Key West is unlike any other city in the continental United States. It is kind of like a laid back Caribbean beach village that you would find in Jamaica or Martinique. Its permanent inhabitants have almost all decided to live to stop chancing the money and live the easy life that only a place like Key West can provide. Another added bonus to spending a little time there is that it is the only place in the US where you can stand in the Atlantic Ocean and throw a rock and have it land in the Gulf of Mexico. Just think about your friends reactions when you tell them that story. Below we are going to discuss some of the more interesting things to do while you are there as well as some of the best hotels the city has to offer. It’s a 3½ hour drive outside of Miami (150 miles) and a 7 hour drive from Orlando (390 miles).
Top 10 Attractions
1. Dry Tortugas National Park – Dry Tortugas is an absolute must see if you visit Key West. It is a fort that was built by the US government back in 1845 to help the country protect its sea lanes. It is located about 70 south of Key West and you will need to take a boat or plane to get there. Each year it is visited by over 60,000 people and the waters surrounding it are some of the most pristine in the world. They provide unprecedented views of what is considered the most abundant and diverse sea life in US coastal waters. While you are there you can scuba dive, campout, snorkel, kayak, picnic, bird-watch, and enjoy some of the best deep sea fishing the world has to offer. Admission is $5 for adults.
2. Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Museum – Mel Fisher is one of Key West’s most infamous and well known former residents. He was an underwater treasure hunter that found many sunken ships from the 1800’s that contained gold, silver, and many different kinds of precious jewels. Probably his most famous and lucrative discovery was the Atocha, which was a Spanish galleon he located in 1985. At his museum he displays many one of kind irreplaceable treasures that cannot be seen any place else in the world. Admission is $12.50 for adults and $6.25 for children.
3. The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum – Ernest Hemingway is considered on the finest authors that the US has ever produced. His best known books are “The Old Man and the Sea”, “For Whom the Bells Tolls”, and “A Farewell to Arms”. Hemingway was a long-time Key West resident that loved the city and when he was alive was regularly seen throwing down a pint or two at the local speakeasies and pubs. His museum is essentially his old home that will allow to go back in time and see where and how he used to live. General admission is $13 for adults and $6 for children.
4. Key West Aquarium – The Key West Aquarium was built in 1934 making it one of the oldest aquatic attractions in the US. If you have children, they will love looking at the wide array of fish on display and watching the handlers feed the sharks. You will also be able to get up close and personal with alligators, jellyfish, dolphin, and their very own “Touch Tank” that features sea creatures like the whelks, sea stars, giant hermit crabs, horseshoe crabs, and Key West’s very own mascot, conchs. Regular admission is $15.04 for adults and $8.59 for children (receive a nominal discount off these rates by purchasing your tickets online).
5. Waterfront Playhouse – one of top professional theaters in Florida just next to Mallory Square in Old Town Key West, this place will have you laughing at brilliant comedy acts, entranced by the drama and singing along to your favorite musicals. The Playhouse also hosts a wide range of concerts and productions with an assortment of performance arts. Stop in to watch the stage light up after sunset.
6. Shipwrecks – Vandenberg and the Alexander Wreck are two great locals to take a dive into the warm Caribbean waters. The Vandenberg Wreck is an expansive site with many fantastic structures still remaining submerged. The Alexander Wreck is situated just 30 feet below the sea which makes it an even easier dive that allows snorkelers to catch a glimpse of the ship below.
7. Mallory Square makes for the perfect place to watch the sunset. In the evening enjoy vendors and street performances from magicians to magicians at the sunset celebration. The square also hosts a range of restaurants and bars making it a great place to dine or go out for the evening.
8. Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center is a free science center with educational exhibits about marine life and local ecosystems. Stop in to see the a world of fishes, reefs and wildlife of the Keys. Enjoy a show at the theater and take advantage of free parking!
9. Key West Butterfly and Nature Observatory is one unique place to get acquainted with nature at its finest! Check out the beautiful butterfly gardens and exotic birds set in a scenic tree shaded area with lovely waterfall to complete the scenes. The best part of the experience is seeing the stages of a butterfly’s life from cocoon to colorful wings in flight. Admission is $12 for adults and $8.50 for children.
10. Nancy Forrester’s Secret Garden is a great place to get up close and personal with exotic birds of every type. With parrots, long-tailed Macaws and cockatoos, you will be sure to experience the excitement and learn a range of fun facts about these majestic birds. The Secret Garden area allows you to walk amongst the parrots and endangered South American macaws. Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for children.
Cracked Conch Cafe – 30 years in the business, the Cracked Conch is among the best when it comes to making key lime pie, the official pie of the state of Florida. The origin of Key lime pie has been traced back to the late 19th century in the Keys. This restaurant also offers incredible seafood at reasonable prices.
Hard Rock Cafe – Enjoy an ice-col margarita while gazing at their famous rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia. All before enjoying a Caribbean Bar-B-Q Sunset Sail aboard the Liberty Clipper (from November-May on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday). Located in the heart of downtown Key West, legend has it that this old three-story Victorian style house is still haunted by the ghost of its original owner, Robert Curry, who meanders along the corridors of this unique cafe.
Margaritaville – Named after Jimmy Buffett’s famous 1977 song, Margaritaville, redefines the meaning of the laid back American lifestyle. Sip on a Pina Colada and chill by the bay, here at this delicious restaurant. Don’t forget to pick up Jimmy Buffet themed merchandise on the way out. This restaurant chain actually originated in Key West and has grown to have dozens of locations across the country.
Santiago’s Bodega is a fantastic restaurant for tapas, drinks and a range of dishes on the menu based on European cuisine. Enjoy the designer salads, soups and seafood served in a casual and cozy atmosphere.
The Cafe, A Mostly Vegetarian Place – If you are a vegetarian, vegan or just like great food, this little cafe can’t be beat! With amazing food and drink options to complete the menu, The Cafe is a great place to dine in for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Paseo Restaurant is a local favorite with Latin American and Caribbean cuisine. Most would recommend you try the ‘roasted corn’, the sandwiches or the local fish to experience all this place has to offer.
Almond Tree Inn is a lovely hotel complete with outdoor pool and jacuzzi. The rooms are fashioned with tasteful sleek and modern décor and even better, breakfast is included!
Orchid Key Inn is a wonderful boutique hotel located on Duval Street right next to top attractions such as the Ernest Hemingway Museum, Butterfly Conservatory and Key West Lighthouse. The Orchid Bar makes for a great place to enjoy cocktails and dine in onsite.
Speakeasy Inn is a romantic getaway, once the home of Raul Vaques a cigar selector and smuggler of rum between Cuba and Key West. This restored building is a quaint place for the night with lovely wrap around porch best enjoyed with a drink in hand.
La Te Da Hotel is a landmark hotel in Key West most famous for its connection with Cuban Revolutionary Jose Marti. With Terrace Bar, frozen drinks and the warm Caribbean breeze, this place really sets the scenery. The Cabaret at La Te Da is a fantastic source of entertainment for the night.
Marquesa Hotel is a small hotel and restaurant, which is located in the center of Old Town Key West near the famous Duval Street. With two swimming pools, interior garden and award winning Cafe Marquesa, this place is sure to complete your stay in Key West.
Parrot Key Hotel and Resort is a gorgeous waterfront hotel and villas situated right along the sandy shores of the Caribbean. Enjoy the lush gardens and poolside dining for breakfast and lunch onsite at Cafe Blue—complete with drinks at the tiki bar.
Southernmost Hotel in the USA can be found in a quiet corner of Duval Street in Old Town Key West. The tranquility of the pool or perhaps the beach just a walk away completes the stay. Enjoy grand nightlife with restaurants and bars nearby. Dine in at Southernmost Beach Cafe or grab drinks at one of the three bars onsite.
Cheecha Lodge & Spa is a fine hotel with grand waterfront views. This romantic hotel complete with gardens and first-class restaurants will have you never wanting to leave the Keys! Step outside onto the 9 hole golf course, dive into the Saltwater Lagoon and relax for a spa day and enjoy unlimited use of fishing poles, kayaks and bicycles to top it all off.
Pier House Resort and Caribbean Spa is a waterfront experience with great restaurants and full spa options onsite. The pool, the bar, the beach are all right there along the waters edge and some of the best attractions in Key West are just a walk away.
Sunset Key Guest Cottages are a unique luxury stay when in Key West. This place is located on a 27 acre Florida island that makes for a truly tropical paradise. If the traditional Key West architecture does not charm, the views of lush gardens and turquoise blue water are sure to stun over a glass of fine champagne.