These are the best things to do in Key West Florida if you’re a first-time visitor.
“RAMP! RAMP!” everyone chanted from the shore. I managed to get up on the wakeboard on my first try, so I was feeling confident. Why not? I braced myself as I approached the ramp and went soaring in the air. Before I knew it, I landed headfirst into the water.
I didn’t stick the landing, but I was already hooked. Let’s try this again!
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Last Updated: July 8, 2021
It was our first time in The Florida Keys. After spending a few days in Sarasota, we road tripped down the Overseas Highway to Key West, our final destination.
To help you plan your trip, we’ve put together a list of the best things to do in Key West plus a few notable spots nearby.
Thank you Campco Media for capturing photos of us throughout the trip, including the cover photo above. Go check out their beautiful work.
Sure, you can take any sunset cruise, but Cruisin’ Tikis is the best kind. Just picture yourself on a floating tiki bar with your beverage of choice in hand.
It’s BYOB and they provide a cooler for you to keep your drinks cold. They also have a bar near the launch-off point to purchase beverages, but it’s much cheaper if you pick them up before heading over.
Pro Tip: During the day, they do cruises out to a sandbar where you can hop into the water. They also have full moon cruises.
If you want to try a variety of water activities all at once, Fury is the way to go.
We did the Ultimate Adventure H2.0 which included banana boating, jet-skiing, snorkeling, parasailing at Key West’s largest ocean water park. Due to the weather, we didn’t get a chance to parasail, but we tried everything else.
They are a very well-oiled machine. Everyone is separated into groups, and they rotate you through each activity. In between activities, there’s also an obstacle course you can play on. Plus, they serve breakfast and lunch.
After lunch, you snorkel at the 3rd largest reef in the world.
Pro Tip: If you want to get a seat in the covered area, arrive early. Otherwise, they fill up quickly. They provide everything you need except for a towel. Also, save some room at the end for cookies.
3. Greetings from Key West Mural + Cuban Coffee Queen
We stumbled across the Greetings from Key West mural on the side of Cuban Coffee Queen, which is the coffee spot everyone told us to try. If you make this stop, you have to try the bagel too, which tasted like a hybrid of bagel and Cuban sandwich.
Local Tip: Parking in town can be hard to find. Renting bikes is a great way to get around.
At Mallory Square, they have nightly Key West Sunset Celebrations. You’ll find magicians, jugglers, musicians, artists, food vendors, and more.
If you can’t make it during sunset, there is still plenty to see, shop, and enjoy in Mallory Square during the day.
photo: Rob O’Neal/Florida Keys News Bureau
Dry Tortugas National Park is located about 70 miles west of Key West and can only be accessed by boat or seaplane.
Whether you want to see Fort Jefferson, snorkel in crystal clear water, camp in Garden Key, or explore via kayak, there are a lot of ways to enjoy the park.
We’ll write up a full guide next time we go. Unfortunately for us, tickets were sold out during our visit.
Local Tip: Not only will you want to plan how you will get there ASAP, but keep in mind that parts of the park are closed seasonally or year-round to protect natural resources.
Cats! And history, but we’re going to start with the cats.
Ernest Hemingway was given a white six-toed cat (polydactyl cats) that he named Snow White. Since then, they have multiplied, and now there are approximately 60 polydactyl cats that still live on the grounds, some of which are descendants of Snow White.
Besides that, you can tour Ernest Hemingway’s home and garden and see why he spent so much time in Key West.
If you’re a writer, they even a program where you can book a space to write your next masterpiece in the same space where he wrote many of his own.
Pro Tip: They only accept cash at the gates. General Admission is $17 for adults and $7 for children 6-12.
photo: Rob O’Neal/Florida Keys News Bureau
BONUS: Don't Miss The Rest of the Keys
Most people gravitate towards Key West when they think of the Keys, but the other Keys should not be overlooked.
There are 5 regions of the Florida Keys: Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, Big Pine and the Lower Keys, and Key West. These were a couple of the spots worth the detour or day trip.
The Lagoon and Keys Cable Park are located about an hour away from Key West on Grassy Key. This was our favorite spot on our Visit Florida trip.
We had lunch at Bongo’s Cafe, toured the garden, shops, and wakeboarded at the cable park. It was amazing to hear that they are self-sufficient and generate more electricity than they use.
It was both our first time wakeboarding and although we were nervous, once we got in the water, we didn’t want to stop. It’s also easier learning using the cable system instead of on a boat.
Pro Tip: If you’ve never tried any of the board sports, they suggest you start with wakeboarding. If you’re more experienced, they also have ramps and spots to hones your skills.
This was our first time on a clear kayak. We were going to check out beautiful mangroves with the potential to see jellyfish, manatees, dolphins, starfish, and more.
Unfortunately, the weather had other plans for us. After paddling out and watching the weather, the storm changed directions and came for us so our trip was cut short. We need to come back to do the full kayaking excursion!
Pro Tip: They provide dry bags for your phone and your gear. It’s better to be on the safer side. Take it from me – RIP phone.
Map of the Best Things to Do in Key West FL
More Things to Do in Key West Florida
If it’s not your first time, here are some more recommended spots.
- Audubon House & Tropical Gardens
- Conch Tour Train takes you to famous landmarks in Key West.
- Duval Street – See attractions from Mallory Square to Southernmost Point or go bar hopping at night.
- Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center (Free)
- Key West Aquarium
- First Legal Rum Distillery
- Key West Historic Seaport
- Key West Seaplane Adventures
- Old Town Trolley Tours
- Robert the Doll / Ghost Hunting
- Tennessee Williams Theatre
Museums + Memorials in Key West
- Fort East Martello Museum – local history and art
- Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park – beach and historic fort.
- Harry S Truman Little White House
- Key West Cemetery
- Butterfly & Nature Conservatory
- Key West Lighthouse & Keeper’s Quarters Museum
- Mel Fisher Maritime Museum
- Our Lady of Lourdes Shrine
- The Oldest House Museum – oldest home in South Florida.
- Shipwreck Treasure Museum – gives you a high vantage point
- US Coast Guard Cutter Ingham Maritime Museum
Where to Eat in Key West
Did you know key lime pie was invented in Key West? Besides key lime pie, Key West is known for great Cuban food, spiny lobster, pink shrimp, and everything conch.
- Blue Heaven ($, Breakfast & Brunch) – Lobster Eggs Benedict and homemade banana bread. Fun fact: Ernest Hemingway used to referee boxing matches here.
- Cuban Coffee Queen ($, Coffee & Tea) – Local favorite. Of course the coffee, but I’m still thinking about that bagel.
- First Flight Island Restaurant & Brewery ($, American) – This is the birthplace of Pan American World Airways. Good food and local beer.
- LL’s Test Kitchen ($, Seafood) – Fresh seafood and great views. Located inside Stock Island Yacht Club.
- Matt’s Stock Island Kitchen & Bar ($, New American) – We didn’t eat here but the Key Lime Pie Martinis tasted just like key lime pie in a glass.
- Tiger Bar ($, Tapas) – Fusion tapas. The sticky balls were our favorite.
- Bongo’s Cafe – Located at The Lagoon on Grassy Key, if you’re headed to Keys Cable Park grab food here.
Essential Tips for First Time Visitors
- The Best Time to Visit is April to June. Hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30 (the heaviest storms from August to October). Winter Season (November to March) is the busiest and most expensive time to visit. April to June has great weather and fewer crowds.
- Try Cuban Food. Did you know that you’re closer to Cuba than you are to Miami when you’re in Key West?
- Pack lots of sunscreen, a hat, bug spray, and a water bottle. It’s always helpful to have water shoes, a dry bag, and your own towel too.
- Enjoy the Drive. Although you can fly into Key West, most people fly into Miami and drive down. This gives you the chance to enjoy the Overseas Highway, but you can also check out other parts of The Keys.
- The Only Living Barrier Reef in the continental US is in Key West. It’s the third-largest in the world and you can plan a snorkeling outing.
- Fantasy Fest is a 10-day festival held in October where you’ll find costumes, body painting, music, parades, and more. It is very much an adult party, so you best find a sitter.
- Conch is pronounced con-k, not con-ch.
- Don’t Feed the Wild Chickens. Key West is known for its free-range chickens that you’ll find all over the island and even inside restaurants. Don’t feed them or you could be fined $250-500.
- Cruise Ships stop at Key West often. Between December and April, it will be extra crowded with cruisers.
- Check the Florida Keys Website for more tips about the area and to help you plan your trip.
How to Get Around
Parking isn’t always easy to find in town. They very much try to promote a care-free Key West.
- Renting a Bike is a great way to get around town. Rentals come with locks so you can lock them up while you explore different spots.
- Duval Loop is a free hop-on, hop-off bus that covers the Historic Seaport and downtown Duval Street districts. It runs every 15 minutes from 10 am to midnight and every 30 minutes from 6-10 am.
- Key West Park N’ Ride is a good option if you’re looking for a place to leave your car. It’s $4 per hour ($32 max) but then you can use the free public transportation within the city.
How to Get to Key West
- By Airplane: Key West International Airport (EYW) gets you right into Key West.
- By Car: If you’re coming from Miami, take 836 West to the Florida Turnpike south. The Turnpike ends at US 1 in Florida City which you can follow all the way to the end.
What are your favorite things to do in Key West Florida? Anything we missed?
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“Discovery consists not of seeking new lands but in seeing with new eyes” – M. Proust
Esther + Jacob
Esther and Jacob are the founders of Local Adventurer, which is one of the top 5 travel blogs in the US. They believe that adventure can be found both near and far and hope to inspire others to explore locally. They explore a new city in depth every year and currently base themselves in Las Vegas.