The southernmost city in the U.S., Key West is famous for key lime pie, the home of Ernest Hemingway, and its tropical laid-back vibes. Boasting a colorful history with breathtaking views and plenty of opportunities to indulge in island activities, travelers flock to this tiny 7 square mile oasis for its unique mix of cultural influences. To fully appreciate the city’s charm, here are the top things to do in Key West.
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Indulge in World-Class Water Activities
To truly appreciate all that Key West has to offer, one has to indulge in some of the world-class water activities that are available. Some of the most popular activities include guided kayak tours through the mangrove islands, diving through one of the sunken wrecks, and observing wild dolphins on a sunset sail from a catamaran. Fishing enthusiasts will also be spoiled for choice with plenty of snapper, grouper, and tuna in the waters in addition to opportunities to go deep sea fishing and catching lobster.
Try a Slice of Key Lime Pie
One cannot visit Key West and not sample a proper slice (or two) of the famous Key Lime Pie. The quintessential Florida dessert is made with fresh limes, egg yolks, condensed milk, and often topped with meringue. Tart-but-sweet, the most authentic version of this creamy pie is yellow in color. Try the traditional recipe with a twist at Kermit’s Key West Lime Shoppe, where they dip a slice of the famous pie in chocolate!
Snap the Famous Buoy on the Southermost Point
Located at the intersection of Whitehead and South streets, the famous buoy is said to be just 90 miles north of Cuba. Made of concrete and colored in with red, black, and yellow design, here visitors will find a picture-perfect backdrop among a lively area filled with street vendors and performers.
Explore a Literary Icon at The Ernest Hemingway House
A piece of Key West’s unique history, the Ernest Hemingway House allows literary enthusiasts to explore the residence where Hemingway lived from 1931 to 1961. Hemingway resided in this beautiful Spanish Colonial home in the heart of Key West until his death, and visitors can tour the home and hear vibrant stories of the celebrated author. As an added bonus, visitors are able to observe the forty six-toed cats that are descendants of the late author’s former pet, Snow White.
Observe Vibrant Coral Reefs at Dry Tortugas National Park
An archipelago of seven reef islands, Dry Tortugas National Park is one of the most remote islands in the United States. Here the shallow waters are crystal clear and filled with exotic and tropical fish, coral, and marine life right at your fingertips. Nearly 99 percent of this 100-acre park is completely submerged underwater and is popular for snorkeling, diving, kayaking, and bird watching. Visitors can explore Fort Jefferson, the largest masonry striation in the Western Hemisphere.
Catch a Sunset at Mallory Square
The epicenter of Key West come sunset, this former warehouse area now boasts a nightly celebration and sunset-watching ritual with live entertainment, shops, and eateries. Sun-seekers gather on the dock to marvel at the breathtaking views as a variety of entertainment such as musicians, vendors, and even jugglers perform, creating a vibrant carnival-like atmosphere.
Interact with Nature at the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory
Filled with over 50 species of butterflies, the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory is an impressive 5,000 square foot aviary where visitors can explore butterfly anatomy, physiology, life cycle, and the migratory world of these gorgeous winged creatures. In addition, the conservatory has over 20 exotic bird species, 3,500 plants, and tranquil waterfalls, making it a perfect day trip for nature lovers of all ages.
Examine Naval History at the Harry S. Truman Little White House
Originally built as a naval command headquarters during the Spanish-American War, World War I and World War II, the Harry S. Truman Little White House has been standing strong since 1890. Once used as winter vacation destination for US Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Carter, visitors can now explore the house’s rich history and get educated on Key West’s role in significant naval conflicts.
Take a Day Trip to Smathers Beach
While Key West isn’t known for its beaches, Smathers Beach is the exception. Popular for day trippers wanting to see one of the island’s famous sunsets, the views are unbeatable at the largest public park in Key West. The beach also offers picnic areas, volleyball courts, and a range of water sports rentals available for those wanting to make a day trip out of it.
Join the Action on Duval Street
Considered Key West’s main tourist strip, Duval Street is a mecca for pastel historic buildings, famous restaurants, and legendary bars that make this city so famous. Stretching from the Atlantic to the Gulf, Duval is the heartbeat of the town with an energetic atmosphere coupled with popular attractions such as the Hogs Breath Saloon, Green Parrot Bar, and Key West Aquarium that visitors flock to from around the world.
Experience the Paranormal at the East Martello Museum
The inspiration behind Chucky, one of the most terrifying film franchises to date, Robert the Doll is currently located in the East Martello Museum. Similar to the movie, Robert is an 111-year-old toy that is said to be cursed and possessed by evil spirits. Once owned by Gene Otto in the 1900’s, there are claims that the doll terrorized visitors and would laugh manically while neighbors spotted the doll pacing in front of the windows of its home. Now safely in a museum, paranormal enthusiasts can visit the haunted doll in a glass case.
Celebrate the End of Prohibition at Sloppy Joe's
Opening its doors to its patrons on December 5th, 1933, the exact day Prohibition ended, Sloppy Joe’s has been serving libations to Key West visitors ever since. A must see destination for drink aficionados, Sloppy Joe’s is famous for having served Ernest Hemingway in the 1930’s.
Relax at Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park
Florida’s southernmost state park, Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park is a National Historic Landmark and is known for having some of the best waters in Key West. Here visitors will find plenty of opportunities for sunbathing, hiking, biking, snorkeling, fishing, in addition to a heavy dose of Florida history. Built in the 1800’s, the fort here was used to defend the nation’s coastline during the Civil and Spanish-American War.