Most often, we are asked what are our favorite things to do in Key West. The concierges of Key West Travel Guide have lived in Key West for a combined 50+ years and have done nearly every activity, dined in every restaurant, visited every attraction, and spent time at every corner of the island.
Here are our suggestions:
Things to do on the water
Key West is surrounded by a warm, calm, clear, aqua-blue ocean brimming with sea life and beauty. Encountering a sea turtle, dolphin, or school of colorful tropical fish is always a magical experience. And immersing yourself in the unique eco-system of the Florida Keys, with its mangrove islands and turtle grass sea floor, will leave you with an appreciation of why Key West is such a special place.
Here is how we entertain ourselves on the water:
- Snorkel the coral reef – Six miles offshore of Key West lies the world’s third-largest living coral reef. This large underwater structure acts as a wave barrier to the island of Key West, and is the reason the nearshore waters of Key West are flat calm. A trip to the coral reef will delight the whole family. You will see schools of fish, graceful stingrays, colorful and intricate sea fans and corals, and myriad invertebrates and other sea life.
- Parasailing – Since Key West is such a low-lying island – the highest elevation is only 18 feet above sea level – it is not easy to get an expansive view of the entire island. But when tethered to a parasail parachute and hoisted to 300 feet, you will see miles of Keys islands and crystal blue sea. Parasailing in Key West is affordable, thrilling, safe, and well worth doing. You can even do it “tandem” – meaning with another person as both of you fly high together.
- Sunset Sail – The Key West sunset is a daily celebration, often displaying a deeply-hued color show across the sky. While it is almost mandatory to see the sunset from Mallory Square at least once on your visit, nothing can compare to being on the water while the sun makes its final descent to the sea. When the sun sets, raise your glass and toast another excellent day in Key West.
- Visit the Dry Tortugas – The true end of the Florida Keys is not Key West – it is the Dry Tortugas islands, located 70 miles west of Key West. If you really want to “get away from it all” on your vacation, plan on visiting these distant islands. There you will find Fort Jefferson, a mammoth sized civil war era brick fort that once guarded the Gulf of Mexico. Today it is an ideal place for easy snorkeling, sandy beaches, fascinating history, and an unspoiled scenic view. You can get to the Dry Tortugas by sea ferry or by sea plane. Both trips are excellent and are among our favorite things to do in Key West.
- Fishing – Our world class fishing will please any angler – from the deep sea Hemingway type to the zen-master fly-fisherman. Key West is one of the most diverse fisheries in the world, offering you a chance to catch a hundred different species of fish, including bonefish, tarpon, marlin, sailfish, grouper, snapper, wahoo, kingfish, tuna, mahi-mahi, barracuda, jacks, sharks, and many others. If you enjoy fishing, then fishing in Key West is a must do.
- Waverunner tour – A tour around the island of Key West aboard a modern waverunner (jet ski) is a an activity packed with thrilling fun and a memorable time. More than one person can ride aboard each waverunner, and if you are looking for speed and excitement, we recommend going on the 1.5 hour ride.
- Eco-tour – Visit the “backcountry” island of Key West, comprised of red mangrove islands with their elongated root structure and home to countless creatures, especially juveniles using the area as protective habitat. Eco-tours explore this fascinating area and use kayaks and snorkeling equipment to give you a quiet, unobtrusive method of getting up close to nature. The water is calm, warm, and usually quite clear – giving you a prime view of the abundant wildlife.
Things to do in town
- Ride a bike – Re-awaken your inner child and take a leisurely ride around the historic district known as Old Town. Wood-framed homes, lush tropical landscapes, and easy riding make time on a bicycle rewarding and fun.
- Do the Duval Crawl – Key West’s main party place is Duval Street, lined with bars, restaurants, and more than a few tourist-trap t-shirt shops. Avoid the t-shirt shops, but enjoy the rest of it as you wander up and down one of America’s most famous streets.
- Visit museums – There is so much history in Key West, it will be hard to take it all in in one visit. But you should try to see at least a few of the island’s museums. You can learn about treasure hunting at the Mel Fisher Museum, Ernest Hemingway at his former home, shipwrecking at the Shipwreck Historeum, and many more fascinating aspects of Key West. Visit our Museum page for more information.
- Take in the Arts – Galleries, public art, plen air painting, and museum shows are abundant in Key West, one of America’s premier artistic communities.
- Shopping – Funny, whimsical, tropical, and colorful – Key West offers many shops and boutiques filled with eclectic goods.
- Sunset Celebration – Nightly carnival atmosphere at the docks overlooking the Key West harbor, where performers and crafters display their talents in exchange for your dollars. You’ll likely be amused, and you might find the perfect souvenir. The sunset rarely fails to impress.
- Visit the beach – You don’t have to get on a boat to enjoy the water….just head to the beach! Fort Zachary Taylor is a favorite, and offers a varied landscape, some basic snorkeling, and a relaxing spot to enjoy Key West’s greatest asset, its beautiful ocean.
Free things to do in Key West
- Walk or bicycle in the historic district – Key West is unlike any other place due to its beauty, lifestyle, laid-back attitude, and history. Take the time to wander around the Old Town neighborhood and experience island life for yourself. Slow down enough to interact with a local, see something you might have otherwise zipped by, and let yourself unwind from “normal” life. Take a stroll through the historic seaport, a continuous boardwalk located along the docks in Key West.
- EcoDiscover Center – Located at the Truman Waterfront (end of Southard Street), this museum does an excellent job of explaining the wildlife and eco-system of Key West, including sea life and upland habitat.
- Mallory Square – Every day, two hours before the sun sets, the daily Sunset Celebration comes together as buskers, street performers, and craft vendors perform for a crowd of hundreds of people. The free and beautiful sunset over the ocean is breathtakingly beautiful and one of Key West’s most photographed sites.
- Beach – Smathers Beach, located along the southern shore of the island, is a mile long sandy beach. There is no charge to use this beach. Dig your toes in the sand, play volleyball, or just sun yourself in Key West’s strong sunshine.
- Duval Street – Stroll up and down Duval Street, Key West’s popular main party drag, and take in the many art galleries, diverse shops, and many eating establishments. This is prime people watching territory, and don’t be surprised to be surprised at the colorful people.