Key West is an island city that also holds the designation of the southernmost point in the continental United States. It’s part of the Florida Keys archipelago and is known for pastel-colored houses, polydactyl cats, lively nightlife, and the Southernmost Point marker.
When you search for “things to do in Key West” you’ll get a bunch of articles telling you to catch a sunset in Mallory Square and party on Duval Street. I’m not going to do that because, frankly, both of those things are overrated.
So, instead, here are 6 awesome, unique, and fun things you don’t want to miss while in Key West, Florida.
Key West At A Glance
Location: Southernmost island in Florida, approximately 90 miles north of Cuba
Nearby Airports: Key West (EYW), Florida Keys Marathon (MTH), Miami (MIA), Fort Lauderdale (FLL)
Driving Distance from Nearby Cities:
- Miami, Florida: 3 hours 30 minutes
- Fort Lauderdale, Florida: 3 hours 50 minutes
6 Fun Things To Do In Key West, Florida
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1. Visit The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum
Located in Old Town, The Hemingway Home was originally built in 1851. Ernest Hemingway took ownership when the home was in shambles and did a massive restoration in the early 1930s. The house includes the first in-ground pool in Key West, added in 1937-38 at a cost of $20,000! The cost once prompted Hemingway, as a joke, to take a penny from his pocket, press it into the wet cement of the surrounding patio and say, “Here, take the last penny I’ve got!” Tourists can look for the penny as it’s still embedded between flagstones at the north end of the pool.
That’s all fine and good, but the real reason you’ll want to visit the Hemingway home when you’re in Key West is the 40-50 polydactyl (6 toed) cats that live there. Hemingway was given a white six-toed cat named Snow White and many of the cats who live on the museum grounds are said to be descendants of that original cat.
You can walk the property on your own and/or choose to join a guided tour. The tours leave about every 30 minutes and don’t require advance reservations.
- Location: 907 Whitehead Street, Key West, Florida, 33040
- Hours: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily; No reservations
- Cost: $17 (Adults), $7 (Kids ages 6-12), Kids 5 and under are free; Cash only
Pro Tip: For an easy way to get around the island, check out the Hop-On Hop-Off Trolly and you can visit all the points of interest in Key West at your own pace.
2. Dry Tortugas National Park
Dry Tortugas National Park is located 70 miles west of Key West in the Gulf of Mexico. It consists of 100 square miles of open water and 7 islands and is only accessible by boat or seaplane. One of the most popular attractions in Dry Tortugas is Fort Jefferson, a large 19th-century fort, on the island of Garden Key. Snorkeling and scuba diving are popular activities when visiting Dry Tortugas.
You can ride the Yankee Freedom III from Key West to Dry Tortugas National Park for a fun day at this unique national park. Your ticket includes breakfast, lunch, use of snorkeling gear, and your entrance fee to the park.
However you plan to visit, Dry Tortugas is a must-see. Book your tickets early as this Key West attraction sells out weeks to months ahead of time.
Pro Tip: Did you know that Key West has joined Hawaii and Mexico in a sunscreen ban? If you are planning to visit Key West, be sure to pack a reef-safe sunscreen to help protect the fragile coral reefs.
3. Eat at Latitudes Restaurant
Not only was the food great at Latitudes Restaurant, but it’s got the most fabulous atmosphere because it’s on a private island.
4. Go Kayaking in the Mangroves
My first time kayaking was in Key West and I fell in love with it, despite being terrified beforehand. Kayaking in Key West includes going through the shallow water mangroves and it’s such a fun experience.
Our guide did a great job explaining the local plants and pointing out different animals — we even got to see a baby nurse shark! We did a kayaking-only tour but you can also find tour options that include snorkeling which would be so much fun!
5. Go For A Bike Ride
Driving a car isn’t the best way to get around Key West. You’ll see lots of golf carts and bikes which are much easier to maneuver and park on the narrow, crowded streets. We rented bikes through our hotel and cruised around Key West all the way from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a great way to see all of Key West’s top attractions like the Southernmost Point marker, Mallory Square, and Fort Zachary Taylor State Park in one go.
You’ll find many places to rent a bike in Key West or you can schedule a guided bike tour.
6. Go Jet Skiing
My first time jet skiing was in Key West and it was equally parts thrilling and terrifying! My recommendation if you’ve got more than 1 person is to each go on your own jet ski. I rode as person 2 behind my husband and I grossly underestimated how hard it is to hold on. It ended up being one of my favorite things that we did, but I would absolutely get my own jet ski the next time.
We booked our jet ski tour from our hotel concierge, but there are lots of options if you want to book ahead of time.
Popular Activities In Key West
There are some other popular activities in Key West that I either didn’t love or didn’t try. Here are a few other things you might want to consider for your vacation.
Performers, artists, and food vendors gather here each night for the Key West Sunset Celebration. This nightly festivity starts 2 hours before sunset. It’s a popular activity in Key West so be sure to arrive early for a good spot. The waterfront location provides a beautiful view of the Gulf of Mexico.
People line up early to catch a glimpse of the sunset. While I enjoyed visiting once and seeing some of the street performers, I do think it’s a bit overrated.
Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory
This glass-enclosed conservatory is filled with exotic plants and trees, waterfalls, birds, and 50-60 species of butterflies. Don’t forget to stop at the gift shop and gallery for souvenirs and artwork.
We really wanted to go scuba diving but the weather wasn’t in our favor. We had booked a dive trip on 2 separate days but unfortunately, it was too windy on the reef and our trip was canceled both days.
Hopefully, you’ll have better luck because Key West has great scuba diving spots including wrecks and reefs. In fact, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is home to the United States’ only living coral barrier reef.
Popular Key West Tours
Here are some fun activities and tours in Key West to try during your vacation.
- Shark and Wildlife Viewing Adventure
- Island Adventure with Snorkeling and Kayaking
- Key West Ghosts and Gravestones Trolley Tour
- Key West Food and Culture Walking Tour
- Key West Sunset Cruise with Live Music
- Half-Day Snorkeling Excursion
- Glass Bottom Boat Tour
Hotels in Key West, Florida
While in Key West I stayed at 2 different hotels.
Hyatt Centric Key West Resort & Spa is located in the heart of Old Town, just steps from Duval Street and Mallory Square. You really can’t beat the location. I enjoyed the hotel’s free 2-hour bike rental and outdoor hot tub. Many excursions including jet skiing and scuba diving leave from the hotel’s dock, which makes the location even better.
The Reach Key West Curio Collection by Hilton was the 2nd property I stayed at in Key West. It’s located closer to the southern end of Duval Street, not far from the Southernmost Point marker. This hotel has the benefit of having a small private beach, which is uncommon in Key West.
Key West is a fun place to visit and a great way to get that tropical feeling while staying in the United States. When in Key West, don’t miss fun activities like seeing the polydactyl cats at the Hemingway House, eating a meal at Latitudes on a private island, biking around the island, visiting Dry Tortugas, or exploring the island on the water on a kayak or jet ski.
What were your favorite things to do in Key West, Florida? Let me know in the comments below, and check out videos and pictures on my Instagram Highlights.