Key West’s laid-back vibe and relaxed atmosphere are often cited as for why the city remains such a popular vacation spot, especially during the winter months. But it’s actually the amazing sights and attractions that keep visitors to the Florida Keys coming back for more of this southernmost city. In addition to being easily accessible, the shopping, dining, and sightseeing offer something for everyone.
See Key West from Sidewalk to Sea
If public transit isn’t your thing (Key West has a public bus system), there are lots of places to rent bicycles. Key West is a very bike-friendly city, so much so that many bed and breakfasts and hotels offer them to guests for rent or as part of their accommodations! Biking and walking tours make it possible to see the city up close. Or, try the Conch Tour Train. It’s a hop on/hop off tour that makes several stops around Old Town Key West.
Take in all of Key West with a sunset cruise on one of the local schooners; many offer light fare and drinks as well as music and local lore delivered by hometown captains and crew. Or, book a charter fishing trip. This is a really popular way to explore the area while enjoying the sport of fishing, too. It’s convenient because local charter captains take care of all the necessary permits and gear for deep sea, wreck, reef, flat fishing and more. They’re also knowledgeable about where the fish are and what’s in season, so visitors spend more time actually fishing and less time boating around looking for fish. Popular catches include tarpon, snapper, tuna, grouper, sharks and mackerel.
Things to See and Do in Key West
The city of Key West has a few local beaches. Smathers is the largest; Higgs and South Beaches are also hot spots. There are many other places for swimming though, too. Spend time outdoors at the Fort Zachary Taylor State Park. In addition to guided tours of the grounds and Civil War-era fort, visitors can picnic, swim, and snorkel at the park’s shoreline. Dry Tortugas National Park is legendary for its snorkeling. The park is accessible only by seaplane or boat. In addition to world-class and up-close views of fish and coral, the park offers a small beach and limited camping, and park rangers give tours of Fort Jefferson.
If you marvel at gardens and enjoy wildlife, don’t miss the the Key West Tropical Forest and Botanical Garden, the Key West Aquarium, and Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory. Learn about the exciting history of the city at the Key West Shipwreck Treasure Museum, the Harry S Truman Little White House Museum, Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, Cayo Hueso y Habana Historeum, and Flagler Station. From pirates and shipwrecks to literary legends and political giants, Key West is an unconventional crossroads of American history.
Local Shopping, Events, and Nightlife
Duval Street and Mallory Square might be the best-known tourist spots in Key West. Duval Street is lined with art galleries, cafes, jazz and late night clubs, and souvenir shops. Mallory Square hosts a nightly Sunset Celebration featuring live music, performances, vendors, and more, so every night feels like a party! Local theaters and movie houses offer the chance to see live performances of new and familiar works on stage and screen.
Key West’s jam-packed festivals and event calendar is legendary. From fishing tournaments to literary festivals, food and wine festivals, boat parades, art exhibits, and themed weekend events, visitors would be hard-pressed to find nothing to do. In particular, the Key West House and Garden Tour, the New Year’s Eve conch shell drop, and Hemingway Days stand out.
Eating Well in Key West
Key West’s local food scene features a convergence of flavors from around the world. From fine dining to light fare, taste the best freshly caught seafood prepared with American, Italian, Korean, Caribbean, and French influences. Duetto’s pizza and gelato are local favorites, as are the Cuban sandwiches from Kim’s Kuban, and the tapas at Santiago’s Bodega. Some restaurants will cook your catch, so call around to see if you can make reservations for a post-charter fishing trip dinner that features your very own catch of the day.
Key West is a short plane ride but a world away, at just about 250 miles south of the city of Miami. It offers travelers unique shopping, entertainment, outdoor, and cultural activities, as well as culinary surprises and traditional dishes. Whether you’re visiting for a quick weekend trip or a week-long vacation, it’s easy to fill your days and nights with travel memories that will last a lifetime.