Like other spots in the Florida, Key West offers the chance for swimming, snorkeling, fishing and boating, but the city is best known for its urban atmosphere. Museums are scattered throughout, but the most activity is concentrated on the island’s western half. Duval Street is a particularly lively area for souvenir shoppers, budget dining, and nightlife. Key West beaches offer the fewest outdoor activities of the Florida Keys, but that doesn’t stop visitors from choosing this island as a sunny, sandy getaway. What it lacks in active sports, the island makes up for with a decent collection of museums and places to take the kids. For the best nightlife the island offers, head over to Duval Street in Old Town.
If you’re looking for a fun, creative way to explore Key West, recent travelers recommend taking one of the island’s many tours, like Old Town Trolley Tours Key West and the Conch Tour Train.
- Much of Key West’s sightseeing appeal is centered on the variety of exquisitely preserved historic houses. Cigar makers’ cottages are scattered through Bahama Village, while the best examples of Key West’s grand late-1800s Conch houses are along Caroline and Greene streets.” — Concierge.com
- For those looking to explore the history of the islands and do a little sightseeing, there is the Best of Key West – Ernest Hemingway’s Home, the Key West Aquarium, the Key West Lighthouse Museum, Theatre of the Sea, Key West’s Shipwreck Historeum, and more.” — About.com
Although the beaches offer the least number of activities of the Florida Keys, the calm blue waters and offshore reefs still make Key West a popular destination for snorkeling and swimming. Experts recommend Smathers Beach along the coast in the middle of the island and Fort Zachary Taylor Beach at the island’s westernmost end.
If you can afford it, some suggest you take a charter boat out for snorkeling and fishing; Restless Native Charters and Easy Day Charters are especially popular with recent visitors.
- Though the rocky coastal areas mean there is a lack of great beaches, Key West does not want for water activities: Take a day trip to the Dry Tortugas or snorkel right off Duval Street. And though it is a bit hokey, ending the day with a sunset stroll in Mallory Square continues to be a must-do.” — Concierge.com
- Unlike the rest of the Keys, Key West actually has a few small beaches, although they don’t compare with the state’s wide natural wonders up the coast; the Keys’ beaches are typically narrow and rocky. Here are your options: Smathers Beach, … Higgs Beach, … and Fort Zachary Beach, located off the western end of Southard Boulevard.” — Frommer’s
Museums like the Key West Lighthouse & Keeper’s Quarters Museum — which features a 19th century lighthouse you can climb — and the Key West Museum of Arts & History are scattered across Old Town. Travelers and experts also recommend the Fort East Martello Museum & Gardens, which contains exhibits about the island in the 19th and 20th centuries, including books by famous writers who drew inspiration from Key West.
- You can climb up 88 steps to the top of the Key West Lighthouse, built in 1846, for a decent view. But honestly, it’s just as enjoyable to gaze up at the tower from the leafy street below.” — Lonely Planet
- This air-conditioned refuge for butterflies, birds, and the human spirit gladdens the soul with hundreds of colorful wings — more than 50 species of butterflies alone — in a lovely glass-encased bubble. Waterfalls, artistic benches, paved pathways, birds, and lush, flowering vegetation elevate this above most butterfly attractions. The gift shop is worth a visit on its own.” —Fodor’s
Often compared to Bourbon Street in New Orleans, Duval Street is lined with bars and restaurants that stay open well into the night. At the northern end is the traveler-recommended Mallory Square. The plaza is known for its nightly Sunset Celebration, when street performers and food vendors fill the area starting two hours before sunset to celebrate the end of the day.
- If partying isn’t your thing, then avoid Duval Street — the Bourbon Street of South Florida — at all costs. Instead, take in the scenery at a dockside bar or oceanside Jacuzzi.” — Frommer’s
- If you have to bite on one tourist haunt, make it Mallory Square, where crowds gather to watch the sunset. This nightly hoopla down at the historic waterfront is loads of fun, even if it’s difficult to see the dipping sun between the jugglers and tightrope walkers.” — New York Times
One of Key West’s most popular attractions is the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, located in the middle of Old Town. The house that the famous author lived in during the 1930s and 1940s is filled with photographs and cats, said to be descendents of the author’s own. At the westernmost end of Key West is the traveler-recommended Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park, which was first built in 1845 as fortification during the Spanish-American War and is now a National Historic Landmark. Visitors can tour the premises, then picnic on the grounds or go swimming — several sites describe the beach here as one of the best on the island.
First-time visitors should take pictures around the Southernmost Pointbuoy at the intersection of South and Whitehead streets. Describe by some as overrated, it’s also considered one of the most recognizable spots in Key West.
- Stroll through Papa’s [Hemingway’s] residence, filled with his furniture, typewriters, photos and cats; more than 60 of them roam the place (many with extra toes), descendants of Ernest’s own six-toed feline.” — Forbes Traveler
- The fort, finally completed in 1866, was also used in the Spanish-American War. Take a 30-minute guided tour of this National Historic Landmark at noon and 2. … The park’s beach is the best and safest to swim in Key West. There’s an adjoining picnic area with barbecue grills and shade trees, a snack bar, and rental equipment, including snorkeling gear and kayaks.” — Fodor’s
- In a town not known for its beaches, Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park … is a beauty, with wide stretches of sand and tranquil waters. … You can rent a snorkel set ($10) or a two-person glass-bottom kayak ($20) from the concession area.” — New York Times