Julie United States 36 Comments

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Key West? Gorgeous sunsets from Mallory Square? Bar hopping on Duval Street? Lounging on the beach in the shade of a palm tree? Key West may be a small place, but there’s a lot here to keep you busy. In this guide, we cover the best things to do in Key West.

We have visited Key West multiple times over the past 25 years. Our most recent trip was in 2018 and you will see us here again in December 2021. We plan to do a few favorites on this list (the Tiki Boat, restaurants, nightlife, and getting out on the water) but we also have plans to visit some new spots as well. Have fun planning your trip to Key West and let us know if you have any questions in the comment section below.

Best Things to Do in Key West

Visit Mallory Square

Mallory Square is located in the heart of Key West. Every evening hundreds of people gather here to watch the legendary Key West sunset. The Square becomes a hive of activity, as street performers, musicians, and food vendors gather to provide food and entertainment. It’s a very festive atmosphere so come join the party during your visit to Key West.

Ernest Hemingway’s House

Ernest Hemingway called Key West home from 1931 to 1939. His house is now a historic landmark and a visit here is one of the most popular things to do while in Key West.

Hemingway House

During your visit, you will not only learn about Ernest Hemingway, but you also get a nice dose of Key West history.

Just be prepared to see a lot of cats. And check out their tiny paws…the cats that roam the Hemingway property are famous for having six and seven toes!

Take in the View from the Key West Lighthouse

Just across the street from the Hemingway House is the Key West lighthouse. Climb the stairs to the top for one of the best views over the city.

Key West View

Bar Hopping on Duval Street

For many in the over-21 crowd, bar hopping your way down Duval Street may be one of your favorite things to do. In fact, many people travel to Key West to simply partake in endless days of bar hopping and partying.

Duval Street

Sloppy Joe’s is Key West’s most famous bar. It opened in 1933, the day after Prohibition ended. Ernest Hemingway was a frequent visitor here.

The Schooner Wharf is another popular spot to visit. We were here at noon at the place was packed. It’s five o’clock somewhere, right?

Schooner Wharf

Other popular spots include the Hog’s Breath Saloon, the Green Parrot, the Bourbon St. Bar, and the Bull and Whistle Bar. We really liked Caroline’s Other Side, a small bar that crafts gourmet mixed drinks.

Green Parrot Bar

If you like the idea of watching a drag show (it’s a big thing here in Key West!), the best clubs are Aqua, La Te Da, and Bourbon St. Bar.

One more idea…how about a guided pub crawl along Duval Street?

Visit the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory

This place is wonderful! Wander through a small but lovely greenhouse, filled with tropical plants, birds, and of course, butterflies. We loved watching the two flamingoes, Rhett and Scarlett, who were in the midst of a mating ritual. Their squawking was hilarious.

Butterfly House


Note: If you do not like the idea of butterflies landing on you, you might want to skip this. The butterflies, and the flamingoes, seem to be attracted to aqua and blue colors. I was wearing a bright aqua colored shirt and the butterflies would not leave me alone.

Visit a Rum Distillery

If you want to learn about how rum is made and do a tasting, you have several options in Key West.

The Key West First Legal Rum Distillery opened in 2013 and offers free tours Monday through Saturday.

Papa’s Pilar, a newer game in town, crafts rum named in honor of Ernest Hemingway. We tried their dark rum and it is quite good.

Pilar Rum

Key West Distilling offers craft distilled rum, vodka, gin, and whiskey.

How About a Ride on a Floating Tiki Bar?

If you are looking for something fun and unique to do, how about a ride on a tiki boat? Imagine cruising around beautiful Key West, sipping tropical drinks, all while seated at a tiki bar.

We did this and it was one of our favorite experiences in Key West. You can make your reservation through Cruisin’ Tikis or GetYourGuide.

Tiki Boat Key West

Tiki Boat View

Lounge on the Beach

A visit to Key West just would not be complete without a visit to one of its beaches. Some are more beautiful and more secluded than others. Here’s a quick run down.

Smathers Beach. This two mile long stretch of white sand is Key West’s most popular beach to visit. It is located on the south side of the island near the airport.

Fort Zachary Taylor Beach. This is our favorite beach in Key West because it’s beautiful and it does not seem to get as crowded as the other beaches. This is also a great spot to go snorkeling.

Fort Zachary Taylor Beach

Higgs Beach and Rest Beach. These pretty beaches sit side by side. From here, you can walk out onto the Edward B. Knight Pier, a great place to watch the sunrise and sunset.

Harry S. Truman Little White House

This historic building served as the winter White House for President Truman in 1946. Since then, it has been used as a retreat for other US Presidents, including Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Clinton. Bet you didn’t know you could learn some US history on a visit to Key West.

Here is a highly rated tour if you like the idea of taking a guided tour.

Harry Truman House

Eat your way through Key West

Key West has some fabulous restaurants to try. Here are a few of our favorites.

Blue Heaven. For breakfast and brunch, this is a must-visit. Dine outdoors in this quirky, creatively decorated restaurant that serves amazing food. Get here early or be prepared to wait up to an hour for a table.

Blue Heaven

Cuban Coffee Queen. We had one of our best meals at this outdoor food stand. Located near the Key West Historic Seaport, this small restaurant serves Cuban cuisine and the best coffee that I had in Key West.

Cuban Coffee Queen

Latitudes. This is fine dining restaurant that is located on Sunset Key. The food is wonderful and this is another prime spot to watch the sunset.

Santiago’s Bodega. Tapas, anyone? Again, this place is soooo good. Dare I say the best food on the island? If you like the idea of small plates of gourmet food, put this spot on your list.

Tapas Key West

Better Than Sex – A Dessert Restaurant. If you like the idea of eating decadent desserts in an intimate setting, consider this unique restaurant. It’s another one of those uniquely Key West experiences. You will be seated in a semi-private booth and can order desserts with names like The Morning After, Italian Stallion, and Cookie Nookie Pie. Tim and I shared the Peanut Butter Perversion and it was delicious. The atmosphere of the restaurant is rather unique, but in some ways it did have the feeling that we were in a strip club. I think I’d take the kids elsewhere.

Take a food tour of Key West. On this small group walking tour, sample iconic Key West dishes such as Key Lime pie and conch fritters, and explore the cultural neighborhoods of Key West.

The Southernmost Point

Ok, this really isn’t one of the best things to do in Key West, unless you like waiting in line, but it seems like I couldn’t ignore it, because it is such a popular thing to do.

Midday, expect a long line of people. Worth it? That’s for you to decide.

Southernmost Point

Stroll along the Key West Historic Seaport

This is a pretty spot to visit. Hundreds of boats and yachts are docked here. Restaurants and bars line the harbor. While you are here, belly up to the bar at the Schooner Wharf or grab a cup of coffee at the Cuban Coffee Queen.


Day trip out to the Dry Tortugas

Dry Tortugas National Park is a collection of seven small islands. The reefs that surround these islands caused numerous shipwrecks. The United States used these reefs to its advantage, establishing one of the most strategic harbors in US history.

You can tour these islands and historic Fort Jefferson.

The Dry Tortugas are located 67 miles from Key West, so a visit here is a full day trip from the city. Learn more here.

Get Out on the Water

There are numerous options for getting off dry land and touring Key West and the nearby sea by boat. For thrill seekers, a sunset tour around the island by waverunner is a blast. Tim and I did this way back in 2000 and it is still one of our favorite memories of Key West.

You can take an Eco Tour of the mangroves, take a SUP tour, go on a dolphin cruise, or take a sunset catamaran cruise.


Where We Stayed

Tim and I visited Key West for a family wedding. My mother rented a house in Key West for the weekend, and we joined her along with several other family members. Six of us shared an amazing house in downtown Key West that was conveniently located near most of the hot spots. In just 15 minutes, we could walk to the bars on Duval Street, the Southernmost Point, and a handful of great restaurants.

The property we stayed in is called Absolutely Paradise and offered through Key West Hideaways. This is a three bedroom, 2.5 bath house with a kitchen, living room, laundry room, and deck with a small swimming pool. It was wonderful and we would definitely stay here again.

Have you been to Key West? What is your favorite thing to do here? Comment below!

More Information for Your Trip to Florida:

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Key West Best things to do

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Comments 36

  1. Have been to key West for 5 or six times and think you captured it’s essence very nicely, with one glaring omission.

    How could you not include Mel Fisher’s Treasure museum? His and family’s sunken treasure finds, including the Atocha, greatest sunken treasure discovery and recovery of all time.

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  2. Thanks.
    One of my very favorite things to do is go to Smokin Tuna restaurant and if I’m lucky, see Caffine Carl play his wicked guitar.

  3. Thank you for this post! My husband an I love Key West and are always looking for new things to do every time we go back. Planning a trip for the end of this year so definitely adding Dry Tortugas, Butterfly Conservatory , Santiago’s Bodega, and Key West Distilling to our itinerary! And maybe even a floating tiki bar happy hour! Great information!

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      You’re welcome! We are hoping to return soon also. Tim and I would love to visit the Dry Tortugas. Maybe we will see you there! Cheers, Julie

      1. Both me and my wife loved Key West , yes Duval Street is amazing, but you can’t go and not not add The Key West key lime pie Company, and it’s not just the pie, even key lime chap stick!

      2. I live in Key West and I believe the beach picture appears to be taken at Fort Zachary Taylor rather than Rest Beach or Higgs beach. Fort Zach is another fabulous place to visit. There is good snorkeling around the rock piles and a huge old civil war fort to explore (which is always a cool respite in the summer.

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    2. Absolutely loved Key West. I did half the things listed here but want to go back but the future of this nation is uncertain, so we’ll see.🏝🏝🏝

  4. I have been to Key West probably 35 40 times and still of this day I occasionally take the conch train to tour the island I suggest anyone on their first visit or their 10th visit to take the train to get re familiar with the great history the cemetery streets and the culture

  5. We were just in Key West last week, except for a trip to Dry Tortugas we had zero plans. My favorite way to explore KW is having no plans just start walking and see where you end up because everywhere is somewhere to see on KW!

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  6. One of the fun things to do is take a night tour to see Robert the Doll. It is an old haunted civil war fort. David the tour guide was awesome and very knowledgeable about the doll, haunted parts of the fort and civil war history. I am a skeptic about ghosts but there was a weird feeling in that place. I would definitely recommend that tour.

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  7. Our favorite thing to do is to not have any plans. We just like to walk out of the hotel and stop when ever you feel like it. Might be a bar, restaurant or something like that. The night before we always have an itinerary for the next day of what to do and it constantly changes

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  8. Thanks for your amazing blog! You’ve sold this incredible experience in a flash, we shall be flighing over from the Uk later this year… happy holidays!

  9. We will visit Key West, Miami and San Agustin Florida this next summer. How many days do you recommend in each place? Where do you recommend staying at each place? And what important places to visit in each place?

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      Hello Angelica. As far as sightseeing goes, we have only been to Key West. We did visit South Beach in the past, but it has been a very long time (it was in 2000). I don’t have any recommendations for Miami and San Augustin as far as what to do and where to stay. For more recommendations on where to stay in Key West, as well as where to stay in Miami and San Augustin, we recommend Booking.com. This is where to go to find and book our hotels when we travel. Cheers, Julie

  10. GET ON THE WATER. Thats is “Commotion on the Ocean” Sunset cruise past Mallary square so much fun. Crystal Kayakes to the mangroves so much fun. Duval st bars and restuarants. Ride a scooter around town. Take the trolley tour around old town. and Dont forget Cpt Tonys. The Lobster House. Seafood Conch Republic. Key lime pie, conch fritters. Margarita’s and Smathers Beach .Cant wait to go back to Key West LOVE IT.

  11. Hi there! Just found your blogs and I’m eager to start planning more travel! My husband and I did quite a bit before we had our son. He’s two years old which makes things a little different. Would you say Key West is family friendly? We are looking to plan a January get away and were thinking Florida would be a good option. We aren’t really the Disney type and tend to gravitate more towards outdoor activities/hikes/bikes etc. Any advice you could provide would be greatly appreciated!

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      Hello Theresa. Yes, if you like the outdoors, I think that Key West would make a great destination for your family. The beaches are beautiful, the sightseeing is relatively low-key (just enough to keep you busy without feeling overwhelmed), and all in all, Key West is a lovely place to visit. With lots of great restaurants, hotels, and apartments to choose from, it’s great for families. Another great place to put on your list is Utah, if you haven’t been there yet. Utah is one of our favorite places in the USA to go hiking. And you could visit Zion, Bryce, etc, do the shorter hikes with your son, and have a very nice trip. It would be cold in January, so if you are looking for a warm place, Key West is the winner. Cheers, Julie

  12. Thanks for such an informative blog. Do you recommend driving to all the above locations? How is the parking situation? Could you please recommend the best way to cover all these places? TIA

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      Most of these places are within walking distance of Mallory Square. To get to places that are farther away you can get around by car or by bike. Using a bike is a great way to get around Key West because it is so flat and things really aren’t too spread out. Some of the beaches are located a bit far from the main downtown section so you could consider using a bike or car to get to these. We walk everywhere, except for the beaches, when we visit. You can put all of these spots in Google Maps on your phone and walk from place to place. You will even find some other cool places we didn’t mention as you tour the city. Cheers, Julie

      1. The Duval Loop! A free bus/shuttle that continuously “loops” around downtown, all the way from the seaport to the southernmost marker! This was especially handy at the end of a long day!

  13. Hi Julie ,

    I have been following your blogs lately . Very informative !!
    Could you suggest the best beach in the Keys ?
    Also which beach is the top cover picture of this article from ?


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      The top photo of this post was taken at Fort Zachary Taylor Beach. This is our favorite beach because it is quieter and feels less touristy. Another great beach is Smathers Beach. It gets more crowded but it’s a little easier to get to. We rode bicycles to get to Fort Zachary Taylor Beach. Cheers, Julie

      1. When we lived in Key West, our favorite beach was Higgs Beach, not as rocky as the other beaches and smaller, quieter.

  14. Completely agree with your mention of Lattitudes on Sunset Key and Santiago’s Bodega. We try to get to both each time we are enjoying Key West. Looking forward to next February when we will be in town with a HAL cruise for a day on our way to Rio for Carnaval.

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