When you’re ready for the perfect getaway, you’re ready for Key West. It is only four miles long and one mile wide but is one of the most beautiful and interesting places on Earth. The aqua-blue waters of both the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico surround you. White sandy beaches line its coast. Amazing animal life abounds above, on, and below the land. Its history is colorful, and the cultural influences here are diverse. Activities range from laid-back to all-out. In Key West, land and seas meet to create a virtual paradise for everyone who visits.
Duval Street is a great place to begin your Key West adventure. You can walk, bike, or ride along the 1.1-mile, tourist-friendly street. It is a great place to see the cultural diversity that makes Key West so interesting. The shops and boutiques carry a wide selection of eclectic clothes, art, and souvenirs. Cafes boast the aroma of rich Cuban coffee, and Cuban cigar shops are plentiful. Victorian mansions painted in pastel colors line both sides of Duval Street. You can easily see the influence Bahamian and Spanish culture had on their architecture and design. Stop anywhere along the way for food, drink and plenty of people-watching. Also, make sure to try a key lime pie, the signature treat of this amazing city.
The nightlife on Duval Street has a story of its own. Many popular bars are there, including Jimmy Buffett’s original Margaritaville and Sloppy Joe’s. The Duval Street Crawl is a tradition in Key West. You start at one end of Duval Street, usually the Sunset Pier or Hogs Breath Saloon, and then work your way down Duval by stopping at each bar along the way. It is an interesting way to celebrate in the island atmosphere there, but not for the faint of heart. They don’t call it a “crawl” for nothing. Just make sure you have a designated driver or a safe ride home.
Mallory Square hosts the most breathtaking sunsets you’ll ever see. It is located just before the beginning of Duval Street, where the island meets the water. This is the hub of social life in Key West and with good reason. The celebration begins every evening, two hours before the sun goes down. Street performers gather here to display their talents. Restaurants and bars abound, and each has its own spectacular view of the sun setting over the ocean. There is also a large courtyard with plenty of free seating available. Mallory Square is the epitome of what Key West is all about - beauty, fun, adventure, and people of all walks living together in harmony. No one wants to miss that, and the city ensures no one has to.
The Conch Train is a historical tour of the city that you just can’t miss. Key West is known as the Conch Republic because it attempted to gain independence in the 1980s. This was following an incident during the Mariel Boatlift era of Cuban emigration to the U.S. On the Conch Train, you will explore several of the places in Key West that represent the spirit of that attempt. Stops include the homes of independent thinkers like Ernest Hemingway and Harry S. Truman. You will also visit several museums and landmarks that further explain Key West’s character. Conservatories and botanical gardens that showcase its natural beauty are also on the tour. The Conch Train provides a great education about what Key West is really all about.
Visiting Ernest Hemingway’s house is a must on your Key West vacation. He adored Key West and made it his home for many years. He created several of his famous works right there, and many of his characters had ties to the island city. You will see his home as he left it and get a real feel for his love of the place. You can also see descendants of his beloved six-toed cat - there are over 40 of them running around there!
The Hemingway Days festival is held each year during July to honor this Key West icon. Dress in your best Hemingway look-alike gear and join the festivities! They include poetry readings, a Marlin fishing contest, and special museum exhibits. You can even run with some wildly creative bulls during the event.
You will find the southernmost point of the contiguous U.S. in Key West. Actually, there are two places there that share the distinction. One is at Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park, which is the truest southernmost point. It is located at an old military fort used to protect the U.S. from outside forces and the Union army during the Civil War. It is now a park and museum, and definitely worth a visit.
The southernmost buoy is the second such landmark in Key West. It may not be accurate, but it is still one of the most photographed places in the world. It started as a small sign but has been turned into the large concrete buoy you see today. The buoy is a true Key West icon, so make sure you don’t miss out on this memorable photo opportunity.
It takes 88 steps to get to the top of the Key West Lighthouse. The view once you get there is worth every one. The original lighthouse was built in the 1800s but only barely survived the hurricanes that struck over the years. It has since been restored and is now a complex that includes a lighthouse museum. Explore its rich history and enjoy the incredible view while doing so.
Key West is beautiful to explore on land. Get a different view from the water by taking a sunset sail around the island. There are many companies that offer a cruise around Key West. Most include drinks and some light food. All of them are host to incredible scenery. The waters around Key West are beautiful enough on their own. Add a perfect sunset and a view of the city from the boat, and your camera may be full by the time you’re cruise is done.
One human family. That is Key West’s official motto, and no event is greater proof of that expression than Fantasy Fest. It is a celebration of life like no other, held each October. People get dressed in ridiculous costumes and parade down Duval Street in a mix of dance, music, and laughter. The event started with a parade made up mostly of the large LGBT community in Key West. However, it has since grown to include anyone who wants to celebrate the diversity of people. Come get your dazzle on and join this festival of fun, creativity, and inclusion.
Your trip to Key West will not be complete until you get in the water. Key West is home to the only living barrier reef in North America. The sea life is abundant, with fish of every color under the sun swimming all around. In addition, there are several shipwrecks to explore. Not certified to scuba dive? No worries. Classes are available that teach you all you need to know in as little as one day. You can also snorkel to several of these underwater sites if scuba diving isn’t your thing.
Immerse yourself in the captivating world of maritime history at the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum. This treasure trove of artifacts and exhibits is dedicated to the rich maritime history of Florida and the Caribbean, with a special emphasis on the 1622 Spanish galleons' shipwrecks. As you explore the museum, you'll delve into the intriguing history of treasure hunting in the area, learning about the daring exploits of those who sought to uncover the ocean's hidden riches. It's a fascinating journey that will leave you with a newfound appreciation for the adventurous spirit of the past.
Step into a world of vibrant colors and serene beauty at the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory. Here, amidst a lush landscape of tropical plants, you'll find a dazzling array of butterflies fluttering freely. As you wander through this enchanting space, you'll also encounter a variety of birds, adding to the conservatory's lively atmosphere. It's a tranquil oasis that offers a delightful escape from the hustle and bustle of the outside world.
Embark on a flavorful journey at Key West's First Legal Rum Distillery or Papa’s Pilar. These distilleries offer a unique opportunity to learn about the intricate process of rum-making. As you tour the facilities, you'll gain insights into the art and science behind this beloved spirit. And of course, no visit would be complete without a tasting session, where you can savor the rich, complex flavors of the distilleries' offerings.
Experience the magic of Key West from a unique perspective aboard a Floating Tiki Bar. As you cruise around the stunning waters, you'll enjoy the laid-back atmosphere of a tiki bar, complete with tropical drinks. It's a fun and relaxing way to soak up the beauty of Key West, making for an unforgettable adventure.
Experience the quintessential Key West lifestyle at Smathers Beach, the city's most popular beach. Here, you can bask in the sun, take a refreshing dip in the ocean, or engage in a variety of water activities. With beach chairs, umbrellas, kayaks, paddle boards, and Hobie sailboats available for rent, you'll have everything you need for a perfect beach day.
Venture into the heart of the Florida Keys on a dolphin-watching cruise. The Keys serve as a refuge for hundreds of dolphins each year, and a cruise to the Key West National Wildlife Refuge offers an unparalleled opportunity to see these magnificent creatures up close. It's a thrilling experience that will leave you with lasting memories.
Embark on an eco-adventure as you kayak through the Key West mangroves. As you navigate the tranquil waterways, you'll spot Florida wildlife in their natural habitat and learn about the crucial role the mangroves play in the local ecosystem. It's a fun and educational experience that offers a deeper understanding of Key West's natural environment.
Step back in time as you explore the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Ingham, a vessel that served on active duty from 1936 to 1988. As you tour this historic ship, you'll gain insights into the U.S. Coast Guard's rich history and the Ingham's significant role in it. It's a must-visit site for history buffs and maritime enthusiasts alike.
Embark on a culinary adventure in Key West's charming Seaport neighborhood. This area is a food lover's paradise, offering a wide array of dining options that showcase the city's diverse flavors. From fresh seafood to Cuban cuisine, there's something to satisfy every palate. As you explore the area, you'll also learn about its riveting history, adding an extra layer of richness to your gastronomic journey.
Located in the bustling Mallory Square, the Key West Aquarium is a beloved attraction that offers an exciting outing for families and animal lovers. Here, you can get up close with a variety of aquatic creatures, from colorful fish to fascinating sharks. With interactive exhibits and informative displays, the aquarium provides a fun and educational experience that will leave you with a deeper appreciation for the wonders of the underwater world.