The cultural diversity of the city of Key West, Florida, which is the southernmost city in the United States, is reflected in the island’s many tourist attractions. Caribbean architecture is generally brightly colored and made from local materials like coral rock or discarded ship planks. Some were dismantled in the Bahamas and then rebuilt in the Keys. Tropical weather and a fusion of Afro-Caribbean and Spanish flavors characterize the cuisine. Mallory Square is a popular spot for watching the sunset in Key West. Notable authors who have called the island home include Ernest Hemingway, Robert Frost, and Tennessee Williams. Even now, Key West remains a popular destination for creative types.
Here in this guide to Key West, you will find all the information you need to know about the island and its hidden treasures.
Walk along Duval Street
Duval Street is lined with restaurants and stores that welcome tourists and cruise ship passengers. You can stop by here to refuel before continuing on your journey or after a day of touring. Many of the city’s most recognizable landmarks and tourist destinations may be found along Duval Street, which stretches from Mallory Square to the Southernmost Point marker. The Hemingway Days Festival is the most well-known of numerous annual events and festivals conducted here. You should also check out Kermit’s Key Lime Pie Shop, the mecca of key lime desserts, which is conveniently located nearby.
The Conch Tour Train is the most efficient method to see the highlights of Key West in a short length of time, including Duval Street, Old Town, Hemingway’s House, and the waterfront. Learn about the railroad, the Great Depression, and World War II in Key West on this 90-minute guided tour.
Visit the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum
Legendary author Ernest Hemingway purchased this Spanish Colonial home built in 1851 and lived there from 1931 until 1940. He said his “every dime” is pushed into the concrete of the salt-water pool and beautiful tropical landscape that nearly bankrupted him.
The refurbished interior features the author’s own collection of Spanish furniture from the 17th and 18th centuries. The property is still inhabited by around 40 cats descended from Hemingway’s original litter. A Farewell to Arms, Death in the Afternoon, and For Whom the Bell Tolls are just a few of the works he penned while living here.
This one-of-a-kind destination only accepts cash (no debit or credit cards), so plan accordingly. There is a chance of crowds, so you should get there early.
Explore Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory
Taking the kids to see the butterflies and nature at the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory is a must if you’re vacationing with them in the Keys. More than 50 species of butterflies in their natural garden habitat behind a glass conservatory will attract kids of all ages.
A visit to the conservatory is very special because of the more than 20 species of exotic birds that call it home.
There’s a film at the Learning Center that explains the stages of a butterfly’s development, and there are displays there that go into even more depth. You may observe the metamorphosis of genuine butterflies at work in a viewing room dedicated to live caterpillars.
Take a Day Trip to Dry Tortugas National Park
The main draw of this remote park is its historical significance, together with its beautiful beaches and excellent snorkeling. The best way to reach the Dry Tortugas is to take one of the catamaran boat tours that depart from Key West and include snorkeling, snorkeling gear, and a meal.
Sixty-five miles to the southwest of Key West is Dry Tortugas National Park, which consists of seven reef islands. Ponce de Leon, a Spanish explorer, gave the islands their name because of the abundance of turtles (tortuga in Spanish means “turtle”). The word “dry” was added to reflect the fact that the islands do not have a reliable source of potable water.
Garden Key is home to Fort Jefferson, a 19th-century U.S. government installation established there to monitor and defend the Gulf of Mexico commerce lanes. During the Civil War, the fort served as a prison for Union deserters and was also where Dr. Samuel Mudd was held after he was implicated as a conspirator in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
After being designated as Fort Jefferson National Monument by George H.W. Bush, the site became a National Park Service park in 1992.
See the Treasures at Mel Fisher Maritime Museum
Mel Fisher, a scuba diver, found numerous shipwrecks, including one with extremely priceless relics and another with significant historical significance, and his exploits are chronicled in the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum.
An English vessel was found initially in 1972, about 35 miles west of Key West. Slave ship Henrietta Marie, afterwards recognized as having vanished in 1700 after selling 190 African captives in Jamaica, was later found and named. Although the ship did not have a treasure trove of gold and jewels on board, the oldest slave ship wreck ever discovered does include priceless items that provide light on the realities of the maritime slave trade.
The wreck of the Santa Margarita, a Spanish ship from the 17th century, was discovered in 1980 by divers led by Fisher. Gold and silver coins and bars, as well as exquisite jewelry, were among the priceless items that were lost in this shipwreck.
Countless relics, including a 77.76 carat emerald and numerous other rare things including navigational equipment, tools, and other ordinary goods, have been recovered from these and other wrecks and are on show in the museum. The museum also features videos and interactive displays on underwater archaeology and diving.
Catch a Sunset at Mallory Square
In Mallory Square, a repurposed warehouse district, locals and visitors alike gather every evening to enjoy the sunset while listening to a variety of performers. This is a must-do while in Key West and one of the most well-liked free activities to do there.
Visit the docks near the end of Duval Street to see the sun set over the Gulf of Mexico in a riot of pinks and reds. There is a carnival-like atmosphere thanks to the jugglers, merchants, musicians, and other street performers who offer everything from straightjacket escapes to cat unicycling and dog unicycling.
Key West visitors can’t leave the island without spending some time in and around Mallory Square, which has quickly become one of the city’s most popular tourist destinations. The Shops at Mallory Square are wonderful, offering a wide selection of unique gifts, souvenirs, and refreshments (Cuban Coffee Queen does an amazing breakfast burrito).
Is a memorable keepsake what you seek? Visit the Sponge Market, a Key West institution. You can find this store, along with many other unique establishments, in the Mallory Square Market.
Take a Selfie at America’s Southernmost Point
At the intersection of South and Whitehead streets in Key West is a concrete marker painted red, black, and yellow to designate it as the southernmost point of the United States.
The area is always bustling with activity because to the presence of souvenir sellers and street performers. Despite the fact that the marker itself, which was dedicated by the Key West public Works Department in 1983, is not particularly memorable, it makes for an excellent photo op (be prepared, though, to line up for a few minutes for your turn).
The US1 mile-marker “0” sign, which marks the beginning of the route that goes along nearly the whole east coast, is another well-known landmark and popular picture op in Key West. The road travels over 2,400 miles from its beginning in Florida to its final destination in Maine.