guests.
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Address: 200 William St, Key West
Another gorgeous property to stay at in Key West is the Marker Key West. Located in the heart of downtown just walking distance away from all the best things to do in Key West, this upscale hotel is located right on the water.
The modern rooms include private balconies with either a pool or harbor view. There is an exercise room, 3 pools, restaurant, bar, and bike rentals available on site.
The setting here makes for an absolute tranquil getaway close to all the nightlife and entertainment.
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How much time you need in Key West depends on how much you want to do. We suggest you spend at least 3 days in Key West to enjoy all the activities and can easily spend up to a week in Key West if you’re looking to include any day trips or excursions or have a more relaxing vacation.
Key West is best known for its beautiful clear blue water, white sand, watersports, nightlife, historic sites, and pastel architecture making it one of the most popular warm weather and tropical destinations for vacations in the United States.
The best time to visit Key West is in the winter months from December through February, this is the most popular time because the weather is the most comfortable. The spring months of March and May are also great time to visit Key West as there are fewer crowds and you can find better deals on hotels.
Hurricane season in Key West and the Florida Keys is typically June through November.
Key West is absolutely a walkable town as most of the best Key West activities are around Duval Street, Whitehead Street, and Mallory Square.
Enjoyed this guide to all the best things to do in Key West? Bookmark for later or share the love below on Pinterest. And for more ideas, check out our guide to sustainable activites in the Florida Keys too!