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Best Things To Do in Key West

Like other vacation locales in Florida, Key West offers plenty of ways to enjoy its coastal seat, including sailing, snorkeling and kayaking tours and several clean beaches. But beyond its outdoor pursuits, Key West also lays claim to some interesting artifacts. Once the choice vacation getaway for Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams and President Harry S. Truman, the island is home to more than a few historical treasures. 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.

How we rank Things to Do.

#1

#1 in Key West

For the cleanest beach and best waters in Key West, you should head for the westernmost point of the island to Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park. There, you can sunbathe, hike, bike, fish and get a dose of history all in one place. Recent visitors favor this shoreline over Smathers Beach (the water is clearer, making it an ideal snorkeling spot), but travelers also warn that the sand is not soft and that beach shoes are needed to traverse the rocky terrain safely. While the beach might not be as powdery soft as some other Florida beaches, it does offer some great snorkeling opportunities, according to recent visitors. Along with your snorkel gear, pack some grilling food and charcoal: This beach has plenty of barbecue grills and rental equipment.
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Beaches Type
Half Day to Full Day Time to Spend
Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park
For the cleanest beach and best waters in Key West, you should head for the westernmost point of the island to Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park. There, you can sunbathe, hike, bike, fish and get a dose of history all in one place. Recent visitors favor this shoreline over Smathers Beach (the water is clearer, making it an ideal snorkeling spot), but travelers also warn that the sand is not soft and that beach shoes are needed to traverse the rocky terrain safely. While the beach might not be as powdery soft as some other Florida beaches, it does offer some great snorkeling opportunities, according to recent visitors. Along with your snorkel gear, pack some grilling food and charcoal: This beach has plenty of barbecue grills and rental equipment.
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#2

#2 in Key West

When you're not admiring the waters that surround Key West from the beach, enjoy them from the deck of a boat. Several companies offer sailing, snorkeling and kayaking tours, not to mention sunset cruises. Danger Charters, Classic Harbor Line and Sebago Watersports all receive favorable reviews from recent travelers. There are also several tours designed exclusively for dolphin watching (the Florida Keys are a refuge for hundreds of dolphins every year) – Wild About Dolphins and Dolphin Watch are among the most popular, according to recent travelers.
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Recreation Type
2 hours to Half Day Time to Spend
Boat Tours
When you're not admiring the waters that surround Key West from the beach, enjoy them from the deck of a boat. Several companies offer sailing, snorkeling and kayaking tours, not to mention sunset cruises. Danger Charters, Classic Harbor Line and Sebago Watersports all receive favorable reviews from recent travelers. There are also several tours designed exclusively for dolphin watching (the Florida Keys are a refuge for hundreds of dolphins every year) – Wild About Dolphins and Dolphin Watch are among the most popular, according to recent travelers.
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#3

#3 in Key West

If you love butterflies, this is the spot for you. The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory is filled with about 50 to 60 species of the colorful winged creatures that seemingly float through the air in an enclosed, glass-domed 5,000-square-foot aviary. Plant enthusiasts will also find much they'll love here, as the butterflies share their home with 3,500 plants, along with more than 20 species of exotic birds.
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Sightseeing Type
1 to 2 hours Time to Spend
Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory
If you love butterflies, this is the spot for you. The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory is filled with about 50 to 60 species of the colorful winged creatures that seemingly float through the air in an enclosed, glass-domed 5,000-square-foot aviary. Plant enthusiasts will also find much they'll love here, as the butterflies share their home with 3,500 plants, along with more than 20 species of exotic birds.
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#4

#4 in Key West

Free
For a great view of the Key West sunset, head to Mallory Square at the northwest tip of the island. During the Sunset Celebration (a free, nightly arts festival that starts about two hours before sunset), this is one of the best spots on the island to catch the sun's last moments and revel in the end of the day. But because it's one of the best vantage points for watching a sunset, it's also extremely crowded, especially with cruise ship passengers.
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Sightseeing Type
1 to 2 hours Time to Spend
Mallory Square
For a great view of the Key West sunset, head to Mallory Square at the northwest tip of the island. During the Sunset Celebration (a free, nightly arts festival that starts about two hours before sunset), this is one of the best spots on the island to catch the sun's last moments and revel in the end of the day. But because it's one of the best vantage points for watching a sunset, it's also extremely crowded, especially with cruise ship passengers.
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#5

#5 in Key West

The Little White House was originally built in 1890 as naval command headquarters during the Spanish-American War, World War I and World War II. In 1946, President Harry Truman used this house as his winter vacation home and because he spent so many working vacations here, it became known as the Little White House. The name is fitting: Since Truman's days, many other presidents have also vacationed here, including Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. Today, the Little White House has been restored and turned into a museum. Exhibits document Key West's role in naval conflicts, as well as the house's history – the Marshall Plan and Truman Doctrine were both discussed here.
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Museums Type
1 to 2 hours Time to Spend
Harry S. Truman Little White House
The Little White House was originally built in 1890 as naval command headquarters during the Spanish-American War, World War I and World War II. In 1946, President Harry Truman used this house as his winter vacation home and because he spent so many working vacations here, it became known as the Little White House. The name is fitting: Since Truman's days, many other presidents have also vacationed here, including Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. Today, the Little White House has been restored and turned into a museum. Exhibits document Key West's role in naval conflicts, as well as the house's history – the Marshall Plan and Truman Doctrine were both discussed here.
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#6

#6 in Key West

Literary icon and journalist Ernest Hemingway is one of Key West's best-known and well-loved "freshwater Conchs" (a resident who was not born on the island). His former home – which he lived in for less than 10 years but owned until his death in 1961 – is located in Old Town and is now a U.S. National Historic Landmark. Literature buffs take note: Hemingway penned parts of some of his most famous works, including "A Farewell to Arms" and "For Whom the Bell Tolls," in this very residence. The grand house itself is interesting, as it was one of the first in Key West to have indoor plumbing and a pool. Inside, the rooms contain memorabilia about Hemingway's life and work.
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Museums Type
Less than 1 hour Time to Spend
Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum
Literary icon and journalist Ernest Hemingway is one of Key West's best-known and well-loved "freshwater Conchs" (a resident who was not born on the island). His former home – which he lived in for less than 10 years but owned until his death in 1961 – is located in Old Town and is now a U.S. National Historic Landmark. Literature buffs take note: Hemingway penned parts of some of his most famous works, including "A Farewell to Arms" and "For Whom the Bell Tolls," in this very residence. The grand house itself is interesting, as it was one of the first in Key West to have indoor plumbing and a pool. Inside, the rooms contain memorabilia about Hemingway's life and work.
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#7

#7 in Key West

Free
Located in Old Town, the Key West Cemetery has been around since 1847 and is well worth at least a walk-through. The quirkiness of the city's residents extends even to the grave. Tombstones in this 19-acre cemetery don't wear the typical inscriptions. Instead, you'll find epitaphs that reflect the island's casual lifestyle. Some of the more well-known inscriptions include "I told you I was sick" and "I'm just resting my eyes." One tombstone is actually a ship's mast. While you're here, take note that many of these burial plots actually have multiple people stacked on top of one another.
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Monuments and Memorials Type
1 to 2 hours Time to Spend
Key West Cemetery
Located in Old Town, the Key West Cemetery has been around since 1847 and is well worth at least a walk-through. The quirkiness of the city's residents extends even to the grave. Tombstones in this 19-acre cemetery don't wear the typical inscriptions. Instead, you'll find epitaphs that reflect the island's casual lifestyle. Some of the more well-known inscriptions include "I told you I was sick" and "I'm just resting my eyes." One tombstone is actually a ship's mast. While you're here, take note that many of these burial plots actually have multiple people stacked on top of one another.
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#8

#8 in Key West

Whether you're interested in colonial furniture, period architecture, tropical greenery or naturalist John James Audubon, you'll find a host of curiosities at the Audubon House &Tropical Gardens. Located in Old Town a block away from Duval Street, the Audubon House & Tropical Gardens dates back to the 1840s. The house was built by Captain John Huling Geiger, but it's named after well-known ornithologist John James Audubon, who visited the Keys in 1832. Twenty-eight of his works can be found in the house. While you're here, take a look at the house's decor and then head outside to the lush and colorful garden, which includes herbs, orchids and other tropical plants. For some, the garden was their favorite part of the house, noting that the vibrantly colored flowers make for prime photography subjects. Other reviewers remarked on the careful restoration of the house and its period-specific antiques.
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Sightseeing Type
Less than 1 hour Time to Spend
Audubon House & Tropical Gardens
Whether you're interested in colonial furniture, period architecture, tropical greenery or naturalist John James Audubon, you'll find a host of curiosities at the Audubon House &Tropical Gardens. Located in Old Town a block away from Duval Street, the Audubon House & Tropical Gardens dates back to the 1840s. The house was built by Captain John Huling Geiger, but it's named after well-known ornithologist John James Audubon, who visited the Keys in 1832. Twenty-eight of his works can be found in the house. While you're here, take a look at the house's decor and then head outside to the lush and colorful garden, which includes herbs, orchids and other tropical plants. For some, the garden was their favorite part of the house, noting that the vibrantly colored flowers make for prime photography subjects. Other reviewers remarked on the careful restoration of the house and its period-specific antiques.
... more
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#9

#9 in Key West

Free
Key West isn't known for its beaches. However, the most bustling one on this island is Smathers Beach, which is particularly popular during spring break. Recent travelers say the beach is clean and peaceful, with plenty of shade and amenities, including bathrooms, food trucks, and chair and umbrella rentals. Visitors also say the views are great.
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Beaches Type
Half Day to Full Day Time to Spend
Smathers Beach
Key West isn't known for its beaches. However, the most bustling one on this island is Smathers Beach, which is particularly popular during spring break. Recent travelers say the beach is clean and peaceful, with plenty of shade and amenities, including bathrooms, food trucks, and chair and umbrella rentals. Visitors also say the views are great.
... more

#10

#10 in Key West

Free
One of the most popular things to do in Key West is to snap a photo with the colorful buoy marking the southernmost point of the United States. Sitting at the intersection of Whitehead and South streets, the striped buoy is just 90 miles north of Cuba. Next to it, you'll also find a plaque dedicated to Cubans who have lost their lives trying to reach America.
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Monuments and Memorials Type
Less than 1 hour Time to Spend
Southernmost Point
One of the most popular things to do in Key West is to snap a photo with the colorful buoy marking the southernmost point of the United States. Sitting at the intersection of Whitehead and South streets, the striped buoy is just 90 miles north of Cuba. Next to it, you'll also find a plaque dedicated to Cubans who have lost their lives trying to reach America.
... more

#11

#11 in Key West

If you can fend off the claustrophobia and don't mind heights, the climb up the tiny and constricting 88 steps to the top of the Key West Lighthouse is worth it for the views, say recent visitors. Once you're up there though, be patient: According to past travelers, the viewing balcony at the top is very narrow. After taking in the views (a must, according to recent visitors), take a look around the keeper's quarters, which have been around since 1848. The cozy house is now a museum that surveys the history of lighthouses in the Keys, with photographs and various artifacts. One visitor noted that the gift shop is a great place to find locally made art.
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Museums Type
Less than 1 hour Time to Spend
Key West Lighthouse & Keeper's Quarters Museum
If you can fend off the claustrophobia and don't mind heights, the climb up the tiny and constricting 88 steps to the top of the Key West Lighthouse is worth it for the views, say recent visitors. Once you're up there though, be patient: According to past travelers, the viewing balcony at the top is very narrow. After taking in the views (a must, according to recent visitors), take a look around the keeper's quarters, which have been around since 1848. The cozy house is now a museum that surveys the history of lighthouses in the Keys, with photographs and various artifacts. One visitor noted that the gift shop is a great place to find locally made art.
... more

Parks and Gardens Type
1 to 2 hours Time to Spend

Free
Museums Type
1 to 2 hours Time to Spend
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Parks and Gardens Type
Half Day to Full Day Time to Spend
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