So you’ve made it to Key West on your cruise or arrived for a day trip and have a limited amount of time to explore this tiny tropical island before you pull out for your next stop.
You’ve got options.
Take a trip on the water to catch some sun and ocean breezes. See some history. Tour museums. Visit some butterflies.
You can always just grab a cocktail and wander the Duval Sreet corridor and side streets downtown soaking up the sun, sights and shops.
But for the more adventurous, here’s a list of the best things to do in Key West so you don’t miss the boat.
1. Duval Street
World famous Duval Street is where the party starts. Duval awaits visitors with plenty of bars, live music, restaurants, art galleries, hotels and guesthouses and shops selling clothing —from high-end island attire to $5 T-shirts — along with cigars and souvenirs.
The 1.25-mile-long Duval Street stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico.
2. The Southernmost Point buoy
This waterfront spot downtown is possibly Key West’s most photographed attraction, claiming the southernmost point in the continental United States and a landmark “90 miles to Cuba.” You will likely have to wait in line for a turn to stand before the giant marker located where Whitehead and South streets meet. Enjoy the view.
3. Conch Tour Train
The famous Conch Tour Train, which dates back to 1958, is an easy way to see the major sights in Key West and learn the island’s history.
The ride starts at the “depot” on Front Street and ends right behind it in Mallory Square. It’s a 75-minute trip that makes a loop through Old Town.
Tours run daily and the first starts at 10:15 a.m.
4. Mel Fisher Maritime Museum
The Mel Fisher Maritime Museum, named for one of the most famous treasure hunters, lets you step back into the martime history of Florida and the Caribbean.
While the museum at 200 Greene St. isn’t involved in the ongoing searches at sea, its collections feature artifacts recovered from the Spanish galleons Nuestra Señora de Atocha and Santa Margarita of 1622.
The museum’s staff also takes deep dives into maritime archaeology and has created exhibits on slave ships and the 1860 African Cemetery at Higgs Beach.
Admission is $17.50 for adults and $8.50 for children.
5. The Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory
Looking for a peaceful spot? The Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory, 1316 Duval St., is just the place on the quieter, upper end of Duval.
The attraction is centered around a lush, glass-enclosed space filled with butterflies, birds and two pink flamingos named Rhett and Scarlet.
Among the flowering plants, trees and waterfalls are 50 to 60 butterfly species from around the world plus more than 20 exotic bird species. The flamingos are known for their friendly personalities.
6. Rent a bike
You can easily rent a bicycle in Key West to tour the island.
Daily rentals range from $10 to $20 a day for a beach cruiser. Some shops will even bring them to you and pick them up when you’re through. Some streets in Key West’s Old Town have dedicated bike lanes. Helmets and locks are also available.
But remember to use caution on the busy island where traffic also includes delivery trucks, cars, scooters, stand-up electric scooters and skateboards.
7. Key West Cemetery
The Key West Cemetery was created in 1847 after a disastrous hurricane unearthed the beachside cemetery, according to the city’s website. Between 80,000 to 100,000 souls rest inside the fenced 19 acres. From simple markers to elaborate mausoleums with statues, the centrally located cemetery displays the history and diversity of the island’s residents.
There are also several well-known wry epitaphs. The grave of B.P. “Pearl” Roberts famously reads, “I Told You I Was Sick.” Another states, “If You’re Reading This, You Desperately Need A Hobby.” And one says, “I Always Dreamed Of Owning A Small Place In Key West.”
The main entrance and sexton’s office are at the intersection of Angela and Margaret streets.
8. The Hemingway Home and Museum
Ernest Hemingway’s old estate, with luxurious grounds and dozens of six-toed cats, is at 907 Whitehead St.
The National Historic Landmark is open daily, 365 days a year, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Guided tours of what was the legendary author’s home in the 1930s take about 20 to 30 minutes and also include his writing studio beside the house.
Then there’s the tale of the in-ground pool, which the museum says was a first in Key West, costing $20,000 to build between 1937 to 1938. There is a penny lodged in the cement by the pool, memorializing the claim that Hemingway shouted to his wife Pauline that she had spent all but his last cent.
Admission is $17 for adults and $7 for children 6 to 12. Take note: the museum only takes cash.
9. Key West Historic Seaport
Key West’s old seaport is a gem: a waterfront harborwalk with shopping and dining in the middle of a marina that features fishing charters, sunset-sailing catamarans and tall ships. The 20-acre complex is a place to mix with locals and visitors and take in exceptional dockside views.
10. Get out on the water
Sure, Key West has an astounding number of things to see on land. But the ocean access is its most prized feature. Even if you’re only on the island for a few hours, you can still squeeze in time to spend on the stunning waters surrounding Key West.
Take a two-hour kayak tour or go parasailing for amazing views from the sky. Parasailing will take about an hour. Some watersports companies have snorkel trips that may fit into your schedule.
11. Key West Lighthouse
You can walk up 88 steps to the top of the Key West Lighthouse, which opened in 1848 and was decommissioned by the U.S. Coast Guard in 1969.
Today, it’s a museum dedicated to Key West’s maritime heritage, honoring those who kept the light shining through trying times. In addition to the view, the museum includes belongings, photos and memories of the lighthouse keepers and their families.
General admission is $14 but there are discounts for those 62 and older, retired military and children.
12. Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park
This state park on the southern edge of Key West boasts some of the best ocean views in Key West. Fort Taylor predates the Civil War and is a National Historic Monument.
It’s also home to the best beach on the island. You’ll have to pay admission fees, but in addition to the beach, you can check out the red-brick corridors of Fort Zachary Taylor, past cannon and gun ports, or roam the grounds, where tree names are marked and butterflies are known to visit.
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