Key West, where the Florida Keys Overseas Highway ends at Mile Marker 0, blends 19th-century charm with a laid-back contemporary atmosphere. Continental America’s southernmost city offers palm-shaded streets, picturesque historic homes with “gingerbread” trim, a nightly waterfront sunset celebration and a flourishing arts community.
Visitors will find environmental attractions and eco-experiences, a lively culinary scene and sites to tour including the 1930s home of literary legend Ernest Hemingway and the “vacation White House” of former President Harry Truman.
Visitors stroll on the entrance path of the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum in Key West. Hemingway lived and wrote at the home for most of the 1930s. (Photo by Rob O’Neal, Florida Keys News Bureau)
To truly enjoy Key West, embrace the easygoing vibe, glean tips from friendly locals and experience both well-known and off-the-beaten-path offerings.
What are some “don’t miss” stops?
Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden. At the gateway to Key West lies a secluded 15-acre conservation habitat and subtropical botanical garden. Just off College Road at mile marker 5 bayside, the garden features more than 6,000 rare and endangered plants and trees, and provides habitat for 39 butterfly species and 202 native and migratory bird species. Explore 12 self-guided nature trails and boardwalks, two 1.5-acre butterfly habitats and much more.
Key West Garden Club at West Martello Tower. Explore this tranquil natural spot that overlooks the Atlantic Ocean where White Street meets Atlantic Boulevard. West Martello Tower is a never-used Civil War–era fort whose weathered brick walls frame exotic orchids and bromeliads, rare and indigenous palms and plants, a peace garden with labyrinth, a butterfly garden and a white perfume garden. The oceanfront gazebo offers breeze-cooled serenity.
Curry Mansion. Discover the legacy of Key West’s first millionaire, William Curry, at the inn and museum located at 511 Caroline St. The Victorian-style mansion, whose antique-filled public areas are open for tours, features period furnishings and decor, spacious verandahs, a “widow’s walk” and gingerbread-adorned exterior. Historians believe Key lime pie was originally created in the Curry Mansion kitchen.
This tranquil waterfront oasis is part of the Key West Garden Club’s lovingly maintained site on the grounds of historic Fort East Martello. (Photo courtesy of the Key West Garden Club)
Honest Eco Sustainable Nature Tours. Step aboard SQUID, Key West’s first electric-powered charter boat, for an Honest Eco dolphin watch and guided snorkel excursion. The unique vessel was built by Captain Billy Litmer, Honest Eco’s founder and a biologist and passionate environmentalist, and is docked at 231 Margaret St. in the Historic Seaport. Equipped with Sunflare solar panels, SQUID provides an extraordinary wildlife experience while having little impact on the environment.
Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park. Head to “Fort Zach” at 601 Howard England Way to swim and laze beside the Atlantic Ocean. The park’s shady, breeze-cooled picnic area overlooks a 1,000-foot beach that Key Westers regard as the island’s best. Snorkel in the relatively deep near-shore water, spotting colorful tropical fish, or explore the weathered Civil War–era fort that gave the park its name.
Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory. Walk among hundreds of living butterflies at the state-of-the-art solarium and nature exhibit at 1316 Duval St. In the glass-domed tropical butterfly habitat, observe butterflies from 50 to 60 species in a lush rainforest-like setting, alongside tiny exotic birds and two glorious pink flamingoes — who also star in daily “Flamingle” encounters. Don’t miss the on-site gallery!
Historic Old Town. Take a morning stroll or bike ride through Key West’s Old Town, the largest predominantly wooden historic district in the United States. Allow yourself time to wander and discover restored Victorian homes and cottages, chat with locals and enjoy the fragrance of flowers blooming behind white picket fences. Then stop for Cuban coffee and cheese toast at one of many neighborhood emporiums.
Visitors to the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservancy enjoy the “rainforest” atmosphere while being greeted by the pair of resident flamingos. (Photo by Mike Freas, Florida Keys News Bureau)
Mel Fisher Maritime Museum. View treasures and artifacts from the Spanish galleons Nuestra Señora de Atocha and Santa Margarita, shipwrecked off Key West in 1622, at the 200 Greene St. museum. The facility’s 17th-century maritime and shipwreck antiquities include gold and silver bars, coins, weapons and more recovered by shipwreck salvor Mel Fisher and his crew in the 1980s.
Key West Food Tour. Savor the flavors of the island city on a stroll-and-taste exploration of cuisine and culture created by third-generation native Analise Andrews. Several themed walking tours are offered, with guides leading participants to multiple local emporiums for samples of food and libations. As well as experiencing the rich culinary scene, guests gain insights into Key West’s vibrant heritage and easygoing way of life.
Key West Lighthouse & Keepers Quarters. Completed in 1848 and standing at 938 Whitehead St., the lighthouse guided mariners through Key West waters until it was decommissioned in 1969. Climb an 88-step spiral staircase to the observation platform for a panoramic view of the island, learn about courageous male and female lighthouse keepers, and see historic artifacts, photos and journals. In addition, small groups can book the exclusive 90-minute Key West Lighthouse Sunset Experience.
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