Key West is known for sunny weather, sandy beaches, warm breezes through your hair, and stunning views on the horizon. If you are planning a vacation to the Sunshine State, you’ll find historical attractions, festivals, and plenty to do on the water.
Whether you’re searching for thrills, relaxation, or a middle ground in between, this slice of paradise is a fantastic destination year-round.
16 Best Things to Do in Key West in 2023
Key West is the southernmost city of the 48 continental states. There are numerous cultural influences throughout the state, especially in Key West, which lends to specific festivals, museums, and other multicultural events and attractions.
Watching the sunset from Mallory Square is usually at the top of most people’s lists, as it’s such a tranquil and captivating experience. Famous creatives, like Robert Frost and Ernest Hemingway, hail from Key West.
And there are historic sites where you can learn more about their life on the island. The bohemian vibes attract many tourists who love the idea of lounging around on the beach and soaking in the sun or heading out on a jet ski for a thrilling water excursion.
By the time you finish with the food scene, arts district, and numerous other activities, you’ll never want to leave!
1. Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory
The Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory is found in Duval Street. This peaceful and serene oasis has beautifully-scented flowering bushes and over 60 colorful and stunning butterfly species.
As well, there are more than 20 species of exotic birds. The conservatory habitat is humid and tropical, allowing these creatures to thrive and flutter around freely.
Visitors can observe the local wildlife at their own pace. So, don’t feel rushed if you would prefer to watch the caterpillars munch on leaves. The gift shop has plenty of souvenirs and butterfly-themed artwork to purchase.
2. Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum
Many people who visit Key West often make a stop at the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum. This mansion is in the Spanish Colonial style and is made from rock.
The home was built in 1851, and Hemingway and his wife moved to it in 1931 after his wife’s wealthy uncle purchased the home for them.
Their personal touches are still present, as are a few of the European antiques that the couple accumulated over their many years of traveling. The museum organizes daily tours, which last between 20 to 30 minutes.
Once the tour is finished, you’ll get to explore the home and its grounds at your leisure. As you do, you’ll have the chance to see some 60 resident cats that the museum houses in honor of Hemingway and his passion for felines.
3. Fun in the Sun Private Charters
One of the best ways to experience Key West is on the water! There are many options, from going dolphin watching, a sunset cruise, sandbar trips, camping, fishing, bird watching, island hopping, snorkeling, and more.
One company that can take you around the island from one adventure to another is Fun in the Sun Private Charters and Boat Rentals.
They have three boats that are comfortable and fast, letting you explore various bays and coves sprinkled around Key West. Each boat holds about six passengers, making for a more personal and intimate experience.
The trip has a duration of about 2.5 hours to 6 hours, depending on which escapade you select. If you’re more independently-minded, you can rent a boat from this company and go exploring by yourself.
4. Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center
If you’re interested in learning more about plants and animals native to the Florida Keys, you’ll enjoy the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center. It’s a marine haven on East Quay Road, and has exhibits that showcase land and sea animals and plants.
The building is more than 6,000 square feet wide, and there’s a 2,400-gallon reef tank. Children will especially love the interactive marine ecology exhibit. Additionally, you can find a replica of Aquarius, the only underwater ocean lab in the world.
Elsewhere, there are habit displays educating visitors about beach dunes, pinelands, seagrass flats, mangrove shoreline, and coral reefs.
5. Key West Seaplane Adventures
Key West Seaplane Adventures is on South Roosevelt Boulevard, in the airport. It’s the only aircraft you can take to get to Dry Tortugas National Park.
Your trip will take on a memorable sightseeing tour with an experienced pilot, giving you spectacular views of Key West. Around 75 miles to the west is Dry Tortugas, the last set of islands that make up the Keys.
Your flight will be narrated, and every passenger will receive a window seat and a headset. As you’re traveling, you’ll likely see sharks, porpoises, turtles, dolphins, rays, and more. The pilot will also point out different shipwrecks on your journey before you land.
6. Sunset Pier
You’ll never get tired of watching sunsets every day when visiting Key West if you take a trip to the Sunset Pier. It’s a beautiful restaurant that offers fantastic seats with stunning views.
It’s right off Mallory Square, inside the Ocean Key Resort & Spa. This unique restaurant extends into the Gulf of Mexico. Whether seated at the bar or in one of the vibrant chairs along the pier, you’re in for a treat.
As you wait for the lovely sunset, you can dine on delectable coastal cuisine and quench your thirst with colorful cocktails.
The bold flavors of the Caribbean and the freshness of the seafood are the hallmarks of this restaurant, aside from the view. Additionally, there’s almost always live music playing.
7. Visit Duval Street
The leading tourist destination in Key West is Duval Street. There are numerous shops and restaurants welcoming cruise ship passengers and visitors who want to be where all the action occurs.
Duval Street will give you the chance to catch a glimpse of popular attractions like Kermit’s Key Lime Pie Shop, historic homes, museums, and multicultural centers. The Hemingway Days Festival and the Asian Festival take place on Duval Street.
8. Mallory Square
Mallory Square is similar to Duval Street in that there’s a lot to see and do. You can encounter jugglers, musicians, vendors, street performers, and more as the sun sets.
Imagine straightjacket escape artists, cats walking along a tightrope, and dogs on a unicycle. Yes! It’s that wild on Mallory Square!
The atmosphere is super energetic, and you can browse through different shops and local attractions while waiting for the fun to start. Stop at the local art store and pick up memorable souvenirs and refreshments, like the famous breakfast burrito from Cuban Coffee Queen.
9. Zachary Taylor State Park
Built between 1845 and 1866, Fort Zachary Taylor State Park was built on Florida’s coast during the Civil War. It has since been transformed into a National Historic Landmark and a state park.
Zachary Taylor State Park stands out because of the historical artifacts, especially the sheer amount of Civil War-era armaments on display. This venue hosts exciting annual events such as boat races, concerts, pirate festivals, and sculpture contests.
Apart from all of these festivities, the park has an impressive swimming beach. This area is designated for snorkeling areas, and there are nature trails to venture on via bike or foot.
10. Shipwreck Treasure Museum
The Shipwreck Treasure Museum is one of the most popular attractions in Key West. Its exhibits allow visitors to take an in-depth look at the area’s salvage industry.
Videos are continuously on display, and artifacts from the shipwreck are also shown. The observation tower gives visitors a great vantage point to view the seascape and the surrounding land.
The museum features actors in costumes reflecting the period of Isaac Allerton, which sank in the mid-1850s. These actors reenact the heroism displayed by brave wreckers who risked their lives to save the reefs’ victims and recover the treasure.
11. Head to the Beach
It’s not uncommon for tourists to be surprised that Key West has several little beaches that can provide an entirely different element of entertainment. The ideal beach for you will largely depend on the specific destinations you plan on visiting and their proximity to these tranquil spots.
Most beaches feature amenities like changing and shower facilities, restrooms, places to rent water sports equipment, dining options, beach chairs, and bike racks.
If you have the little ones in tow, there’s usually a play area available to keep them occupied. Parking is also free at many beaches.
12. Key West Museum of Art and History
The Key West Museum of Art and History occupies the former Customs House building. The attractive red-brick structure was built in the 1890s. The exhibits and the displays are informative, while the museum also boasts a Hemingway collection.
There are other exhibits related to maritime and local social history. In addition, this museum has amassed an immense collection of dedicated sculptures and artworks from international, national, and local artists.
13. Key West Lighthouse Museum
Key West Lighthouse Museum was built in 1847 to help guide sailors to the island, powered by 15 oil lamps. Even though it no longer functions as a lighthouse, visitors have the opportunity to climb its 88 steps to get a mesmerizing 360-degree view of the ocean and the city.
Your ticket includes access to the museum, where you can check out the glass display case that holds the captain’s possessions and visual/audio recordings.
You’ll be able to view quotes and photographs from lighthouse keepers and their families, giving you insight into how they lived. It’s a unique experience that stands out in Key West because most lighthouses in the United States are not accessible to the public.
14. Conch Tour Train
An excellent way to experience Key West is to hop aboard the Conch Tour Train. You can view local attractions and sites while learning more about local history from a knowledgeable tour guide.
These trolley tours travel past the Harry S. Truman Little White House, the Ernest Hemingway Home, the Southernmost Point, and other significant landmarks.
This tour train offers one of the most flexible (and unforgettable) ways to experience the area as you can get on and off the trolley as much as you want during the 90-minute tour.
On the journey, your guide will delve into fascinating tales that bring to life the railroad days, WWII, the Great Depression, and other historical events in relation to how they affected Key West.
15. Dry Tortugas National Park
Dry Tortugas National Park is around 75 miles away from Key West, but it is worth the visit. Take a short road trip to gaze at stunningly clear blue waters while learning about and exploring the area.
According to bird enthusiasts, birdwatching is second to none in and around the Keys. There are more than 300 various species of birds that are constantly circling the skies.
Aside from that, snorkeling is a fan favorite as the waters rarely go beyond 15 feet and there are hundreds of tropical fish to admire. Once you’re done, consider a picnic at scenic Fort Jefferson.
16. Key West Aquarium
The Key West Aquarium is on Whitehead Street, next to Mallory Square. It was built around 1932, originally designed to be an open-air aquarium.
This is the only public aquarium on the island and one of the most historic aquariums in the state. They have diverse exhibits featuring alligators, jellyfish, and an Atlantic shores display.
Their educational and interactive programs include a Sea Turtles Conservation Tour, the Touch Tank, stingray and shark feedings, etc. You can participate in an individual and a group tour or rent the space for a party or meeting.
Things to Consider
You can get the most out of your Key West vacation by budgeting correctly. It isn’t much of a surprise that you’ll have to keep prices in mind when you think about all the water activities, great bars and restaurants, and lovely coral reefs on the island.
The recommendation is to budget for a minimum of $175 per night for hotel accommodations. However, most places in this area will have nightly rates ranging between $200 to $300.
Given that, it is a good idea to consider visiting from April to June during the shoulder season to take advantage of lower rates. Remember that hurricane season lasts from June until the end of November in Key West.
That doesn’t necessarily mean a hurricane will occur, but you want to be mindful of the potential for one as you’re planning your vacation.
Whether you rent a car to get around the city is dependent on a few factors. Namely, what attractions you want to see and where your hotel is in relation to them.
If you prefer the convenience of traveling when and where you want, it would be wise to budget for a rental car. Still, if that’s not the case, then public transportation and walking will get you where you need to go.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are the responses to some of the most commonly asked questions regarding entertainment in Key West, Florida:
What is the best month to visit Key West?
Overall, March to May is the ideal timeframe to visit. The crowds that come in the winter will be heading home, the hotel rates are typically more sensible, and the weather will be about the same (70s/80s) as it was in the winter. Remember that winter is always the most expensive time of year to visit.
Can you drink alcohol in public in Key West?
According to the law (§ 18-87), you are not allowed to have an open container of an alcoholic beverage when in public. So, be mindful if you intend on going bar-hopping while visiting the city.
How many days do you need in Key West?
The more time, the better when visiting Key West. At least one day will let you see some sights, but if you’re trying to experience as much as possible, a week is perfect. If you’re on a budget, three to four days will give you time to participate in activities and relax.
Do you need a car in Key West?
If you want to go shopping or travel out a bit for various attractions, you’ll probably want your own form of transportation. However, Key West only spans four miles, so nearly everything is accessible by walking.
What food is Key West famous for?
Outside of the delectable seafood, it is famous for the Key Lime Pie. This dish has a rich and creamy texture with a sweet and tart flavor that locals and tourists love.
So, What’s the Best Thing to Do in Key West?
According to many, the best thing to do in Key West is to watch the sunset from Mallory Square, but it depends on your tastes! Do you prefer a free activity or pay for a truly unique experience?
There are fantastic options on both sides, and your budget, why you’re there, how many days you’re staying, and who you’re traveling with will dictate the best activity. Either way, you’re guaranteed a good time in Key West!