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11 Amazing Islands Near Key West You Must Visit This Summer

Islands Near Key West

The Florida Keys is the closest you can get to an island paradise in the continental United States. There are countless white sand beaches, mangrove forests, and natural habitats to explore while visiting the Key West islands. From wildlife excursions for nature lovers to watersports in some of the hottest locations in Key West, there’s something for everyone to enjoy in Key West!

A tour we think you'll love

islands to visit near key west

1) The Most Exciting Features Of Key West

Arguably the most famous of the Florida Keys islands is Key West! Not only can you find some of the nation’s tastiest Key lime pie at locations like Kermit’s on Duval, but one of the region’s most visited tourist locations is found along the shore.

Southernmost Point is a busy location where you’ll find tourists from all over the country lined up to take photos with the massive colorful buoy marking the country’s Southernmost point. When you’re done with your photo-op at the buoy, you must try a sandbar excursion with Key West Paddle.

We make the most of your Key West experience by taking you to locations most tourists can’t get to, leaving you with a private sandbar adventure with your loved ones! Set up your tour with us before your Florida Keys vacation to ensure you won’t miss out on a sandbar at Snipe Point or the Mud Keys.

Private Sandbar Adventure Around Key West

2) See Why Key Largo Is Known As The Diving Capital Of The World

Key Largo is home to the headquarters of the National Marine Sanctuary and John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park and other top tourist attractions that make this area of the Florida Keys Islands regarded as the diving capital of the world.

You can snorkel and go scuba diving in the waters around Key Largo, holding the National Marine Sanctuary to view some of the most stunning marine life and sea creatures in the Atlantic Ocean. The John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is well known for its incredible underwater views in Florida Bay, which also makes it a great place for diving in Key Largo.

John Pennekamp’s Park is the first undersea park in the U.S. where you can explore the sea on glass-bottomed boats or on snorkeling and scuba diving excursions with expert guides. If you’re looking for an above-the-sea adventure, check out the Everglades National Park in Key Largo.

The Everglades National Park protects many rare and endangered species in the largest subtropical wilderness in the U.S. You’ll see animals like:

The American Crocodile

Florida Panther

Key West Manatees

3) Experience The Wildlife Of Key West At Big Pine Key

Big Pine Key is another wonderful stop on your Florida Keys adventure, with lots of wildlife experiences to enjoy in the Lower Keys. You’ll find the National Key Deer Refuge, an 8,542-acre National Wildlife Refuge where the endangered Key Deer resides. The000 Key Deer is a subspecies of the white-tailed deer and shares its home at the refuge with 21 other species of flora and fauna.

Expect to see some of these creatures on your adventures in the refuge:

Masked Duck

American Eel

Saltmarsh Sparrow

Key Ring-necked Snake

Loggerhead Turtles

American Alligator

Key Deer

You’ll also want to set a time to visit Bahia Honda State Park in Big Pine Key! This state park offers iconic Florida Keys scenery like sugary white beaches lined with swaying palm trees. A magnificent location to lounge along the shore to enjoy the balmy breeze or take in the sunset.

Bahia Honda State Park is known for the ideal birdwatching of wading birds and shorebirds alike. You can rent kayaks or snorkeling gear here and take a boat trip to the coral reefs for guided snorkeling instruction!

4) Have An Adult Only Vacation On Little Torch Key

Little Torch Key is a Lower Keys tropical paradise found off the 28th-mile marker on the Overseas Highway. This tiny island offers an adults-only resort with 15 thatch-roofed bungalows with every comfort you would want in a tropical paradise.

You’ll enjoy a copper soaking tub, a furnished deck, outdoor showers to wash away the salty water of the Atlantic Ocean, and breathtaking views of the waters. Little Torch Key is also ideal for a quiet fishing retreat with some of the best deep sea and fly fishing in Key West.

Little Torch Key

5) Explore Dry Tortugas National Park At Garden Key

Head to Garden Key for an unforgettable adventure at the Dry Tortugas National Park. This Florida Keys island is home to the park’s headquarters, a visitor center, campgrounds, and impressive swimming and snorkeling access.

The only way to access this Key West island is by boat or seaplane, so it’s not a simple last-minute addition to your family vacation or trip with friends. The Yankee Freedom Ferry is a popular and affordable option, but spots fill up quickly so you’ll have to plan accordingly!

Dry Tortugas National Park

6) Visit The Luxurious Island Of Long Key In Key West

Long Key is in the Middle Keys of Key West and was once a place of luxury for the rich and famous. The Long Key State Park is now a tranquil haven for swimming, kayaking, watching the many species of birds, and lounging along the shoreline.

Explore the mangroves in a kayak or hike into a tent-only campsite where you can spend the night under the stars in the heart of the Florida Keys Islands on Long Key.

Long Key State Park

7) Take In The Beauty Of Sunset Key

Sunset Key is one of the tiniest Keys Islands you can visit. This small residential island is also an unforgettable island getaway with resort cottages for rent. You can only access the island by a Ferry that operates behind the Opal Resort and Marina.

This pristine island has no cars, so you’ll have to rely on a golf cart to get around the island. You can enjoy luxurious amenities like a high-end restaurant, tennis courts, and beautiful, quiet beaches on this Key West island.

Sunset Key

8) Catch Loggerhead Turtles Nesting At Marathon

Marathon Key is in the Middle Keys and is comprised of 13 smaller islands making up the city of Marathon. Sombrero Beach is one of the most famous beaches in the Marathon Keys because the local Loggerhead Turtles make this beach their annual nesting place.

This is also one of the few Islands near the Florida Keys that’s mangrove-free, so it’s the best spot for cozy beach islanders. Marathon Key is best known for its popular bars, exciting sea adventures, and stunning sunsets!

Sea Turtles

9) Explore The Mangroves Of Marquesas Key

The Marquesas Key is home to uninhabited islands with lots of mangrove beaches and forests to explore. Mangrove tunnels and shorelines are some of the best places to explore the shallow waters of the Florida Keys, where most tropical fish are born.

This island is surrounded by the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, so be mindful of the signs showing you where your beach adventures must stop.

Marquesas Key

10) See The History Of The Florida Keys At Islamorada

Islamorada is one of the Keys Islands, full of history and fun tourist attractions. Check out the History of Diving Museum to see how the famous pastime has transitioned over the years, or head to the Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park to see some of the most stunning natural sites on the island.

Robbies of Islamorada is a popular tourist destination with a marina and waterfront restaurant, Tarpon feeding, fishing excursions, and so much more. There’s no lack of fun when you come to Islamorada on your vacation.

Islamorada

11) Experience Dolphins At Little Duck Key

Aside from visiting the last living coral barrier reef in the country, getting up close and personal with dolphins is one of the most sought-after experiences in the Florida Keys.

Little Duck Key is home to interactive dolphin experiences and tons of watersports rental opportunities. This is the perfect Florida Keys island for those who love being in the water and interacting with the natural wildlife on these tropical islands.

Dolphins At Little Duck Key

Get The Most Out Of Your Key West Vacation

There’s no better way to experience an island adventure than taking a guided tour of the sandbars or mangrove tunnels with Key West Paddle. Whether you want to glide along the waters of the islands near Key West at night in a glass-bottomed kayak searching for sea life or spend the afternoon lounging on a sandbar in the midst of the shallow waters around the Mud Keys or Snipe Point.

Visit our site to get your trip scheduled now!

islands to visit near key west

Night Kayak Guided Tour

Get a single or double glass-bottom kayak illuminated with lights and follow our tour guide on this one of a kind, unforgettable and simply magical adventure.

This slow paced, immersive, and very relaxing experience will allow you to see some cool, active at night marine life as you are gliding through crystal clear waters of Key West.

Guests will experience going through narrow mangrove tunnels at night, floating around shallow and calm waters as the tour guide will look for interesting critters for everyone to see.

Key West Sandbar Trip

Key West sandbars are our local well kept secret. This is where we take our families to hang out and relax on our days off. This is the perk of our island lifestyle. Now we want to share this experience with you.

Turquoise shallow waters, epic picture worthy sights all around you that look like a postcard - that is what you're signing up for!

Join our Adventure: Get all my insider tips for traveling on a budget

The Wild Trek

10 Best Florida Keys Islands + A Guide To Choosing An Island

Hey there, fellow adventurers! Today, let’s embark on a journey to the laid-back islands in the Florida Keys.

Get ready to immerse yourself in turquoise waters, sway to the rhythm of island life, and indulge in unforgettable experiences. Whether you’re a sun seeker, an outdoor enthusiast, or a foodie looking to tantalize your taste buds, the Florida Keys islands have it all!

While the popular islands of Key West, Islamorada, Marathon, Key Largo, and the Dry Tortugas attract a significant amount of attention, the Florida Keys are also home to several lesser-known islands that offer really unique experiences.

Today, I’m going over the top 10 Florida Keys islands to visit and sharing what you can get out of each island.

Why Visit The Florida Keys?

There are just too many reasons to visit the Florida Keys. You can get a sliver of paradise and a true feel for island life right in the United States! Typically, the Florida Keys are cheaper than going to islands out of the country because they’re easier to get to.

And whether you’re looking for a romantic, tranquil vacation, an island nightlife experience, or to explore nature, there’s an island for everyone.

As the “ Dive Capital of the World, ” the Florida Keys offer exceptional diving and snorkeling opportunities. Explore a vast array of coral reefs teeming with colorful marine life, including tropical fish, sea turtles, and vibrant coral formations.

The Florida Keys are home to a diverse range of marine life and wildlife. Encounter playful dolphins, graceful manatees, and a variety of bird species.

The Florida Keys islands are known for their laid-back and relaxed atmosphere. The island lifestyle encourages you to slow down, unwind, and embrace the easygoing pace of life. Whether you’re sipping a cocktail while watching a stunning sunset, listening to live music at a beachside bar, or enjoying a leisurely bike ride along scenic coastal roads, the Keys’ casual and friendly vibe will make you feel right at home. Honestly, this island vibe is my favorite part!

And with its subtropical climate, the Florida Keys enjoy year-round sunshine and warm temperatures. This makes it an ideal destination for those seeking a break from cold winters or looking to escape the daily grind any time of the year.

What Are The Most Popular Florida Keys Islands?

The most popular islands include:

1. Key West 2. Marathon 3. The Lower Keys 4. Islamorada 5. Key Largo

Each island has something unique and is suited to certain types of travelers. Today, I’ll go over all these Florida Keys islands as well as some lesser-known islands.

10. Islamorada

The best islands in the Florida Keys to visit for every kind of traveler: Islamorada

First things first, picture this: swaying palm trees, shimmering waters, and an inviting island breeze that immediately puts you in a vacation state of mind. Welcome to Islamorada , a hidden gem nestled amidst the breathtaking beauty of the Florida Keys. Known as the “ Sport Fishing Capital of the World, ” this island paradise is all about tropical vibes, pristine beaches, and a relaxed atmosphere that instantly makes you feel at home.

Oh, the beaches of Islamorada! Sink your toes into the powdery sand and let the warm sun kiss your skin as you unwind on one of the many stunning beaches.

From the family-friendly Anne’s Beach to the secluded and picturesque Founders Park , there’s a spot for everyone to bask in the sun and soak up the island vibes. Islamorada certainly has some of the best beaches of all the islands in the Florida Keys!

In Islamorada, you can dive beneath the surface and discover a vibrant underwater wonderland teeming with colorful coral reefs, tropical fish, and maybe even a friendly sea turtle or two.

Snorkeling and scuba diving enthusiasts will find their slice of paradise in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary , where each dive is like stepping into a mesmerizing painting brought to life.

Now, let’s talk about the reason why anglers from around the world flock to Islamorada. With its abundance of fish species, you’re in for an epic fishing experience. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a beginner, there are plenty of charter boats and guides ready to help you reel in the catch of a lifetime. And hey, don’t worry if you’re not into fishing – witnessing the excitement and camaraderie at the docks is an adventure in itself!

The island’s pace of life reflects its casual vibe. It’s a place where time slows down, and there’s no rush to be anywhere else. You’ll find yourself falling into the rhythm of island time, embracing a slower and more relaxed way of living.

The island is renowned for its fresh seafood , and you’ll find a plethora of waterfront restaurants in Islamorada serving up the catch of the day. From mouthwatering lobster rolls to succulent stone crab claws, your taste buds are in for a treat. And let’s not forget the quintessential beachside tiki bars, where you can sip on tropical concoctions while enjoying breathtaking sunset views. Cheers to that!

  • All-around beach vacationers
  • Fishing and water sport enthusiasts
  • Nature lovers

9. Marathon

The best islands in the Florida Keys to visit for every kind of traveler: Marathon

Known for its picture-perfect beaches, abundant marine life, and a laid-back island vibe, Marathon is the perfect destination for those seeking both thrilling adventures and blissful relaxation .

Nestled in the heart of the Florida Keys, this charming island offers a little slice of paradise for every type of traveler. With its pristine beaches, turquoise waters, and an abundance of outdoor activities, Marathon is a haven for nature lovers, water enthusiasts, and sun seekers alike.

You’ll be mesmerized by Marathon’s sun-kissed beaches, where powdery sand meets crystal-clear waters . Take a leisurely stroll along the shoreline of Sombrero Beach , a local favorite known for its calm waters and picture-perfect views. Set up your beach umbrella, relax under the swaying palm trees, and soak up the tropical ambiance.

For those seeking a little more adventure, Marathon has an array of watersports to get your adrenaline pumping . Hop on a kayak or paddleboard and explore the tranquil mangrove forests that line the coast. Snorkelers and scuba diving enthusiasts will be thrilled by the vibrant coral reefs teeming with colorful marine life. And if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, try your hand at kiteboarding or jet skiing for an exhilarating experience you won’t soon forget!

Marathon offers more than just sun and sand. Take some time to explore the island’s unique attractions and hidden gems. Visit the Turtle Hospital and learn about the conservation efforts to protect these magnificent creatures. Explore the Curry Hammock State Park and discover its scenic trails and captivating wildlife. And don’t miss the chance to witness the iconic Seven Mile Bridge , a true marvel of engineering that stretches across turquoise waters.

When it’s time to unwind, Marathon has you covered . Whether you choose to book a soothing spa treatment, sway in a hammock under the shade of a palm tree, enjoy a cocktail at one of the many beachfront restaurants , or simply enjoy a lazy day on the beach, relaxation is always within reach.

  • Families who enjoy sightseeing/museums
  • Outdoor enthusiasts (watersports, fishing, boating, etc.)
  • Beachgoers and relaxation seekers:

8. Big Pine Key

The best islands in the Florida Keys to visit for every kind of traveler: Big Pine Key

Located just a short distance from Key West, Big Pine Key is a nature lover’s paradise. It is renowned for its stunning natural beauty and is home to the National Key Deer Refuge, where you can spot the endangered Key deer, a species found only in this region. Explore the nature trails , kayak through the mangroves, and bask in the tranquility of the secluded beaches.

Prepare to be enchanted by the untouched beauty of Big Pine Key. As you explore the island, you’ll be greeted by lush vegetation, towering pine trees, and stunning vistas at every turn.

Big Pine Key is famous for its adorable and endangered Key deer , and getting a glimpse of these gentle creatures is an experience like no other. Keep your eyes peeled as you explore the island, as you might spot these miniature deer gracefully wandering through the forest or nibbling on foliage.

Adventure awaits around every corner on Big Pine Key, catering to those seeking an active and thrilling experience in nature’s playground. Here are a few activities to get your heart pumping:

  • Kayaking and paddleboarding
  • Snorkeling and diving
  • Fishing and boating

Big Pine Key is a close-knit community, and its friendly locals are always happy to share their love for the island with visitors . Explore the local shops, restaurants, and markets to experience the island’s warm hospitality and discover unique treasures crafted by talented artisans.

  • Nature enthusiasts
  • Eco-adventurers
  • Seclusion seekers

7. Dry Tortugas

The best islands in the Florida Keys to visit for every kind of traveler: Dry Tortugas

For those seeking an unforgettable adventure, a trip to the Dry Tortugas is a must. Located approximately 70 miles west of Key West , this remote cluster of islands is home to the majestic Fort Jefferson, a 19th-century coastal fortress surrounded by crystal-clear waters. Snorkelers and divers will be rewarded with an abundance of marine life and the opportunity to explore the vibrant coral reefs.

As you step foot on Dry Tortugas, you’ll feel like you’ve entered a tropical paradise that’s a world away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. The island’s pristine beaches, clear waters, and unspoiled landscapes create a breathtaking backdrop for your adventure.

At the heart of Dry Tortugas lies the iconic Fort Jefferson, a 19th-century coastal fortress shrouded in history. The views from atop the fort are simply spectacular, offering panoramic vistas of the ocean and the picturesque island.

If you’re a diver then you’re in luck. Snorkelers and scuba diving enthusiasts will be treated to an underwater paradise teeming with colorful coral reefs, tropical fish, and fascinating sea creatures.

Keep in mind that Dry Tortugas is a day trip  only from Key West. You can either take a boat or fly.

  • History and culture enthusiasts
  • Snorkelers and divers
  • Adventure seekers

6. Indian Key

The best islands in the Florida Keys to visit for every kind of traveler: Indian Key

Steeped in history and surrounded by clear turquoise waters, Indian Key is a small island with a fascinating past . Once a bustling community in the 19th century, it is now an uninhabited state park accessible only by boat. Explore the remains of the historic village, snorkel around the coral reefs, and soak up the island’s intriguing history.

As you step foot on Indian Key, you’ll feel like you’ve traveled back in time to a bygone era. This historic island was once a bustling community in the 19th century, and remnants of its past can still be explored.

Indian Key is not just a place of historical significance; it also boasts breathtaking natural beauty that will leave you in awe. As you wander through the island’s trails, you’ll encounter lush vegetation, towering palm trees, and panoramic views of the surrounding waters.

The adventure doesn’t end with history and natural beauty— Indian Key also offers thrilling opportunities for snorkeling and kayaking . If you prefer to explore from above the water’s surface, hop into a kayak and paddle your way around the island. Glide through mangrove forests, marvel at the coastal scenery, and let the gentle rhythm of the water carry you along.

  • History buffs
  • Snorkelers and kayakers

5. Key Largo

The best islands in the Florida Keys to visit for every kind of traveler: Key Largo

Known as the “Dive Capital of the World,” Key Largo offers a unique blend of adventure, natural beauty, and laid-back vibes.

From vibrant coral reefs to picturesque sunsets, this island paradise has something for everyone. It’s one of the go-to islands in the Florida Keys because it offers so much!

Considered the gateway to the Florida Keys, Key Largo is famous for its underwater wonders. The John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park , the first underwater park in the United States, is a haven for snorkelers and scuba divers. Dive into a vibrant world of colorful corals, tropical fish, and even the mesmerizing Christ of the Abyss, an underwater statue.

For nature enthusiasts, the Florida Keys Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center provides a chance to get up close and personal with local bird species and learn about their conservation efforts. Explore the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary , home to diverse ecosystems that include seagrass beds, mangrove islands, and coral reefs.

Set sail on a catamaran or hop aboard a kayak to explore the island’s calm bays and winding waterways. Try your hand at paddleboarding, jet skiing, or parasailing for an adrenaline-pumping experience. Fishing enthusiasts will find their paradise in Key Largo, with opportunities to catch everything from bonefish to marlin.

From water sports to fishing and super fresh seafood restaurants on the water, Marathon is the perfect place for adventure enthusiasts.

  • Divers and snorkelers
  • Eco-tourists
  • Outdoor enthusiasts

4. Little Torch Key

The best islands in the Florida Keys to visit for every kind of traveler: Little Torch Key

Nestled between Big Pine Key and Ramrod Key, Little Torch Key is a small, quiet island that offers a serene getaway. This island is known for its pristine waters and picturesque views. Visit the beautiful beach at Bahia Honda State Park , indulge in some world-class fishing, or simply unwind in a hammock and soak up the peaceful atmosphere.

As you step onto the island, you’ll be greeted by stunning vistas of crystal-clear waters, white sandy beaches, and lush tropical vegetation. The island’s natural beauty extends beyond the beaches, as it is surrounded by the magnificent Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge .

Little Torch Key offers a myriad of water activities for adventure enthusiasts and those looking to relax by the sea. Rent a kayak or paddleboard to explore the calm and pristine waters, gliding through the mangrove-lined canals and discovering hidden coves. Or embark on a fishing excursion and cast your line into the abundant fishing grounds that surround the island.

Little Torch Key is a perfect destination for couples seeking a romantic retreat or anyone looking for a secluded getaway . Indulge in candlelit dinners by the water, take a moonlit stroll along the beach, or embark on a sunset cruise, where the sky transforms into a canvas of breathtaking colors.

While Little Torch Key may be a small island, it still boasts a variety of dining options . Treat yourself to a waterfront dining experience, where you can relish the flavors while enjoying stunning sunset views, and don’t skip the fresh seafood!

  • Romantic getaways
  • Artists and creatives

3. Cudjoe Key

The best islands in the Florida Keys to visit for every kind of traveler: Cudjoe Key

Situated between Summerland Key and Sugarloaf Key, Cudjoe Key is a hidden gem that boasts a laid-back ambiance and a thriving art scene. Explore the local art galleries and studios, enjoy watersports such as kayaking or paddleboarding in the calm waters, or simply relax on the secluded beaches. Don’t miss the chance to savor fresh seafood at the local waterfront restaurants.

As you step onto the shores of Cudjoe Key, you’ll immediately feel a sense of tranquility washing over you. This small, unspoiled island is the epitome of a peaceful retreat.

Cudjoe Key’s natural wonders are a playground for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers . Grab a kayak or paddleboard and venture through the calm waters, exploring the intricate mangrove forests that line the coast. Keep your eyes peeled for playful dolphins or curious manatees gracefully gliding through the water.

For those seeking a deeper connection with nature, Cudjoe Key’s proximity to the Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge and the backcountry waters of the Lower Keys offers ample opportunities for fishing, birdwatching, and encounters with vibrant marine life.

  • Art and culture aficionados
  • Secluded vacation lovers

2. Long Key

The best islands in the Florida Keys to visit for every kind of traveler: Long Key

Often overshadowed by its more famous neighbors, Long Key offers a tranquil escape for nature enthusiasts. This island is home to Long Key State Park , which features beautiful nature trails and an idyllic beach. Go birdwatching, snorkel along the shoreline, or simply take a leisurely stroll along the scenic trails to immerse yourself in the island’s natural beauty.

The park boasts nature trails that wind through lush mangroves and coastal hammocks, providing opportunities for hiking, birdwatching, and wildlife spotting.

For those seeking a touch of adventure, Long Key provides an array of outdoor activities to enjoy . Launch a kayak or paddleboard into the calm waters and glide along the shoreline, exploring hidden coves and embracing the serenity of the mangrove-fringed channels.

Nature enthusiasts can venture into the backcountry , where the island’s abundant wildlife awaits. Embark on a guided eco-tour to explore the diverse ecosystems, spot marine life, and learn about the fragile balance that sustains the natural wonders of Long Key.

Long Key is famous for its awe-inspiring sunsets , and you won’t want to miss the nightly spectacle. Find a comfortable spot on the beach, settle in with a refreshing drink, and watch as the sky transforms into a canvas of vivid colors.

Whether you’re basking in the beauty of the coastline, exploring the island’s diverse ecosystems, or simply finding solace in the tranquility of the surroundings, Long Key offers an idyllic escape from the pressures of everyday life.

  • Beach lovers
  • Tranquil vacation seekers

1. Key West

The best islands in the Florida Keys to visit for every kind of traveler: Key West

No exploration of the Florida Keys is complete without a visit to Key West , the southernmost point in the continental United States .

Known for its vibrant culture and artistic spirit, Key West boasts stunning sunsets, historic architecture, and a lively nightlife scene on Duval Street .

Don’t miss the chance to visit Ernest Hemingway’s former residence and the famous Key West Lighthouse. In fact, there are tons of really cool historical sites to visit in Key West, making it one of the best Florida Keys islands for sightseeing enthusiasts. And you can do all of it while carrying a drink!

Stroll along Duval Street , the bustling heart of Key West, and explore the vibrant shops, art galleries, and historic sites that line the way . Make a stop at the iconic Southernmost Point Buoy , where you can take a memorable photo at the southernmost tip of the continental United States. Key West really is one of the most lively places in the country!

Key West is a melting pot of cultures, and its diverse heritage is reflected in its vibrant arts and music scene. As the sun sets, Mallory Square comes alive with street performers, artists, and musicians, creating a lively and festive atmosphere.

But Key West’s natural beauty is a sight to behold, too. Spend a day at Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park , where you can snorkel among colorful coral reefs, or explore nature trails through tropical foliage. While Key West isn’t one of the Florida Keys islands known for its beaches, there are plenty of water activities to do that don’t include laying in the sand.

Overall, I recommend Key West if you’re someone who  doesn’t want to sit still on vacation. You’ll get the island vibe and plenty of energy but can also check out historical sites or get up-close-and-personal with the Florida Keys island wildlife.

  • Night-life seekers
  • History and culture buffs
  • Anyone who wants a busier, more active vacation filled with sightseeing
  • Art and music lovers

Hopefully, this post gave you plenty of ideas for your Florida Keys island trip!

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Faqs about the florida keys islands:, what time of year is best to visit.

The Florida Keys have a subtropical climate, characterized by warm temperatures and mild winters. The peak tourist season runs from December to April when the weather is typically sunny and dry, with temperatures ranging from the 70s to 80s Fahrenheit (20s to 30s Celsius). This is a popular time for outdoor activities, snorkeling, and diving.

The months of May to November constitute the off-peak season in the Florida Keys. During this time, you may encounter more rainfall and higher humidity due to the region’s tropical climate. However, the prices tend to be lower, and the islands are less crowded. If you don’t mind occasional rain showers and want to enjoy a more laid-back atmosphere, the off-peak season can be an excellent time to visit.

However, the Florida Keys islands host various events and festivals throughout the year. Key West’s Fantasy Fest, Marathon’s Seafood Festival, and the Key Largo Original Music Festival are just a few examples. Consider checking the event calendar to plan your visit around any specific festivals or activities that interest you.

The Florida Keys are renowned for their fishing opportunities. Consider the fishing seasons when planning your trip, as different fish species are more abundant during specific times of the year. Additionally, the highly anticipated lobster mini-season in late July and regular lobster season from August to March attract many divers and snorkelers seeking delicious spiny lobsters.

the Florida Keys are a year-round destination, each season offering its own charm.

If you prefer warm and dry weather with fewer crowds, the peak season from December to April is ideal. However, if you’re looking for a more budget-friendly trip and don’t mind occasional rain showers, the off-peak season from May to November can be a great choice.

What Florida Keys Islands Have The Best Beaches?

The Florida Keys are home to several islands with beautiful beaches, each offering its unique charm.

Marathon : Sombrero Beach , situated in Marathon, is a stunning public beach with pristine sands and crystal-clear waters. It offers fantastic swimming conditions, a playground for children, and picnic areas for a leisurely beachside meal. Coco Plum Beach , a lesser-known gem, is a quiet and secluded beach with soft sands and shallow waters perfect for wading.

Islamorada : Anne’s Beach in Islamorada is a local favorite, known for its tranquil and shallow waters. It features a boardwalk that winds through the mangroves, offering scenic views and opportunities for birdwatching. Founders Park Beach , also in Islamorada, provides a family-friendly atmosphere with calm waters, a sandy beach, and amenities like picnic areas and a playground.

Key Largo : John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo not only offers exceptional snorkeling and diving opportunities but also features Cannon Beach. This beach provides a unique experience, with artificial cannons and a reconstructed Spanish shipwreck to explore. It’s a great spot for beachcombing and picnicking.

Bahia Honda Key : Bahia Honda State Park, located on Bahia Honda Key, boasts some of the most picturesque beaches in the Florida Keys. With its clear turquoise waters, powdery white sand, and swaying palm trees, it offers a true tropical paradise. Calusa Beach and Sandspur Beach are popular spots for sunbathing, swimming, and snorkeling.

Which Florida Keys Islands Have The Best Nightlife?

By far, the answer to this question is Key West. But here are more specific details about the nightlife you’ll find in the islands in Key West!

Duval Street, Key West : Duval Street is the heart of Key West’s nightlife. This iconic street is lined with bars, clubs, live music venues, and restaurants, making it a bustling hub of activity. From famous establishments like Sloppy Joe’s and Irish Kevin’s to intimate cocktail lounges and dance clubs, Duval Street offers a diverse range of options for an unforgettable night out.

Mallory Square, Key West : While Mallory Square is known for its nightly sunset celebration, the area also offers lively entertainment after dark. Street performers, artists, and musicians entertain visitors as they explore the waterfront promenade. Enjoy live music, browse local shops, and indulge in delicious food and drinks at the various establishments surrounding Mallory Square.

Key Largo : Although Key Largo is more renowned for its natural beauty and outdoor adventures, it still offers a few nightlife options. Enjoy waterfront dining and live music at some of the local bars and restaurants. While the nightlife in Key Largo may not be as bustling as Key West, it provides a more relaxed and laid-back atmosphere.

Islamorada : Islamorada offers a more laid-back and intimate nightlife experience compared to Key West. Enjoy live music at waterfront tiki bars and restaurants while savoring fresh seafood. The ambiance is perfect for those seeking a more low-key evening with scenic views and live entertainment.

Marathon : Marathon offers a range of dining options and waterfront bars where you can unwind with drinks and enjoy live music. While it may not have the same level of nightlife as Key West, Marathon provides a more relaxed and family-friendly atmosphere, perfect for a casual night out.

What’s The Best Way To Get To The Florida Keys?

Driving: If at ALL possible, I recommend driving to the Florida Keys islands. The drive is just insanely beautiful! We like to rent a convertible to get the full experience (they’re surprisingly cheap and common in Florida). The Overseas Highway (U.S. Highway 1) connects the mainland with the Keys, offering breathtaking views of the ocean and the surrounding islands. The drive from Miami to Key West takes approximately three to four hours, depending on traffic and stops along the way. Keep in mind that traffic can be heavier during peak travel periods, so plan accordingly. It’s basically one road all the way down!

Flying: If you’re traveling from a distant location, flying to one of the nearby airports is a convenient option. The main airports serving the Florida Keys are Key West International Airport (EYW), located in Key West, and Miami International Airport (MIA), located in Miami. If you choose to fly into Miami, you can then rent a car and drive through the Keys.

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Bucket List Journey | Travel + Lifestyle Blog

Key West & Florida Keys Islands Bucket List: 45 BEST Things to Do

Where else can you find warm ocean water, breathtaking state parks, acres of mangroves, killer sunsets that draw crowds and arguably the best key lime pie in the world? The Florida Keys islands are undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places in the country with an abundance of adventurous, historical and yummy things to do.

It’s possible to fly right into the most talked about city of Key West, but the best way to fully experience ‘The Keys’ is a road-trip from Key Largo all the way down to southernmost point of Key West (like I did!). This way you will have the flexibility to make pitstops along the way and check off your Florida Keys bucket list .

Top Attractions, Fun Activities & Best Things to Do in Key West (and the Florida Keys Islands)

islands to visit near key west

KEY LARGO What to See, Do & Eat in Key Largo

1. ✧ paddle board the mangroves at john pennekamp coral reef state park.

Located in Key Largo, this excitingly serene park extends three miles into the ocean and has coral reefs, seagrass swamps and mangroves within its confines. The John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is home to a flurry of activities and attractions that are excellent for adults and children alike—From glass bottom boat rides to sunbathing at the beach, snorkeling and kayaking. I should also mention that it is home to the Nation’s first underwater park!

If you visit with the mind for adventure, then you should rent a kayak or paddle board and go exploring through the mangroves. There are many little water paths that meander through these dense forest like mangroves. Keep an eye out for underwater life and the gorgeous birds that call the Florida Keys park home!

2. ✦ Take a Ride on the African Queen

Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn made the African Queen steamboat famous when they starred in the 1951 movie by the same name that was filmed in Uganda.

From then on, the African Queen, docked at the Marina Del Mar marina has become home to relaxing canal cruises in Key Largo and romantic dinner cruises as well. You can even ask the Captain for a turn at the helm while underway the one and a half hour cruise. I did!

African Queen boat in Key Largo Florida

3. ✧ Spend the night at Jules Undersea Lodge

The Jules Undersea Lodge is true to its name, it really is underwater—you actually have to dive 21 feet below the surface to enter! How’s that for bucket list worthy? You can choose to stay for just a few hours or be more adventurous and stay overnight. Don’t worry though, there are all the modern amenities. Plus, you can cozy up with a book or movie and watch the fish go by through the large round windows.

4. ✧ Visit the Wild Bird Sanctuary in Key Largo

The Laura Quinn Wild Bird Sanctuary which is only a few minutes’ walk from the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park really should be on the bucket list for bird lovers. In fact, even if you are not as enthusiastic about birds, you might find a tour of this sanctuary illuminating.

There is no official charge to get in but you are politely requested to donate whatever you can; these monies all go to the care of wounded wild birds within the sanctuary (so a very good cause!). Within the aviaries you will see owls, pelicans, hawks and a wide variety of other wild birds that are majestic and unique to say the least.

WHERE TO STAY IN KEY LARGO: The 14.5 beachfront acres of Playa Largo Resort and Spa is a luxury oasis in Key Largo. There you can eat dockside, take a dip in the freshwater pool or enjoy a glass of wine by the fire pit. Or stay at the Kona Kai Resort , a hidden treasure.

WHERE TO EAT IN KEY LARGO: You won’t go hungry in Key Largo, there are plenty of great restaurants. Eat the coconut cake at  Buzzards Roost , hit up Skipper’s Dockside for an outdoor lunch and the Fish House for dinner, plus don’t forget to get the key lime martini at Sundowners .

ISLAMORADA What to See, Do & Eat in Islamorada

5. ✧ take a jetpack, hoverboard or flyboard ride .

Get the ultimate adrenaline thrill by taking to the water with Jetpack Adventures . You can choose from a jetpack that hangs on your back and propels you into the air or a hoverboard that’ll do the same on while stuck to your feet like a snowboard. But for the best fun try what I did (pictured below) and get some air on a flyboard. It’s not as easy as it looks!

Jetpack flight in Cancun Mexico

6. ✦ Shop at the Rain Barrel Artisans Village

Ah, what would the Florida Keys be without a unique shopping experience?! The first thing you will notice about the Rain Barrel Artisans Village is the 40-foot-long lobster named Betsy that will lure you in for an unforgettable photo-op off the Overseas Highway. Once you stop, you can’t leave without at least browsing through the stalls.

The artisans in this village are experts who create sculptures, paintings, collages, jewelry, home decor and almost every other type of accessories in such creative ways that you will definitely find something worth buying.

islands to visit near key west

7. ✧ Feed the Tarpon at Robbie’s Marina

In Islamorada of the Florida Keys, there is a place called Robbie’s Marina where you can feed tarpon! These bony salt-water fish have a ‘strong’ smell, but as long as you are not looking to eat them then that shouldn’t be too much of a problem. They gather by the dozens at Robbie’s Marina waiting for you to feed them fish snacks which is a pretty exhilarating thing to do considering some of these fish have mouths almost as big as a five-gallon bucket.

8. ✧ Visit the History of Diving Museum

If you are a scuba diver, then definitely don’t miss a stop at the History of Diving Museum . With contributions from more than 30 countries, the museum has the world’s largest collection of armored suits, diving helmets and other diving accessories.

9. ✦ Drink the Local Beer

You will find the Florida Keys Brewing Company’s beer all over the Keys, but why not get it straight from the source at in Islamorada?   The breweries new beer garden has 20 of their own brews on tap, plus Mead and house brewed Kambucha. Try their 10-beer sampler to find your favorite.

islands to visit near key west

10. ✦ Stroll the Third Thursday Art Walk

Time your beer visit (see above) correctly and you can stroll through the Morada Way Artwalks . Every third Thursday of the month the Morada Way Arts District hosts an outdoor walk where talented artisans set up booths along the street. It’s the perfect place to pick up souvenir jewelry, handmade candles or paintings. The event happens to be right next to the Florida Keys Brewing Co., so stop in and get a beer, then do some shopping.

MID-LOWER KEYS What to See, Do and Eat in Mid-Lower Keys

11. ✧ get a hogfish sandwich on stock island.

When in Key West, do like the Key Westians do and head over to The Hogfish Bar and Grill on Stock Island! This is a favorite among locals, so you know it’s for real. All of the seafood they serve comes straight from the fishing boats you can watch come in and out of the port while you dine.

As you might be able to guess from the name, their signature dish is the scallop-like flavored Hogfish! Specifically their One and Only, World Famous Killer Hogfish Sandwich . This specialty of the house is served fried and smothered with Swiss Cheese, Onions, and Mushrooms between two slices of fresh Cuban bread. Yum!

There’s plenty of other delicious fresh seafood on the menu, as well as Southern and Caribbean favorites!

12. ✦ Get the Lobster Reuben at Keys Fisheries

Make a delicious pitstop at Keys Fisheries for their famous Lobster Reuben. This sandwich is a take on the classic: slathered in Thousand Island dressing, filled with tangy sauerkraut, topped with melted Swiss and put in-between some crunchy buttered bread. The exception is that the cured pastrami is substituted with fresh lobster. Yes, please!

The sign at the order window counts how many rueben’s have been sold, proving how popular this sandwich is. It was at 288,926 when I was there. Wow!  Side note: They don’t ask for your name when you order at the counter, they ask a question, like “what’s your favorite animal”—of course I said puppies.

Warning—The Lobster Reuben is huge, enough to feed two!

Annette White eating the Lobster Reuben in Key West Florida

13. ✧ Visit the Turtle Hospital

Who doesn’t love turtles? Unfortunately, some turtles can get injured or sick. But, the good news is The Turtle Hospital is here to help! It’s a nonprofit organization that’s been helping to rehabilitate sea turtles and educate the public on how to be better friends to the little guys since 1986!

The Turtle Hospital also offers guided educational experiences that last about 90 minutes. You’ll start your visit off by viewing a presentation about sea turtles before going on a behind-the-scenes tour of the facilities and rehabilitation area. At the end of the tour, you’ll even be able to feed the center’s permanent residents.

14. ✦ Visit the Dolphin Research Center

Established in 1984, this is one of the most unique research centers in the Florida Keys, and possibly all of Florida. More than half the sea lions and bottlenose dolphins found in the Dolphin Research Center were born here, others are rescues who were deemed non-releasable by the government.

If you are keen on interacting with dolphins as they do in the movies (some of the stars from the movie Flipper were actually from here!), this is your chance. There are interactive classes that the public can participate in; believe me, you want to participate in these classes. The dolphins are friendly, mischievous and all-around fun to play with in the water.

Take note that for the Dolphin Research Center is is all about the dolphins. If they’re not interested in doing something they don’t have to do it. They never withhold food, it is all voluntary.

islands to visit near key west

15. ✧ Get a Beer at No Name Pub in Big Pine Key

If you’re looking for that old Florida Keys atmosphere and some great food and drinks, No Name Pub is the place for you! It started out as a general store and bait and tackle shop in 1931, but in 1936 the owners added a small room and started serving food. By the 1950s, the bait and tackle shop closed and the pub became the entirety of the business.

You can stop in to just relax and have a drink at the end of the day, or try some of their delicious food! We recommend the homemade fish dip, made from fresh yellowfin tuna that they marinate and smoke in house daily, or one of the gourmet pub pizzas!

16. ✧ Walk the White Sand Beach at Bahia Honda State Park

We know the reason you came to the Florida Keys is to soak up that sun, surf, and sand. Well, we can’t think of a more perfect location than Bahia Honda State Park ! The park covers over 500 acres and features not one, but two award-winning beaches: Calusa Beach and Sandspur Beach. You can also take a drive along the historic Bahia Honda Bridge, plus the park features some of the best snorkeling and beach-combing in Florida.

17. ✦ Cruise the Seven-Mile Bridge

The 7-mile long bridge is one of the longest bridges in the world. The scenic stretch connects the Middle Keys to the lower Florida Keys and has beautiful seaside views along the way. If you are doing a road trip from Key Largo to Key West you’ll definitely be driving across it!

KEY WEST What to See, Do and Eat in Key West

18. ✧ listen to live music at the green parrot.

As their website says: “ The Green Parrot is more than a bar; it is a Key West icon!” It started out as a corner grocery store but became a bar in the 40s. Originally called the Brown Derby Bar, it was a popular hangout for the submarine sailors during World War II, but came under new ownership in the 70s when the Navy moved out the hippies moved in. It’s been the Green Parrot ever since!

Best of all, the Parrot has live music every night! From touring musicians to local artists, there’s always something going on, so if you’re a music lover this is a must-do while you’re in Key West. They even host periodic Ukelele Nights! You’ll also enjoy the bar’s signature decor pieces, like “The Smirk” that adorns the shutter door or the custom “No Snivelling” sign!

19. ✦ Walk Inside the Ernest Hemingway House

Ernest Hemingway and his wife Pauline fell in love with the Florida Keys way back in 1931 (I can see why!). When he finished his semi-autobiographical novel titled: A Farewell to Arms, they decided to make this their home. It is this charming house that is now a major tourist attraction in Key West. The grand Southern exterior of the house protects his eclectic collection of furniture, art and other accessories while the grounds act as a haven for wildlife, plants and quite a number of cats.

The Hemingway influence is also big in Cuba and some other of his points of interest at on my Havana things to do list.

islands to visit near key west

20. ✧ See a Show at the Red Barn Theater

If you’re a theatre lover, you don’t need to travel to New York to get your fix for live performance—Key West is your place. Destination Hyatt magazine even describes the work produced at the Red Barn Theater as “Broadway caliber”!

The building began its life as a carriage house before the Key West Community Players transformed it into a performance space in the 1940s. In the 80s it became incorporated under the Red Barn Actor’s Studio, Inc and has been committed to putting on the best performances in South Florida ever since!

21. ✧ Take the Old Town Literary Walking Tour

Because even bookworms like to go on adventures too! If you have a love of literature and are planning a trip to the Florida Keys, this tour run by the Key West Literary Seminar is one of the best things to do in Key West! You’ll get to visit the homes and haunts of writers who have called Key West home, including Tennessee Williams, Robert Frost, and Shel Silverstein!

You’ll even get to learn about some lesser-known local talents and add some new titles to your “to be read” pile!

22. ✧ Eat Conch Fritters  at BO’s Fish Wagon

So much fresh seafood, so little time! If you need help narrowing down where to get the best grub in the Keys, we recommend trying some of local legend Bobby Owen’s specialties! They’re so good, even Bobby Flay and the Food Network camera crew dropped by to try them out!

BO’s Fish Wagon started out as a wagon but has since ditched its wheels to become an open-air shack. Don’t worry, there’s no shirt or shoes required, so you can come right off the beach and grab some delicious food. Make sure to try the cracked conch sandwich with Key Lime mayo!

23. ✦ Catch the Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square

You cannot visit the ‘Home of the Sunset’ without actually taking the time to find out why they call it that and what makes the sunsets here so special. Geographically, this is the southernmost end of the United States and at the Mallory Square sunset celebration in Key West is the perfect place to sit, sip a few cocktails and enjoy one of the most stunning sunsets you will ever see.

As you watch the sun majestically sink into the Gulf of Mexico, there will be performers, artists and an assortment of food vendors assembling to ensure that you evening is one that your will not soon forget. Don’t miss Dominique’s Cat Circus !

You can also see this spectacular sky in a more unique way take the Sunset Party Cruise by Catamaran !

islands to visit near key west

24. ✧ See a Drag Show 

Key West might seem like a quaint, old fashioned beach community on the surface but don’t be fooled: it has a thriving nightlife as well! If you want to experience some of this booming nightlife, then you must check out the Key’s drag queen scene. Here are three different top locations to choose from:

  • Aqua has a performance of their show “Reality is a Drag” Sunday through Wednesday at 8 pm, plus two shows at 7 an 9 pm on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. They also feature a full bar and offer karaoke!
  • If you’re looking for something a little more raunchy and guaranteed to make you cry with laughter, 801 Bourbon Bar is the place for you! They have shows every day at 9 and 11 pm and have Drag Bingo every Sunday night.
  • If you’re looking for something slightly more laid back, check out La Te Da , where top-quality performers Christopher Peterson and Randy Roberts perform a cabaret show a few times a week. They’re known for their spot-on impersonations of queer icons like Liza Minelli and Cher!

25. ✧ Stay at the Southernmost House

Relax in luxury while enjoying everything Key West has to offer at The Southernmost House : a taste of history and a tropical paradise!

This boutique hotel is also a museum, and you can find little pieces of history all around the property. It was built in 1897 and has hosted over 20 presidents and dignitaries! But it also offers the modern amenities of the best beachside resorts.

Each accommodation is spacious, air-conditioned, and uniquely decorated to no two rooms look the same! There’s free wi-fi access throughout the property, plus a heated infinity pool with a bar, oceanside hammocks for relaxing, an indoor lounge, dry cleaning service, and a concierge desk. Your stay also includes a complimentary breakfast every morning!

26. ✦ Pose at Mile Marker 0

US Highway 1 is a 2,369 mile long interstate that connects almost every city in the East Coast. In Key West this famous highway ends and begins at Mile Marker 0  and hundreds of people (myself included!) per day stop by the Mile Marker 0 sign to commemorate being at the ‘end of the road’.

Mile Marker 0 in Key West

27. ✧ Smoke a Key West Rolled Cigar at Rodrigues Cigars

Even if you’re not a regular tobacco user, you’ll want to see this important piece of Key West history up close and personal.

Cigar manufacturing has a long history in Key West, going back to 1831. The Rodriguez family immigrated to Key West from Cuba after the Cuban government nationalized their tobacco plantation and founded the Rodriguez Cigar Factory in 1984. It’s now the oldest cigar manufacturer in the Florida Keys, preserving this historic industry, They still make their cigars using traditional Cuban methods!

You can take a factory tour where you will learn more about the manufacturing process and even get to sample one of their cigars and a complimentary Cuban espresso!

28. ✧ Buy Some Made-in-Key-West Kino Sandals

Because you can never have too many shoes! These fashionable and comfortable sandals, made in a traditional Cuban style, are made only in Key West by the Lopez family. They still make them by hand from high-quality natural leather and natural rubber, just like they have since 1966.

According to their website, you should ask any Key West local “not if they own a pair of Kino’s Sandals , but how many they own!” The store offers 20 types of sandals and has expanded to include wallets, purses, and more. Their shop, Kino Plaza, is located in the heart of Old Town Key West and imitates the Cuban architecture of founder Roberto Lopez’s youth! 

29. ✦ Climb up the Key West Lighthouse

Not only is this a bucket list opportunity to climb up inside a lighthouse, but the 360 views from the tippy top of the Key West Lighthouse are incredible too. It is a great place to see the rooftops of local homes, including the Ernest Hemingway house.

islands to visit near key west

30. ✧ Tour Harry S. Truman’s Little White House

Before Camp David, there was the Little White House of Key West! While you’re in the Keys, definitely take some time to see Florida’s only Presidential Sight. The Little White House was built in 1890 to serve as naval officers’ housing and has hosted many important visitors from Thomas Edison to presidents Taft, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Carter, and Clinton.

Harry Truman, however, spent the most time in this historic house, calling it his “Winter White House.” Over the course of his 6-year administration, he spent 175 days in Key West.

Visiting the Little White House, you’ll learn more about Truman’s life, career, and presidency, as well as the history of Key West. You can also view the official trip logs of President Truman’s 11 trips to Key West and get a peek into what he was doing during his visits. If you want to learn even more history, book the Truman Little House guided tour .

31. ✧ Visit the Maritime Museum

This museum tops our list of must-see attractions! As you may have guessed, Key West’s history and culture have been deeply intertwined with the sea. Well, the mission of the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum is to “research, interpret, and exhibit the maritime history of Florida and the Caribbean.

The museum is located in an old Naval Storehouse that was built in 1910. It features exhibitions on shipwrecks, piracy, and the slave trade, and is home to a conservation center where archeologists conduct ongoing research on artifacts found in the waters around Key West.

32. ✦ Take a Selfie at the Southernmost Point in the Continental USA

There is a colorful concrete buoy that marks the southernmost point in the continental USA and taking a selfie in front of it is one of the most popular things to do in all the Florida Keys. There is always a long line of people waiting for their chance to snap a photo, so either go really early in the morning or cheat a little like I did and sit on the bench a few feet in front of the buoy for your picture.

For a more in depth look into this area of Key West take the History and Culture Southernmost Walking Tour or the yummy Southernmost Food and Cultural Walking Tour .

Annette White at the Southernmost Point in the Continental USA

33. ✧ Catch an Animal Feeding at the Aquarium

This is one bucket list idea that kids and adults will love! Taking in the native sea life is one of the best things to do in Key West, but if you don’t love the idea of snorkeling or scuba diving, this is the perfect place for you!

The Key West Aquarium houses dozens of sharks, fish, sea turtles, alligators, and stingrays native to the Florida Keys! You can also take a tour and meet those predators up close. At 10 am and 4 pm, there are special presentations at the Touch Tank about the history of the museum, as well as opportunities to touch and hold many of the conch and whelk species native to Key West!

34. ✧ Walk Through the Historic Key West Cemetery

A walk through a cemetery might sound like a spooky fall activity , but it’s actually a great way to see the Key’s history in a much more personal way! The Key West City Cemetery sits on 19 acres of land. It was established in 1847 following a hurricane that unearthed the city’s former beach-side burial grounds.

Between 80,000-100,000 of Key West’s citizens are buried here, a mixture of Bahamian mariners, Cuban cigar makers, Spanish-American war veterans, and civilians of all races, classes, and creeds.

Guided tours are available every Tuesday and Thursday at 9:30 am, or you can pick up a self-guided tour map at the front entrance.

35. ✧ Visit Dry Tortugas National Park

Made of 7 islands and some of the most gorgeous coral reefs you will ever see, the Dry Tortugas National Park   is a must thing to see when you head down to Key West—it’s just 70 miles west. Taking a seaplane ride there will allow you to get beautiful aerial views of the 19th-century Fort Jefferson on Garden Key; the beautiful lighthouse at Loggerhead Key as well as the Windjammer Wreck (an 1875 shipwreck) and the nesting site for many seabirds down at Bush Keys.

From snorkeling to diving, ancient sites and sunbathing, Dry Tortugas National Park is definitely bucket list worthy!

36. ✦ Stroll Duval Street

No trip to Key West would be complete without waking down the hottest road in town—Duval Street. It is  filled with hopping bars (you can even do what they call the Duval Crawl —you can only guess what that means!), souvenir shops, delicious restaurants and clothing boutiques.

islands to visit near key west

37. ✧ Kayak from Key Largo to Key West

If you have some time and are looking for a fun adventure, consider taking a multiple day kayak tour from Key Largo to Key West with Burnham Guides  (they’re the ones that took me on a memorable kayak tour in the Eastern Shores of Virginia !).

38. ✧ Drink Where Hemingway Drank—Sloppy Joes

Why not have a drink in the most famous and infamous saloon in all Key West? If you’re a fan of classic American literature, you’ll also love the Hemingway connection!

Sloppy Joe’s (originally called the Blind Pig) was founded by Joe Russell and opened the day Prohibition was repealed. Ernest Hemingway was one of Russell’s first and favorite patrons and was even the one to christen it Sloppy Joe’s! They even host a Hemingway look-alike contest every year.

Sip on a rum runner with local rum, “The Original Drink of the Florida Keys,” and snack on Key West favorites like peel-and-eat shrimp and conch fritters.

islands to visit near key west

39. ✧ Chocolate covered Key Lime pie on a stick from Kermit’s .

And of course, you can’t visit the Florida Key’s without getting some Key Lime Pie! We highly recommend stopping by Kermit’s Key West Lime Shoppe —they’ve been serving up delicious Key Lime treats for almost 25 years! Don’t miss one of their most popular items, the Key Lime Pie bar that is hand-dipped in Belgian-style chocolate.

40. ✧ Get a Naughty Named Treat at the Better Than Sex Dessert Bar

If you’re looking for a grown-up date night on your Key West vacation, we have a recommendation that’s…well, Better Than Sex ! Enjoy a selection of sinfully delicious desserts and signature drinks with naughty names like Peanut Butter Perversion or the Klimax. The speakeasy decor scheme adds to the sense of forbidden pleasure and creates a romantic ambiance. This is a cozy, intimate space so make sure to reserve ahead of time!

41. ✦ Visit the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory

The magical Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory is home to over 50 species of live butterflies and 20 exotic birds (even a few flamingos!). You can take a stroll through the climate controlled habitat and witness a small tropical paradise.

islands to visit near key west

42. ✧ Drink at the Key West’s first Rum Distillery

You can’t get this close to the Caribbean without drinking some rum! While in Key West, you have to try the official rum of the Conch Republic at Key West First Legal Rum Distillery . Their rums are “chef distilled,” because they consider themselves chefs first and distillers second.

These chef distillers also consider themselves trained mojito masters, and you can even take a private class with them to learn their ways! You can also pop in for a free guided tour any day of the week!

Fun fact: they were also the first Americans to run rum to Cuba.

43. ✧ Eat Key Lime Pie for Breakfast at Blue Heaven

Blue Heaven used to be an old boxing ring where Hemingway refereed, now it is known for its brunch and mile high meringue. When you are in the Florida Keys, there is absolutely nothing wrong with eating key lime pie for breakfast and this is the perfect place to do it.

44. ✧ Take a Sand Sculpting Class at Casa Marina

Looking for something truly unique to do on your Key West vacation? If you’re staying at the Casa Marina Resort , you can spend an afternoon relaxing on the beach while creating a unique piece of artwork, a professional will guide you as you transform your pile of sand into a beautiful, one of a kind creation!

45. ✧ Explore the Vandenburg Shipwreck

Speaking of shipwrecks, I doubt it gets any better than this: The Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg shipwreck can be found on the Southernmost end of the Florida Keys Shipwreck Trail. It is a 10 stories high underwater adventure with the deepest end, the keel, being at a whopping 140 feet below sea surface.

Densely populated with sponges, sea fans, sea whips and an amalgamation of coral species, exploring this shipwreck is definitely a noteworthy entry into any ‘Florida Keys Shipwreck Trail’ logbook.

GETTING AROUND KEY WEST: Key Lime Bike Tours  gives you a great overview, stopping at almost every highlight that you’d want to hit if you were in Key West for a day. Afterwards, use the Duvall Loop Bus that has 16 stops near most of the best attractions and it is FREE !   See the map here .

Also, don’t forget to grab a Key West Vacation Pass that will get you over $1,200 of discounts during your visit!

WHERE TO STAY:  Choose The Marker Key West for a luxury stay steps from the best dining and walking distance to shopping, including Duval Street.

TOP KEY WEST TOURS:

  • Key West Double Dip: 2-Stop Reef Snorkeling Trip
  • Key West Sunset Sail on Schooner America 2.0 & Drinks
  • See All Key West Tours

What to Do Everywhere in the Keys

46. ✦ dine alfresco.

The weather in the Florida Keys is almost always perfect for outdoor dining—take advantage of it! I loved dining alfresco at The Grand Cafe right on Duval Street where from their patio you can see all the action on the liveliest road in Key West.

47. ✦ Eat Key Lime Pie—everywhere!

If there is one quintessential food in the Florida Keys it’s Key Lime Pie, so you must indulge in it—everywhere! All the locals seem to have a favorite (and so do I now!). One of the most popular is at Kermit’s or Mrs Macs , but my favorite was at Chef Michaels in Islamorada.

For an even more bucket list worthy pie eating experience take the Key West 3-hour guided bicycle tour with Key Lime Pie .

48. ✦ Nosh on Conch fritters

These fried balls are made with conch meat, savory batter and seasonings. You will be hard-pressed to find a local menu that doesn’t have them on it! I had some of the best ones at Sol by the Sea in Key Largo, but a few other favorites are at Louie’s Backyard  and the  Conch Republic Seafood Company in Key West.

If you want even more ideas, check out The Key West Bucket List book on Amazon .

From interacting with dolphins to taking a ride on the African Queen and eating your fair share of Key Lime pie, visiting the Florida Keys & Key West is without a doubt a must thing to do. The sunsets are unbelievable, the drive down is breathtakingly romantic and the beach life is straight out of the movies.

The fact that it has so many bucket list worthy attractions and activities just makes the Florida Keys even more captivating!

This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase through my links, I earn a commission that helps to keep this blog running—at no extra cost to you. For more information read my full disclosure .

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36 thoughts on “Key West & Florida Keys Islands Bucket List: 45 BEST Things to Do”

Wow.. looks like there is so much to do and see in Florida Keys. Loved the post.. adding it to my list ?

There are a ton of great things to do there! It definitely should be on your list.

Only achieved 9… need to go back!

Definitely reason to go back!

Will be visiting in 2 weeks! Can’t wait!

Hemingway did NOT drink at the current Sloppy Joes, he drank at the original Sloppy Joe’s around the corner that was Capt. Tony’s later.

Only saw very few in the 4 days we were there..MUST go back!!!

fish with AWS CHARTERS OR SPEND TIME WITH ISLAND TO ISLAND CHARTERS

Thank you for all the great tips. Just booked it.

I hope you have an amazing time!

We are going the end of October for a week. Definitely added a few things to our to do list

Have a great time!

thanks for writing the detailed list with pictures on key west , it was really helpful. i appreciate it! going in two weeks and i read everything carefully. great post, and pics!

We do Key West every year. I much prefer cracked conch (similar to clam strips) over conch fritters. Conch fritters are just like hush puppies from Long John Silvers.

Love the keys lived there for awhile

Lucky you! It is definitely a place that leaves an impression.

Just went through your lovely blog, love the detailing. Really helpful for new travelers like me. I have a question: I have dedicated 5 whole days for the keys. how should I divide my night stay to cover most of the things which you have mentioned in your blog.

I would probably do two days in the Key Largo area and three around Key West.

First of all I want to say fantastic blog! I had a quick question that I’d like to ask if you don’t mind. I was curious to know how you center yourself and clear your head before writing. I have had difficulty clearing my thoughts in getting my thoughts out there. I truly do enjoy writing however it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are usually lost simply just trying to figure out how to begin. Any recommendations or hints? Kudos!

The first 15-30 minutes are the worst! What always has helped me is making sure that i am in a motivational space (there are only certain locations that I can write in) and then just getting starting. I know that that if I power through the beginning, it will start to flow after.

You MUST add #51 – don’t miss “The FABULOUS Spectrelles” – who play at The Bull and La Te Da!

Thanks for the suggestion!

What an amazing blog! This is going be so helpful when I leave for the Keys at the end of the week. I will definitely be using this as my guide. Thank you so much.

You left out Fantasy Fest and Halloween on duval

Best “things to do in the Florida Keys” list I’ve read! And I’ve read A LOT!

This will certainly make our trip to the Keys better! Thank you!

That’s great to hear! I hope you have an amazing trip :)

First off, wanted to say this an amazing blog and that I added to my favorites. One of the best lists for things to do in key west that I have come across!!!!! Also don’t forget the Jet Ski Tour! One of my Key West favorites and a great way to acquainted with the island for first timers and Key West veterans alike. It is a fun 2-hour guided tour around the 26 Miles of Key West’s coastline with several stops along the way where the guide educates you on Key West’s history, the landmark’s, the beaches & some of the best places to visit. The trip took us around the entire coast, past landmarks & historical sites, in between the islands and through the mangroves. Some of the sites included, Mallory Square, the marina, Key West harbor, a historical fort, the Coast Guard & the Navy & all of the beaches, then at the end there’s a “Free Style” ride where you get to open up on the throttle and just have fun. The name of the company that does the tour is Barefoot Billy’s and I highly ecommend the tour to anyone visiting Key West!

Sounds like a fun time, thanks for sharing!

This has to be one of the most comprehensive blogs for the Florida Keys. I am headed down in late April for my honeymoon, and creating a list of To Do’s. My fiancé has been before, but she was in AmeriCore so it will be a different experience for her. We are planning 3 nights in both Key West as well as Key Largo and will play the first night by ear when we fly in.

I hope you have a great time!

Go to a performance by Billy the Squid and the Sea Cow Drifters in Key West!

Wow, so much to do here and will have to add it to my list for next time. That hoverboard I’ve been wanting to do for ages, not many places in Australia have it available. Thanks very much for sharing !

I love Key West. One of the cool quirky things my husband and I found on our first trip there was the chicken house. It was a little shop with a yard on a side street with chickens roaming everywhere. It was so Key West.

Thank you SO MUCH for such a comprehensive list! I’m planning our first trip to the Keys and have written down so many suggestions from this post. I appreciate the time you took to write this ;)

I recommend theatre of the sea in islamorada such a neat little spot!

Florida is such a beautiful place and this guide will help me more to explore it to the fullest.

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Which Florida Keys island is best for you?

Emilie Murphy

Dec 23, 2021 • 6 min read

Two women laugh together while walking down a street in Key West

Whether you're into art, culture and cutting loose or bumming on the beach, there's something in the Florida Keys for you © BROOK PIFER / Getty Images

No matter where you stay in the Florida Keys , you’ll feel a bit outside of normal USA time.

Throughout this chain of coral islands drifting south from the tip of the Florida panhandle, you'll find incredible things to do : lost-in-time dive bars and weather-worn marinas are interwoven with oceanfront views from five-star resorts and Michelin-star-worthy dining experiences.

While all of the Keys share a relaxed, easy energy – and an appealing blend of beauty and laid-back inelegance – each island maintains its own distinct character and it's easy to island hop. From the scuba paradise of Key Largo to the unapologetic eccentricity of Key West, whatever kind of vacation you’re looking for, you'll find it here. Here's a guide to the best islands in the Florida Keys.

Best for land and sea adventures

Key Largo , the biggest island in the Upper Keys, acts as a bridge between the mainland and the rest of the archipelago. Water and land-based thrills here will meet the demands of even the most intrepid explorer; start the adventure at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park , a 70-sq-mile tract of protected seaspace, teeming with marine life. Pennekamp is a scuba and snorkeler’s dream, boasting stunning coral reefs that can also be viewed on glass-bottomed boat tours. There's even an undersea statue of Jesus known as Christ of the Abyss, a 9ft-tall replica of the famous statue in Genoa, Italy.

Activities abound on land too, starting with the Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park . This patch of wilderness was saved from developers and now, instead of condominiums, it’s home to one of America's largest West Indian tropical hardwood hammocks (the local term for areas of forest that form an ecological island, distinct from surrounding types of vegetation). Visitors can walk along nature trails surrounded by land that still feels wild and untamed, and the area is also open to cyclists. If you want to beat the heat on the trail, March to May might be the best time to visit.

Active types will also enjoy kayaking along the shores of Blackwater Sound and scanning the swampy forests for birdlife and American crocodiles at Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge , a 6600-acre nature preserve in the northern part of Key Largo.

Couple kayaking together in mangrove river on Islamorada, Florida Keys

Best for fishing (and a bit of everything else)

Islamorada is widely known as the sportfishing capital of the world, and with the abundance of marinas and plentiful stocks of billfish and other desirable catches, it’s hard to argue with this moniker. The island has a well-developed scene for both backcountry and deep-sea fishing, but there are plenty other more unique draws.

Art lovers can gallery hop through the Morada Way Arts and Cultural District , a six-block stretch of downtown studded with studio spaces and galleries. Every third Thursday of the month, the district hosts an evening arts walk with live music and extended opening hours. For rest and relaxation, head to the white sands of Anne’s Beach , book a massage at Blu Bamboo Salon & Day Spa or just perch at the poolside in a luxury resort such as Cheeca Lodge or the Moorings Village .

Just offshore, Lignumvitae Key , a haven for native plants, provides a chance to experience the natural beauty of the islands. Bougainvillea, lignum vitae and hardwood hammock forests thrive in this undeveloped landscape, giving a hint at what the whole archipelago might have looked like hundreds of years ago.

Best for beach bums

Marathon’s main beach, known to locals as  Sombrero Beach , is one of the best in the Keys and a great free thing to do . Open to the public year-round, it’s sprinkled with some of the archipelago's finest sand and it's also a protected nesting ground for turtles. Sun-worshippers will find more fine sand at Coco Plum Beach , a smaller and more natural beach popular with windsurfers.

As the halfway point of the Keys, Marathon is also a great place to stay for travelers looking to explore more widely. Head north to Long Key State Park – one of the quieter preserves in the Keys – or drive south across the famed Seven Mile Bridge to adventures in Bahia Honda State Park or Key West.

Family strolling on sandy beach of Bahia Honda state park in Florida Keys

Big Pine Key

Best for getting in touch with nature.

Nature nuts will not be disappointed by a trip to Big Pine Key. This sparsely populated island is mostly devoid of luxury and nightlife, especially as you move further away from US Route 1. But what Big Pine Key lacks in action it makes up for in tropical beauty.

The most famous wild space in the Lower Keys is Bahia Honda State Park , just east of Big Pine along the highway. You can swim, snorkel or kayak in the park’s turquoise waters before hiking up to one of the highest points in the Keys. Watch the sky burst into color as the sun sets, then stick around to gawk at the sparkling stars. The best view of all though is of the landmark Saddleback Bridge, a rusty remnant of Henry Flagler’s ill-fated Overseas Railway.

Big Pine Key is also home to the rare Key deer, a small, endangered subspecies of white-tailed deer found only in the archipelago. Wander the rambling trails of National Key Deer Refuge and stop at Blue Hole, the only freshwater lake in the entire Florida Keys – an unmatched place to see the diversity of local wildlife.

Band performing at the Green Parrot bar, Key West, Florida

Best for art, culture and cutting loose

Key West , perhaps the most famous island in the Keys, is a sun-filled carnival and the closest thing to a proper city in the archipelago. For vacationers seeking parties that spill out into the streets, late-night wining and dining and epic drag shows, Key West is your best bet.

While its wild child reputation is well earned, there are many reasons to visit the southernmost Key beyond the rowdiness of Duval Street. Literary pilgrims flock to the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum , where the famed writer lived from 1931 and 1939 (the cats that wander the grounds are descendants of Papa's six-toed kitten, Snow White).

Other worthy stops include Audubon House , where ornithologist John James Audubon produced some of his famous bird illustrations in the 1830s, and the Key West Historical Society , showcasing the rich history of the island. Take time for a stop at the Key West Pottery and Key West Island Books , a new and used bookstore with a great assortment of local titles.

You may also like: First-time Florida Keys: island hopping along the Overseas Highway How to get around the Florida Keys Top things to do in the Florida Keys

This article was first published Oct 19, 2021 and updated Dec 23, 2021.

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3 Best Day Trips from Key West: Islamorada, Dry Tortugas, & Key Largo

By Jennifer M. Wood and Terry Ward

Drone view of the Florida Keys USA

For most visitors to the Florida Keys , Key West is their ultimate destination. And while the southernmost point is undoubtedly the archipelago’s most popular, there are plenty of other places to see and things to do as you make your way up and down the Overseas Highway. Even if you want to rest your head in Key West each night, ferries and seaplanes shuttle visitors to the Dry Tortugas—a spectacular 19th-century military fort-turned-national park 70 miles west of Key West—each and every day. Or you can break up the three-and-a-half-hour drive to and from Miami with a stopover in one of the Keys’ other charming seaside villages, like Islamorada (where the tiki bar that gave birth to the Rum Runner is still standing—and still serving them up). Here, we've rounded up the three best day trips from Key West, so grab your sunscreen and get moving.

Click the link to read our complete Key West guide.

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Palm tree and sailboat Florida Islamorada

Islamorada, a collection of islands that includes Tea Table Key, Lower Matecumbe Key, Upper Matecumbe Key, Windley Key, and Plantation Key, is located midway between  Miami  and Key West (it’s a 90-minute drive to either location), making it the perfect stopping point if you want to break up your drive. But the village offers much more than just a place to sleep: it’s a seaside oasis that offers top-notch dining and accommodations (we recommend the intimate Casa Morada for a true hideaway, with just 16 romantic suites in a waterfront setting), and is also where you’ll find the Holiday Isle Tiki Bar, a stalwart tiki throwback.

Robbies Marina Miami

Robbie's of Islamorada Arrow

If Islamorada is the sport fishing capital of the world, then Robbie’s Marina is the one-stop venue you need to experience all the area has to offer. Whatever your preferred mode of water-based transportation, it’s here for you to rent: kayaks, paddleboards, jet skis, and fishing boats. If you’d rather let someone else be the captain of your ship, fishing charters and partyboats depart all day (when the sun begins to drop toward the water, sunset cruises with Sundance Watersports offer an epic end to the day). But even land-dwellers will find ways to keep themselves occupied, whether that means shopping (there’s an open-air market onsite with artwork, nautical-inspired signs and the like) or grabbing a cocktail and a bite to eat at the Hungry Tarpon (the tuna tacos, shrimp burrito, cracked conch, and Thai-style mahi fish fingers are among their signature dishes). But the most popular thing to do—as long as you don’t mind a giant fish lunging up out of the water toward you—is to fork over $4 for a bucket of bait and help feed the hungry tarpon (yep, that’s where the name comes from) that surround the deck and are always ready for a snack.

History of Diving Museum

History of Diving Museum Arrow

While nearby Key Largo is known as “The Diving Capital of the World,” the History of Diving Museum travels far beyond the Florida Keys —and even America—to trace humankind’s long love affair with the sea. It’s a surprisingly lengthy history, and one full of mesmerizing items that some people might not think would make for a memorable outing. The museum houses photographs, documents, suits, diving apparatus, and the world's largest collection of diving helmets—some of which look like they came straight from the set of Doctor Who . Because the museum is just a simple turn off the highway, it may seem like a few people just decided to stop to stretch their legs a bit. But once inside, the variety of things to do and see keeps them in place, perhaps for longer than they expected.

Holiday Isle Tiki Bar Florida

Holiday Isle Tiki Bar Arrow

The Holiday Isle Tiki Bar, which opened in 1969, is a bit like a time machine. Though it underwent a massive renovation (the establishment sustained a lot of damage following Hurricane Irma), it still maintains much of its original charm, and many of its original features—including floorboards with the names of some of its many visitors carved into them and a neon sign that serves as a sort of beacon to kitsch and cocktail fans. The space has all the requirements of a great tiki bar: soft lighting, beach views, a friendly, if raucous, crowd ( usually a mix of scuba divers, anglers, and hotel guests from the nearby Postcard Inn Beach Resort ); and a menu full of frozen drinks themselves seemingly frozen in time as the craft cocktail world has evolved around them. The bar is also supposedly the original home of the Rum Runner—rum, blackberry brandy, banana liqueur, lime juice, and grenadine—making it a destination for those with a cocktail bucket list.

Lorelei Restaurant  Cabana Bar Key West Florida

Lorelei Restaurant & Cabana Bar Arrow

You came to the Florida Keys for the water views and the sunsets, and Lorelei Restaurant has both, plus the freshest seafood around. The Florida Bay views are pristine and the menu is a perfect mix of tropical dishes (try the conch chowder and smoked fish dip). If colorful cocktails lure you, the rum punch (coconut and dark rums, grenadine, pineapple juice, and orange juice) and Bahama mama (silver, gold, coconut, and 151 rums with pineapple, orange, and Key lime juices) are solid choices.

Casa Morada

Casa Morada Arrow

Is this the Keys or the Caribbean? The lines are blurred at this evocative hotel that conjures barefoot island living to a tee. Nightly rates include snorkeling gear, bikes for exploring Islamorada’s bike paths, and stand-up paddleboards—and there’s free yoga three days a week. You can also access the resort’s tiny but pretty private island via a footbridge from the “mainland” where the suites are located. There’s a freshwater pool on the island, as well as a hidden cabana and a pavilion where you can scope for passing manatees and dolphins and watch the sunset.

Florida Keys Brewing Company Florida

Florida Keys Brewing Company Arrow

The beautiful beer garden on the backside of this brewery has a Bavaria meets Islamorada aesthetic that's impossible not to love. Picnic tables sit under palms and flowering tropical trees, and bands often strum island tunes on the tiny outdoor stage. This is the Keys, so the beer is not exactly straight ahead. Only real fruit extracts like mango, passionfruit, and pineapple are used to season the brews. There are lagers, kolsch beers, browns, wheat ales, and IPAs on the menu. People love the Run Aground Brown.

Dry Tortugas National Park

DRY TORTUGAS

If you’re aching to explore something beyond Key West, but don’t want to stray too far, a two-hour-and-15-minute ferry ride will take you the approximately 70 miles from Key West to the Dry Tortugas, a small group of islands that once operated as a military fort and was re-designated as a national park in 1992. There are no luxury hotels to be found here (though you can spend the night if you don’t mind pitching a tent and camping), nor are there any quaint boutiques or cafes. This destination is for history lovers and outdoorsy types (but it's okay if your idea of “outdoorsy” is laying on the beach all day).

United States Florida Key West Park Dry Tortugas National Park

Dry Tortugas National Park Arrow

From a distance, the 65,000-acre Dry Tortugas National Park looks like what could be one of the world’s most stunning private islands: the sand is powdery and white, the water is a stunning shade of blue, and an impressive brick fortress overlooks this island utopia. But there's more. Get a little closer and you’ll see that the brick structure is actually a historic military fort, and that the cluster of islands’ only full-time residents are the diverse range of marine and wildlife. There are no hotels (unless you count a small campsite), nor are there are any bars, boutiques, or restaurants…though there is a tiny gift shop). If you're an outdoor enthusiast, you can choose to plant yourself on the beach and not move until your boat or seaplane (the only possible modes of transportation) is ready to take you back to the mainland, or actually get up and explore.

United States Florida Key West Restaurant Cuban Coffee Queen

Cuban Coffee Queen Arrow

Cuban Coffee Queen is a lively counter-service joint with three locations (all within one square mile of each other in the heart of town), any one of which makes an ideal spot for enjoying a bit of sunshine with your morning coffee. But don’t let the name fool you: Sure, they serve one of the best cups of joe in town—break away from your same-old caffeine fix and opt for one of their classic Cuban specialties, like a café con leche—but they serve up a whole lot more. Give the pressed Cuban bread with guava and cream cheese or one of their homemade sammies a try.

Yankee Freedom III Dry Tortugas Ferry

Yankee Freedom III Dry Tortugas Ferry Arrow

If you want to get out to the Dry Tortugas, you’re either going to need a boat or a seaplane—and if you don't happen to have a spare of either, the Yankee Freedom III is your next best choice. The ferry makes the two-hour journey to and from the Dry Tortugas each day, and the price of a ticket ($180 for adults, $125 for kids 16 and under) includes a comfortable boat ride, plus breakfast and lunch, complimentary snorkeling equipment, admittance to Dry Tortugas National Park , and entry to Fort Jefferson, a massive, though unfinished, military fortress that dates to the Civil War. For those who want to take a guided tour of the 16-acre facility, that’s included, too. Just know that there are no shops here, so you’ll want to remember to bring a beach towel and some sunscreen. (The ferry itself serves up drinks and snacks.)

Key Largo Florida

Key Largo may be the title of one of Humphrey Bogart’s most famous movies, but the town itself—which is the first one you’ll reach while driving onto the Keys—has a link to one of Bogart’s other films: the boat that ferried around Bogey and Katharine Hepburn in The African Queen (it’s been restored to take guests on day trips as well as sunset dinner cruises). If you’d rather be in the water than on top of it, the town is also where you’ll find John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park—the country’s first underwater park, which is a must-see for scuba enthusiasts. Grab your sunscreen and get moving.

Bakers Cay Resort Key Largo Curio Collection by Hilton

Baker’s Cay Resort Key Largo, Curio Collection by Hilton Arrow

Open since February 2019 in Key Largo, Baker’s Cay Resort has been a hit with Traveler readers from the jump . It spans 15 tropical acres that were once a pineapple plantation tucked away off the busy Overseas Highway. The resort has 200 rooms but manages to maintain a boutique and intimate feel with winding nature trails throughout leading to quiet beaches. Rooms—including lavish suites with views of Florida Bay—have handcrafted wood furnishings, custom tile work in the bathrooms, and hardwood floors. On-site dining includes waterfront taqueria Dry Rocks, and Caribbean-Creole cuisine with bay views at the more upscale (but still Florida Keys casual) Calusa restaurant. Other amenities include a kids’ camp, two swimming pools with a waterfall grotto, and hammocks everywhere. The resort is super pet-friendly, too: dogs can swim in the water, walk on the beach, escape the sun in dedicated dog tikis, and even enjoy “yappy hour” specials.

Key West John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park Arrow

The country's first underwater park, John Pennekamp is a scuba diver's dream—there are more than 250 species of tropical fish and 85 types of coral within its nearly 200 square nautical miles. Which means you’re going to want to plan an itinerary ahead of time: throughout the day, the park runs a number of snorkeling and scuba diving tours, and kayaks, paddleboards, and canoes are also available for rent. For less active types, a glass-bottomed boat tour will let you experience the park’s majestic underwater wonderland—all from a comfy, seated position. But the park’s most impressive, must-see feature is right there in its name: its coral reefs (they’re part of the only living coral barrier reef in the continental United States, and the park was established in part to protect that). The park’s snorkeling and scuba tours are the best way to get an up-close view of these marine wonders, but the glass-bottom boat is a nice option for guests who are less inclined to get wet.

The African Queen Key Largo

The African Queen – Canal Cruise Arrow

Classic movie lovers will feel transported to Hollywood's golden age while being chauffeured around the Port Largo Canal aboard the steam engine-powered boat from The African Queen , the 1951 Oscar-winning film starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. Because the boat only holds about half a dozen people, a tour on board will feel quite intimate. Chat up your captain during the 90-minute trip to get the lowdown on Key Largo and its history. A heads-up: there's no bathroom on board, so be sure to make a pre-departure pit stop.

Florida Keys Wild Bird Center

Florida Keys Wild Bird Center Arrow

Spread across seven acres of mangrove wetlands that lead visitors on a boardwalk past rescued bird habitats to the open bay, this facility blends in with its surrounds. It feels wild, not manicured at all, but still safe and comfortable as you walk the boardwalk pathway to the area where it opens to mangrove fringed bay views of the undeveloped shoreline. Some 1,000 birds are rescued and rehabilitated by the facility every year, with many released back into the wild. Barn owls, pelicans, broad-winged hawks, great horned owls, and all manner of shore birds and pelicans are some of the characters you'll see. 

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Key Largo Conch House Arrow

The Keys is a place for seafood , and the Conch House is no exception. The food is simple here but exceedingly fresh, and serves as a nice departure from the usual abundance of fritters, fish, and fries found throughout the Keys. The emphasis is on healthy cooking, with the freshest possible fish prepared blackened or grilled with seasonal vegetables (or fries if you must). The must-try is huge portion of conch, and lobster ceviche.

Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder

Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder Arrow

This nonprofit organization is dedicated to rescuing dolphins, manatees, and other sea mammals, and visitors to the sanctuary can assist by doing anything from observing their resident animals from the dock and watching the team at work, to shadowing a trainer for the day. But the highlight for most will be getting to take a swim with the dolphins. Some of the other programming here shows visitors how to care for the animals; depending on the day and dolphin, you might see how a dolphin ultrasound is performed, or how to brush a dolphin’s teeth.

Snappers Restaurant Key West Florida

Snappers Oceanfront Restaurant & Bar Arrow

While Snappers has long been a Key Largo icon, it’s also a popular stopping point for travelers making their way from Miami to Key West (it’s about a 90-minute drive from South Beach), so prepare for a crowd and plan your trip accordingly. The waterfront setting, old-school décor, and history of the place make it rather boisterous regardless of whether you stop in for lunch, dinner, or Sunday brunch (which runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and features live jazz plus a build-your-own-Bloody Mary bar). The food leans Caribbean, and the menu changes slightly each day based on what's fresh—the hallmark of any great seafood joint—but you can't miss if you order the gator bites (lest there be any confusion, made from actual gator). If you’ve spent the day doing some fishing of your own, they’ll also cook up your personal catch of the day.

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islands to visit near key west

Discover 7 Key West Islands By Boat For The Ultimate Adventure

Explore Key West Islands With Us!

Seeking the finest Key West islands to explore by boat? Our guide highlights the top islands around Key West, each with unique offerings from secluded beaches to rich history.

So, grab your sunscreen, pack your sense of adventure, and get ready to embark on a journey like no other. The best Key West islands are calling your name, and our guide is here to ensure you make the most of every moment, without revealing too much too soon. Let the exploration begin!

The Allure Of Key West

Key West, the southernmost point in the Continental United States, is a buzzing hotspot that captivates with its vibrant culture. This buzzing hotspot is known for its rich culture and offers a plethora of exciting activities for visitors to enjoy.

One of the highlights of Key West is its stunning beaches. From the picturesque Smathers Beach to the historic Fort Zachary Taylor State Park Beach, there is a beach for every preference. Higgs Beach is another must-visit spot, offering a perfect blend of relaxation and natural beauty.

In addition to its beautiful beaches, Key West is also home to several historical landmarks and attractions:

  • Truman Little White House – Served as the winter White House for President Harry S. Truman, offers a captivating glimpse into the past
  • Ernest Hemingway House & Museum – allows visitors to explore the iconic writer’s former residence and learn about his life and work
  • Fort Zachary Taylor – a historic military fort, offers a unique opportunity to delve into Key West’s rich history
  • Mallory Square – Known for its breathtaking sunsets and lively atmosphere, is a must-visit for those seeking entertainment and local culture
  • Duval Street – With its vibrant nightlife and diverse dining options, is the heart of Key West’s social scene

Whether you’re looking for adventure, relaxation, or a taste of history, Key West has it all. Come and experience the charm and excitement of this remarkable destination.

The  Allure Of Key West

Exploring The Charm Of Islands Around Key West

The Florida Keys are a cluster of enchanting islands, each with its own unique charm. The heart of the Keys, Key West, is steeped in history and natural beauty. Its past is rich, from its discovery by Ponce de Leon in 1513 to its eventual purchase by John W. Simonton in 1821. Key West and the surrounding islands like Boca Grande Key, Mud Keys, and Marathon Key offer attractions that range from secluded beaches and mangrove forests to sunken treasures and coastal brick fortresses.

A variety of options make accessing these magnificent islands effortless. Tourists can take boat tours or rent kayaks to explore the surrounding waters and visit the islands. Adventurous souls should not miss a visit to the Dry Tortugas, a cluster of islands situated about 70 miles west of Key West.

From Fort Jefferson through Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory to the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, each island teems with attractions that add a layer of uniqueness to its charm. A visit to the John Pennekamp comes highly recommended for those eager to delve into the underwater world. It’s the first undersea park in the United States. Moreover, the National Key Deer Refuge is a fascinating place to visit in the Florida Keys, as it is home to the endangered Key deer.

No trip to Key West is complete without venturing out to the hidden gems of the surrounding islands. Join us for an unforgettable adventure as we take you on a private boat tour through the enchanting Key West backcountry.

Here at Key West Boat Trips , we specialize in creating incredible experiences by offering boat tours to a variety of stunning islands just waiting to be explored. From secret coves to pristine beaches, each island has its own unique charm and beauty.

Florida Keys Islands

1) The Maritime Majesty Of Dry Tortugas

Dry Tortugas, a remote island group 70 miles west of Key West, is a testament to the maritime majesty of the Florida Keys. This gem features the historic Fort Jefferson, constructed between 1846 and 1875, which is the largest all-masonry fort in the United States. Its strategic location near Florida Bay, an important ecological area and a popular destination for boating and fishing, adds further to its appeal.

The Key West Ferry of the Dry Tortugas National Park offers daily excursions to this amazing destination. The beaches of Dry Tortugas offer a variety of experiences, from fantastic bird watching to awesome snorkeling. The wildlife is diverse, with 30 species of coral, types of sea turtles like Green and Loggerhead, predatory fish such as amberjacks and barracudas, and an array of birds, including the sooty tern. For the best snorkeling experience, the Moat Wall, Southern Wharf Ruins, and Northern Wharf are highly recommended.

Fort Jefferson - Dry Tortugas National Park

2) Explore The Mangrove Maze In Mud Keys

A mangrove labyrinth near Key West, the Mud Keys is a group of small islands offering an unparalleled kayaking experience. The shallow, crystal-clear waters around the islands create a perfect spot for exploration. Mud Keys is home to diverse mangrove species, including:

  • Red mangrove
  • Black mangrove
  • White mangrove
  • Buttonwood mangrove

When planning a kayaking adventure in Mud Keys, it is vital to prioritize safety. Here are some important safety tips to keep in mind:

  • Wear life preservers
  • Bring extra water
  • Check weather and water conditions before heading out
  • Avoid paddling alone, especially if you’re new to kayaking

If you’re more of a boating enthusiast, book our Mangrove Safari tours for expert guidance. We’ll keep an eye on the details, so you can focus on the fun! Snap pics, make memories, and let the good times roll!

Mud Key Mangrove Safari

3) Sunset Key – A Slice Of Secluded Luxury

Sunset Key is a slice of secluded luxury only a seven-minute ferry ride from Key West. The ferry runs all day and night, ensuring that the island’s beauty is accessible at any time. This island offers a unique experience with its private island resort, Sunset Key Cottages . The resort features:

  • 40 guest cottages
  • An award-winning restaurant
  • A luxury spa

The beaches of Sunset Key are exclusive, boasting beautiful white sand and clear turquoise waters. This creates a peaceful and stunning environment for relaxation and fun.

Sunset Key

4) Snorkeling In Boca Grande Key

Boca Grande Key is a treasure trove for snorkeling enthusiasts. The vibrant coral reefs and diverse marine life make it a must-visit destination. The crystal-clear waters are home to an array of creatures like amberjack, parrotfish, angelfish, barracuda, and nurse sharks. The coral reefs feature white sand beaches, shallow sand bars, coral patch reefs, and even sunken wrecks.

The best time for snorkeling in Boca Grande Key is when the water temperature is above 68°F, ensuring a comfortable swimming experience. Snorkeling in Boca Grande Key is an adventure you don’t want to miss! if you’re looking for the ultimate snorkeling experience, join our guided tours at Key West Boat Trips . Our friendly and knowledgeable guides will take you to the best spots, ensuring an unforgettable day of exploration.

Don’t wait, book your snorkeling adventure now and make memories that will last a lifetime!

Boca Grande Key

5) The Quiet Charm Of Little Torch Key

Little Torch Key is a serene and quiet island, perfect for a relaxing getaway, located in the Lower Keys, next to Big Pine Key. The island features an adults-only resort and beautiful beaches, making it an ideal destination for unwinding.

Little Torch Key provides a plethora of activities for those seeking some action. Dive into crystal-clear waters and explore vibrant coral reefs teeming with marine life. Paddle through mangrove forests on a kayak and spot exotic birds along the way. Unwind on pristine beaches, basking in the warm sun and sipping on refreshing cocktails. Staying at the Little Palm Island Resort and trying a Gumby Slumber cocktail is a must.

And when the sun sets, indulge in delicious seafood at waterfront restaurants. Little Torch Key is a paradise for thrill-seekers, nature lovers, and relaxation enthusiasts alike. The island also offers excellent fishing opportunities. Anglers can catch a variety of fish, including amberjack, barracuda, bluefish, bonefish, and more.

Waterfront Restaurants And Cafes

6) Marathon Key’s Family-Friendly Appeal

Marathon Key is a family-friendly destination in the heart of the Florida Keys. Its charm is elevated by the Middle Keys, which offer a laid-back atmosphere with beautiful beaches and parks such as the Long Key State Park, all nestled along the stunning Atlantic Ocean.

Marathon Key offers a variety of attractions that are perfect for a fun-filled vacation. There’s plenty to keep the whole family entertained. Activities for kids include:

  • Visiting the Turtle Hospital for a unique experience
  • Exploring Curry Hammock State Park
  • Encounters with dolphins at the Dolphin Research Center
  • Crane Point Museum & Nature Center
  • Sombrero Reef for snorkeling
  • Kayaking through the mangroves

These activities are sure to keep them engaged and entertained. From snorkeling adventures to interactive wildlife encounters, there’s never a dull moment! So, grab the family and create unforgettable memories!

Sombrero Beach On The Florida Keys Islands - Marathon Key

7) Snipe Point Sandbar – Relaxing In Paradise

Snipe Point Sandbar, located about ten miles northeast of Key West, is a picturesque spot where relaxation meets paradise. The sandbar is best visited during weekdays when it is less crowded, offering a tranquil experience.

Escape the crowds and experience tranquility as you soak up the sun on the pristine sandbar. Keep your eyes peeled for a variety of birds, conchs, young sharks, and if you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of playful dolphins.

Don’t miss out on this unique opportunity to explore Snipe Point Sandbar. Book your private boat tour today and embark on a fun-filled journey that will create memories to last a lifetime.

Snipe Point Sandbar Swing

The islands around Key West offer unique experiences and unforgettable memories. Each island has its own charm and attractions, making them a yet-to-be-discovered paradise.

The best time to visit these islands is during the springtime shoulder season, from March to May. As you plan your trip, consider dividing your time between Key West and the other islands.

The travel to these islands forms part of the adventure itself. The Overseas Highway allows visitors to see from one island to another, unlocking a world of amazing destinations along the Florida Keys. So, pack your bags and embark on an unforgettable adventure!

Pelicans On The Florida Keys Islands Near Key Largo

Embark On An Epic Adventure – A Private Boat Tour With Key West Boat Trips

In the Florida Keys, every island is a unique paradise waiting to be explored. From the rich history of Key West and the maritime majesty of Dry Tortugas to the quiet charm of Little Torch Key and the family-friendly appeal of Marathon Key, these islands offer a diverse range of experiences. Whether you’re seeking an adventurous exploration, a luxurious getaway, or a peaceful retreat, the Florida Keys have something for everyone.

The journey through these islands is as captivating as the destinations themselves. With their unique charm and beauty, the Florida Keys offer an unforgettable adventure. So, why wait? Start planning your Florida Keys vacation today and immerse yourself in an island paradise like no other.

Get ready to soak up the sun, dive into crystal-clear waters, and discover the hidden treasures that await you. Our knowledgeable guides will ensure that you have an amazing time, sharing interesting facts and stories along the way. Get ready for a day filled with laughter, adventure, and memories that will last a lifetime.

Book your private boat tour with Key West Boat Trips today and let the island hopping begin!

Key West Boat Trips

Ready for your next adventure?

islands to visit near key west

At Key West Boat Trips we take your dream Florida Keys vacation and make it a reality. Let us bring your family to that magical Key West beach that seems to only exist in calendars and magazines.

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9 amazing islands in the Florida Keys

9 amazing islands in the Florida Keys

There are no theme parks or bling-bling beaches in the Florida Keys. Natural and laidback, this 125-mile-long archipelago – curving away from the Americab mainland towards Cuba – is all about the simple, unplugged allure of island life, with one rather convenient contemporary upgrade. The Overseas Highway allows visitors to drive from island to island, making exploring everything the best places to visit along the Florida Keys , from tropical forests to the world’s third-largest barrier reef, a breeze.

There are a number of different islands, or keys, within each of the five distinctive regions here: Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, Big Pine and the Lower Keys, and Key West. Each key has its own unique character; where one might offer outdoorsy types a tangle of deserted jungle, another one will tempt culture hoppers with tiki bars and artists’ studios. Then there’s the diving, kayaking, kite-surfing, fishing or simply sunbathing... But with so much on offer, how do you pick what’s right for you?

Here is our diverse guide to the very best of Florida Keys – to be experienced at your own pace.

This subtropical island city is Floridas southernmost point  closer to Cuba than Miami  and as a result feels like its...

KEY WEST: JOIN THE PARTY AND ERNEST HEMINGWAY

This subtropical island city is Florida’s southernmost point – closer to Cuba than Miami – and, as a result, feels like its own exotic little world. This is a colourful paradise, where Caribbean-style, pastel-painted villas double as charming B&Bs, free-roaming chickens scratch about in the streets and hot-pink sunsets are celebrated nightly at seafront Mallory Square (expect magicians and fire jugglers). There’s always a good time to be had in Key West. You’re rarely more than a few yards from a frozen cocktail, whether at a laid-back tiki bar or slick speakeasy (take in a cabaret show if you’re curious about this funky frontier’s wilder side.) Little wonder Hemingway loved it: you can even tour the home where he wrote For Whom The Bell Tolls .

Pretty much the opposite of Key West Big Pine is where you leave the crowds behind. This allnatural key is largely given...

LOWER KEYS: GO BACKCOUNTRY ADVENTURING ON BIG PINE

Pretty much the opposite of Key West, Big Pine is where you leave the crowds behind. This all-natural key is largely given over to wildlife refuges, where you can kayak through mangrove forests and hike remote nature trails, getting up close to the Key Deer (the world’s smallest deer), alligators (don’t get too close) and endemic great white herons. Of course, this being the Keys, there’s as much to discover off dry land as on. Namely, a thrilling wreck dive around the 210ft, sunken cargo freighter Adolphus Busch, Sr , as schools of snapper look on. Right next door, on Little Torch Key, find one of the region’s most exclusive, adults-only resorts. Little Palm Island, reopening in April 2020 after an extensive revamp, has redesigned its 15 ocean-view bungalows with a smart colonial vibe of heirloom rugs, vaulted thatched roofs and outdoor copper tubs.

Tiny Stock Island has more than a touch of the barefoot bohemian about it. Its rustic appealingly ramshackle home...

LOWER KEYS: STEP BACK IN TIME ON STOCK ISLAND

Tiny Stock Island has more than a touch of the barefoot bohemian about it. It’s rustic, appealingly ramshackle: home largely to grizzled shrimpers and young artists. The sort of place where thatched bars and shipyards are being joined by food trucks and pop-ups. Not that this off-the-beaten-path charmer is changing too much – more that there’s a creative scene emerging within still-quiet corners. There are studios filled with driftwood sculptures and artist collectives founded by local boat captains. Find those things and more (live music, a community garden, boutique places to stay) at the island’s buzzy Marina Village.

  • MARATHON: SWIM WITH DOLPHINS AT GRASSY KEY

The big attraction at this pleasantly sleepy little key is its Dolphin Research Center. The sanctuary encourages visitors to learn about its residents with playtime, research sessions and, best of all, structured swims, where you can have a one-on-one interaction with a dolphin in a natural lagoon. If after that you’d rather some R&R than hopping back in the car, Grassy has some lovely, low-key beachfront hotels and tiki bars, too.

If youre looking for highoctane hijinks neighbouring Little Crawl Key is the spot to work up a sweat. Curry Hammock...

MARATHON: GET YOUR PULSE RACING ON LITTLE CRAWL KEY

If you’re looking for high-octane hi-jinks, neighbouring Little Crawl Key is the spot to work up a sweat. Curry Hammock State Park, which also sprawls across Long Point Key, Deer Key and Fat Deer Key, is 1,000 acres of uninhabited wild, fringed on all sides by that beautiful blue-green sea. Kite-surfing is big here (you can rent from companies on the main island of Marathon), though be aware it gets busy, so first-timers may want to consider starting out elsewhere. There are also designated kayaking paths through mangrove tunnels, lagoons and open ocean, ranging from a quick one-hour route to a four-hour jaunt.

  • MARATHON: LEARN TO ‘SNUBA’ ON DUCK KEY

Small, secluded Duck Key, around the midpoint of the Florida Keys chain of the island, isn’t just a super-relaxing spot to gaze out at that gorgeous Gulf of Mexico. It’s also a great place to try out snuba: a little like scuba diving, but for people who don’t have the time – or perhaps the inclination – to study for a PADI qualification. Instead of strapping on all that complicated dive equipment, snuba allows you to swim underwater while breathing through a hose connected to a raft at the water’s surface. And that means getting closer to life around the coral – as deep as 20ft – without taking all those tests.

Islamorada a village made up of six keys calls itself the sportfishing capital of the world  and its by no means an...

ISLAMORADA: CATCH THE SPORT-FISHING CAPITAL OF THE WORLD

Islamorada, a village made up of six keys, calls itself the sport-fishing capital of the world – and it’s by no means an outlandish claim. This owes to the sheer range of fishing adventures on offer, from hooking swordfish and groupers from the ocean’s depths to backcountry expeditions for bonefish and tarpon, taking anglers on intrepid explorations across sand flats and into mangrove creeks. Many of the best trips start at Upper Matecumbe Key, where there’s no end of salty sea captains primed to teach, guide and help you land that trophy catch.

  • ISLAMORADA: GET CASTAWAY ON LIGNUMVITAE KEY

If you’re hankering after a little Crusoe-esque isolation, Lignumvitae Key is the answer: an unpopulated island forest that can only be reached by kayak or boat. It’s pristine and tranquil, so a day trip here feels like a voyage into the unknown – though in reality you’re just over a mile’s paddle from the launch at neighbouring Indian Key. Take heed of the mosquito warnings: they are merciless outside of winter. Guided tours of the forest – home to tropical plants found nowhere else in North America – are available on Friday, Saturday and Sunday from December to April at 10am and 2pm.

The classic Humphrey Bogart film noir Key Largo might take place entirely above the waterline but the biggest thrills...

KEY LARGO: DIP INTO THE DIVING CAPITAL OF THE WORLD

The classic Humphrey Bogart film noir Key Largo might take place entirely above the waterline, but the biggest thrills around Florida’s largest key almost certainly take place below it. Calling itself the diving capital of the world, Key Largo is home to both John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, the first-ever underwater park in the USA, and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, where there are more than 6,000 marine species to ogle. If you don’t want to get wet, glass-bottom boat tours help you see life under the sea without taking a dip. But really, Key Largo is diving and snorkelling heaven: its protected areas guarantee clean water, abundant wildlife and colourful coral.

Visit fla-keys.co.uk .

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islands to visit near key west

44 Islands and 42 Bridges: A Florida Keys Road Trip

It’s only 113 miles from Key Largo to Key West, but take it slow and savor the subtropical, sometimes kitschy, flavor, of these fragile isles.

A street performer entertains his audience on Mallory Square in Key West, Fla. Credit... Scott McIntyre for The New York Times

Supported by

By Elaine Glusac

  • Dec. 17, 2018

Seagulls and squadrons of brown pelicans flew alongside my rented Hyundai as I drove across the astonishing seven-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 1 that runs across Moser Sound, just south of Marathon, in the Florida Keys. The proximity of birds and water blurred the distinctions between sea and sky, drive and flight.

The string of coral islands that arc from the Florida peninsula south toward Havana has a long history of attracting pirates, profiteers and seekers of a Caribbean lifestyle within the United States. Henry Flagler, an early developer of the Florida Keys, inadvertently gave the country one of its most scenic roadways when his Overseas Railway, running from mainland Florida down to Key West, was destroyed in a 1935 hurricane. That land route eventually became the Overseas Highway, or U.S. 1, vaulting across channels, and linking 44 islands, via 42 bridges.

islands to visit near key west

I first drove the route with my sister in the early 1990s with a beer-filled cooler, tanning ambitions and the kind of dropout, sunbaked attitude that still drives the party crowd to the Keys, particularly Key West. The distractions along the way haven’t changed much. Local police and sheriff’s vehicles are still parked on the sides of the highway, jittery reminders that speed limits are strictly enforced. Cyclists share narrow shoulders over the 113-mile route from Key Largo to Key West. Manatee-shaped mailboxes, fishing marinas and seafood shacks proliferate. But most distracting are the views themselves, with the sparkling Atlantic to the left and the aquamarine Gulf of Mexico to the right as the road skips across scores of breezy, swim-inviting straits.

islands to visit near key west

Gulf of Mexico

Upper Matecumbe Key

detail below

Atlantic Ocean

1. Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park

2. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

3. Fish House

4. Bungalows Key Largo

5. Playa Largo Resort & Spa

6. Robbie’s

7. Indian Key Historic State Park

8. Alligator Tree Lighthouse

9. Curry Hammock State Park

10. Dolphin Research Center

11. Bahia Honda State Park

12. Big Pine Kayak Adventures

13. National Key Deer Refuge

14. Matt’s Stock Island Kitchen & Bar

Over the course of repeated trips, I’ve come to appreciate the nature and wildlife of the Keys, home to endangered Key deer, mangrove forests and the only living barrier reef off the continental United States.

Hurricane Irma, which struck in September 2017 with Category-4 fury, threatened the delicate balance by which so many humans and animals exist amid the mangroves and bays. In November — 14 months and much cleanup later — I drove the route to assess the scars as well as the renewal, from recently opened (or about to open) resorts to a new coterie of mermaids.

Below is a guide to this classic coastal road trip. You could drive it in a single afternoon, but you won’t want to. Three languid days is more like it.

From the rental car center at Miami International Airport, it’s just over an hour’s drive on mostly suburban highways to the Everglades bogs that edge Key Largo, the northernmost Key and the first to introduce visitors to both the natural attractions of the islands and Keys kitsch. At Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park , I stretched my legs in a native hardwood forest alongside bird-watchers who could identify a palm warbler just by its call, before hitting the bustling Fish House restaurant trimmed in strings of tiki- and flamingo-shaped lights.

Its proximity to Miami has made 18-mile-long Key Largo — a place where thick foliage obscures the water from the T-shirt and shell shops — attractive to developers eager to lure those who may not want to drive any farther down the highway.

“South Florida traffic is our bread and butter year-round,” said Herbert Spiegel, a consultant for the new Bungalows Key Largo , as he guided a tour of one of the island’s newest resorts, with its fleet of electric boats, a Himalayan salt room in the spa, four restaurants and bars, and an adults-only policy. “Florida is all about kids,” he added. “This is something different.” (And it doesn’t come cheap: all-inclusive rates at the resort, which opens this month, start at $1,300 per night, per couple).

Like the nearby Playa Largo Resort & Spa , the 135-cottage resort replaces a former R.V. campground, a trend that is nudging Key Largo upscale. But as the first stop nearest to the reef, it still attracts divers and ocean lovers across the economic spectrum to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park , where snorkeling tours explore the vibrant corals and the tropical fish they support in 70-square-miles of protected waters.

The everyday — in the form of schools, grocery stores and one very large Starbucks — mingled with signs for bird sanctuaries and state parks over the next 20 tropical miles from Key Largo to Islamorada. Spread across six lush islands, the community has an old-money heritage and a reputation as the sport fishing capital of the Keys, both of which came together in the bonefishing tournament that the late President George H.W. Bush ran for a decade from Cheeca Lodge & Spa , a vintage property with roots that go back to 1946. It’s no wonder the recent Netflix series “Bloodline,” a dark story built around a prominent Keys family, was based in affluent Islamorada.

islands to visit near key west

Keys History &

Discovery Center

Lodge & Spa

Pierre’s

Morada Bay Beach Cafe

Midway Cafe & Coffee Bar

Pines and Palms Resort

The fictional Rayburn House inn from that series is the actual Blue Charlotte villa at the Moorings Village , where 18 rental cottages, some dating back to the mid-1930s, occupy a former coconut plantation. The hurricane denuded the property and killed its signature palm tree that bowed over the water.

“Not a blade of grass was left,” said Debbie Pribyl, the general manager of the Moorings, where the cottages have all been reroofed and the landscaping replanted. On this November day, three fashion photography crews were using the beach as a backdrop. “We got more sand than we started with.”

That ocean-side beach is private, but the two restaurants that the resort runs on the Gulf side aren’t. The casual Morada Bay Beach Cafe and the more refined Pierre’s draw nightly sunset crowds to tables set in the sand near speakers disguised to look like coral rocks emitting samba music as twilight paddleboarders stroke by.

Modest roadside inns, including the newly rebuilt Pines & Palms Resort with apartment-like rooms, eclectic restaurants like Midway Café and an arts district with a brewery and galleries contribute to Islamorada’s bohemian character. A new self-guided tour available via a free cellphone app from the history museum Florida Keys History & Discovery Center introduces hurricanes, pirates and island pioneers, winding up back at Cheeca Lodge where many of these original “Conchs” were buried.

To delve deepest into Keys history, Brad Bertelli, the curator of the Florida Keys History & Discovery Center told me, travelers have to leave the road at Islamorada, and become waterborne.

He and I launched rental kayaks from Robbie’s marina in Islamorada, a popular stop for feeding tarpon the size of teenagers, and headed for the offshore Indian Key Historic State Park . The 11-acre, mangrove-fringed island, with a shady tamarind grove and spiky sisal plants bordering the paths, holds the remains of a 19th-century wrecking village devoted to salvaging goods from ships that ran aground on the reef.

I n the 1830s, Indian Key was the seat of Dade County, site of a bowling alley and an inn promising “one of the most favorable situations in the United States for persons who are suffering from pulmonary, dyspeptic and numerous chronic diseases, and obliged to seek refuge from the chill blasts of a northern winter,” according to a sign posted on the site. Prominent Keys travelers, including the ornithologist John James Audubon, passed through.

“Wreckers were thought of as the pirates of the day,” said Mr. Bertelli, looking the part with a bandana tied around his head. “Like used car salesmen, there were some bad apples.”

Today, the ghost of its town square is a large field surrounded by rock foundations of storehouses, cisterns and homes, eventually abandoned after the Second Seminole War in 1842. A three-story observation tower offers views to distant Alligator Lighthouse, marking the reef where the wreckers plied their trade , and, in the opposite direction, Lower Matacumbe Key, the source of fresh water, which allowed the island to flourish.

Middle Keys

Another 30 miles south, past innumerable cormorants perching on power lines, and you enter another world. Lobster traps line the street to Keys Fisheries in Marathon, a commercial marina harboring fishing boats and pleasure sailboats, and a dockside restaurant where baby nurse sharks school in the shallows, waiting for scraps. The restaurant is an apt introduction to the working heartland of the Keys. Here, locals and those just passing through put in orders for lobster Reubens under superhero pseudonyms and wait to hear, “Captain Marvel, your order is ready.”

Commerce mingles with conservation in Marathon, home to two nonprofit marine attractions, the Dolphin Research Center and the Turtle Hospital . Both fund their operations largely through visitor tours.

islands to visit near key west

Keys Fisheries

AquaVentures

Beach Resort

Housed in a former motel painted sea green, the Turtle Hospital treats animals that are rehabilitating after swallowing so much plastic they can’t submerge, or have tumors growing around their eyes, a condition linked to water quality. Visitors see the operating room, the research lab and tanks filled with turtles ranging from hatchlings to 300-pound adults.

“It’s a very exciting time to be in sea turtle medicine,” said Bette Zirkelbach, the energetic manager of the Turtle Hospital on a tour, as she described a pioneering study in the lab on blood turtle types.

Nature-based tourism isn’t new to the Keys — snorkeling, diving and bird-watching are popular throughout the islands and, as I drove, a radio news broadcast urged listeners to use the “I Spy a Manatee” mobile app to both identify the animals’ locations and encourage safe boating around the slow-moving creatures. But getting travelers out of motorized fishing boats and into kayaks is relatively new on Marathon, where Miranda Murphy and Steve Tomek run three-year-old AquaVentures , which offers guided kayak tours in the tangled mangrove channels at Curry Hammock State Park.

As a naturalist, Ms. Murphy treats the waterways like living aquariums, pointing out schools of baby snapper and using a net to pull up starfish and jellyfish that illustrate the role of mangroves as nurseries of the sea. “It’s like a touch tank in the wild,” she said.

In March, AquaVentures will move its base of operations to the new 24-acre Isla Bella Beach Resort . Kayak tours of the mangrove tunnels in nearby Boot Key will take off from a canal at the resort where, on my visit, six manatees spent hours in the warm shallows.

Bahia Honda

Seven Mile Bridge is the largest span in the Keys, and so exhilarating to cross that I returned another day to experience the drive in the blush light of dawn. It separates the Middle from the Lower Keys, and more commercial islands from some less developed ones, beginning with Bahia Honda Key, home to Bahia Honda State Park .

Beheaded palm trees and white sand beaches shorn of their shady sea grape trees testify to Bahia Honda’s location near the eye of Irma. This fall, one of its beaches reopened and snorkelers were trolling the shallows, but its popular Sandspur Beach, once lined with sea grapes decorated by visitors in seashells and driftwood, remains closed. Still, from the top of the old Bahia Honda Bridge, part of the original railway, there are hypnotic views across a 30-foot-deep channel that represented one of the most challenging to track-builders, sometimes limited by the tides to two 45-minute shifts a day.

Big Pine Key

Six miles west, much of Big Pine Key and neighboring No Name Key comprise the National Key Deer Refuge established in 1957 to protect the dwarf Key deer, an endangered subspecies of the North American white-tailed deer that grows just three feet tall. At the refuge visitors’ center, in a strip mall where a pair of free-ranging roosters foraged the parking lot, volunteers told tales of deer showing up beside a Winn Dixie grocery store dumpster, and extolled the resilience of the herd, which is now estimated to have between 500 and 800 deer. Many of the mangrove areas that edge their habitat remain barren after Irma.

Here, I met Bill Keogh, the easygoing owner of Big Pine Kayak Adventures , who guides paddling trips from Big Pine Key to the “backcountry,” a largely protected region of undeveloped mangrove islands. He still sees baby stingrays, snappers and sharks and, post-storm, a preponderance of lobsters on mangrove island fragments dispersed by the hurricane . “It’s the same biomass out there,” he said, “but it’s concentrated in new real estate.”

Leaving him at sunset, I crossed a bridge to No Name Key to look for deer, which I found not only there — collie-sized critters galloping across the sandy road — but, on my return to the highway, where I stopped to watch an elfin stag, doe and fawn grazing a town lawn.

Stock Island

After 25 quiet miles crossing calm bays with views to distant patches of mangrove isles, I reached the outskirts of the city of Key West on Stock Island, a traditionally blue-collar refuge for shrimpers, commercial fishermen and tourism industry employees. With its mobile homes and canals moored with houseboats, it retains a grittiness that its more manicured neighbor, the island of Key West, has largely lost. But it, too, is experiencing development, now mingling marinas, newly paved streets and bushy bougainvillea with a pair of new resorts including the Perry Hotel Key West .

With art installations made of propellers, the 100-room hotel facing a recreational marina nods to the shrimp-trawling boats across the channel. Its main restaurant, Matt’s Stock Island Kitchen & Bar, has become a dining destination for upscale versions of local seafood, such as black grouper with cornbread gnudi and crawfish-thyme butter, recommended by my Russian waitress who said she came to the Keys on vacation and has stayed seven years.

“The islands got me,” she laughed.

The next day, the Perry’s free 15-minute shuttle dropped me in teeming downtown, tourist-thronged Key West, the end of U.S. 1 and home to harbor-front bars and souvenir shops with a prevalence of mermaid ornaments, statues and paintings. In this setting, the Captain’s Mermaid boutique owned by Kristiann Mills, a native Conch who identifies as a mermaid, is a tranquil, if glittery, refuge. She explained that many of her mermaid “pod” teach “mermaiding,” or swimming in a long tailfin , and that she is launching the first Key West Mermaid Festival , July 5 to 7, to draw attention to conservation.

“We’re a little angry the ocean’s being polluted and we’re coming on land to tell you about it,” said Ms. Mills, with the warm smile and flowing hair you might expect of a mermaid.

Home of the Conch Republic, which tried to secede from the union in 1982, Key West has long attracted nonconformists, artists and especially writers, from Ernest Hemingway — whose former house-turned-museum is famously filled with descendants of his six-toed cat Snow White — to Judy Blume, who co-founded Books & Books @ the Studios of Key West , a bookstore within a nonprofit gallery just blocks from the bar-lined Duval Street.

“Duval is a tiny Bourbon Street,” said Shannon McRae, the general manager of Key West Food Tours , over a Hemingway daiquiri off Duval on her company’s new Craft Cocktail Crawl. The three-hour tour visits dives as well as chic lounges. “We want to surprise you and let you drink like a local.”

Key West, a village of tidy bungalows and Victorian captain’s homes, offers much more than bars, of course, and it isn’t hard to escape the rowdies on neighborhood walks or in attractions like the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory , a calming sanctuary of blue morphos, pointed leafwings and dusky swallowtails.

islands to visit near key west

Books & Books

@ The Studios

of Key West

Captain’s

Mermaid Boutique

Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum

Key West Butterfly &

Nature Conservatory

Southernmost Point

of the Continental U.S.

Around the corner, selfie-takers lined up at an oversize buoy marking the Southernmost Point of the continental United States, painted with an arrow indicating “90 miles to Cuba.” Many came from cruise ships to get their Instagram shot. Cruise traffic is growing on Key West, where 405 calls are expected in 2019 versus 307 in 2016.

Many ships sail out before sunset, which is a shame as sundown cues a carnivalesque celebration nightly at seafront Mallory Square that’s both a tribute to nature and a showcase for quirky characters who make their living in Key West. At one end of the seafront strip, I watched a ringmaster run house cats through hoops like circus felines ; on the other end a contortionist quipped, in the outsider’s humor so common to the Keys, “I call this an economic recovery. It’s an illusion.”

Elaine Glusac is a frequent contributor to the Travel section.

Follow NY Times Travel on Twitter , Instagram and Facebook . Get weekly updates from our Travel Dispatch newsletter, with tips on traveling smarter, destination coverage and photos from all over the world.

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Alerts in effect, explore a 19th century fort and snorkel crystal clear water with incredible marine life.

Almost 70 miles (113 km) west of Key West lies the remote Dry Tortugas National Park. This 100-square mile park is mostly open water with seven small islands.  Accessible only by boat or seaplane, the park is known the world over as the home of magnificent Fort Jefferson, picturesque blue waters, superlative coral reefs and marine life, and the vast assortment of bird life that frequents the area.

Located on Garden Key is historic Fort Jefferson, one of the nation’s largest 19th century forts in the United States.

Plan your camping trip to Garden Key

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Morning, Afternoon or Full Day Tours to the park on a seaplane

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Dry Tortugas National Park is home to history and natural wonders above and below the water's’ surface.

Bring your own boat to Dry Tortugas National Park and get the most out of the opportunities to explore this remarkable national treasure.

With less than 1% of Dry Tortugas National Park being dry ground, the best way to see this is by swimming.

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8 Key West Islands You Should Visit

key west florida

The mesmerizing archipelago of Key West Islands is a haven for those seeking sun-soaked adventures, diverse ecosystems, and a taste of the laid-back Floridian lifestyle.

Nestled amidst the crystal-clear waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, these islands offer a unique tapestry of natural beauty, cultural richness, and recreational possibilities.

In this exploration, we delve into the allure of Key West Islands, unraveling the reasons why each one deserves a spot on your travel itinerary.

Key West Islands, collectively known for their coral reefs, azure waters, and vibrant marine life, form a tropical paradise that beckons travelers from around the globe.

From the northern tip of Key Largo to the southernmost paradise of Key West , each island boasts its own distinctive charm, contributing to the archipelago’s reputation as a diverse and captivating destination.

While Key West itself is a renowned destination, the true magic of the archipelago lies in the exploration of its lesser-known gems.

Each island presents a unique blend of natural wonders, recreational opportunities, and cultural experiences.

Venturing beyond the popular locales allows travelers to discover secluded beaches, hidden coves, and a rich tapestry of local traditions that may be overlooked in more frequented areas.

The diversity of the islands caters to various interests, making it an ideal destination for families, nature enthusiasts, history buffs, and those seeking a tranquil escape.

1: Key Largo

key largo florida

Nestled at the northernmost edge of the Key West Islands, Key Largo is a captivating blend of natural wonders and aquatic adventures.

Known as the “Dive Capital of the World,” this island boasts a laid-back atmosphere that perfectly complements its vibrant marine life and stunning coral reefs.

Key Largo serves as a gateway to the Florida Keys, offering a tantalizing preview of the treasures that lie beneath its azure waters.

Key Largo’s allure lies in its unparalleled underwater ecosystems.

The John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, America’s first underwater preserve, is a testament to the island’s commitment to marine conservation.

Visitors can explore the park’s vibrant coral formations through snorkeling or glass-bottom boat tours, providing a window into the kaleidoscope of marine life that inhabits these pristine waters.

In addition to its underwater wonders, Key Largo is home to the Florida Keys Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center, where visitors can witness the rehabilitation efforts for injured or orphaned birds native to the region.

The island’s unique blend of ecological attractions and wildlife encounters sets it apart as a must-visit destination.

Beyond the aquatic realm, Key Largo offers a plethora of activities for every kind of traveler.

Adventure-seekers can embark on kayaking expeditions through the mangrove forests of the Everglades National Park or try their hand at sport fishing in the abundant waters surrounding the island.

For a more leisurely experience, the island’s botanical gardens and nature trails provide a serene escape into the lush, tropical landscapes.

Key Largo’s arts and cultural scene also contribute to its vibrant atmosphere.

The island hosts regular events celebrating local artists and musicians, providing a taste of the unique creative spirit that thrives in this corner of the Florida Keys.

Key Largo’s distinct combination of underwater wonders, outdoor adventures, and cultural richness makes it a compelling destination for all types of travelers.

Whether you’re an avid diver, a nature enthusiast, or someone seeking a tranquil escape, Key Largo beckons with its unique charm.

The island’s commitment to conservation and sustainable tourism adds an extra layer of appeal, allowing visitors to engage with the environment responsibly.

With its breathtaking beauty both above and below the waterline, Key Largo stands as a testament to the ecological diversity that defines the Key West Islands.

Dive into the enchantment of Key Largo, and you’ll find yourself immersed in a world of natural splendor and unforgettable experiences.

2: Islamorada

islamorada florida

Nestled amidst the turquoise waters of the Florida Keys, Islamorada holds the title of the “Village of Islands.” Comprising four main islands – Plantation Key, Windley Key, Upper Matecumbe Key, and Lower Matecumbe Key – this tropical paradise is a haven for those seeking a perfect blend of relaxation and adventure.

Known for its picturesque beaches, world-class fishing, and vibrant cultural scene, Islamorada is a jewel in the crown of the Key West Islands.

Islamorada is blessed with an abundance of natural wonders.

The Theater of the Sea, a marine mammal park, allows visitors to interact with dolphins and sea lions in a breathtaking oceanfront setting.

History enthusiasts will appreciate the Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park, home to a former quarry and evidence of an ancient coral reef.

The island’s beaches, such as Anne’s Beach and Founders Park, provide idyllic settings for relaxation and water activities.

Picture-perfect sunsets over the Gulf of Mexico are a common spectacle, making Islamorada a favorite destination for romantic getaways.

For outdoor enthusiasts, Islamorada is a paradise waiting to be explored.

The surrounding waters offer some of the best sport fishing in the world, with opportunities to catch prized game fish like tarpon, bonefish, and permit.

Kayaking and paddleboarding through the mangroves provide a closer look at the diverse marine life, while snorkeling and scuba diving reveal the vibrant coral reefs beneath the surface.

Nature trails and bike paths wind through the islands, offering a chance to discover the rich flora and fauna of the region.

Birdwatchers will find ample opportunities to spot both resident and migratory species, adding a touch of wilderness to the tropical landscape.

Islamorada is a culinary delight, with an array of dining options that showcase the fresh flavors of the sea.

From casual seafood shacks to upscale waterfront restaurants, the island’s dining scene caters to every palate.

Sampling the local cuisine is a must, with a focus on fresh catches of the day.

Whether indulging in a seafood feast with a Gulf view or savoring a casual beachside meal, visitors can expect a gastronomic journey that complements the island’s laid-back ambiance.

From seafood grills to conch fritter stands, Islamorada’s culinary offerings are as diverse as its natural beauty.

Whether enjoying a sunset dinner on the pier or a casual lunch with toes in the sand, the island’s dining experiences are an integral part of the overall charm of Islamorada.

3: Marathon

marathon florida

Nestled in the heart of the Florida Keys, Marathon is a tropical haven that perfectly balances relaxation and adventure.

Positioned as the midpoint between Key Largo and Key West, Marathon is a collection of islands offering a diverse range of experiences.

Known for its stunning coral reefs, abundant marine life, and a welcoming atmosphere, Marathon is a must-visit destination for those seeking a quintessential Florida Keys experience.

Marathon is renowned for its commitment to marine conservation, exemplified by the presence of the Turtle Hospital.

Dedicated to the rehabilitation of injured sea turtles, this facility allows visitors to witness firsthand the conservation efforts aimed at preserving these majestic creatures.

The Dolphin Research Center also calls Marathon home, providing educational programs and interactive experiences with dolphins, further contributing to the island’s commitment to marine preservation.

The waters surrounding Marathon are a paradise for marine enthusiasts.

Sombrero Reef, a protected underwater sanctuary, beckons snorkelers and divers to explore its vibrant coral formations and diverse aquatic life.

The island’s dedication to preserving its underwater ecosystems ensures that future generations can continue to marvel at the beauty that lies beneath the surface.

Outdoor enthusiasts will find Marathon to be a playground for adventure.

The historic Seven Mile Bridge offers a scenic route for walking, running, or cycling, providing breathtaking views of the turquoise waters that stretch as far as the eye can see.

Kayaking through the mangroves of Boot Key and Pigeon Key offers a serene escape into the heart of nature, while sport fishing charters provide the thrill of the open sea.

The famed Sombrero Beach invites visitors to bask in the sun, engage in beach volleyball, or simply enjoy a leisurely stroll along the shoreline.

Marathon’s commitment to ecotourism ensures that every outdoor adventure is an opportunity to connect with the natural beauty that defines the Florida Keys.

Marathon welcomes visitors with a wide range of accommodations, from cozy beachfront cottages to luxury resorts overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.

Whether seeking a family-friendly retreat or a romantic escape, Marathon’s hospitality industry caters to diverse preferences.

Waterfront resorts offer a seamless blend of comfort and convenience, with many providing private beach access, on-site dining, and water sports facilities.

Vacation rentals and charming bed-and-breakfasts allow guests to experience Marathon like a local, immersing themselves in the island’s laid-back atmosphere and friendly community.

Hospitality in Marathon goes beyond accommodations, with local businesses and residents embracing visitors with a warm and welcoming spirit.

The island’s commitment to sustainable tourism ensures that guests not only enjoy a memorable stay but also contribute to the preservation of Marathon’s natural splendor.

4: Big Pine Key

big pine key florida

Nestled between Marathon and Key West, Big Pine Key stands out for its distinctive ecosystem, featuring a rare and captivating blend of nature and tranquility.

The largest of the Lower Keys, Big Pine Key is renowned for its pristine landscapes, unique habitats, and a slower pace that invites visitors to immerse themselves in the untouched beauty of the Florida Keys.

One of the crown jewels of Big Pine Key is the National Key Deer Refuge, a haven for the diminutive and endangered Key deer.

Visitors to the refuge have the rare opportunity to witness these charming creatures in their natural habitat, creating an intimate connection with the island’s unique wildlife.

Birdwatchers will also delight in the variety of avian species that call the refuge home, adding to the island’s allure as a sanctuary for both land and air.

Adjacent to the refuge, the Blue Hole, a freshwater lake, provides another glimpse into Big Pine Key’s ecosystem.

Surrounded by lush vegetation, the Blue Hole is a prime spot for observing alligators, turtles, and a myriad of bird species.

The island’s commitment to preserving these habitats ensures that future generations can continue to marvel at the biodiversity that defines Big Pine Key.

While Big Pine Key is a haven for nature enthusiasts, it also caters to those seeking relaxation and rejuvenation.

The island’s tranquil beaches, such as Sandspur Beach and Long Beach, invite visitors to unwind amidst swaying palm trees and gentle sea breezes.

Kayaking through the winding waterways of the Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge offers a serene escape into the heart of nature.

The laid-back atmosphere of Big Pine Key extends to its charming local businesses, including waterfront cafes and artisan boutiques.

Visitors can indulge in leisurely strolls through the quaint neighborhoods, savoring the unhurried pace of island life.

Big Pine Key is a destination where the art of relaxation is mastered, providing a perfect balance to the more adventurous pursuits in the Florida Keys.

Big Pine Key takes pride in its commitment to sustainable tourism, recognizing the delicate balance between visitor enjoyment and environmental preservation.

The National Key Deer Refuge serves not only as a wildlife sanctuary but also as an educational hub, fostering awareness about the island’s unique ecosystems and the importance of conservation.

Local businesses on Big Pine Key embrace eco-friendly practices, from minimizing single-use plastics to supporting local initiatives that promote environmental stewardship.

Sustainable tourism initiatives extend to the accommodation sector, with eco-friendly resorts and lodgings offering responsible alternatives for conscious travelers.

5: Key Colony Beach

Key Colony Beach Florida

Nestled between Marathon and Key West, Key Colony Beach is a hidden gem that exudes charm and character.

This secluded island offers a unique blend of tranquility and vibrancy, making it an ideal destination for those seeking a peaceful escape with a touch of coastal allure.

With its welcoming atmosphere and intimate setting, Key Colony Beach promises a distinctive experience in the heart of the Florida Keys.

Key Colony Beach is a paradise for water enthusiasts, surrounded by the crystalline waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.

The island’s pristine beaches, such as Sunset Park Beach and Inch Beach, provide idyllic settings for sunbathing, beachcombing, and serene strolls along the shore.

The waterfront attractions extend beyond the sandy beaches.

The Key Colony Inn Beach Club, with its private beach and pool facilities, offers an exclusive retreat for guests looking to unwind with a touch of luxury.

Waterfront parks and marinas dot the landscape, providing ample opportunities for boating, fishing, and other aquatic adventures.

Key Colony Beach is not only a haven for couples seeking a romantic getaway but also a family-friendly destination with activities for all ages.

The island’s parks, such as Sunset Park and City Park, feature playgrounds, picnic areas, and open spaces for families to enjoy quality time together.

The Dolphin Research Center, located just a short drive away, provides an educational and entertaining experience for families.

Interactive dolphin encounters and informative presentations offer a unique opportunity for children and adults alike to connect with marine life in a meaningful way.

Despite its small size, Key Colony Beach boasts a diverse culinary scene that caters to various tastes.

Local seafood restaurants offer the freshest catches, with waterfront dining options allowing guests to savor their meals with a view of the shimmering waters.

The island’s charm extends to its cafes and bistros, where visitors can enjoy casual dining experiences with a touch of local flavor.

Key Colony Beach embraces the laid-back ambiance of the Florida Keys, inviting guests to indulge in delicious cuisine while basking in the island’s tranquil atmosphere.

Exploring the local seafood specialties, such as conch fritters and spiny lobster, is a culinary adventure in itself.

From family-friendly eateries to upscale dining establishments, Key Colony Beach ensures that every meal is a delightful experience, adding to the island’s allure as a culinary destination within the Key West Islands.

6: Duck Key

Duck Key Florida Keys

Nestled between Marathon and Islamorada, Duck Key is a secluded oasis that beckons with its exclusive charm and tranquil ambiance.

Often referred to as the “Gateway to the Middle Keys,” Duck Key is synonymous with luxury, offering discerning travelers a sophisticated retreat amidst the natural beauty of the Florida Keys.

Duck Key is renowned for its opulent accommodations, with a collection of luxurious resorts that define the island’s upscale allure.

From boutique hotels to lavish beachfront villas, each accommodation option on Duck Key is designed to provide an unparalleled level of comfort and sophistication.

Waterfront resorts, such as Hawks Cay Resort and The Resort at Longboat Key Club, offer a blend of modern amenities and scenic views, creating an atmosphere of exclusivity.

Private suites and upscale amenities ensure that guests experience the epitome of luxury while surrounded by the serene beauty of Duck Key.

While Duck Key is a haven for those seeking relaxation, it also caters to the adventurous spirit with a variety of water sports and recreational activities.

Guests can indulge in snorkeling and scuba diving adventures to explore the vibrant coral reefs and marine life that surround the island.

Kayaking through the calm waters and exploring hidden coves provide a peaceful escape into the heart of Duck Key’s natural wonders.

For those seeking a more laid-back experience, the island’s pristine beaches offer the perfect setting for sunbathing and enjoying the gentle ocean breeze.

Duck Key’s commitment to providing a range of recreational activities ensures that guests can tailor their experience to their preferences, whether it be an adrenaline-fueled adventure or a tranquil day by the water.

Duck Key is synonymous with an upscale experience that extends beyond luxurious accommodations.

The island’s high-end dining establishments, featuring world-class chefs and curated menus, invite guests to savor culinary masterpieces against a backdrop of stunning waterfront views.

Exclusive spa facilities on Duck Key offer indulgent treatments and wellness experiences, allowing guests to rejuvenate their minds and bodies in a serene tropical setting.

The attention to detail and commitment to providing an upscale experience permeate every aspect of Duck Key, creating a haven for those seeking a refined escape from the ordinary.

Whether it’s enjoying a private yacht charter, teeing off at a championship golf course, or simply unwinding by a private pool with a view of the azure waters, Duck Key caters to the desires of those who seek the epitome of luxury.

The island’s focus on providing an upscale experience ensures that every moment on Duck Key is an indulgent retreat into the lap of opulence within the mesmerizing backdrop of the Florida Keys.

7: Little Torch Key

Little Torch Key Florida

Tucked away in the Lower Keys, Little Torch Key is a hidden gem awaiting discovery by those seeking a more secluded and intimate island experience.

Far from the bustling crowds, this tiny island is a haven of tranquility, offering a unique blend of natural beauty and hidden treasures for those willing to explore off the beaten path.

Little Torch Key’s allure lies in its pristine, secluded beaches that seem like a well-kept secret.

Visitors can escape to sandy shores where the only sounds are the gentle lapping of the waves and the rustle of palm fronds.

The intimate atmosphere, far removed from the hustle and bustle, creates a sense of serenity that envelops the entire island.

Beachcombers will delight in the treasures that wash ashore, while those seeking solitude can find hidden coves to bask in the sun or enjoy a quiet swim in the warm, crystal-clear waters surrounding Little Torch Key.

The island’s unspoiled landscapes and uncrowded beaches make it an idyllic retreat for those yearning for a peaceful escape.

Little Torch Key has become a haven for artists seeking inspiration from its natural beauty and tranquility.

The island’s artistic community has left its mark on the landscape, with murals, sculptures, and vibrant displays of local art contributing to the cultural richness of Little Torch Key.

Cultural influences extend beyond the art scene, with local events and festivals showcasing the unique traditions of the island.

Visitors have the opportunity to immerse themselves in the creative spirit of Little Torch Key, engaging with the works of local artisans and gaining insights into the island’s rich cultural tapestry.

For those embarking on a journey to Little Torch Key for a peaceful getaway, a few tips can enhance the experience.

Consider renting a private cottage or villa, nestled amid the lush vegetation, to fully embrace the tranquility of the island.

Pack essentials for beachcombing and exploration, as many of Little Torch Key’s hidden gems are best discovered on foot.

Exploring the island’s local art scene is a must, with galleries and studios providing a glimpse into the creative energy that permeates Little Torch Key.

Additionally, taking advantage of water taxis or kayaks to explore the surrounding waters can reveal secluded spots and enhance the overall sense of serenity.

To truly embrace the laid-back atmosphere of Little Torch Key, consider disconnecting from technology and immersing yourself in the natural beauty that surrounds you.

Whether it’s a quiet evening on the beach or a leisurely stroll through the island’s artistic enclaves, Little Torch Key invites visitors to savor the simplicity of a peaceful getaway in a truly enchanting setting.

8: Key West

Key West Florida Keys

As the southernmost point of the continental United States, Key West stands as the crown jewel of the Florida Keys. Revered for its vibrant energy, historic charm, and eclectic spirit, Key West draws visitors from around the world seeking the perfect blend of relaxation and cultural richness.

The island’s iconic landmarks and lively atmosphere make it a destination like no other.

Key West is a living testament to its rich history, with a collection of historic landmarks and cultural attractions that reflect the island’s diverse heritage.

The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, nestled in Old Town, provides a glimpse into the life of the famous author, while the historic Truman Little White House offers insights into the island’s presidential connections.

Mallory Square, a bustling hub of activity, comes alive with street performers, artisans, and breathtaking sunset celebrations.

The Key West Historic Seaport and Duval Street showcase the island’s maritime legacy and offer a vibrant mix of shops, galleries, and restaurants housed in charming Victorian-era architecture.

As the sun sets, Key West transforms into a lively playground of nightlife and entertainment.

Duval Street, with its iconic bars and vibrant energy, becomes the epicenter of Key West’s nightlife.

Visitors can hop from one historic watering hole to the next, savoring the lively atmosphere and live music that spills into the streets.

Mallory Square’s Sunset Celebration is a nightly ritual, where locals and visitors alike gather to witness the breathtaking sunset over the Gulf of Mexico.

Street performers, local artisans, and food vendors contribute to the festive atmosphere, creating a lively and unforgettable experience.

Essential Travel Tips for Key West

For those planning a visit to Key West, a few essential travel tips can enhance the overall experience:

  • Transportation: Key West is easily accessible by air, sea, and land. Visitors can fly into Key West International Airport, drive along the scenic Overseas Highway, or arrive by ferry or cruise ship.
  • Accommodations: Due to its popularity, it’s advisable to book accommodations well in advance, especially during peak tourist seasons. Options range from historic bed-and-breakfasts to luxury resorts.
  • Exploration: Key West is a walkable destination, and renting bicycles or scooters is a popular way to explore the island. The historic Old Town is best experienced on foot, allowing visitors to soak in the architecture and atmosphere.
  • Water Activities: Given its island setting, Key West offers a plethora of water activities. Snorkeling, diving, and sunset cruises are popular choices, providing opportunities to explore the vibrant marine life and stunning coral reefs.
  • Local Cuisine: Key West boasts a diverse culinary scene. From fresh seafood at waterfront restaurants to conch fritters at local haunts, indulging in the island’s cuisine is a must.
  • Events and Festivals: Check the local events calendar, as Key West hosts numerous festivals and events throughout the year. From the Fantasy Fest to the Hemingway Days, these celebrations add an extra layer of excitement to the island experience.

Key West captivates visitors with its iconic charm, historic allure, lively nightlife, and a plethora of cultural and recreational offerings.

As a destination that caters to diverse tastes and interests, Key West invites travelers to immerse themselves in the vibrant tapestry of this unique and unforgettable island paradise.

In our exploration of the 8 Key West Islands, we’ve embarked on a journey through a tropical archipelago that beckons with diverse landscapes, rich history, and vibrant culture.

From the underwater wonders of Key Largo to the upscale charm of Duck Key, each island unfolds a unique chapter in the story of the Florida Keys.

The pristine beaches, hidden gems, and cultural richness of Little Torch Key, Key Colony Beach, and beyond have invited us to savor the magic that defines this enchanting corner of the world.

As we reflect on the diverse offerings of the Key West Islands, the call for exploration and adventure resonates.

The archipelago caters to every kind of traveler – from those seeking tranquil getaways to thrill-seekers yearning for underwater adventures.

The interconnected web of natural wonders, historic landmarks, and cultural influences creates an immersive experience that lingers in the hearts of those who venture into these sun-drenched havens.

The invitation to explore extends beyond the familiar, urging travelers to seek out the hidden corners, pristine beaches, and cultural enclaves that make each island unique.

Whether it’s a leisurely stroll through the historic streets of Key West or an adrenaline-pumping water sport off the shores of Marathon, the Key West Islands offer a canvas for personalized and unforgettable adventures.

In closing, the Key West Islands stand as a testament to the unparalleled beauty and variety that define the Florida Keys.

From the laid-back charm of Little Torch Key to the upscale luxury of Duck Key, and from the historic allure of Key West to the pristine landscapes of Big Pine Key, each island contributes to the mosaic of experiences awaiting those who choose to explore.

The Key West Islands not only showcase the natural wonders of the region but also embody a commitment to conservation, sustainability, and a celebration of local culture.

Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, a history buff, a culinary connoisseur, or simply someone in search of a peaceful retreat, the Key West Islands offer a paradise that transcends expectations.

If you would like to visit the islands across the Florida Keys, contact to our team at Isle Keys and we will craft the perfect island getaway for you.

key west islands

FAQ’s About Key West Islands:

How many islands are in the key west.

The term “Key West” typically refers to the entire archipelago known as the Florida Keys, which is a coral cay archipelago located off the southern coast of Florida.

The Florida Keys consist of over 1,700 islands in total.

However, not all of these islands are inhabited or accessible, and the number can vary depending on how one defines an “island.”

What are the key islands in Florida?

The main “key” islands in Florida are part of the Florida Keys, an archipelago stretching southwest from the southern tip of the Florida peninsula.

Some of the key islands in the Florida Keys include Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, Big Pine Key, Key Colony Beach, Duck Key, Little Torch Key, and Key West.

These islands are connected by the Overseas Highway, which traverses the stunning landscapes and bridges of the Florida Keys.

How many islands are off the Florida Keys?

The Florida Keys consist of over 1,700 islands.

However, the number of islands off the Florida Keys that are considered part of the archipelago varies, as not all of these islands are inhabited or easily accessible.

The more prominent and well-known islands in the Florida Keys number in the dozens, with the largest and most populated ones forming the main attractions for visitors.

Why are Key West islands called Keys?

The term “Keys” is derived from the Spanish word “cayo,” which means small island or islet.

The use of the term “Keys” to describe the islands off the southern coast of Florida, particularly the Florida Keys, has historical roots in the Spanish exploration of the region.

The name stuck, and today, the term “Keys” is synonymous with the chain of islands that make up the archipelago.

Is it worth driving from Miami to Key West?

Yes, the drive from Miami to Key West is considered one of the most scenic and iconic road trips in the United States.

The Overseas Highway, which spans 113 miles and connects the islands of the Florida Keys, offers breathtaking views of the turquoise waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.

The journey includes driving over numerous bridges, including the famous Seven Mile Bridge.

The trip is not just about reaching the destination; it’s about enjoying the journey through the stunning landscapes of the Florida Keys.

Is Key West Florida expensive?

Key West can be considered relatively expensive compared to other destinations.

The cost of living, accommodations, and dining options in Key West can be higher than the national average.

However, the level of expense depends on various factors, including the time of year, accommodation choices, and personal spending preferences.

It’s advisable for visitors to plan and budget accordingly, considering both the unique experiences Key West offers and their individual financial considerations.

key west island

(Island Expert)

Christian is a dynamic serial entrepreneur and a licensed real estate agent with a relentless passion for unlocking the potential of island real estate. Christian's expertise extends beyond entrepreneurship and property transactions. He possesses a profound expertise in crafting captivating content and persuasive copywriting tailored exclusively to the enchanting realm of island real estate.

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17 Best Things to Do in Key West, Florida

Like other vacation locales in Florida, Key West offers plenty of ways for nature lovers to enjoy its coastal seat, including several clean beaches, sailing and kayaking tours, fishing charters, and eco-tours like snorkeling excursions with tropical

  • All Things To Do

islands to visit near key west

Duval Street Duval Street free

U.S. News Insider Tip: Fuel your day of sightseeing with strong, sweet espresso from Cuban Coffee Queen. There are multiple locations near or along Duval Street, including the original truck by the waterfront. If it's a hot day (which it always is), get an iced cafe con leche with coffee ice cubes. - Lyssa Goldberg

A visit to Key West isn't complete without taking a stroll down Duval Street. Lined with restaurants, bars, art galleries and souvenir shops, this popular thoroughfare stretches a little more than a mile and is near many of the city's most well-known attractions. Grab a slice of Key lime pie from Kermit's Key West Key Lime Shoppe a few blocks over, sign up for a ghost tour or catch some live music at the legendary Sloppy Joe's bar. Best of all, you can people-watch here free of charge.

islands to visit near key west

Mallory Square Mallory Square free

U.S. News Insider Tip: A Mallory Square sunset is a must during your trip, but don't miss out on sunset views at dinner, too. Plan ahead and book a table at a waterfront restaurant like nearby Hot Tin Roof or Latitudes . These reservations can fill up months in advance. - Lyssa Goldberg

For a great view of the Key West sunset, head to Mallory Square at the northwest tip of the island. During the Sunset Celebration (a free, nightly arts festival that starts about two hours before sunset), this is one of the best spots on the island to catch the sun's last moments and revel in the end of the day. But because it's one of the best vantage points for watching a sunset, it's also extremely crowded, especially with cruise passengers when ships are in port.

islands to visit near key west

Southernmost Point Southernmost Point free

U.S. News Insider Tip: While you're here, laugh to yourself about the self-proclaimed southernmost everything, from the historic Southernmost House mansion and Southernmost Beach Cafe to the Southernmost Grocery Store & Deli and Southernmost Trolley Stop gift shop. - Lyssa Goldberg

One of the most popular things to do in Key West is to snap a photo with the colorful buoy marking the southernmost point of the United States. Sitting at the intersection of Whitehead and South streets, the striped buoy is just 90 miles north of Cuba. Next to it, you'll find a plaque dedicated to Cubans who have lost their lives trying to reach America, and a plaque detailing the history of the Black community on the Southernmost Point.

islands to visit near key west

Popular Tours

Key West Sunset Sail with Full Bar, Live Music and Hors D'oeuvres

Key West Sunset Sail with Full Bar, Live Music and Hors D'oeuvres

(2734 reviews)

from $ 75.05

Key West Full-Day Ocean Adventure: Kayak, Snorkel, Sail

Key West Full-Day Ocean Adventure: Kayak, Snorkel, Sail

(457 reviews)

from $ 147.11

Key West Sunset Cruise: Dinner and Drinks Included

Key West Sunset Cruise: Dinner and Drinks Included

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islands to visit near key west

Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum

U.S. News Insider Tip: Combine this stop with the Key West Lighthouse across the street. Then, visit nearby Blue Heaven in the quirky, colorful Bahama Village neighborhood for the best backyard vibes (and Key lime pie) in town. - Lyssa Goldberg

Literary icon and journalist Ernest Hemingway is one of Key West's best-known and well-loved "freshwater Conchs" (a resident who was not born on the island). His former home – which he lived in for less than 10 years, but owned until his death in 1961 – is located in Old Town and is now a U.S. National Historic Landmark. Literature buffs take note: Hemingway penned parts of some of his most famous works, including "A Farewell to Arms" and "For Whom the Bell Tolls," in this very residence. The grand house itself is interesting, as it was one of the first in Key West to have indoor plumbing and a pool. Inside, the rooms contain memorabilia about Hemingway's life and work.

islands to visit near key west

Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park

For the cleanest beach and best waters in Key West, you should head for the westernmost point of the island to Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park. There, you can sunbathe, hike, bike, fish and get a dose of history all in one place. Recent visitors noted the clear waters, making it an ideal snorkeling spot, but travelers also warn that the sand is not soft and that beach shoes are needed to traverse the rocky terrain safely. While the beach might not be as powdery soft as some other Florida beaches , it does offer some great snorkeling opportunities, according to recent visitors. You can either bring your own or rent equipment on-site. Along with your water gear, pack some food and charcoal: This beach has plenty of barbecue grills.

If you get tired of hanging out beachside, stop by the historic fort located within the park. The fort was built in the mid-1800s and was used during the Civil War and the Spanish-American War. Daily guided tours are available at 11 a.m. or you can follow the self-guided tour.

islands to visit near key west

Take a Key West boat tour Take a Key West boat tour

When you're not admiring the waters that surround Key West from the beach, enjoy them from the deck of a boat. Several companies offer sailing, snorkeling and kayaking tours, not to mention sunset cruises and fishing charters .  Danger Charters , Classic Harbor Line  and  Sebago Key West  all receive favorable reviews from recent travelers. There are also several tours designed exclusively for dolphin watching (the Florida Keys are home to bottlenose dolphins year-round, along with six other dolphin species that pass through the area) – Wild About Dolphins and Honest Eco  are among the most popular, according to recent travelers.

If you sign up for a  snorkeling tour , you'll likely sail to the Florida Keys Reef – the only living coral barrier reef in North America. Located approximately 6 miles off the coast of Key West, the reef has shallow waters ideal for beginners. Travelers can also sign up for kayaking tours and paddle through the uninhabited mangrove islands in the Key West National Wildlife Refuge.

islands to visit near key west

Smathers Beach Smathers Beach free

Key West isn't known for its beaches. However, the largest and most bustling one on this island is Smathers Beach, which is particularly popular during spring break. Recent travelers say the beach is clean with calm waters, plenty of shade under the palms and amenities, including bathrooms, food trucks, and chair and umbrella rentals. Visitors also say the views are great and praise the beach's soft white sand. In recent months, several visitors noted an abundance of sargassum (smelly seaweed).

You'll find Smathers Beach on the southern shore of the island, stretching half a mile along the Atlantic Ocean and State Road A1A. It's close to the airport, which can be a pro if you enjoy watching the planes take off and land, or a con if you're not a fan of the noise.

islands to visit near key west

Harry S. Truman Little White House Harry S. Truman Little White House

Originally built by the U.S. Navy in 1890, the Little White House served as naval command headquarters during the Spanish-American War, and also played roles in both World Wars and the Cold War. From 1946 through 1952, President Harry Truman used this house as his winter vacation home and because he spent 175 days of his presidency here, it became known as the Little White House. The name is fitting: Since Truman's days, many other presidents have also vacationed here, including Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. Today, the Little White House has been restored and turned into a museum. Exhibits document Key West's role in naval conflicts, as well as the house's history – the Marshall Plan and Truman Doctrine were both discussed here.

Recent travelers highly recommend a visit to the Little White House, especially for self-identified history buffs. The guides and exhibits both earn high marks from reviewers. The only gripe among recent visitors concerned the admission cost, which some felt was too high for a one-hour experience.

islands to visit near key west

Shark and Wildlife Viewing Adventure in Key West

(1985 reviews)

from $ 89.00

Key West Afternoon Snorkel Sail with Live Music and Cocktails!

Key West Afternoon Snorkel Sail with Live Music and Cocktails!

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Key West Snorkeling with Breakfast and Unlimited Mimosas

Key West Snorkeling with Breakfast and Unlimited Mimosas

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islands to visit near key west

Key West Lighthouse & Keeper's Quarters Museum Key West Lighthouse & Keeper's Quarters Museum

If you can fend off the claustrophobia and don't mind heights, the climb up the tiny and constricting 88 spiral steps to the top of the Key West Lighthouse is worth it for the views, say recent visitors. Once you're up there though, be patient: According to past travelers, the viewing balcony at the top is very narrow. After taking in the views, take a look around the keeper's quarters, which have been around since 1887. The cozy house is now a museum that surveys the history of lighthouses in the Keys, with photographs and various artifacts. The gift shop is also a great place to find regional art.

One ticket gets you access to both the lighthouse and the museum. Admission for adults costs $17; kids ages 7 to 18 get in for $9, while children younger than 7 can enter for free. Discounts are available when you purchase your tickets online. Visitors are divided on whether the admission price is worth the local history provided in the museum, but most agree that the panoramic views seen from the top of the lighthouse are unbeatable. The lighthouse and museum are open daily (except Christmas) from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Situated across the street from the  Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum , you can easily visit both sites in one day. Reviewers say there is some street parking, but most recommend walking in from town.

islands to visit near key west

Conch Tour Train Conch Tour Train

Operating for more than 50 years, the Conch Tour Train is an ideal option for travelers interested in learning the history of Key West, but who don't have a lot of time to spend meandering through different attractions. This 75-minute narrated tour loops through Key West's famous Old Town, focusing on the city's rich history. The tour departs from Front Street and makes three stops along the way for visitors to grab refreshments and stretch their legs, and then wraps at Mallory Square . Passengers can also choose to hop off at a stop to visit nearby attractions and catch a later train.

Recent visitors praised the excellent tour guides, calling them knowledgeable and entertaining. They also said the train was a great way to see Old Town while giving your feet a break from walking. While some travelers thought the tickets were a bit overpriced, others appreciated the tour's convenient hop-on, hop-off structure.

islands to visit near key west

Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory

If you love butterflies, this is the spot for you. The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory is filled with 50 to 60 species of colorful winged creatures that seemingly float through the air in an enclosed, glass-domed aviary. Plant enthusiasts will also find much they'll love here, as the butterflies share their home with a wide variety of plants, along with more than 20 species of birds including two famed flamingos.

Past visitors highly recommend a stop here, describing the conservatory as a serene place to get away from the crowds or impending rain. Those traveling with kids said the kaleidoscopic butterflies and birds were a hit with the younger crowd, and the outing proved educational, too, thanks to a short film on butterfly metamorphosis.

islands to visit near key west

Audubon House & Tropical Gardens Audubon House & Tropical Gardens

Whether you're interested in colonial furniture, period architecture, tropical greenery or artist and naturalist John James Audubon, you'll find a host of curiosities at the Audubon House & Tropical Gardens. Located in Old Town a block away from Duval Street , the Audubon House & Tropical Gardens dates back to the 1840s. The house was built by Captain John Huling Geiger, but it's named after well-known ornithologist John James Audubon, who visited the Keys in 1832. Twenty-eight of his works can be found in the house. While you're here, take a look at the house's decor and then head outside to the lush and colorful garden, which includes orchids, bromeliads and other tropical plants. For some, the garden was their favorite part of the house, noting that the vibrantly colored flowers make for prime photography subjects. Other reviewers remarked on the careful restoration of the house and its period-specific antiques.

When you walk into the house, you'll be greeted by a staff member who will offer a brief introduction. Many visitors remark on how friendly and knowledgeable the docents are. From there, you can embark on your own self-guided tour. The Audubon House is open every day from 9:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. Admission for adults costs $15; students (of any age) pay $10; tickets for kids ages 6 to 12 cost $5; children younger than 6 get in for free. You can purchase Audubon prints (and other souvenirs) in the on-site gift shop. For more information, visit the official website .

islands to visit near key west

Key West Aquarium Key West Aquarium

The Key West Aquarium is proof that good things come in small packages. More small-scale than your typical aquarium, this indoor-outdoor attraction is a historic facility that first opened in 1935. Although it might be lacking in elaborate exhibits, this one-story aquarium still has a good range of creatures for the entire family to see. Take your kids to the touch pools to see if a sea cucumber is as slimy as it looks. The museum also hosts several tours and presentations throughout the day. If you're lucky, you may get to feed a gentle nurse shark if you attend the shark presentation.

The aquarium is home to several rescued sea turtles that are native to Florida waters.

islands to visit near key west

Epic Sandbar Safari With Dolphin Playground Encounter In Key West

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Key West 3hr Water Adventure with Parasail, Jet Ski, Banana Boat

Key West 3hr Water Adventure with Parasail, Jet Ski, Banana Boat

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Ultimate Key West Kayak Eco-Tour: Mangrove and Sandbar Adventure

Ultimate Key West Kayak Eco-Tour: Mangrove and Sandbar Adventure

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islands to visit near key west

Higgs Beach Higgs Beach free

Located on the south side of the island along the Atlantic Ocean, Clarence S. Higgs Memorial Beach Park encompasses 16.5 acres of oceanfront, two piers (one on each end), a Civil War-era fort and the site of what's believed to be the only known African refugee cemetery in the U.S. Beachgoers can enjoy a day of swimming, snorkeling, kayaking or paddle boarding in the ocean, plus land activities ranging from sunbathing to beach volleyball, tennis and pickleball.

Higgs Beach is known for its fine, white sand and shallow water, making it an ideal beach for families with small children. However, when you first enter the water, the sand can be rocky, recent travelers warn, so bring water shoes. You can avoid the rocks entirely by walking down the Reynolds Street Pier past the rocky shore to a ladder, where you can step down into the water. Beach chairs and umbrella rentals are available, or you can set up shop at one of several tiki huts, permanent wooden umbrellas, or picnic tables with barbecues. The park also offers visitors a bike path, a children's playground, a dog park, plus public restrooms and showers.

islands to visit near key west

Key West Cemetery Key West Cemetery free

U.S. News Insider Tip: For more of the macabre, take an evening Ghosts & Gravestones tour to learn about the spooky tales of other Key West sites, where you'll meet the legendary (but haunted) Robert the Doll. – Lyssa Goldberg

Located in Old Town, the Key West Cemetery has been around since 1847 and is well worth at least a walk-through. The quirkiness of the city's residents extends even to the grave. Tombstones in this 19-acre cemetery don't bear the typical inscriptions. Instead, you'll find epitaphs that reflect the island's casual lifestyle. Some of the more well-known inscriptions include "I told you I was sick" and "I'm just resting my eyes." One tombstone for a captain is actually topped with a ship's mast. Notable Conchs buried here include Ellen Mallory, whose name you'll recognize from Mallory Square ; William Curry, Florida's first millionaire; and "Sloppy" Joe Russell, who was Ernest Hemingway's fishing guide and a bartender at the famed Sloppy Joe's bar on Duval Street . 

islands to visit near key west

Key West First Legal Rum Distillery Key West First Legal Rum Distillery free

Key West's First Legal Rum Distillery opened its doors in 2012 and is the first since the end of Prohibition. Here, visitors can tour a working rum distillery, learn how to make a killer mojito or try a free sample of the establishment's specialty white and dark rums, which are made with Florida cane sugar and infused with flavors of coconut, vanilla creme brulee and Key lime. The distillery also sells flasks, shot glasses and rum cake.

Past visitors praised the distillery's delicious drinks and informative staff members, but noted that the tour was limited to one room. Even so, many recommended visiting for the wide selection of rums and rum drinks alone (including piña coladas).

islands to visit near key west

Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center free

With more than 6,000 square feet of interactive exhibits, the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery center seeks to inspire visitors to preserve the marine ecosystems of the Florida Keys and enjoy this natural resource responsibly. Here, guests can learn about the native plants and animals of the Florida Keys through exhibits highlighting the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, four national wildlife refuges and three national parks, including Dry Tortugas, which is on an island about 70 miles from Key West.

Visitors can watch a 20-minute movie about the Keys' fragile ecosystems and then explore the center on a self-paced tour. Staff and volunteers are also on-site to answer questions. Notable exhibits include a replica of NOAA's Aquarius, the only underwater ocean laboratory in the world, and a spotlight on the long maritime history of shipwrecks inside the sanctuary's waters. After completing renovations in late 2022, there are even more hands-on activities, such as a mangrove exhibit where guests can play animal noises and guess which animal made the sound, an area with microscopes so you can watch coral close-up, and a paddleboard photo-op that looks like you’re paddling through the mangroves. The center has been certified by KultureCity as a sensory inclusive facility for people with sensory sensitivities; it offers a separate room where people can take a break from the exhibits. Sensory kits are also available.

islands to visit near key west

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Florida Trippers

Learn how to easily plan your dream trip to Florida!

Palm tree in mallory square best things to do in key west

20 Best Things To Do In Key West, FL You Shouldn’t Miss

January 6, 2022 //  by  Florida Trippers

There are so many exciting and unique things to do in Key West, Florida. This town is found at the southern tip of the Florida Keys and is known for its nightlife, entertainment, and relaxing island vibes.

Driving down from Miami to Key West is one of the best Florida road trips . You will pass many beautiful sights along the way!

Planning your trip to Key West last minute?

Make sure to book ahead! Hotels and tours often sell out the closer you get to your trip. Here are our top picks for Key West!

Top Experiences And Tours In Key West:

  • Dolphin Watching And Snorkeling Eco Tour (Top pick!)
  • Schooner Sunset Sail (2 hours)
  • Reef Snorkel From Key West (Includes breakfast and mimosas)
  • Hop-On Hop-Off Trolley Tour (Great way to see the city)

Top Places To Stay In Key West:

  • Margaritaville Beach House Key West (Modern mid-range)
  • Blue Marlin Motel (Affordable in downtown)
  • Hampton Inn Key West (Waterfront with pool)
  • Wicker Guesthouse (Great location!)

Along with a party atmosphere, Key West offers a lot of history and adventures. Whether you are here for a day trip , weekend getaway , or even longer, there are plenty of fun Key West activities to keep everyone entertained.

Are you a history buff? Explore the home of a great American author or the winter getaways of former U.S. Presidents! Maybe you want to live life more on the edge? Key West is filled with dives and rentals that will keep you going!

This Florida beach town is perfect for everyone in the family, and this list will help you decide what to do in Key West, Florida!

If you are looking for places to stay in Key West, there are a ton of cute Airbnbs and hotels that range from budget to luxury !

Before you plan your trip, make sure to check out The Best Times To Visit The Keys where we break down each month and talk all things weather!

Beach with kayaks, beach chairs, and palm trees in Key West, Florida.

Get a Drink on Duval Street

It’s not a trip to Key West if you don’t spend time on Duval Street! This lively and colorful area is one of the most popular things to do in Key West for adults.

Make sure to check out the best bars and nightlife in Key West!

This is the best place in Key West to take in some sights and enjoy local food and drinks. You will also enjoy the sounds of live music and street performers while you embrace the city! This is truly one of the Best Places To Stay In Key West!

The bar crawling scene is notorious on Duval and is a great way to spend a day or two. Even if you don’t drink, you can come for the fun atmosphere. Hanging out on Duval Street is easily one of the best things to do in Key West at night .

Sloppy Joe’s Bar is a staple in Key West and is a great stop for a drink or history. It has been around since 1937 and many famous people have ordered a drink here. It was allegedly Ernest Hemingway’s favorite bar. They even have a “Papa” Hemingway look-alike contest every year.

Book Here: Key West: 2.5-Hour Duval Street Pub Crawl

Palm tree lined Duval Street with many brightly colored bars and restaurants.

Celebrate Sunset at Mallory Square

Mallory Square is one of the most notable Key West attractions! This location is famous for its beautiful Florida sunsets and is the perfect place to unwind from your busy day.

Located on the water in the Old Town, Mallory Square is full of family fun. The Square has shops and restaurants that the whole family can enjoy!

The fun doesn’t stop there! While you’re walking through the Square, you will enjoy the entertainment of musicians and street performers, and you can even buy something unique from a street vendor!

Make sure to come for the nightly Sunset Celebration. This tradition has been happening for decades and should not be missed! Crowds fill the Square to watch the sun sink over the Gulf and watch street performers such as jugglers and magicians. This is one of the best free things to do in Key West !

Mallory Square lined with shops and palm trees is one of the best things to do in Key West.

Tour Harry S. Truman’s Little White House

You can learn a little bit about American history by stopping into Harry Truman’s Little White House. This is Florida’s only presidential museum and is one of the best places to visit in Key West for American history.

The home was built in 1890 and was originally used as housing for naval officers. During his presidency, Harry Truman used this house in Key West as his winter getaway when D.C. got too cold to bear. He use the house from 1946 through 1952.

It may be named after President Truman, but he is not the only president to seek the warm weather of Key West. Presidents Taft, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Carter, and Clinton have all visited as well.

For $20 per adult and $10 per child, you can tour the house and the grounds and see how the presidents lived while they were visiting Key West.

Book Here: Truman Little White House: Key West

Exterior of Harry S. Truman's Little White House with trees, benches, and bushes.

Visit the Ernest Hemingway House

Another place to visit in Key West for history buffs is the Ernest Hemingway House and Museum. Nestled just a block from Duval street, the Hemingway House is a great way to take in some beauty and local history.

The beautiful Spanish Colonial-style mansion is full of the famous writer’s personal items, historic furnishings, photographs, paintings, and more. This is a must-see Key West destination for anyone who loves history, architecture, or literature. Make sure to put this on your list when doing a Florida Keys Road Trip!

Hemingway and his wife were gifted the home in 1931 from his uncle-in-law. They lived here from 1931 to 1939 and the deed stayed in his name until his death in 1961.

As you walk through the grounds, you will see stunning decor, lush gardens, and even some feline friends prowling around! These famous cats are descendants of cats that roamed the grounds while Hemingway himself lived in the house. Interestingly, they all have six toes like their ancestors.

Book Here: Key West Conch Train Tour

A woman in a dress and sun hat smiles on the front steps of the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum.

Find Great Views at the Key West Lighthouse

If you’re going to pop into the Hemmingway House, you might as well cross the street and take in the sights at the Key West Lighthouse and Keeper’s Quarters Museum!

Lighthouses always bring an extra bit of history, and this one is no exception. This black and white structure was built in 1848 to protect ships from the surrounding shallow water and coral reefs.

If you take a tour of the lighthouse, you will learn about the first lighthouse keeper, who was a woman, and you will see historic photos from when the lighthouse was operational.

Climb 88 stairs to the top of the 65-foot lighthouse to be greeted by amazing sights. You will have a 360-degree view of the island of Key West and the surrounding ocean! Don’t forget your camera!

View of the Key West Lighthouse and Keeper's Quarters Museum sitting on a green lawn.

Dive to Discover Vandenberg

Key West is one of the best places in Florida for scuba diving . One of the most stunning dives you can take is down to the Vandenberg.

This retired Navy ship was sunk seven miles off the coast of Key West in 2009 to become an artificial reef to help aquatic wildlife. The skeletal ship can be explored 150 feet below the surface if you have an up-to-date scuba certification.

The ship is found in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary which offers many other places to dive. You can find North America’s only coral barrier reef and many shipwrecks. Some attractions are not as deep underwater as the Vandenburg and can be explored by snorkeling if you are not scuba certified.

Book Here: Key West: SNUBA Experience

Viewing the Vandenberg coral reef in the deep blue of the ocean.

Admire Wildlife at the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory

The Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory is one of the best things to do in Key West with kids who love animals and nature. This is truly a tropical paradise that will cause visitors of all ages to gaze in wonder.

If you like butterflies, this place will be your heaven! There are between fifty and sixty species of butterfly housed here and over twenty species of exotic birds. Stroll through the climate-controlled, enclosed habitat and try to spot as many creatures as possible.

The conservatory has a learning center where you can learn all about the butterfly’s anatomy, life cycles, and migratory patterns. There is also an art gallery where you can see tons of art inspired by the butterflies and birds of the conservatory.

The Nature Conservatory is located right near Duval Street and is in the heart of Key West.

Butterfly Conservatory in Key West

Taste Test at Some Rum Distilleries

Key West is known for its rum and the Rum Runner is said to be the island’s official drink. This cocktail dates back to the 1950s and is named after the rum runners who would illegally bring alcohol to the U.S. during Prohibition.

If you are interested in the production of rum, or just drinking it, there are actually three locations in Key West that may be of interest. Key West’s First Legal Rum Distillery, Papa’s Pilar, and Key West Distilling are all excellent places to pop in and learn about the distilling process of delicious rum and other liquors.

Each distillery has its own unique taste, so you have to tour each one, right? These distilleries are also a great place to learn how to whip up some new recipes!

Glass of iced rum on top of a barrel.

Take a Day Trip to Dry Tortugas National Park

If you have the time, taking a tour to Dry Tortugas National Park is worth it! Exploring Dry Tortugas is definitely one of the most unique things to do near Key West. If you love checking off the U.S. National Parks , make time for this activity.

Technically Dry Tortugas is not on the island of Key West. It’s seventy miles off the coast, and while it’s not the easiest excursion to get to, it is so worth the trip.

Once on the island, you are free to explore the grounds, relax by the beach, and even go snorkeling! It is a fantastic opportunity to take in history and adventure at the same time!

The biggest attraction of the park is Fort Jefferson, which was built between 1846 and 1875. Take a guided tour to learn the complete history of this place and see how soldiers lived.

Unfortunately, visiting Dry Tortugas is not the cheapest or easiest thing to do. To get here, you have three options.

You can take the ferry for $190 per adult and $135 per child. The seaplane is the fastest and most scenic option, but it will set you back anywhere from $361 to $634 per person depending on how long you plan to stay. You can also charter a boat or take your own.

If you want to stay longer than a day trip, this is one of the best places to camp in Florida .

Book Here: Dry Tortugas National Park Day Trip by Catamaran from Key West

Aerial view of Fort Jefferson on Dry Tortugas National Park surrounded by pristine, blue water.

Learn at the Coast Guard Museum

American history can be found all over Key West, especially tied into the ocean. One of the best Key West activities to entertain history buffs is the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Ingham Maritime Museum.

Take a tour of the Coast Guard Cutter Ingham and learn all about what life was like on board while it was in service and after. This ship was in service from 1936 to 1988 and helped save lives during both World Wars.

You will be immersed in testimonials from those who served aboard. You will also see equipment, weapons, and uniforms used by the servicemen at the time.

Exterior of the Coast Guard Museum ship in Key West.

Step Back in Time at the Audubon House and Tropical Gardens

The Audubon House is a beautiful historic site, allowing us to catch a glimpse of the wealthy lifestyle of the mid-1800s. Built by Captain John Huling Geiger in 1840, the home was made to fit his family’s wealthy lifestyle in the heart of Key West.

In 1958, the house was saved from demolition and renovated to reflect its heyday. The house has become a beautiful destination for tourists to enjoy. Inside, you will find decor and art dating back to the home’s beginnings.

The outside is just as intriguing as the inside. The gardens are landscaped with picturesque flowers and greenery. Stroll the winding paths and admire the blooming flowers and tropical plants.

Book Here: Key West Historic Homes and Island History – Small Group Walking Tour

Exterior of the historic, white and green, Audubon House, one of the best things to do in Key West.

Stroll the Historic Seaport and Harbor Walk

Taking a walk down the Historic Seaport and Harbor Walk is one of the top things to do in Key West because there is so much to experience along the way. The seaport is lined with restaurants and happy hour’s to enjoy. There are also great gift shops and picturesque, Instagram spots.

If you make your way down the Harbor Walk, you are sure to find fishermen coming in with their catches of the day and some of the expensive private boats parked by wealthy people from around the world.

This area has been a cultural and economic hotspot for almost two hundred years! This is a great place for a relaxing walk away from the larger tourist crowds, even more so when you are taking in the sunset! Bring your significant other for one of the most romantic things to do in Key West for couples

A pelican sitting on a boat among many other white boats at the Historic Seaport Harbor Walk in Key West, Florida.

Rent a Kayak or Jet Ski

Seeing Key West from the water is such a fun experience, and it can be yours with a simple jet ski or kayak rental. You are in Florida; you have to get out on the water!

If you prefer high-octane water sports then there are a variety of locations you can choose from to rent jet skis and tour around the island. Get your heart pumping as you zoom through the bright, blue ocean water.

Kayaking is also a popular way to explore the surrounding ocean waters. Take a solo or a tandem kayak beyond the break of the waves and enjoy a relaxing day out on the water. This is a great way to spot wildlife as well. There are also guided tours to take that are both entertaining and informative!

Book Here: Key West: Jet Ski Island Tour with Free Second Rider

Book Here: Florida Keys: Key West Kayak Eco Tour with Nature Guide

A man out on a jet ski causing waves.

Enjoy Nature at the Key West Garden Club

The beautiful grounds of the Key West Garden Club are stunning for so many reasons.

This garden has the goal of teaching guests about tropical gardening. You will be amazed as you along the brick paths and through gorgeous courtyards all the while surrounded by amazing greenery and colorful flowers. There is a pretty water lily pond and waterfall as well.

Within the garden, you will also find the West Martello Tower. Built in 1862 during the Civil War, this tower is now listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

The Garden Club also sits right near Higgs Beach. The edges of the gardens overlook the ocean making for a serene experience.

This attraction is great for the wallet, too, because this is one of the best free things to do in Key West, Florida!

A rock pond surrounded by green plants and flowers at the Key West Garden Club.

Take an Old Town Trolley Tour

Old Town Trolley Tours have always been a popular way to take in scenery and history while traveling.

Luckily, Key West has implemented Old Town Trolley Tours into their city so you can see all of the hidden and not so hidden gems this city has to offer!

The trolley is a great way to see a lot of the city without having to walk all over, especially in the Florida heat. If you have kids, this is an easy way to see the city without fear of them getting lost or tired.

If you want to add a bit of a spook factor to your trip, take the trolley after dark when it transforms into the Ghosts and Gravestone’s Tour where you can learn about the creepy history and present of Key West!

Book Here: Key West: Old Town Trolley 12-Stop Hop-On Hop-Off Tour

Book Here: Ghosts & Gravestones Tour of Key West

Trolley driving downtown among shops.

Dine at Sunset Pier

Sunset Pier is one of the best restaurants in Key West , not just for the food, but for the view!

Located at the Ocean Key Resort near Mallory Square, Sunset Pier is everything you can expect from Key West. Dine at a colorful table right on the pier and look out over the water.

They do not take reservations, so make sure you get there in time to snag a seat for the sunset. The seafood is delicious, especially the seasonal oysters!

Since it is part of the resort, there is much less bustle than at Duval Street or Mallory Square, but the atmosphere and views are everything you would expect from Key West!

Colorful stools and tables with collapsed umbrellas lining Sunset Pier with string lights overhead during the day.

Take a Selfie at the Southernmost Point

One of the best attractions in Key West is the one that can only be seen here. Did you know Key West is the southernmost point of the continental U.S.?

At the corner of South Street and Whitehead Street, you’ll find a big, brightly colored buoy that marks this claim to fame. The buoy was placed in 1983 and has been a popular tourist spot since. If you want to take a picture with the monument, make sure to get there early because the line can get long.

There are also plenty of other things to do in this area. Take a picture of the Southernmost House Hotel with its pretty, pastel colors or eat at one of the nearby restaurants.

Book Here:  Key West: History and Culture Southernmost Walking Tour

The buoy for the southernmost point in front of a beautiful ocean scene.

Try Key Lime Pie

You cannot come to the Florida Keys and miss an opportunity to eat some genuine key lime pie! No one knows exactly when or where this Southern delicacy was first created, but the first written recipe dates back to the early 1930s.

Key West offers the perfect climate for growing key lime trees and the famous pie is the signature dessert here. Almost all restaurants have some sort of version for you to try. If you want to do a tasting to find your favorite, you can check out our list of best places to get key lime pie in Key West .

Key lime pie is a light and refreshing dessert with a crumbly graham cracker crust and a fluffy, sweet, and tart filling. Pie is not the only way to enjoy key limes. You can try key lime ice cream, fudge, cocktails, and more! Satisfy your sweet tooth with the best of Key West desserts!

Book Here:   Key West: 3-Hour Guided Bicycle Tour with Key Lime Pie

A slice of key lime pie and a fork on a white plate.

Explore Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park

Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park at the southern tip of the island is one of the best activities in Key West for the whole family. If you have the time, this is an awesome place to spend a couple of hours relaxing.

Explore the Civil War-era Fort Zachary Taylor and learn about the significance of this location. Come for one of the monthly historic reenactments to see history come alive.

The beach here is one of the best beaches in Key West , especially for snorkeling. Just off the beach, you will find amazing tropical marine life. Don’t have snorkel gear? You can rent some at Chickee Hut Beach Rentals. You can also get umbrellas, chairs, and rafts here.

Bring water shoes to protect your feet from the coral beach. This is a great place for fishing and birdwatching, too. Stop by the Cayo Hueso Café for a snack.

Inside Fort Zachary Taylor with brick arches and cannons.

Relax at Smathers Beach

If you want more beach time, head to Smathers Beach . While it is a manmade beach with imported sand, it is just as beautiful as any of the natural beaches in Florida .

This is the largest beach in Key West and has a half-mile of soft sand. This beach is known for its clear water and calm waves. It is the perfect place to swim with your kids. This is also a great place for snorkeling , parasailing, and playing beach volleyball.

This beach is free to access, so it should be on your list of best places to go in Key West if you are looking to save money. Bring a picnic to enjoy at one of the tables.

Don’t forget to check out our list of the Best Florida Keys Beaches for some more ideas of places to visit!

A boardwalk leading down to Smathers Beach with palm trees and golden hour light.

There are so many fun things to do in Key West that everyone can enjoy! It’s a location rooted in fun and relaxation, so it is virtually impossible not to have a good time!

There is history and adventure sprinkled throughout all of Key West. That coupled with the natural beauty of the island is what keeps tourists coming back year after year.

Add some of these locations to your list of places to visit in Florida and your next trip will surely be a vacation you will never forget.

Did You Find This Post Helpful?

If so, we would love to keep in touch! We enjoy seeing photos and comments about your experiences in Florida! You can follow us on Instagram and we will repost your photos on our feed and comment too! Just tag us at @floridatrippers and hashtag #floridatrippers. We can’t wait to see your travels!

The beautiful blue water of Destin Beach with grass in the foreground

Florida Rambler

Remote islands in Florida Keys: 6 hidden, little known spots

By: Author Karuna Eberl and Steve Alberts

Posted on Last updated: May 5, 2022

The grandest of adventures are born on isolated islands.

From pirate gold to giant apes, the mystery of what might be found on a speck of land peeking up through a vast sea has captivated imaginations for millennia.

On a few of the hidden islands in the Florida Keys, some of these tales are actually true.

With more than 1,700 islands, it is not surprising that today’s Keys have ample abandoned history to explore. Humans may have called them home since at least the height of Greek civilization, some 3,600 years ago.

Spanish explorer and conquistador Ponce de León became the first European to lay eyes on them in 1513. Soon after, legions of ships departing the New World would catch the trade winds along the Florida Straits.

Pirates stalked Spanish treasure fleets, British warships pursued illegal slave ships, and wreckers waited for all of their misfortunes along the shallow reefs.

All the while, farmers, fishermen and outcasts claimed keys for themselves, setting up homesteads and villages. Hurricanes reclaimed more than a few of those. Workers set up camps from which to build lighthouses and a railroad. Hurricanes reclaimed some of those as well.

Two famous abandonments steal most of the headlines, so we’ll get the need to mention those out of the way now: Civil War-era Fort Jefferson, which lies 70 miles west of Key West, is the largest masonry structure in the Americas. It is contained in one of the least-visited national parks, Dry Tortugas.

With pristine reefs and unusual birds, it is an excellent place to spend the day, or even camp for a few.

The ever-iconic Pigeon Key , an aerial shot of which graces nearly every tourist brochure, is an historic railroad work camp along the Seven Mile Bridge. Original wooden buildings dot the 5-acre island, which can be reached by ferry.

Then, there are the lesser-known ruins of the Keys. A few have remarkable stories.

For the rest, the tales of those who once roamed these tiny swaths of land are lost to time, the faint traces of their existence serving as silent sentinels to speculation and imagination.

Here are six of our favorites, not necessarily in any particular order.

Hidden islands in the Florida Keys you can visit

Hidden islands in the Florida Keys: Indian Key as it looks from the Overseas Highway in Islamorada. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

One of the first Keys inhabited by white settlers, Indian Key was an outpost for a handful of fishermen and turtlers, until 1930 when it became the base of wrecker Jacob Housman’s mini-empire.

The 11-acre island had a population large enough to support two general stores, a hotel, warehouses, a bowling alley, a 38-man militia and all of the labor needed to run his lucrative shipwreck salvage.

But his reign was short-lived.

In 1840, Seminoles launched and early-morning attack, killing many of the residents and burning down the town.

Today, it is a state park, with trails, swimming and an observation tower. The old town’s remains are largely un-excavated. It is an easy kayak from U.S. 1, and nearby Robbie’s Marina rents boats.

Here’s a FloridaRambler.com guide to kayaking to Indian Key.

indian key Kayak launches and landings for Indian Key and Lignumvitae

Distance from Overseas Highway:

  • Indian Key Fill to Lignumvitae Key Kayak Landing- 2.84 miles roundtrip
  • Indian Key Fill to Indian Key Kayak Landing-1.66 miles roundtrip
  • Indian Key Fill to Entrance of Mangrove Creeks-1.84 miles roundtrip 

Lignumvitae Key

Lignumvitae-Key

Angora goats and Galapagos tortoises once roamed here, imported by the Matheson family along with exotic plants. Their 1919 caretaker’s house is restored for tours.

Before them, wrecker Jacob Housman had built a residence, of which small ruins remain, and after them a man ran a small watermelon and pineapple farm.

It’s one of the highest Keys, more than 16 feet in elevation, covered in virgin tropical hardwood hammock and graced by hiking paths.

The state park is just a few miles Gulfside of Indian Key.

Boat rentals and seasonal tours launch from nearby Robbie’s Marina.

Tarpon Belly Key

hidden islands in the florida keys tarpon belly key scottshannon59 Remote islands in Florida Keys: 6 hidden, little known spots

In the ‘60s, a man had a dream of growing shrimp in paradise.

He dug two canals on the Tarpon Belly Keys, and tried his best for a few years. His shrimp legacy never made if far, but the rubble he left behind has made Tarpon Belly a legendary hangout ever since.

Remnants of the operation, including an old truck, are found tucked away around the island.

Though the island is still privately owned, locals often come here to picnic, snorkel, and even camp overnight.

The islands are a few miles north of Cudjoe, and the closest marinas are Cudjoe Gardens and Sugarloaf.  

Hidden islands in the Florida Keys: Satellite view of Tarpon Belly Key’s shrimp canals.

Hidden islands in the Florida Keys you cannot visit

Ballast key / david wolkowsky key.

hidden islands in the florida keys 2022 5 5 ballast key Remote islands in Florida Keys: 6 hidden, little known spots

Spoiler alert: the famous cement buoy in Key West isn’t technically the southernmost point in the country. That designation falls on a 14-acre island nine miles west of Key West, which used to be owned by beloved developer David Wolkowsky — Ballast Key.

Wolkowsky purchased it in the ‘70s from the Navy, who had been using it as a bombing target, then set to work revegetating the island and building a house there. He also helped cultivate Key West’s art and literary scene, and thus entertained the likes of Truman Capote, Leonard Bernstein, Tennessee Williams and countless others on Ballast Key.

When he died in 2018, he willed the island back to nature, or rather to the Key West National Wildlife Refuge. Soon to be officially renamed David Wolkowsky Key , it’s currently being used as research station for scientists studying its many imperiled and native species of plants, animals and habitats. It is not open to the public . Don’t even think about trying it. Seriously. But you can get a great view of it from the water, on the way to the sandbar hangout off Woman Key. 

Upper Sugarloaf Key

Sugarloaf Key satellite

Houses cover part of Upper Sugarloaf, but in the wilderness beyond, hidden amongst the trees and bogs, lie numerous Indian mounds, remnants of an ancient civilization.

These rocky piles, which are typically 2 to 4 feet tall, were most likely built by the Caloosa tribe. The mounds may have been ceremonial, though little is actually known about them.

A much larger kitchen midden, or ancient trash pile filled with shells and other discarded artifacts, once existed on the east coast of the island, but in typical development style it was bulldozed over to create Indian Mound Estates.

Unfortunately, the area around the Sugarloaf mounds is now closed to the public, but mounds exist elsewhere throughout the Keys, most still undiscovered.

On a hike, look for a raised and rocky-dirt beds or ridges.

Lois Key and Raccoon Keys

In 1973 the world’s largest producer of laboratory animals set up shop in the Lower Keys.

Boaters who happened upon Lois and Raccoon Keys (a.k.a. Monkey Island) were treated to a real-life Island of Doctor Moreau, complete with eerie monkey calls and simian silhouettes roaming the shoreline.

For a quarter century Charles River Laboratories cashed in on thousands of the little guys, valued up to $4,500 a piece, which they sold to researchers studying AIDS, Alzheimer’s and other diseases.

A judge ordered a monkey business shutdown in 1998, after they decimated the islands’ protected mangroves and contaminated the surrounding waters with poo. (As for reports of “Monkey Fishing?” No, that’s not a thing.)

Today the monkeys are gone and the mangroves recovering.

Both keys are difficult to access, thanks to very shallow water and no clear entry points.

Supposedly, all structures have been dismantled. Surely some signs remain, but we have not yet had the pleasure of exploring this ourselves.

This guest post was written by Karuna Eberl and Steve Alberts, who lived on Cudjoe Key in the Lower Keys and wrote an entertaining book “ Key West & the Lower Keys Travel Guide .”  (It’s a terrific book for anyone who loves the Keys, as Karuna and Steve clearly do.)

Other articles written for FloridaRambler.com by Karuna Eberl and Steve Alberts . Karuna Eberl also writes about ideas and nature in her blog Nature Rising .

hidden islands in the florida keys karuna and steve Remote islands in Florida Keys: 6 hidden, little known spots

Karuna Eberl and Steve Alberts live on Cudjoe Key in the Lower Keys, where they write and photograph for local and national publications, most often with a focus on travel, adventure and the environment. You can visit their web sites at quixotictravelguides.com and wanderingdogcreations.com

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed .

Friday 13th of May 2022

Just wanted to say we love this site. My wife and I became kayakers about 4 years ago. We have visited so many epic place because of Florida Rambler. Thank you.

We love Indian Key, which we heard about on your site. We have taken our kids and friends many times. We went with some friends 5/8/22 to show them Indian and Ligumvitum Key. We had not been since pre COVID. Unfortunately we could not launch. The boat ramp and most of the parking is closed. It looks like they are doing improvements to the area. There maybe 10 spots to park. We got there at about 9 am but found no parking.

Our friends had an inflatable. On our last trip my daughter and boyfriend rented yaks at Robbie’s and we launched from there. We tried that again. Our friends said they would rent yaks. So we headed to Robbie’s. No go, they said for insurance reasons. It appears some launched an inflatable that sank and they got sued. It was a real bummer.

We googled closest launch site. We went north about 2 mile to Islamorada to a launch on the bayside. It was free but had no parking. We paddled about 2 miles from the launch to Shell key.

Unfortunately we could not land on any of the little islands. All the sandy bottoms we found were too mucky to get out and stretch out the old legs. Ligum vitum was about another mile away but the wind kicked up a lot. So we head back to the launch site. We overall had a nice day but wre disappointed we did get to Indian Key.

So please be aware if you try to go.

Chris randall

Monday 11th of January 2021

Great read n I have no destination in life til I read this thank you!!!!

Dale Hamblin

Sunday 24th of May 2020

Beautiful article

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Key West, the southernmost point in the United States, is famous for watersports, lively nightlife, beaches, historic sites and its pastel, conch-style architecture.

Duval Street , one of the most energetic strips of shops, bars and cafes anywhere, offers Sloppy Joe’s bar, a favorite Key West hangout of novelist Ernest Hemingway. And, for the more sober-minded, there’s Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum . (Look for the celebrated six-toed cats).

Walking tours of Key Wes t are the best way to see the island’s intriguing homes, courtyards, and gardens. Start in the center of town at the Key West City Cemetery , which offers a glimpse of Key West’s past and its offbeat sense of humor, as exhibited by gravestones that read, “I told you I was sick,” and “At least I know where he’s sleeping tonight.”

Plan your trip at The Florida Keys & Key West .  

Swim, snorkel, and sunbathe at Key West’s beaches.

  • Smathers Beach
  • Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park
  • South Beach
  • Clarence S. Higgs Memorial Beach Park
  • Simonton Street Beach

Key West has much to offer families of all ages. 

  • Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory
  • Key West Aquarium
  • More family-friendly attractions

MUSEUMS, ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Experience film, museums, galleries and visual arts, and literature.

  • Arts, culture and history
  • Fantasy Fest

OUTDOOR ADVENTURES

Explore the great outdoors, island-style.

  • Diving and snorkeling
  • Boating & on the water
  • Sightseeing

PET-FRIENDLY ADVENTURES

Dogs love Key West, from the beach to boats to bars.

  • Pet-friendly travel and businesses

ACCESSIBILITY

Key West is full of accessible attractions for travelers with disabilities, from museums to state parks to beaches.

  • Accessible travel

Florida Keys cuisine melds diverse, local, and delicious influences.

  • Sloppy Joe’s Bar
  • Seaside Cafe at Southernmost Mansion
  • More restaurants and bars

Key West is a walkable town with plenty of shops and retail areas, including famed Mallory Square .

  • Places to shop

PLACES TO STAY

There are plenty of ways to stay in Florida's southernmost subtropical paradise.

  • Hotels, motels, resorts
  • Guesthouses, inns, and bed and breakfasts
  • Vacation rentals
  • RV parks and campgrounds

The Florida Keys in 60 seconds

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Island style, southernmost point

Nearest Airport

  • Key West International Airport
  • Florida Keys Marathon Airport

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PlanetWare.com

18 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Key West, FL

Written by Bryan Dearsley and Lana Law Updated Dec 26, 2023 We may earn a commission from affiliate links ( )

Author Bryan Dearsley visited Key West in 2023 while on assignment for PlanetWare.

The southernmost city in the continental United States, Key West features a unique mixture of cultural influences, some of which can be seen in the island's attractions.

Sunrise in Key West

The colorful architecture is mainly Caribbean, with many of the older homes built out of coral rock or salvaged shipboards. Others came directly from the Bahamas, dismantled and shipped then re-assembled here in the Keys. The cuisine is Afro-Caribbean and Spanish, and there is a certain tropical feel to the town.

Key West is known for its sunsets, and watching the sunset from Mallory Square is one of the top things to do on any visit. Several famous writers have called the island home, including Ernest Hemingway, Robert Frost, and Tennessee Williams. Key West continues to attract artists today with its Bohemian and tolerant atmosphere.

Find the island's hidden treasures with our list of the best places to visit and things to do in Key West.

See also: Where to Stay in Key West

1. Walk along Duval Street

2. visit the ernest hemingway home and museum, 3. explore key west butterfly and nature conservatory, 4. catch a sunset at mallory square, 5. take a selfie at america's southernmost point, 6. take a day trip to dry tortugas national park, 7. see the treasures at mel fisher maritime museum, 8. tour harry s. truman little white house, 9. martello towers: key west's defences, 10. audubon house and gallery, 11. step back in time at fort zachary taylor state park, 12. the oldest house museum, 13. see the sharks at key west aquarium, 14. shipwreck treasure museum, 15. key west cemetery, 16. key west lighthouse and keepers quarters, 17. laze on a key west beach, 18. key west museum of art & history at the custom house, where to stay in key west for sightseeing, tips and tours: how to make the most of your visit to key west, key west, fl - climate chart.

Duval Street in Key West

Highlights : Vibrant entertainment and shopping street with attractions and restaurants

Duval Street is Key West's main tourist strip, with restaurants and shops designed to entertain tourists and cruise ship passengers. This is the place to begin, or perhaps end, a busy day of sightseeing.

Historic homes and some of the city's most popular tourist attractions and places to visit can be found along Duval Street, which stretches from Mallory Square to the Southernmost Point marker.

This area is also host to several events and festivals throughout the year, the most famous of which is the Hemingway Days Festival , held each summer. Other highlights in the area include the mecca of everything key lime, Kermit's Key Lime Pie Shop.

An ideal way to get a good overview of the area and its history is on the Key West Conch Tour Train , which visits Duval Street, as well as Old Town , Hemingway's House , and the waterfront area. This 90-minute narrated tour offers perspective on the railroad days, the depression, and WWII, as they relate to Key West.

Resident cat in the gardens at the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum

Highlights : Historic Hemingway home with lush gardens, artifacts, and famous six-toed cats

The legendary author Ernest Hemingway bought this 1851 Spanish Colonial house in 1931 and lived in it until 1940. It features a lush tropical garden and the salt-water pool that he claimed nearly wiped him out financially, and contains his "last penny" pressed into the concrete.

Inside the Ernest Hemingway House & Museum , you can see the restored interior as well, which displays the writer's own collection of 17th- and 18th-century Spanish furniture. More than 60 descendants of Hemingway's original brood of house cats still roam the property. He wrote a number of novels here including A Farewell to Arms , Death in the Afternoon , and For Whom the Bell Tolls .

Please note: This unique must-visit attraction only accepts cash (no debit or credit cards), so come prepared. And it can get busy, so arrive early.

Address: 907 Whitehead Street, Key West, Florida

Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory

Highlights : Family-friendly attraction with live butterflies and free-flying birds

One of the top things to do in Key West for families is visit to the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory. Children of all ages will be captivated by the opportunity to walk among more than 50 species of butterflies in the natural garden habitat of a glass conservatory.

In addition to the colorful butterflies, more than 20 species of exotic birds reside here, making a visit to the conservatory a truly special experience.

Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory

The Learning Center also offers an educational film about the life cycle of butterflies, with exhibits that explain the stages in detail. A live caterpillar viewing area is worth checking out, where you can see real butterflies going through their transformations.

Address: 1316 Duval Street, Key West, Florida

Mallory Square

Highlights : Fun sunset celebration with performers, buskers, shopping, and food vendors

Mallory Square, a former warehouse area, is now the location of a nightly sunset-watching ritual with live entertainment. This is one of the most popular free things to do in Key West and is a must-do activity when in town.

Make your way to the dock areas at the base of Duval Street and marvel at the stunning pinks and reds as the sun sets over the Gulf of Mexico. Jugglers, vendors, musicians, and other street performers create a carnival-like atmosphere, including some truly unique performances like dog unicycling, cats on a tightrope, and straightjacket escapes.

Key West Sponge Market in the Mallory Square Market

The area has become one of the top highlights of a visit to Key West, particularly in the late afternoon, when browsing the shops and other attractions located on and around Mallory Square is the thing to do. Great places to visit include the Shops at Mallory Square, home to a variety of local art, souvenirs, and refreshments (Cuban Coffee Queen does an amazing breakfast burrito).

Searching for the perfect souvenir? Check out the historical Key West Sponge Market . This treasure-hunting store is located in the nearby Mallory Square Market along with other interesting shops.

Address: 400 Wall Street, Key West, Florida

Southernmost Point

Highlights : Famous selfie spot and the most southerly point of continental USA

Key West's claim to fame as the southernmost point in the continental U.S. is marked by a red, black, and yellow concrete marker at the corner of South and Whitehead Streets.

It's a lively spot, as street vendors and performers congregate around the site to sell souvenirs and showcase their talents. The marker itself, dedicated by the Key West Public Works Department in 1983, is less than inspiring but nonetheless, it still works well as the perfect selfie background (be prepared, though, to line up for a few minutes for your turn).

A similar landmark and equally popular place for Key West photo-ops is the US1 mile-marker "0" sign which marks the beginning of the route which runs up almost the entirety of the east coast. Stretching for nearly 2,400 miles, the interstate ends in Maine, passing through several major cities.

Address: Whitehead Street & South Street, Key West, Florida

Dry Tortugas National Park

Highlights : Excellent day trip from Key West to remote islands with a fort, beaches, and diving

History coupled with soft-sand beaches and wonderful opportunities for snorkeling are the main allure of this isolated park. Catamaran Boat Excursions to the Dry Tortugas , which include snorkeling and snorkeling equipment, as well as lunch, leave from Key West and are the best way to access this site.

Dry Tortugas National Park is an archipelago of seven reef islands located around 65 miles southwest of Key West. They were so named by explorer Ponce de Leon due to the number of turtles ( tortuga meaning turtle in Spanish) found on the islands. The "dry" part was added later, referring to the lack of fresh water on the islands.

One of them, Garden Key, is home to the 19th-century Fort Jefferson , which was built by the U.S. government to protect and control the Gulf of Mexico shipping channel. The fort operated as a prison for Union deserters during the Civil War and also housed Dr. Samuel Mudd, who was arrested as a co-conspirator in Abraham Lincoln's assassination.

In 1992, George Bush changed the status of the site from the Fort Jefferson National Monument to the current park run by the National Park Service.

Address: 40001 SR-9336, Homestead, Florida

Mel Fisher Maritime Museum

Highlights : Diving and shipwreck exhibits including treasures and rare recovered artifacts

The Mel Fisher Maritime Museum tells the story of diver Mel Fisher, who discovered several shipwrecks, including one that carried exceedingly valuable artifacts and another that holds a wealth of historical value.

First discovered in 1972, an English ship was found about 35 miles west of Key West. Later identified as the Henrietta Marie , this was a slave ship that had disappeared in 1700 shortly after selling 190 African Captives in Jamaica. Although the ship did not carry a wealth of gold and jewels, its remains hold invaluable artifacts, which provide a look at the history and conditions of the maritime slave trade, and is the oldest slave shipwreck to be discovered.

In 1980, Fisher's dive teams discovered the wreck of the Santa Margarita , a 17th-century Spanish ship. This wreck held an astounding assortment of valuable objects, from gold and silver bars and coins to elaborate jewelry.

The museum displays numerous artifacts from these wrecks and others, including a 77.76-carat emerald and several other rare items such as navigational instruments, tools, and other everyday items. The museum also has exhibits on underwater archaeology and diving, as well as films and hands-on demonstrations.

Address: 200 Greene Street, Key West, Florida

Harry S. Truman Little White House

Highlights : Elegant historic winter quarters of US President Harry Truman, with tours

The restored Harry S. Truman Little White House was built in 1890 and served as the headquarters for the naval command through World War II. Truman first visited the house in 1946, and during his presidency used it several times as a vacation retreat.

The original furnishings and decor have remained intact from the Truman era, and it has been used by subsequent presidents and officials as it still is today. Items like Truman's piano and the desk he used during his "working vacations," are perfectly preserved for posterity. Helpful guides add insight into the building's history and the political significance it held during the Cold War.

Be sure to enjoy a self-guided tour of the home's spectacular botanical gardens after you are finished inside.

Address: 111 Front Street, Key West, Florida

Martello Towers

Highlights : Historic red-brick fortresses with lovely gardens and art collections

The Martello Towers are two brick fortifications, built in 1858 to protect Fort Zachary Taylor from the east. The fort was never completed and never saw hostile action, although the eight-foot-thick granite walls would certainly have withstood artillery attacks. The central tower provides a spectacular panoramic view of the Atlantic coast of Key West.

The West Martello Tower and Garden Center was constructed in the 1860s by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Key West Garden Club took possession of the fort in 1955 and began a cleanup and planting to beautify the dilapidated fort.

Today, you can stroll the grounds, through lovely courtyards and gardens. Romantic pathways, arches, a waterfall, and water lily pond are some of the highlights.

Martello Towers

The East Martello Tower was originally built as a complement to Fort Zachary Taylor to protect the region. It now houses the Martello Gallery -Key West Art and Historical Museum , with a diverse collection of local art and sculpture and other exhibits related to the development of Key West.

Address: 1100 Atlantic Blvd, Key West, Florida

Audubon House and Gallery

Highlights : Historic heritage home featuring beautiful interiors and gardens with guided tours

This 1840s home was built by ship carpenters for Captain John Greiger, a noted harbor pilot and wrecker. Colonel Mitchell Wolfson restored it in the 1960s, initiating the subsequent preservation movement in the rest of Key West.

Today, Audobon House and Gallery is noteworthy both for the historic home and the beautiful gardens and grounds it preserves. The home contains many 18th- and 19th-century period furnishings, much of it from Europe, and a substantial collection of engravings by John James Audubon, who stayed here in 1832.

The gardens in the back contain a variety of tropical plants, including birds of paradise, hibiscus, and different palms. Guided tours showcase the highlights of the Audubon House, and following the tour, you are welcome to explore on the lush grounds around the home.

Address: 205 Whitehead Street, Key West, Florida

Fort Zachary Taylor

Highlights : Civil War fortifications, festivals and events, nature trails, swimming beach

Built between 1845 and 1866, Fort Zachary Taylor protected this part of Florida's coast during the Civil War. Today, it is a State Park and National Historic Landmark, renowned for its historical attractions, especially the extensive collection of Civil War-era armaments, which are still being excavated.

The park also hosts a variety of annual events, including concerts, boat races, sculpture contests, and even a pirate festival. In addition to all of these fun things to do, tourists will enjoy the park's beautiful swimming beach; dedicated snorkeling areas; and nature trails, which are open to both foot and bike traffic.

This is also one of the best places to see Key West's famous sunsets, and the beach is a perfect spot for a romantic picnic.

Address: 601 Howard England Way, Key West, Florida

The Oldest House

Highlights : Charming historic home with original furniture and ship models, plus a nice garden

The Oldest House in South Florida, built in 1829, was the former home of Francis B. Watlington. It was originally built by Richard Cussans in a different location and later moved to Duval Street.

Today, The Oldest House Museum offers a chance to see and learn a little about the history of Key West. It is not as extravagant or as lovely as some of the city's other historical houses that are open to the public, but it has its own unique charm.

Within the house are some original furnishings, family portraits, and displays on the history of Key West. Ship models and information on the history of the industry in the area are on display. At the rear of the house is a garden and a cookhouse, which was typical of the period. There is also an exhibit pavilion containing additional documents of interest.

Address: 322 Duval Street, Key West, Florida

Hammerhead Shark at the Key West Aquarium

Highlights : Fun aquarium with trophy fish, interactive "touch" tanks...and real sharks!

The Key West Aquarium first opened its doors in 1934, making it one of the first open-air aquariums in the U.S. For practical purposes of algae control, a roof was later added, and the facility was upgraded.

Exhibits include the "Atlantic Shores" and the large outdoor holding pens. A number of tanks house local marine life, including puffer fish, snappers, and angelfish. There are also tanks with barracuda and sharks, and a "touch tank," always a favorite with kids, as they can get up close and personal with conch, starfish, and other invertebrates.

Key West Aquarium

The sharks are fed at regular intervals throughout the day, and if you are brave enough, attendants will let you touch a juvenile nurse shark.

Address: 1 Whitehead Street, Key West, Florida

Shipwreck Treasure Museum

Highlights : Family-friendly museum with treasure and shipwreck exhibits, costumed guides

The Shipwreck Treasure Museum is housed in the replica of a 19th-century wrecker's warehouse with exhibits exploring the fascinating history of the salvage industry in the area.

Wrecking, the practice of salvaging cargo from the various ships that perished along the Florida reefs, was once a major part of Key West's economy and an extremely lucrative — but dangerous — industry. From atop observation towers like the 65-foot example here at the museum, wreckers would watch day and night for ships in trouble and race to the site. The first to arrive could claim the rights to the largest share of the salvage profits, a process overseen by special "wrecking courts."

Here, at the museum, actors in period costume recount the story of the Isaac Allerton , which sank in 1856, as well as show what life was like for the daring wreckers who risked their lives to not only recover treasure but also save the lives of the reefs' victims.

Artifacts from the shipwreck are displayed, and films and videos on the subject run on a continuous basis. The observation tower provides excellent views and photo opportunities of the surrounding land and seascape.

Key West Cemetery

Highlights : Historic burial grounds with ornate tombs and grave stones

Founded in 1847 after the island's original cemetery was destroyed by a hurricane, the headstones in Key West's cemetery mark the graves of more than 35,000 people.

This historic cemetery has several religious and memorial sections, including dedicated Jewish and Roman Catholic areas, the Los Martires de Cuba memorial commemorating the Cuban martyrs who were killed during the 1870s independence movement, and a plot dedicated to the sailors who died when the USS Maine sank in 1898.

Highlights to watch for are the intricate ironwork and carved monuments that adorn family plots and tombs.

Address: 701 Passover Lane, Key West, Florida

Key West Lighthouse and Keepers Quarters

Highlights : Well-preserved lighthouse and buildings with superb views over Key West

The Key West Lighthouse was built in 1847 and opened in 1848 with a female keeper, a rarity in that time. Over the years, its keeper's quarters and lenses were upgraded until technology rendered both obsolete, and it was decommissioned in 1969.

The Key West Art and Historical Society adopted the property, initially turning it into a military museum and then later restoring the lighthouse and quarters to reflect life here at the beginning of the 20th century.

Today, the Key West Lighthouse and Keepers Quarters houses original furniture, household items, and photos of the many keepers who kept the light burning through even the worst of storms.

The lighthouse stands at 86 feet high, so be sure to climb up its 88 steps for great views from the observation deck near the top. A short video presentation also provides an interesting look at the history of the Key West Lighthouse.

Address: 938 Whitehead Street, Key West, Florida

Key West Beach

Highlights : Beautiful beaches with shallow water perfect for kids, swimmers, and snorkelers

Many first-time visitors are blown away to find out that Key West is actually home to a number of great little beaches (plus one or two larger ones). Which one you gravitate to will depend largely on your travel habits.

For example, those traveling with kids will want to include a visit to Higgs Beach on their list of Key West beaches to visit. One of a string of great little beaches tucked away on Key West's southern Atlantic coast that includes Rest Beach, South Beach, and County Beach — all within an easy walk of one another — Higgs Beach was built (yes, it's manmade) with families very much in mind.

Amenities include water sport rental shops, a restaurant, restrooms with changing and shower facilities, bike racks, as well as beach chairs. A children's playground is located here, along with volleyball nets. Ample free parking is available. Be sure to check out the neighboring West Martello Tower and Gardens.

Other beaches to check out include Smathers Beach (for sunbathing and swimming); Simonton Beach (for sunsets); Fort Zachary Taylor Beach (for history and wildlife); Dry Tortugas Beach (for romance and day trips, as it's on an island); and Dog Beach (for, you guessed it: dogs!).

Key West Museum of Art & History

Highlights : Historic customs house with art exhibits, sculpture garden, and historic artifacts

Handily located between Mallory Square and the Harry S. Truman Little White House attractions stands the Key West Museum of Art & History . Set in the city's historic Custom House building, a large and handsome red brick structure built in 1891, it's well worth a visit.

Highlights include informative exhibits and displays, including a sizable Hemingway collection, relating to famous personalities who at one time or another called Key West home or visited here. There are also exhibits relating to local social and maritime history. The museum also houses a sizable collection dedicated to artworks and sculptures from local, national, and international artists.

Be sure to also explore the rear of the museum for a chance to pose with some of the fascinating garden sculptures, which show scenes that look as if they're straight out of a painting.

Address: 281 Front Street, Naval Air Station Key West, Florida

Key West is compact and easily walkable, but the best place to stay is near Duval Street, in the heart of downtown. Budget-minded travelers will have to search farther afield to find reasonable prices.

Luxury Hotels:

  • At the end of Duval Street near Mallory Square, the Ocean Key Resort & Spa features waterfront rooms with balconies and an oceanside pool.
  • Nearby is the lovely Pier House Resort & Spa with a private white-sand beach and a pool overlooking the water.
  • Located just a block off Duval Street, The Gardens Hotel is a beautifully appointed property, with lush gardens surrounding a pool.

Mid-Range Hotels:

  • Hotels in this price range tend to be a little farther back from the action but still on the island of Key West. Kimpton Winslow's Bungalows is a charming boutique hotel housed in two buildings from 1905 and 1891 respectively.
  • The Best Western Hibiscus Motel is in the quieter southern section of Key West. It features a very large pool, by Key West's standards, and is just a short walk to the southernmost point in the United States.
  • A bit farther out, but with a shuttle bus that runs every 20 minutes to Duval Street, is the DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Hotel Grand Key – Key West. This hotel is set on large, lush grounds and features renowned tropical gardens.

Budget Hotels:

  • The budget options tend to be a bit older and farther out from downtown. The Ibis Bay Beach Resort has a shuttle to downtown and is close to restaurants and grocery stores.
  • Another option, three miles from downtown and featuring beautiful views out over the water, is The Laureate Key West . You'll need a car to stay here as there is no shuttle, and no restaurants are nearby.

Crystal clear waters and coral reefs surround Key West, and a boat tour is a great way to explore these habitats and the abundant marine life. Taking an organized tour also means you don't have to worry about renting a boat and navigating your way through unfamiliar waters. Below are some fun tours that guarantee the lowest price and offer a great option for getting around town hassle-free:

  • Sightseeing Trolley: A convenient way to get to and from the top tourist attractions in Key West is the Key West Hop-on/Hop-off Trolley, which makes stops at all of the island's most popular spots, like Mallory Square and Duval Street museums and shops, as well as several museums and landmarks. In addition to making your Key West vacation itinerary a breeze, an expert guide narrates the ride, providing interesting facts and telling fascinating stories about the island's history and lore.
  • Dolphins and Snorkeling Boat Tour: The three-hour Key West Dolphin Watch and Snorkel Cruise whisks you away from the coast on a catamaran to see wild dolphins swimming and playing in the water a few feet from the boat. After watching these gentle mammals, you have a chance to snorkel over a shallow coral reef, which is home to more than 600 different species of marine life. The tour includes snorkel equipment, unlimited sodas, and a professional guide.
  • Islands Boat Tour: If you'd like to explore the islands off the coast of Key West, the Dry Tortugas National Park Day Trip by Catamaran is an excellent option. This full-day adventure on a luxury high-speed catamaran visits Dry Tortugas National Park, where you can explore the military fort, relax on the beautiful beaches, and snorkel along some of Key West's best coral reefs. Included in the tour is an expert naturalist, entrance fees and national park service fees, a narrated tour of Fort Jefferson, breakfast and lunch, and snorkeling equipment.
  • Snorkeling and Kayak Tour: A fantastic way to see the Gulf of Mexico and get up-close to its unique natural habitats is the Key West Full-Day Island T'ing Eco-Tour: Sail, Kayak, and Snorkel , a six-hour excursion that is sure to please everyone in your group. The tour embarks in the morning on a spacious catamaran, and tourists are provided with breakfast as the boat makes its way to a mangrove island, where you can hop in one of the provided kayaks and explore the truly unique surroundings. The next stop is at a coral reef, where passengers can don snorkeling equipment and be led on a guided tour of the living underwater landscape. Those who prefer to stay dry are welcome to remain in the catamaran and enjoy the sun and beautiful views, and a buffet lunch with beverages is served as well.
  • Sailing & Watersport Adventures: The vast expanses of water around Key West were just made to be explored. One of the best ways to do it is to book the Key West Full-Day Power Adventure: Sailing & Watersports Package . The highlights of these well-organized tour packages include a cruise aboard a modern catamaran sailing vessel into the Gulf of Mexico for some sightseeing, as well as your choice of activities, including kayaking, reef snorkeling, Jet Skiing, or even parasailing. A hearty breakfast and lunch are included, as is all equipment needed to indulge in your adventure of choice.

The best time to visit Key West is during the winter months of December, January, and February. With daytime temperatures averaging in the low 70s, as well as the fact there'll be plenty of sunshine, it'll be warm enough for you to enjoy a wide array of outdoor and water-based activities or simply hang out at your resort.

While the autumn months of September and October can still be hot and humid, by November temperatures will have cooled enough to make a fall visit to Key West quite pleasant. And, by the end of fall, you'll also be clear of the rainy hurricane season.

Early spring can be a great time to visit Key West. Temperatures in March and April will gradually increase from the low to high 70s, reaching into the 80s by the end of May. Things are usually pretty dry during this spring month, too.

Summer is the least appealing time to visit Key West. Also known as hurricane season, summer here stretches through June, July, and August; it also includes the late spring month of May, as well as September and even October. These months are also the hottest, most humid, and wettest months in Key West.

More Related Articles on PlanetWare.com

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The Florida Keys: The Florida Keys are by far one of the top places to visit in Florida , best known for their fascinating history and amazing sunsets. Learn about historic forts and tales of pirates, and experience limitless opportunities to encounter wildlife and watch the sun set over the Gulf of Mexico.

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Sun and Sand: The keys are also naturally home to some of the best beaches in Florida , making the region a very popular resort destination. Key West is home to several excellent resorts, and the popular diving town of Key Largo has a wide variety of resorts as well, ranging from luxury accommodations to private cottages.

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Mainland Excitement: Approximately 3.5 hours' drive from Key West, the vibrant city of Miami is one of Florida's most exciting tourist destinations, full of attractions and things to do . Tourists can easily add a night or two in the city to their Florida vacation itinerary on the way to or from Key West, or may want to stay a little longer at one of Miami's popular resorts.

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islands to visit near key west

The Ultimate Key West, Florida Bucket List | 98 Things to Do

Overseas highway on the Florida Keys

Thinking of heading to Key West? Here is the ultimate Key, West Florida bucket list! A few years ago, I spent a summer working at a color-changing T-shirt shop in Key West, Florida. I think my dad was a little worried and thought I was going to be working at a little shack on the beach bumming my way through the summer.

However, the shop where I worked was right next to the cruise ship docks and only a couple of blocks from Duval Street. So every day I admired the giant cruise ships and amazing yachts riding up to the docks. Then I wandered my way through town on my scooter every night after work.

Because of this, I think I know some of what I’m talking about and even have compiled 17 things you need to know before visiting Key Wes t! Key West, Florida can be known for Duval Street’s drinking and partying each night. However, I didn’t spend any of my time on the island drinking or partying 🙃 (crazy, right?). Instead I spent my time exploring every.single.inch of the island (way beyond Duval Street). And I found all of the amazing things to do in Key West, Florida. Plus I found unique places to eat , and hidden gems to explore.

I have since taken my husband back to Key West on an amazing Florida roadtrip . We started at Walt Disney World then made our way all the way through the Florida Keys to Key West.

However, ever since that roadtrip, I have been daydreaming about returning and spending an entire week just on the island of Key West to be able to fully relax and unwind. Plus this time we’d get to bring along our little tot 😍.

*There may be affiliate links in this post.  Read my  privacy/disclosure policy  to learn more.

Getting to Key West

Key West has its own local, international airport. However, I recommend flying into Miami or Ft. Lauderdale instead. Then I recommend you rent a car and enjoy the amazing 3.5-hour drive on the Overseas Highway to Key West. Plus Miami and Fort Lauderdale will most likely have less expensive flights than Key West.

Where to stay in Key West, Florida

Lodging in Key West, Florida can be pretty pricey (booo👎). I’d plan on budgeting *at least* $175 per night for lodging (that’s on the lower end). And, if you are looking at trying to save money, you may be able to find a better deal on an Airbnb .

I recommend looking for an Airbnb with a kitchen because this will help you save a lot of money on eating out! However, staying in a fancy hotel with a private pool and beach sounds pretty amazing too. For example the Casa Marina Key West by Hilton . Maybe one day I’ll have that kind of $$$ 🤞🤞🤞.

Use this link to save up to $65 on your first Airbnb booking.

Related Post: 17 Things You Need to Know Before Visiting Key West, Florida

98 amazing things you must do in key west.

  • Drive the Overseas Highway from Miami to Key West. It’s so magical! | Overseas Highway
  • Walk a portion of the old 7-Mile Bridge | Overseas Highway
  • Watch a picture-perfect sunset from Mallory Square |Mallory Square
  • Tip the street performers during Sunset Celebration | Mallory Square
  • Pet a cat 6-toed cat while touring Ernest Hemingway’s House | Whitehead Street
  • Paddleboard through mangroves and seagrass (and possibly see some Nurse sharks!) | Paddleboard rental with optional lesson

islands to visit near key west

  • Take a thrilling jet-ski trip around the entire island of Key West with a fun stop at a sandbar. | Ultimate Jet Ski Tour
  • Take a jog along the gorgeous beach path on S. Roosevelt Blvd with crystal clear water next to you. | S. Roosevelt
  • Have breakfast with the roosters at an authentic local’s favorite, Blue Heaven . Make sure to get a table outside to enjoy the live music. And order the best fruit-filled pancakes you’ve ever had!| Petronia Street
  • Pick up some cheap-eats from Key West’s hidden gem, Falafel King. Look for the Falafel King sign pointing you down the alley off of Front Street! | Fitzpatrick Street

Two people snorkeling at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park in crystal blue ocean water.

  • Snorkel at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park- the best Key West beach for snorkeling. Snorkel gear can be rented onsite. | Fort Zachary Taylor
  • Snap a pic at the southernmost point of the USA. | Whitehead Street/South Street
  • Crash a wedding at the famous Smathers Beach | S. Roosevelt
  • Get an Insta-worthy pic with the giant conch shell at Key West High School | Flagler Ave.
  • Rent a scooter or golf cart and explore the island with the wind in your hair
  • Try fried plantain (and other delicious Cuban food) with the locals at El Siboney | Catherine Street
  • Wander through the Key West Tropical Forest and Botanical Garden | Stock Island

islands to visit near key west

  • Hang out on a private sandbar in Key West’s backcountry (it’s seriously sooo dreamy)| Key West Backcountry Sandbar Tour
  • Climb aboard a U.S. Coast Guard ship USCGC INGHAM retired in 1988 | Southard Street
  • Let a butterfly land on you at the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory | Duval Street
  • Explore beautiful gardens and history of a Civil War fort at West Martello Gardens and Fort | S. Roosevelt
  • Take a stroll down Edward B. Night Pier (White Street Pier) and keep a lookout for people catching interesting fish! | Atlantic Blvd.
  • Go deep-sea fishing (people of all skill levels welcome) | Gulfstream Fishing
  • Snap a pic of the famous sign marking Mile 0 of Highway 1 | Whitehead Street
  • Climb on and explore the civil-war era Fort at Fort Zachary Taylor | Fort Zachary Taylor State Park

RELated POst: Florida Roadtrip with Kids: 10 Amazing Stops (plus a map!)

Woman smiling and relaxing on a hammock on the beach on Sunset Key

  • Relax on a hammock surrounded by white sand and palm trees on your own private beach. (Must have reservations at Sunset Keys restaurant or spa) | Sunset Key
  • Eat a sloppy joe at the Famous Sloppy Joes | Duval Street
  • Rent a bike to explore the island or ride the beach path on S. Roosevelt | Island Safari Rentals
  • Soak in the views from the top of the Key West Lighthouse which was open in 1848 with a woman as the keeper (which was unheard of at that time💪) | Whitehead Street

Woman standing in an old cemetary in Key West Florida with white-washed grave markings and palm trees

  • Wander the beautiful Key West Cemetery from 1847. Graves are organized by faith and ethnicity. See the beautiful statues, above-ground graves, and clever grave inscriptions | Pauline Street
  • Eat at the world’s first Jimmy Buffet Margaritaville | Duval Street
  • Try the must-have Key Lime Pie on a stick from the original Kermit’s Key Lime Shoppe | Elizabeth Street
  • Get your Key Lime Pie dipped in chocolate from Funky Rooster Coffee House | Caroline Street
  • Walk Duval Street (during the day for a quieter time, at night for a lively bar scene) | Duval Street ( book a pub crawl here if that’s your thing)

Picture looking down at a small boat from a parasail over emerald-green waters

  • Parasail over gorgeous turquoise-blue and emerald-green waters | Fury Parasailing Adventure
  • Take a tour of President Harry S Truman’s Winter White House | Front Street
  • Eat fresh fish in a former turtle cannery overlooking the harbor at Turtle Kraals | Margaret Street Historic Seaport
  • Get the best fresh-Mex at Amigos Tortilla Bar with a fun and intimate atmosphere (you’ve got to try their bowls) |Duval Street
  • Snag some yummy Cuban sandwiches or smoothies-to-go at Cuban Coffee Queen | Margaret Street
  • Snap a pic at the adorable ‘Welcome to Key West’ postcard mural | Behind Cuban Coffee Queen on Margaret Street

Fish tacos and coleslaw at Latitudes on Sunset Key

  • Make lunch or dinner reservations at Latitudes on Sunset Key for a perfect meal on the water overlooking Key West. Plus get access to Sunset Key’s private beach (trust me, it’s worth it) | Sunset Key
  • Check Hard Rock Cafe Key West off your Hard Rock bucketlist| Duval Street
  • Shop the fun Bahama Village Market for a Key West trinket | Petronia Street
  • Swing by the cute, local boutique Wanderlust KW for some cute clothes or knick-knacks | Petronia Street
  • Learn about 400 years of shipwreck salvaging in the Florida Keys at the Key West Shipwreck Museum |Whitehead Street

Sandbar Key lighthouse on the water with a sail boat

  • Take a boat trip to the Sand Key Lighthouse which is a huge metal tower way offshore and a great place to go snorkeling | Florida Reef Snorkel Tour
  • Take a guided Conch Train tour to get your bearings and an overview of the island | Front Street
  • See an extensive collection of artifacts 17th-century shipwrecks at the Mel Fischer Maritime Museum | Greene Street
  • Pay respects at the African slave burial/memorial site from 1860 at Higgs Beach | Atlantic Blvd
  • Catch a movie at the retro-style Tropic Cinema | Eaton Street
  • See the gorgeous white-washed Trinity Presbyterian Church with blue accents and lined with palm trees | Simonton Street

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White-washed church on Duval Street

  • Admire the huge white-washed St. Paul’s Episcopal Church with multiple towers and a stunning door on the usually hectic Duval Street | Duval Street
  • See The Basilica of St. Mary Star of the Sea with 2 large, silver spires and a beautiful olive green exterior | Truman Ave
  • Stroll Caroline Street to admire beautiful, old Key West homes with traditional Southern charm | Caroline Street
  • Try a Key West-fav, Conch Fritters from a cute stand called Key West Original Conch Fritters | Duval Street
  • Day trip to Dry Tortugas National Park on a spacious catamaran | Dry Tortugas Tour

islands to visit near key west

  • See the Key West Riviera Canals where homes back up to the water and owners dock their boats | S. RooseveltVisit the quirky and unique Peace Store for unique, feel-good souvenirs and gifts | Caroline Street 
  • Shop the Truman Waterfront Key West Farmers Market every Thursday from 2 pm to 7 pm for local food and crafts | Truman Waterfront
  • Shop the Key West Artisan Market every other Sunday in season (November to April) from 10 am to 3 pm at Higgs Beach | Atlantic Blvd
  • Get a close-up look of what’s under the sea at the (small) Key West Aquarium | Whitehead Street

Southernmost Beach Key West, Florida

  • Rent a lounge chair and relax under the sun at Southernmost Beach | Duval Street
  • Buy a cheap T-shirt on Duval street | Duval Street
  • Order some delicious and cleverly-named desserts from Better Than Sex Dessert Restaurant | Simonton Street
  • Hang out at the small but clean Simonton Beach snacking on some fast food from the beach vendor | Simonton Street
  • Catch some live music near the water at Coffee Butler Amphitheater | Angela Street

Orange and yellow sunset with clouds in Key West ,Florida during a sunset sail.

  • Enjoy a gorgeous Key West sunset while sailing on a 55-foot sailboat sailing the waters of Key West | Sunset Sail
  • Have a meal under the twinkle lights on Sunset Pier (bonus if it’s during sunset)| Near Mallory Square
  • Buy all the kitschy Key West trinkets, Christmas ornaments, and seashells from a quirky shop called Mac’s Sea Garden | Margaret Street
  • Swing by Mo’s Restaraunt for home-cooked Creole/Caribbean food | White Street
  • Catch a play or a musical from one of the best professional theaters in Southern Florida, Red Barn Theatre | Duval Street

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Woman holding up sprinkle-covered custard in Key West, Florida

  • Try the best sprinkle-covered custard at Boardwalk Frozen Custard | Duval Street
  • Share a delicious (and huge) ice cream and cookie dessert called the Cookie Monster from Mattheessen’s Homemade | Duval Street
  • Admire original John James Audubon bird paintings and stroll through the area he visited in the 1830s at the Audubon House & Tropical Gardens. | Whitehead Street
  • Wander through Key West’s Historic Seaport | William’s Street

Higgs Beach Pier in Key West, Florida with stairs going into the water

  • Take the stairs into the water from Higgs Beach Pier | Atlantic Blvd
  • Watch the sunset with some tasty snacks from Southernmost Beach Cafe | Duval Street
  • People-watch at the cruise ship docks | Mallory Square
  • See a collection of salvaged Cuban refugee boats to learn a little of what Cuban refugees have experienced traveling to Florida | Key West Tropical Forest and Botanical Garden
  • Visit Key West’s natural history museum: Eco-Discovery Center | Quay Road
  • Play with rescued parrots at Nancy Forrester’s Secret Garden | Elizabeth Street

related post: Florida Roadtrip with Kids: 10 Amazing Stops (plus a map!)

Large parade of men with white beard and shirts and red hats and kerchiefs. Attending the Hemingway Festival is one of the top things do in Key West

  • Be in Key West during one of the many festivals that occur each year. For example, Hemingway Days or the Speed Boat Racing Festival . (I recommend steering clear of Fantasy Fest if you want to avoid nudity and a raucous time) | Duval Street
  • Visit the beautiful and unique Kapok Tree in front of Monroe County Courthouse | Whitehead Street
  • Try the French crepes at La Crêperie French Café Key West | Petronia Street
  • Hang out with the huge Banyan tree on the property of the Key West Lighthouse | Whitehead Street
  • Visit the Tennessee Williams museum to learn about the famous playwright who lived in Key West for 30 years and wrote The Glass Menagerie ,  A Streetcar Named Desire  and  Cat on a Hot Tin Roof  . | Duval Street/Truman Avenue

Schooner on the open ocean. Sailing on a schooner is a top thing to do in Key West, Florida

  • Go sailing on a historic Key West schooner | Elizabeth Street
  • Take a clear-bottomed kayak tour to get up close and personal with fish, jellies, and nurse sharks | Clearly Unique Kayak Tours
  • Admire the vintage Strand Theater from the 1920s with bulb lighting and retro colors. It now is home to the most unique Walgreens you’ll ever see | Duval Street
  • Snap a pic with the huge Conch Republic flag mural at the Key West airport terminal | S. Roosevelt
  • Visit the Key West Aids Memorial at Edward B. Knight/White Street Pier | Atlantic Blvd
  • Take a ride on the Key West Hop-on-Hop-off Trolley Tour | 13 stops on Key West

Large white catamaran on the open ocean

  • Spend an entire day on the water (breakfast and lunch included) sailing on a catamaran, snorkeling, jet-skiing, parasailing, and playing with water toys on Fury’s Ultimate Adventure (it’s a perfect way to get a taste of all the watersports!) | Greene Street
  • Go thrifting at Key West’s Salvation Army | Flagler Ave.
  • Explore Key West’s two independent book stores: Key West Island Bookstore (charming used-book store), Books and Books (spacious, new-book store) | Fleming Street and Eaton Street

islands to visit near key west

  • Feed the Tarpon at Robbie’s. Pay a few bucks for a bucket of fish to dangle for HUGE tarpon to snatch out of your hand around the docks | Islamorada (1.5. hours away)
  • Wander the adorable outdoor market at Robbie’s | Islamorada (1.5 hour away)

Fried Key Lime Pie on a plate in the Florida Keys

  • Try fried Key Lime pie (yes, fried pie) at Porky’s Bayside right on the water | Marathon (1.5 hours away)
  • Relax by the water with food or drinks at the Hungry Tarpon Restaraunt | Islamorada (1 hour away)

And that is your ultimate Key West, Florida bucket list of 98 things to do in Key West!

Please let me know if you have any questions about things to do in Key West, Florida in the comments below! I am a real person who loves to talk travel!

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Thank you for this list! We leave next week and I’m excited to visit! I just feel like 4 days (2 of non travel) won’t be enough. How many things should we cram into the day?

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Hey Lauren! You can get a good feel of Key West in two full days. I would recommend following my one day in Key West itinerary for the first day and then picking one of these awesome water excursions for the second day. This will get you to most of the top sites and getting out on the water is one of the best things you can do! Let me know if you have any more questions!

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Casa Maria is now owned by Hilton, not the Westin. They are a sister to The Reach Curio Collection. You might want to include that some restaurants are closed during September (Blue Heaven for one) for vacation. I’m keeping this list for our next trip down; we just got back and are ready to go again!!

Hey Cindy, thanks for the update 🙂 I’ll update hotel information in the post. I hope you get to get back to key West soon!

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This list is awesome, and even having been to the keys many times I find many things on here to check out still! I’m shocked that the resort for suggestion is Casa Marina and wonder if anyone here has stayed there recently? We booked it in Jan2023 for March2023, and have only seen abysmal reviews lately. We are worried to say the least!! Any insight?

Hey Linda- I’m so happy to hear this was helpful! I just checked out some of the recent reviews for Casa Marina and-yikes! it looks like things may have gone a little downhill (but they may be getting a renovation soon?). Anyway, I always trust my gut when it comes to reading reviews. If you are feeling unsettled about your accommodations, you may want to see if you have any options to rebook elsewhere. I hope you have an awesome time! The two hotels at the top of my list to try are The Perry Hotel and Marina Key West and Southernmost Beach Resort .

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Missi Maschino

We are looking for a wonderful 30th anniversary trip and had been considering Key West! This was such a great list to find! Thank you and now I believe this will be our destination!

I’m so happy to hear this was helpful and I hope you have a wonderful anniversary trip- and congratulations on 30 years!

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Paula Cooper

What an amazing resource for a trip to Key West! I’m planning my entire trip in April around your info. Very precise and beautiful descriptions! Thank you so much.

Hey Paula 🙂 Thank you so much for the nice compliment and I’m so happy to hear you have found this helpful. I hope you have an awesome time in Key West in April!

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Love your list ❤️. We’ve done many of them!! Going again in June can’t wait to try more that you suggested that we haven’t thought of!! Thanks😀👍🌴

Hi Nancy! I’m so glad to hear you were able to come up with a few more ideas from this list. I hope you have a great visit in June 🙂

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Thanks for the info! We are driving down from Miami on the 30th, only staying 1 1/2 days. We will use some of your suggestions, but assume after a brief visit we will return for a more lengthy stay next winter. I now wish we had a few more days before returning to our rental in Miami!

I’m glad this could be helpful to you 🙂 I hope you have an awesome trip and I so wish we could be there right now as well!

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  • Amelia Island

9 Amazing Islands to Visit in Florida (That Aren’t the Keys)

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See recent posts by Alex Temblador

Although the Florida Keys typically rank high on everyone’s Florida vacation list, there are many other amazing islands off the Sunshine State’s coast that are worth visiting, too. Florida has 4,510 islands in total, but we’ve managed to narrow that list down to our nine favorites. 

1. Sanibel Island

Shells on the beach at the Casa Ybel Resort

Sanibel Island offers quite a unique experience for visitors. Since the island developed in a west-to-east fashion, the waters from the Caribbean and Gulf Coast wash ashore thousands of seashells every day that sit in piles along the sandy coast. It’s the perfect destination for shelling — and it typically has fun events on National Seashell Day on June 21! Beyond the beach, the island has a lot of family-friendly places to visit, like the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge , which has tons of hiking trails, or the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum , a fun place to learn more about shells and marine biology (it even has live exhibits!). Other notable places include the Sanibel Island Light , or a visit to the affordable, funky cow-themed restaurant, The Island Cow.

Our Pick for a Sanibel Island Hotel: Sundial Beach Resort & Spa

Pricing for Sundial Beach Resort & Spa

2. Gasparilla Island

Beach at the Gasparilla Inn & Club

Gasparilla Island is a quaint seven-mile island that’s a quintessential Florida island escape. It’s the home to the upscale residential community of Boca Grande and was a destination for elite families like the Vanderbilts and Duponts. Most residents and visitors get around by golf carts and bikes, but with the Old Florida charm to discover, you might want to walk around the island and enjoy it at a leisurely pace. The Boca Grande Lighthouse , which has been standing since 1890, is the focal point of the entire island. Take note, fishermen — Gasparilla Island is the home to a water pass known as the Tarpon Capital of the World!

Our Pick for a Gasparilla Island Hotel: Gasparilla Inn & Club

Pricing for Gasparilla Inn & Club

3. Marco Island

Beach at the JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort at sunset

For those who want a beach vacation and a chance to see the Everglades , Marco Island is a perfect destination. The island has two public beaches and is just a 40-minute drive to the Everglades. Head to Tigertail Beach which has shallow waters — you can wade across the lagoon to Sand Dollar Island, a natural conservation area. For more outdoor fun, head to Briggs Nature Center for a half-mile boardwalk, go fishing, or book a canoe trip. And if you have a chance, check out the Dome Homes, a collection of white dome-like homes on stilts in the water on the southern tip of the island.

Our Pick for a Marco Island Hotel: Olde Marco Island Inn and Suites

Pricing for Olde Marco Island Inn and Suites

4. Merritt Island

Kennedy Space Center, Merritt Island, United States

Merritt Island is best known as the home of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center . In the morning, you can visit the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex and maybe even meet an astronaut. Then you can head to the beach in the afternoon! You can also enjoy the wildlife refuge here by watching manatees from an observation deck, hike the many trails, go fishing, or take the seven-mile Black Point Wildlife Drive where you’ll see animals like alligators and river otters. If you’re lucky, a visit to Merritt Island might be made super memorable with a rocket launch from the NASA Kennedy Space Center.

Our Pick for a Nearby Merritt Island Hotel: Hilton Cocoa Beach Oceanfront

Pricing for Hilton Cocoa Beach Oceanfront

5. Matlacha Island

There’s a small-town Florida charm on Matlacha Island that you can’t often find these days. Matlacha Island sits right next to Florida’s largest island, Pine Island, and has a creative atmosphere. There’s only one mile-long road on this small island, and it’s dotted on either side by colorful fisherman-like shacks that are a combination of homes, restaurants, shops, bars, and galleries. Many of the homes have kitschy decor in the lawns such as polka-dot dolphins, colorful mailboxes, creatively decorated bikes, and even stuffed dolls in chairs. Spend your time exploring the shops, fishing, kayaking, or enjoying fresh seafood at one of the waterfront restaurants. And if you get bored, it’s just a short drive to Pine Island !

Our Pick for a Nearby Cape Coral Hotel: The Westin Cape Coral Resort At Marina Village

Pricing for The Westin Cape Coral Resort At Marina Village

6. Amelia Island

Beach at The Seaside Amelia Inn

Amelia Island is a barrier island on the northeast corner of Florida, just a 30-minute drive from the Georgia state line and a 50-minute drive to Jacksonville, Florida . It’s the only place in the United States that has had eight different flags and is home to the oldest hotel in Florida, the Florida House Inn , which was built in 1857. This lovely island has 13 miles of beaches , diverse types of lodgings, golf courses, and upscale artisan shops. The historic downtown of Fernandina is a Victorian-style seaport with cute shops, art walks, and lots more to keep you entertained.

Our Pick for an Amelia Island Hotel: Elizabeth Pointe Lodge

Pricing for Elizabeth Pointe Lodge

7. Cayo Costa

Cayo Costa State Park, Florida

For travelers who want a lot of peace and quiet during their Florida island vacation, Cayo Costa , a state park of Florida, is the perfect island for them. It can only be reached by private boat or charter service with companies like Captiva Cruises. Cayo Costa has tons of hiking and biking trails, kayak rentals, and nine miles of white sandy beaches. The waters surrounding the 2,426-acre island are pretty clear and filled with manatees, dolphins, huge shells with mollusks, and lots of sand dollars. It makes for fun snorkeling expeditions! Like Sanibel Island , the beach is covered in shells. Travelers can rent a cabin or enjoy tent camping on Cayo Costa. For those who prefer hotels, book a room on the nearby Captiva Island and head over during the day.

Our Pick for a Nearby Captiva Island Hotel: Jensen’s “On the Gulf”

Pricing for Jensen's "On the Gulf"

8. Siesta Key

Beach at The Ringling Beach House - A Siesta Key Suites Property

Siesta Key  is an island that’s just a 16-minute drive from Sarasota, Florida , on the Gulf of Mexico. This eight-mile long island is best known for its beaches which are reportedly 99 percent quartz, and therefore almost a pure white color. Like most beach destinations in Florida, Siesta Key is perfect for those who enjoy water sports, days at the beach, and bird watching. Head to the Point of Rocks on Crescent Beach , a shallow area that’s perfect for snorkeling due to a large marine life and cool corral formations. Don’t forget a visit to Turtle Beach — it’s less crowded and is known as a major turtle nesting area, so maybe you’ll have a chance to see a baby turtle!

Our Pick for a Siesta Key Hotel: Turtle Beach Resort

Pricing for Turtle Beach Resort

9. Captiva Island

islands to visit near key west

Whether you’re getting your tan on or picnicking in the Floridian sand, this towel is perfect for relaxation on your trip.

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17 Unique Things to Do in Key West

By Kieran Meeke

Last updated: June 20th, 2024

Kissing statue, one of the most unique things to do in Key West

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Despite being a tiny island—it’s just two by four miles—there are plenty of fun and unique things to do in Key West. The southernmost city in the continental United States, just 90 miles north of Havana, Cuba, lives life on the edge.

The party culture of Key West is well known but there is an arty side to this town full of eccentrics, not to mention plenty of history. Homes to visit include those of Ernest Hemingway and President Truman. Then there are the beaches, the diving, the food, and the art scene. One thing’s for sure; you’ll never run out of fun things to do in Key West.

Visit the Little White House

Little White House, one of the most unique things to do in Key West

Little White House

President Harry S. Truman spent 175 days of his presidency in Key West and wished it were more. The “Little White House” he lived in was later visited by Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Carter.

The rooms are filled with period furnishings and exhibits marking historic events. Truman’s time in office, from 1945 to 1953, saw the start of the Cold War and the birth of the Civil Rights Movement.

Join a guided tour to see where major legislation was discussed and signed. Highlights include his favorite rocking chair and the table where he enjoyed playing poker.

Search for Sunken Treasures

View of the Shipwreck Museum in Key West

Shipwreck Museum

The Shipwreck Museum tells the story of the many vessels that came to grief on the Keys. Treasure from a Spanish galleon, valuable coins, and even the hull of an 1856 shipwreck, the Isaac Allerton , are on display.

Long before Key West was known as a laid-back party place, it was notorious for shipwrecks. In the 19th century, salvaging cargoes from sailing ships hitting the local reefs was a dangerous but very profitable trade.

Many of the salvage goods here come from the most famous of local salvagers, Asa Tift. In 1851, on the highest land in Key West, he built a luxurious home that is now the Ernest Hemingway House.

Come to Papa

Ernest Hemingway House, one of the most unique things to do in Key West

Ernest Hemingway House

One of the many unique things to do in Key West is to explore the life of one of the literary giants of the 20th century. Author Ernest “Papa” Hemingway lived in Key West in the 1930s. His lovely plantation-style home, originally built in 1851 for salvager Asa Tift, is now a National Historic Landmark.

Among the works he wrote here are Green Hills of Africa and the novel To Have and Have Not . His writing studio is preserved, as is the swimming pool with the embedded “Last Penny” he complained about spending on it.

The house is filled with antiques, hunting trophies, and other memorabilia. It’s also home to dozens of six-toed cats, descendants of his original pet, Snowball.

Start From Zero

Mile 0, one of the most unique things to do in Key West

Mile Marker Zero Sign

How many of America’s many great highways have you been to the start of? At the corner of Fleming and Whitehead Street in Key West, you can stand at the very beginning of U.S. Route 1.

Seeing this Mile Marker Zero Sign is certainly a unique thing to do in Key West: there’s only one Route 1. From here, it’s 2,370 miles to its northern end in Fort Kent, Maine, on the border with Canada.

Route 1 is the longest highway in the United States , making for quite a road trip. If you ever decide to go, it runs through Miami, Richmond, Washington DC, Philadelphia, New York City, and Boston.

Look for Rick Worth’s Art

Artist Rick Worth moved to Key West in 1980 after leaving the US Navy. Since then, he has transformed the town like no one else.

You can see his bright, high-gloss work on murals everywhere, including Welcome to Key West at Mallory Square. He has also created more than 100 “art-o-mobile” painted vehicles to look out for.

Another first for him was painting old roof shingles. You’ll find these “candy bars” in many galleries and on display in the Truman Little White House.

Have a Rum & Cigar

Rum in a glass

There are several food tours of Key West, but a livelier option is a rum and cigar tour. You can sample local rum and then sip Cuban coffee with a cigar.

The Hemingway Rum Company produces the award-winning Papa’s Pilar Rum. Distillery tours and the Tasting Bar let you see the whole rum-making process.

Handrolled cigar on a table

Fleeing Cuba’s Revolution in 1968, some cigar makers moved their businesses here. However, the Rodriguez Cigar Factory predates that, being founded in 1947.

Visitors can learn to hand-roll a cigar then enjoy one as they learn more about cigar history. At one point, Key West was the largest producer of cigars in the United States.

Smooch at the Kissing Statue

Kissing statue, one of the most unique things to do in Key West

Kissing Statue

Unconditional Surrender is perhaps the most famous of many larger-than-life statues in Key West by artist Seward Johnson, who was part-heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune. He later gave this sculpture near Mallory Square the punning name of Embracing Peace .

It’s artistically controversial for being computer generated from a famous photograph taken in Times Square in 1945. The image captures a sailor forcefully kissing a woman during celebrations for the end of WWII.

Critics called the late Johnson’s trompe-l’œil work “kitsch”, but he was also embraced as “America’s most popular sculptor”. Judge for yourself with this and his other pieces around Key West.

Read: Best Things to Do in Key West for Couples

Explore African-American Key West

Bahama Village, one of the most unique things to do in Key West

Bahama Village

As a Union Naval base during the Civil War of 1861–1865, Key West was a haven for enslaved people fleeing nearby states and the Bahamas. The Key West Cemetery has an African section with graves from the mid-1800s, when a quarter of the population was African-American.

Key West’s Bahama Village was founded by newly freed black people when the Civil War ended. Its shotgun-style houses and musical culture directly reflect these roots.

A Memorial on Higgs Beach stands over the graves of hundreds of Africans. Rescued in 1860 from three slave ships, they died of fever due to the conditions onboard.

Read: Best Beaches in Key West

Take a Sea Plane to the Dry Tortugas

Dry Tortugas National Park, one of the most unique things to do in Key West

Dry Tortugas National Park

A flightseeing trip to Dry Tortugas is one of the most fun things to do in Key West. You’ll fly low over the beautiful Marquesa Islands and Boca Grande, where you could spot dolphins.

Dry Tortugas National Park is an untouched paradise, perfect for swimming, snorkeling, beachcombing, and birdwatching; some 281 species have been spotted here. The only air-conditioner on the island is in the park’s gift shop, making that a very popular stop.

You’ll also see Fort Jefferson, the largest masonry building in the western hemisphere. Built in the 1840s to control shipping in the Gulf of Mexico, it was later a prison for Dr. Samuel Mudd, guilty of treason for tending to John Wilkes Booth’s broken leg after Booth had assassinated President Lincoln.

Discover the Audubon House

Exterior of the Audubon House

Audubon House Photo by Ken Lund on Flickr, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The Audubon House & Tropical Gardens is dedicated to John James Audubon, the notable ornithologist. He visited Key West in 1832 and drew some illustrations for his monumental work, The Birds of America .

The house here was built in 1846 in a classic Key West “conch house” architectural style. Its curved wooden details, louvers and high pillars are the work of carpenters trained in shipbuilding.

Inside, you’ll find a treasure trove of first edition works by Audubon, including original prints. The tropical garden is rich with native vegetation including palms, orchids, and bromeliads.

Find Nancy’s Secret Garden

Macaw spotted in Key West

Artist Nancy Forrester set up her “Secret Garden” to provide sanctuary for rescued parrots, mostly macaws. She shares their stories to highlight deeply felt messages about habitat loss and the pet trade.

As well as an artist, she is also an environmentalist. These two sides of her work come together in her lush green garden of both native and exotic plants.

Nancy is an entertaining guide to sustainable gardening practices, conservation, and the ecology of the Florida Keys. While she has many stories to tell, the memories you will come away with will be ones of hope and wonder.

Take a Bike

Street view of Ernest Hemingway House

One of the most fun things to do in Key West is a cycling tour, either with a guide or by yourself on a self-guided route. The small size of the island, not to mention its flatness, makes it perfect for exploring on two wheels.

These rides will usually include such highlights as the Ernest Hemingway Home, Key West Lighthouse, and The Southernmost Point. However, having a local guide will bring much more of the town and its stories to life.

Specialized tours can take in local architecture, notable gardens, or the best restaurants. There are also eco-tours that explore some of the island’s remaining natural heritage.

Hotfoot it to “The Mad House”

White facade of Tennessee Williams house

Tennessee Williams house Photo by Elisa.rolle on Wikimedia Commons, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Another notable resident of Key West was playwright Tennessee Williams, who finished Cat on a Hot Tin Roof while staying here in 1941. In 1949, he bought a “conch house” at 1431 Duncan Street, where he lived until his death in 1983.

A small museum on 513 Truman Avenue has a recreation of the studio he called “The Mad House”. It holds his typewriter, some artwork, books, and other fascinating personal effects.

Williams came here just after the Overseas Highway was finished, becoming one of a group of writers who helped put Key West on the bohemian map. Others included Hemingway, of course, as well as Robert Frost, and Hunter S. Thompson.

Check Out the Fun at 801

There are many bars in Key West, but few match the 801 Bourbon Bar for atmosphere. Famous for its outrageous “801 Girls” drag shows, it’s probably the town’s most popular LGBTQ+ bar.

You can’t miss the vivid pink—what else?—building at 801 Duval Street, where the bar is open from 10am to 4am every day. Inside, the ground floor looks like almost any other bar, albeit one with sushi, karaoke, and bingo.

Upstairs is the crowded 801 Cabaret, most notable for that adults-only drag show, among other events. Be warned, don’t sit in the front row unless you want to be part of the entertainment.

Be Spooked by a Haunted Doll

Fort East Martello, one of the most unique things to do in Key West

Fort East Martello

The historic Fort East Martello, now a museum, dates back to the US Civil War. It was built in 1862, with eight-foot thick granite walls and a three-story central tower.

In the 1950s, the building became a museum dedicated to Key West and the Keys generally. It covers everything from military history to Cuban culture and local art.

Among the art is painted woodwork by folk artist Mario Sanchez, while the lovely garden holds concrete sculptures by Stanley Papio.

Robert doll in Fort East Martello museum

Robert doll Photo by Cayobo on Flickr, licensed under CC BY 2.0

A famous doll, named Robert and originally belonging to Key West artist Robert Eugene Otto, is another highlight. Locals believe the doll to be possessed or cursed by voodoo, able to move, change its expression, and even speak.

Visitors report their cameras malfunctioning when they try to photograph it. Needless to say, these stories of ghostly goings on bring even more visitors to see the doll.

Pay Your Respects at the Rooster Cemetery

Rooster spotted in Key West

The chickens that roam around Key West are very much a part of local life. So much so that they even have their own cemetery.

You’ll find the Rooster Cemetery in the outside dining area of the Blue Heaven Restaurant in the Bahama Village. Once a bordello, this is also where Ernest Hemingway refereed boxing matches.

The “cemetery” is dedicated to a number of roosters, each with their own grave marker and often humorous epitaph. Some living chickens roam the restaurant grounds, adding to the typically eccentric Key West atmosphere.

Hang out in Books & Books

There is nothing like an independent bookstore for revealing the heart of a community. Books & Books in Key West is made even more special by the regular presence of co-owner Judy Blume, the children’s and young adults’ author.

Sitting in the historic Masonic Temple at 533 Eaton Street, the store concentrates on Florida authors. You’ll also find a great selection of books about the Keys and Key West in particular.

Naturally, this is also a great place to find books autographed by Judy Blume. As a community hub, there are also regular events supporting other local writers and artists.

Unique things to do in Key West

Key West waterfront

Are you tempted to discover this quirky destination for yourself? Browse our Key West cruises to find the perfect tropical vacation.

Kieran Meeke

Kieran is a freelance travel writer who has lived and worked in 12 different countries, on every continent except Antarctica. He now spends his time between Kerry, Ireland, and Granada, Spain, while writing for newspapers and websites worldwide.

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Your Guide to a Florida Keys Road Trip: Key Largo to Key West

Posted: March 12, 2024 | Last updated: March 13, 2024

<p>One of the <a href="https://www.rd.com/list/best-states-road-trip/" rel="noopener noreferrer">best state road trips</a> in America has to be the sun-kissed drive from Key Largo to Key West in the Florida Keys. This road, known as the Florida Keys Overseas Highway, takes you through a 125-mile island chain that begins just south of Miami. It hopscotches over 42 bridges and five islands, and has turquoise waters stretching in every direction into the Atlantic Ocean, Florida Bay and Gulf of Mexico.</p> <p>So if you're looking for the perfect <a href="https://www.rd.com/article/atlantic-coast-road-trip/" rel="noopener noreferrer">Atlantic Coast road trip</a> or <a href="https://www.rd.com/list/best-budget-friendly-beach-destinations/" rel="noopener noreferrer">cheap beach vacation</a>, look no further than this <a href="https://www.rd.com/article/the-ultimate-american-road-trip-guide/" rel="noopener noreferrer">road trip guide</a> from Key Largo to Key West. And if you'd rather travel from Key West to Key Largo, rest easy—the route works either way. There are shuttles that run from Key Largo to Key West, but keep in mind, you'd be missing out on all the fun in between.</p> <p>By the way, once you embark on the Florida Keys Overseas Highway, you'll notice that many sites along the way use mile markers (MM) in their address. We use those mile marker points in this story to help you navigate the drive.</p> <p><strong>Get <em>Reader's <b><i>Digest</i></b></em><b>’s</b> </strong><a href="https://www.rd.com/newsletter/?int_source=direct&int_medium=rd.com&int_campaign=nlrda_20221001_topperformingcontentnlsignup&int_placement=incontent" rel="noopener noreferrer"><strong>Read Up newsletter</strong></a><strong> for more travel, humor, cleaning, tech and fun facts all week long.</strong></p>

Your road trip guide to the Florida Keys

One of the best state road trips in America has to be the sun-kissed drive from Key Largo to Key West in the Florida Keys. This road, known as the Florida Keys Overseas Highway, takes you through a 125-mile island chain that begins just south of Miami. It hopscotches over 42 bridges and five islands, and has turquoise waters stretching in every direction into the Atlantic Ocean, Florida Bay and Gulf of Mexico.

So if you're looking for the perfect Atlantic Coast road trip or cheap beach vacation , look no further than this road trip guide from Key Largo to Key West. And if you'd rather travel from Key West to Key Largo, rest easy—the route works either way. There are shuttles that run from Key Largo to Key West, but keep in mind, you'd be missing out on all the fun in between.

By the way, once you embark on the Florida Keys Overseas Highway, you'll notice that many sites along the way use mile markers (MM) in their address. We use those mile marker points in this story to help you navigate the drive.

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<p><strong>Mile marker:</strong> 108–90</p> <p>The first of the Florida Keys you'll hit after driving about an hour south from Miami en route from Key Largo to Key West is, well, Key Largo. Often referred to as the Dive Capital of the World, Key Largo includes one must-see stop: John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park (MM 102.5), the first underwater preserve in the United States.</p> <p>Experienced and novice snorkelers and SCUBA divers will be enthralled by the teeming marine life that lives just below the water's surface, like parrot fish, barracudas and sea turtles. More experienced divers enjoy exploring the USS Spiegel Grove, one of the largest ships ever intentionally sunk to create an artificial reef where pretty fish can thrive.</p> <p>Back on dry land, travelers can wander nearly six miles of trails at Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park, home to more than 80 species of plants and animals. You can also peruse the work of local artists at myriad galleries.</p> <p><strong>Best beach:</strong> Cannon Beach, found within John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, has shallow waters that are perfect for wading. You may even spot cannons and anchors on the beach that remain from a 1715 Spanish shipwreck.</p> <p><strong>Where to eat: </strong>Dig into the catch of the day at The Fish House, Key Largo Conch House or Snook's Bayside Restaurant & Grand Tiki Bar, some of the best <a href="https://www.rd.com/list/traditional-restaurant/">traditional restaurants</a> in the area. If you'd rather turf than surf, check out Jimmy Johnson's Big Chill.</p> <p><strong>Where to stay:</strong> If you can't get enough of the underwater world, stay at <a href="https://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g34344-d218568-Reviews-Jules_Undersea_Lodge-Key_Largo_Florida_Keys_Florida.html" rel="noopener noreferrer">Jules' Undersea Lodge</a>, the world's first underwater hotel. If you'd rather keep dry, try the adults-only <a href="https://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g34344-d13980722-Reviews-Bungalows_Key_Largo-Key_Largo_Florida_Keys_Florida.html" rel="noopener">Bungalows Key Largo</a>.</p> <p class="listicle-page__cta-button-shop"><a class="shop-btn" href="https://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g34344-d218568-Reviews-Jules_Undersea_Lodge-Key_Largo_Florida_Keys_Florida.html">Book Now</a></p>

Mile marker: 108–90

The first of the Florida Keys you'll hit after driving about an hour south from Miami en route from Key Largo to Key West is, well, Key Largo. Often referred to as the Dive Capital of the World, Key Largo includes one must-see stop: John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park (MM 102.5), the first underwater preserve in the United States.

Experienced and novice snorkelers and SCUBA divers will be enthralled by the teeming marine life that lives just below the water's surface, like parrot fish, barracudas and sea turtles. More experienced divers enjoy exploring the USS Spiegel Grove, one of the largest ships ever intentionally sunk to create an artificial reef where pretty fish can thrive.

Back on dry land, travelers can wander nearly six miles of trails at Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park, home to more than 80 species of plants and animals. You can also peruse the work of local artists at myriad galleries.

Best beach: Cannon Beach, found within John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, has shallow waters that are perfect for wading. You may even spot cannons and anchors on the beach that remain from a 1715 Spanish shipwreck.

Where to eat: Dig into the catch of the day at The Fish House, Key Largo Conch House or Snook's Bayside Restaurant & Grand Tiki Bar, some of the best traditional restaurants in the area. If you'd rather turf than surf, check out Jimmy Johnson's Big Chill.

Where to stay: If you can't get enough of the underwater world, stay at Jules' Undersea Lodge , the world's first underwater hotel. If you'd rather keep dry, try the adults-only Bungalows Key Largo .

<p><strong>Mile marker:</strong> 90–63</p> <p>Next up en route from Key Largo to Key West is the fisherman's paradise known as Islamorada. Considered the Sport Fishing Capital of the World, it's where backcountry sport fishing and saltwater fly-fishing got their start. Countless seasoned boat captains are ready for hire to take you out to catch the wahoo, marlin, mahi-mahi and tuna that swim in these waters.</p> <p>There's an even quirkier way to interact with fish here: hand-feeding the tarpon off the docks of Robbie's Marina (MM 77.5). Since 1976, countless Keys visitors have stopped to feed them, and more than 100 kinds of fish gather at the docks for their daily snacks. Feeding the fishies there is so popular, it's been named the No. 1 activity in all the Florida Keys.</p> <p>Islamorada is also a terrific spot to kitesurf, stand-up paddleboard, <a href="https://www.rd.com/list/best-hiking-trails/" rel="noopener noreferrer">go for a hike</a> or take a bicycle ride. Stop by the Laura Quinn Wild Bird Sanctuary, where injured or displaced birdies now make their homes. Or visit the History of Diving Museum, which boasts one of the world's largest collections of diving helmets.</p> <p><strong>Best beach:</strong> Anne's Beach is popular with families (and dogs) because of its shallow waters and lack of waves. Take a walk along the boardwalk or enjoy a picnic at one of the covered tables.</p> <p><strong>Where to eat:</strong> For a quintessential casual Florida Keys meal, go to the Hungry Tarpon. If you want more elegant fare, make reservations at Chef Michael's for creatively inspired local dishes.</p> <p><strong>Where to stay:</strong> When it's time to lay your head for the night, check in to one of the new oceanfront suites at <a href="https://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g34346-d84610-Reviews-Cheeca_Lodge_Spa-Islamorada_Florida_Keys_Florida.html" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cheeca Lodge & Spa</a>, or your own cottage at <a href="https://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g34346-d113464-Reviews-The_Moorings_Village-Islamorada_Florida_Keys_Florida.html" rel="noopener">The Moorings Village & Spa</a>.</p> <p class="listicle-page__cta-button-shop"><a class="shop-btn" href="https://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g34346-d84610-Reviews-Cheeca_Lodge_Spa-Islamorada_Florida_Keys_Florida.html">Book Now</a></p>

Mile marker: 90–63

Next up en route from Key Largo to Key West is the fisherman's paradise known as Islamorada. Considered the Sport Fishing Capital of the World, it's where backcountry sport fishing and saltwater fly-fishing got their start. Countless seasoned boat captains are ready for hire to take you out to catch the wahoo, marlin, mahi-mahi and tuna that swim in these waters.

There's an even quirkier way to interact with fish here: hand-feeding the tarpon off the docks of Robbie's Marina (MM 77.5). Since 1976, countless Keys visitors have stopped to feed them, and more than 100 kinds of fish gather at the docks for their daily snacks. Feeding the fishies there is so popular, it's been named the No. 1 activity in all the Florida Keys.

Islamorada is also a terrific spot to kitesurf, stand-up paddleboard, go for a hike or take a bicycle ride. Stop by the Laura Quinn Wild Bird Sanctuary, where injured or displaced birdies now make their homes. Or visit the History of Diving Museum, which boasts one of the world's largest collections of diving helmets.

Best beach: Anne's Beach is popular with families (and dogs) because of its shallow waters and lack of waves. Take a walk along the boardwalk or enjoy a picnic at one of the covered tables.

Where to eat: For a quintessential casual Florida Keys meal, go to the Hungry Tarpon. If you want more elegant fare, make reservations at Chef Michael's for creatively inspired local dishes.

Where to stay: When it's time to lay your head for the night, check in to one of the new oceanfront suites at Cheeca Lodge & Spa , or your own cottage at The Moorings Village & Spa .

<p><strong>Mile marker:</strong> 63–40</p> <p>Marathon is the island chain's top boating destination—and for good reason. The area boasts nearly 2,400 boat slips and plenty of facilities to accommodate sailors passing through. But you don't need your own boat to enjoy Marathon and its waters.</p> <p>For a truly different experience, hop on over to Cruisin' Tikis and have a floating tiki bar adventure. Sunset, mangrove and harbor cruises are all available, as is a swim-stop cruise for a chance to jump into the water.</p> <p>While you're here, you should also visit Pigeon Key, an island that is accessible by boat, trolley or walking the 2.2-mile Old Seven Mile Bridge. It has a museum to explore, either on a guided tour or on your own. The Bridge is open for walking, running, bicycling, rollerblading and, of course, watching the killer sunrises and sunsets.</p> <p><strong>Best beach: </strong>Sombrero Beach is one of the prettiest beaches in the Florida Keys—not to mention one of the <a href="https://www.rd.com/list/best-florida-beaches/">best beaches in Florida</a>. And it's not just popular with humans; sea turtles nest here between April and October.</p> <p><strong>Where to eat: </strong>For any meal, stop by Castaway, which has been serving guests for more than 70 years. Or make a night of it at Hide Away Café, which has an extensive wine list.</p> <p><strong>Where to stay:</strong> The <a href="https://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g34347-d6784786-Reviews-Faro_Blanco_Resort_Yacht_Club-Marathon_Florida_Keys_Florida.html" rel="noopener noreferrer">Faro Blanco Resort & Yacht Club</a> is set on the waterfront and gives you a taste of marina life. <a href="https://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g11962583-d113469-Reviews-Lime_Tree_Bay_Resort-Layton_Long_Key_Florida_Keys_Florida.html" rel="noopener">Lime Tree Bay Resort</a> on Long Key has spacious townhomes for rent.</p> <p class="listicle-page__cta-button-shop"><a class="shop-btn" href="https://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g34347-d6784786-Reviews-Faro_Blanco_Resort_Yacht_Club-Marathon_Florida_Keys_Florida.html">Book Now</a></p>

Mile marker: 63–40

Marathon is the island chain's top boating destination—and for good reason. The area boasts nearly 2,400 boat slips and plenty of facilities to accommodate sailors passing through. But you don't need your own boat to enjoy Marathon and its waters.

For a truly different experience, hop on over to Cruisin' Tikis and have a floating tiki bar adventure. Sunset, mangrove and harbor cruises are all available, as is a swim-stop cruise for a chance to jump into the water.

While you're here, you should also visit Pigeon Key, an island that is accessible by boat, trolley or walking the 2.2-mile Old Seven Mile Bridge. It has a museum to explore, either on a guided tour or on your own. The Bridge is open for walking, running, bicycling, rollerblading and, of course, watching the killer sunrises and sunsets.

Best beach: Sombrero Beach is one of the prettiest beaches in the Florida Keys—not to mention one of the best beaches in Florida . And it's not just popular with humans; sea turtles nest here between April and October.

Where to eat: For any meal, stop by Castaway, which has been serving guests for more than 70 years. Or make a night of it at Hide Away Café, which has an extensive wine list.

Where to stay: The Faro Blanco Resort & Yacht Club is set on the waterfront and gives you a taste of marina life. Lime Tree Bay Resort on Long Key has spacious townhomes for rent.

<p><strong>Mile marker:</strong> 40–4</p> <p>After crossing the Old Seven Mile Bridge out of Marathon, you'll find yourself in the Lower Keys, where natural habitats and wildlife refuges thrive. It's no wonder this part of the Florida Keys is known as the Natural Keys. You might even want to consider taking an <a href="https://www.rd.com/article/ev-road-trip/">electric vehicle on this road trip</a> so you don't disturb the animals.</p> <p>Your best chance to spot a native Key deer, a subspecies of the Virginia white-tailed deer that somehow made its way south, may be in the National Key Deer Refuge, comprised of 9,200 acres stretching from Bahia Honda Key to Sugarloaf Key on the edge of the Gulf of Mexico. More than 20 endangered and threatened plant and animal species can be found within the refuge. Take a quiet walk at dusk or dawn for your best chance to glimpse a Key deer, or join a ranger-led tour to learn more about the area.</p> <p>Aside from all the eco-friendly fun, Stock Island is well worth a stop. Their maritime history goes back generations, and the marina is filled with shrimping and fishing boats. Artists have been flocking to Stock Island, too, and share their works in galleries dotted across the small island.</p> <p><strong>Best beach: </strong>The shallow, clear water and white sand at Calusa Beach make it a locals' favorite. The beach is a perfect spot for snorkeling too.</p> <p><strong>Where to eat: </strong>In addition to the freshest of seafood, Big Pine Rooster serves up ribs and a special-recipe meatloaf. Or sip like the locals at No Name Pub, located on Big Pine Key.</p> <p><strong>Where to stay:</strong> Consider the waterfront <a href="https://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g34659-d603177-Reviews-Sugarloaf_Lodge-Sugarloaf_Key_Florida_Keys_Florida.html" rel="noopener noreferrer">Sugarloaf Lodge</a>, stay in an Airstream at <a href="https://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g34085-d113460-Reviews-Big_Pine_Key_Resort-Big_Pine_Key_Florida_Keys_Florida.html" rel="noopener noreferrer">Big Pine Key Resort</a> or pop a tent on one of the reserved campsites at Bahia Honda State Park.</p> <p class="listicle-page__cta-button-shop"><a class="shop-btn" href="https://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g34659-d603177-Reviews-Sugarloaf_Lodge-Sugarloaf_Key_Florida_Keys_Florida.html">Book Now</a></p>

The Lower Keys

Mile marker: 40–4

After crossing the Old Seven Mile Bridge out of Marathon, you'll find yourself in the Lower Keys, where natural habitats and wildlife refuges thrive. It's no wonder this part of the Florida Keys is known as the Natural Keys. You might even want to consider taking an electric vehicle on this road trip so you don't disturb the animals.

Your best chance to spot a native Key deer, a subspecies of the Virginia white-tailed deer that somehow made its way south, may be in the National Key Deer Refuge, comprised of 9,200 acres stretching from Bahia Honda Key to Sugarloaf Key on the edge of the Gulf of Mexico. More than 20 endangered and threatened plant and animal species can be found within the refuge. Take a quiet walk at dusk or dawn for your best chance to glimpse a Key deer, or join a ranger-led tour to learn more about the area.

Aside from all the eco-friendly fun, Stock Island is well worth a stop. Their maritime history goes back generations, and the marina is filled with shrimping and fishing boats. Artists have been flocking to Stock Island, too, and share their works in galleries dotted across the small island.

Best beach: The shallow, clear water and white sand at Calusa Beach make it a locals' favorite. The beach is a perfect spot for snorkeling too.

Where to eat: In addition to the freshest of seafood, Big Pine Rooster serves up ribs and a special-recipe meatloaf. Or sip like the locals at No Name Pub, located on Big Pine Key.

Where to stay: Consider the waterfront Sugarloaf Lodge , stay in an Airstream at Big Pine Key Resort  or pop a tent on one of the reserved campsites at Bahia Honda State Park.

<p><strong>Mile marker:</strong> 4–0</p> <p>You've made it to the end! Closer to Cuba than Miami, Key West is known for its nightly sunset celebrations, party atmosphere and laissez-faire vibe, but it's really so much more.</p> <p>If you're a writer or bookworm, you'll certainly want to make plans to visit the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum, where you should keep an eye out for the famous six-toed cats. Then wander through Key West's Bahama Village, a 12-block area of historic homes and restaurants.</p> <p>Consider a day trip to Dry Tortugas National Park, about 70 miles west of Key West in the Gulf of Mexico, where you'll find some <a href="https://www.rd.com/list/states-hidden-gems/">hidden gems</a>. The island, accessible by boat or seaplane, is popular for snorkeling and feeling like you're on your own private island, not to mention touring the Civil War–era fort.</p> <p><strong>Best beach: </strong>Fort Zachary Taylor Beach—or Fort Zach, as locals call it—predates the Civil War and boasts the island's very best sandy stretch.</p> <p><strong>Where to eat: </strong>No visit to Key West is complete without a meal at Blue Heaven, where you can dine with wandering roosters for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Or snag a spot on the tiny balcony at Santiago's Bodega for tapas and flowing wine.</p> <p><strong>Where to stay:</strong> The boutique <a href="https://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g34345-d227346-Reviews-The_Gardens_Hotel-Key_West_Florida_Keys_Florida.html" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gardens Hotel</a>, the adults-only Kimpton Hotels <a href="https://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g34345-d296023-Reviews-Kimpton_Ridley_House-Key_West_Florida_Keys_Florida.html" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ridley House</a> or the new <a href="https://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g34345-d21408966-Reviews-The_Capitana_Key_West-Key_West_Florida_Keys_Florida.html" rel="noopener noreferrer">Capitana Key West</a>, to name a few. Wherever you stay, you're sure to find your place in Key West, and it's likely you'll follow so many others' lead and start planning your return visit before you even leave.</p> <p class="listicle-page__cta-button-shop"><a class="shop-btn" href="https://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g34345-d227346-Reviews-The_Gardens_Hotel-Key_West_Florida_Keys_Florida.html">Book Now</a></p>

Mile marker: 4–0

You've made it to the end! Closer to Cuba than Miami, Key West is known for its nightly sunset celebrations, party atmosphere and laissez-faire vibe, but it's really so much more.

If you're a writer or bookworm, you'll certainly want to make plans to visit the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum, where you should keep an eye out for the famous six-toed cats. Then wander through Key West's Bahama Village, a 12-block area of historic homes and restaurants.

Consider a day trip to Dry Tortugas National Park, about 70 miles west of Key West in the Gulf of Mexico, where you'll find some hidden gems . The island, accessible by boat or seaplane, is popular for snorkeling and feeling like you're on your own private island, not to mention touring the Civil War–era fort.

Best beach: Fort Zachary Taylor Beach—or Fort Zach, as locals call it—predates the Civil War and boasts the island's very best sandy stretch.

Where to eat: No visit to Key West is complete without a meal at Blue Heaven, where you can dine with wandering roosters for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Or snag a spot on the tiny balcony at Santiago's Bodega for tapas and flowing wine.

Where to stay: The boutique Gardens Hotel , the adults-only Kimpton Hotels Ridley House  or the new Capitana Key West , to name a few. Wherever you stay, you're sure to find your place in Key West, and it's likely you'll follow so many others' lead and start planning your return visit before you even leave.

<p>Road-tripping from Key Largo to Key West, it's easy to appreciate all the natural beauty. That said, the Keys aren't just a terrific destination for <a href="https://www.rd.com/article/what-is-ecotourism/">eco-travelers,</a> but artists and history buffs too.</p> <p>It's easy for artists to find inspiration throughout the Florida Keys. Fortunately for road-trippers, there are many spots to stop and admire their work. One of the largest artists' communities in the Florida Keys is Stock Island in the Lower Keys, just about three miles from the commercial area of Key West. What was once a shrimping boat marina is now a blend of fishermen and painters, sculptors and other artisans who have created an energetic and supportive community.</p> <p>For history buffs, in addition to Pigeon Key in Marathon and the Civil War–era Fort Jefferson in Dry Tortugas National Park, other must-stops in Key West include the Audubon House & Tropical Gardens, Harry S. Truman Little White House and the Southernmost Point in the continental United States.</p>

Art and history in the Florida Keys

Road-tripping from Key Largo to Key West, it's easy to appreciate all the natural beauty. That said, the Keys aren't just a terrific destination for eco-travelers, but artists and history buffs too.

It's easy for artists to find inspiration throughout the Florida Keys. Fortunately for road-trippers, there are many spots to stop and admire their work. One of the largest artists' communities in the Florida Keys is Stock Island in the Lower Keys, just about three miles from the commercial area of Key West. What was once a shrimping boat marina is now a blend of fishermen and painters, sculptors and other artisans who have created an energetic and supportive community.

For history buffs, in addition to Pigeon Key in Marathon and the Civil War–era Fort Jefferson in Dry Tortugas National Park, other must-stops in Key West include the Audubon House & Tropical Gardens, Harry S. Truman Little White House and the Southernmost Point in the continental United States.

<p>Now that you're inspired to hit the road, it's time to start planning. After <a href="https://www.rd.com/article/road-trip-cost/" rel="noopener noreferrer">budgeting for a road trip</a>, your next step is to decide whether you will travel south from Key Largo to Key West, or north from Key West to Key Largo. Or maybe you'll opt for a roundtrip.</p> <p>If you're starting off in Key Largo, it's important to note that the Florida Keys Overseas Highway begins at the Miami-Dade/Monroe County line. So if you're flying to Florida, Miami International Airport (MIA) is the way to go. If you begin in Key West, the airport (EYW) is on the island.</p> <p>If you're already driving one of the <a href="https://www.rd.com/list/best-road-trip-cars/" rel="noopener noreferrer">best road trip cars</a> to get to Florida, you're all set. But if you need a loaner, choose one of the <a href="https://www.rd.com/list/best-cars-to-rent-for-a-road-trip/" rel="noopener noreferrer">best cars to rent for a road trip</a>. Consider packing these <a href="https://www.rd.com/list/road-trip-essentials/" rel="noopener noreferrer">road trip essentials</a> and download some of the <a href="https://www.rd.com/article/best-podcasts-for-road-trips/" rel="noopener noreferrer">best podcasts for road trips</a> to make the miles fly by.</p>

Planning your Florida Keys road trip

Now that you're inspired to hit the road, it's time to start planning. After budgeting for a road trip , your next step is to decide whether you will travel south from Key Largo to Key West, or north from Key West to Key Largo. Or maybe you'll opt for a roundtrip.

If you're starting off in Key Largo, it's important to note that the Florida Keys Overseas Highway begins at the Miami-Dade/Monroe County line. So if you're flying to Florida, Miami International Airport (MIA) is the way to go. If you begin in Key West, the airport (EYW) is on the island.

If you're already driving one of the best road trip cars to get to Florida, you're all set. But if you need a loaner, choose one of the best cars to rent for a road trip . Consider packing these road trip essentials and download some of the best podcasts for road trips to make the miles fly by.

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COMMENTS

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    6) Visit The Luxurious Island Of Long Key In Key West. Long Key is in the Middle Keys of Key West and was once a place of luxury for the rich and famous. The Long Key State Park is now a tranquil haven for swimming, kayaking, watching the many species of birds, and lounging along the shoreline. Explore the mangroves in a kayak or hike into a ...

  2. 10 Best Islands in the Florida Keys You Shouldn't Miss!

    Hop-On Hop-Off Trolley Tour (Great way to see the city) Top Places To Stay In Key West: Margaritaville Beach House Key West (Modern mid-range) Blue Marlin Motel (Affordable in downtown) Hampton Inn Key West (Waterfront with pool) Wicker Guesthouse (Great location!)

  3. 10 Best Florida Keys Islands + A Guide To Choosing An Island

    Beachgoers and relaxation seekers: 8. Big Pine Key. Located just a short distance from Key West, Big Pine Key is a nature lover's paradise. It is renowned for its stunning natural beauty and is home to the National Key Deer Refuge, where you can spot the endangered Key deer, a species found only in this region.

  4. Key West & Florida Keys Islands Bucket List: 45 BEST Things to Do

    One of my Key West favorites and a great way to acquainted with the island for first timers and Key West veterans alike. It is a fun 2-hour guided tour around the 26 Miles of Key West's coastline with several stops along the way where the guide educates you on Key West's history, the landmark's, the beaches & some of the best places to visit.

  5. Best places to visit in the Florida Keys

    Key West Best for art, culture and cutting loose. Key West, perhaps the most famous island in the Keys, is a sun-filled carnival and the closest thing to a proper city in the archipelago. For vacationers seeking parties that spill out into the streets, late-night wining and dining and epic drag shows, Key West is your best bet.

  6. 10 Best Islands of the Florida Keys ️ including a Map!

    8. Get the old Florida feel at Stock Island. En route to Key West lies this old Florida Gem: Stock Island. Many locals from the Keys often complain that the Keys are changing and development is taking over. However, Stock Island is one of the last few places that still has the charming 'old' Florida Keys feel.

  7. 5 Must-Visit Islands in the Florida Keys in 2024

    4. Marathon. Marathon is actually a 10-mile island chain smack dab in the middle of the Florida Keys. Like Islamorada, it's a fisher's paradise but offers more activities and options for families. Smaller islands like Vaca Key, Grassy Key, Boot Key, Hog Key, and Fat Deer Key are part of Marathon.

  8. 3 Best Day Trips from Key West

    Even if you want to rest your head in Key West each night, ferries and seaplanes shuttle visitors to the Dry Tortugas—a spectacular 19th-century military fort-turned-national park 70 miles west ...

  9. Discover 7 Key West Islands By Boat For The Ultimate Adventure

    1) The Maritime Majesty Of Dry Tortugas. Dry Tortugas, a remote island group 70 miles west of Key West, is a testament to the maritime majesty of the Florida Keys. This gem features the historic Fort Jefferson, constructed between 1846 and 1875, which is the largest all-masonry fort in the United States.

  10. 9 amazing islands in the Florida Keys

    The Overseas Highway allows visitors to drive from island to island, making exploring everything the best places to visit along the Florida Keys, from tropical forests to the world's third-largest barrier reef, a breeze. There are a number of different islands, or keys, within each of the five distinctive regions here: Key Largo, Islamorada ...

  11. 44 Islands and 42 Bridges: A Florida Keys Road Trip

    That land route eventually became the Overseas Highway, or U.S. 1, vaulting across channels, and linking 44 islands, via 42 bridges. A fisherman near U.S. 1 in the Florida Keys. Scott McIntyre for ...

  12. Dry Tortugas National Park (U.S. National Park Service)

    Explore a 19th Century Fort and Snorkel Crystal Clear Water with Incredible Marine Life. Almost 70 miles (113 km) west of Key West lies the remote Dry Tortugas National Park. This 100-square mile park is mostly open water with seven small islands. Accessible only by boat or seaplane, the park is known the world over as the home of magnificent ...

  13. 8 Key West Islands You Should Visit

    The main "key" islands in Florida are part of the Florida Keys, an archipelago stretching southwest from the southern tip of the Florida peninsula. Some of the key islands in the Florida Keys include Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, Big Pine Key, Key Colony Beach, Duck Key, Little Torch Key, and Key West. These islands are connected by the ...

  14. THE BEST Key West Islands to Visit (Updated 2024)

    1. Boatary Club Key West. 22. Islands • Beaches. Open now. By Camper733161. We caught a ton of fish (again!), had fresh fish filleted for our dinner, saw a beautiful sunset, dolphins. Top Key West Islands: See reviews and photos of Islands in Key West, Florida on Tripadvisor.

  15. 17 Best Things to Do in Key West, Florida

    Big Pine Key (30 miles): It's easy to visit multiple Keys in one trip. The closest to Key West, Big Pine Key, is home to Bahia Honda State Park. Marathon (51 miles away): Top attractions in ...

  16. 20 Best Things To Do In Key West, FL You Shouldn't Miss

    Another place to visit in Key West for history buffs is the Ernest Hemingway House and Museum. ... You will have a 360-degree view of the island of Key West and the surrounding ocean! Don't forget your camera! ... Exploring Dry Tortugas is definitely one of the most unique things to do near Key West. If you love checking off the U.S. National ...

  17. Hidden islands in the Florida Keys: 6 little known spots

    Hidden islands in the Florida Keys: Kayak launches and landings. Photo/Florida State Parks. Distance from Overseas Highway: Indian Key Fill to Lignumvitae Key Kayak Landing- 2.84 miles roundtrip. Indian Key Fill to Indian Key Kayak Landing-1.66 miles roundtrip. Indian Key Fill to Entrance of Mangrove Creeks-1.84 miles roundtrip.

  18. Things to Do & Attractions in Key West FL

    Key West, the southernmost point in the United States, is famous for watersports, lively nightlife, beaches, historic sites and its pastel, conch-style architecture. Duval Street , one of the most energetic strips of shops, bars and cafes anywhere, offers Sloppy Joe's bar, a favorite Key West hangout of novelist Ernest Hemingway.

  19. 18 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Key West, FL

    Dry Tortugas National Park is an archipelago of seven reef islands located around 65 miles southwest of Key West. They were so named by explorer Ponce de Leon due to the number of turtles ... The best time to visit Key West is during the winter months of December, January, and February. With daytime temperatures averaging in the low 70s, as ...

  20. 6 Must-Stop Island Spots in the Florida Keys

    Islamorada. Islamorada, only half an hour south of Key Largo, is a chain of six islands with a laid-back village vibe. It's known as the sports fishing capital of the world, so for avid adventurers and water-sports enthusiasts, this is a must-stop spot. Islamorada is also well known for its reefs, making this a great destination for ...

  21. The Ultimate Key West, Florida Bucket List

    Take a thrilling jet-ski trip around the entire island of Key West with a fun stop at a sandbar. | Ultimate Jet Ski Tour Take a jog along the gorgeous beach path on S. Roosevelt Blvd with crystal clear water next to you. | S. Roosevelt Have breakfast with the roosters at an authentic local's favorite, Blue Heaven.Make sure to get a table outside to enjoy the live music.

  22. 9 Off the Radar Florida Islands You Need to Visit

    4. Merritt Island. Kennedy Space Center, Merritt Island, United States, SpaceX/Unsplash. Merritt Island is best known as the home of NASA's Kennedy Space Center. In the morning, you can visit the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex and maybe even meet an astronaut. Then you can head to the beach in the afternoon!

  23. 17 Unique Things to Do in Key West

    Artist Rick Worth moved to Key West in 1980 after leaving the US Navy. Since then, he has transformed the town like no one else. You can see his bright, high-gloss work on murals everywhere, including Welcome to Key West at Mallory Square. He has also created more than 100 "art-o-mobile" painted vehicles to look out for.

  24. Your Guide to a Florida Keys Road Trip: Key Largo to Key West

    Mile marker: 63-40 Marathon is the island chain's top boating destination—and for good reason. The area boasts nearly 2,400 boat slips and plenty of facilities to accommodate sailors passing ...