Those who take Key West vacations enjoy the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico in myriad ways. The southernmost city in the continental U.S. is more than a destination, it is a state of mind. This is the place to go if you truly want to get away from it all.
Key West has long been an artist enclave, a destination for writers, painters, playwrights and more. Author Ernest Hemingway and playwright Tennessee Williams both lived here.
Early History of Key West Florida
The Spanish name for the island is Cayo Hueso. “Key West” is a phonetic misinterpretation of the name in English. Key West became part of the United States in 1822. Early industries included salvaging, cigars, salt and turtling. In the mid-19th century it was the richest city in Florida, per capita.
What Makes Key West Vacations so Special?
Key West’s sub-tropical climate is very consistent. Vacationers can count on comfortable temperatures throughout the year. According to the National Weather Service, average highs are in the eighties from April to November. Even in January, the average high is 74 degrees.
Extending out from the Keys is North America’s only living coral reef. It is a great place for scuba divers and snorkelers to explore the magnificent world under the sea.
Top 15 Things to do in Key West
The top things to do in Key West include opportunities to enjoy the water, experience local history and simply celebrate life.
1. Old Town Key West
Key West’s historic district is a mile-square area packed with history and fun things to do. Trolley tours quickly acclimate first-time visitors to all that Old Town Key West has to offer.
2. Mallory Square
The sunset celebration at Mallory Square is something to behold. A nightly festival begins two hours before the sun sinks below the horizon. Enjoy contributions from local musicians, artists, magicians, jugglers and more.
3. Southernmost Point in U.S.
A brightly colored buoy marks the southernmost spot in the continental United States. Don’t miss the opportunity to get a photo. Cuba is just 90 miles away.
4. Duval Street
Duval Street stretches from Mallory Square to the Southernmost Point marker. Restaurants, nightspots, historic homes and unique shops line the street. Kermit’s Key Lime Pie Shop is a perfect example. Duval Street also hosts the Hemingway Days Festival.
5. Key West Lighthouse
Before modern navigation, the reef shredded the hulls of many vessels. For safety’s sake, the Key West Lighthouse opened in 1848. Today, it is a museum celebrating Key West’s maritime heritage. If you’re game, take the 88 steps to the top. The views are worth it.
6. Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park
This state park offers clear waters ideal for snorkeling. You can also hike, bike, sunbathe or fish. Construction of Fort Zachary Taylor began in 1845. Due to the fort’s presence, Key West remained Union territory throughout the Civil War.
7. Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory
The Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservancy is home to more than four dozen butterfly species and 20 species of exotic birds. Imagine the kids’ delight as butterflies dance about in the natural garden habitat.
8. Smathers Beach
Smathers Beach runs along the southern edge of the island. It is the largest public beach in Key West. Paddle boards, small sailboats and kayaks are available for rent.
9. Excursions and Charters
Let local experts help you experience all that the surrounding waters offer. Choose from sailing excursions, kayaking tours and snorkeling trips. Sport fishing charters pursue dozens of species, including tarpon, barracuda and sailfish.
10. Key West Aquarium
The Key West Aquarium is in the heart of Mallory Square. Along with the many tropical fish, you’ll see conch, barracuda, grouper, moray eels, sharks and alligators.
11. Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum
Locals call those not born on the island “freshwater Conchs.” One of the most beloved was Ernest Hemingway. He worked on some of his most famous novels at his home in Old Town Key West. The half-hour guided tour is more than worth it.
12. Little White House
Key West’s Little White House is Florida’s only presidential museum. The 33rd President spent 175 days of his term here. Five other Presidents have also stayed in the former naval officers’ housing.
13. Audubon House and Gallery
The three-story Audubon House includes works by John James Audubon. Cuttings from plants he acquired here found their way into some of his paintings. Stroll along brick paths traversing lush displays of orchids, bromeliads and more.
14. Shipwreck Museum
In 1856, the Isaac Allerton sank when it struck the reef. Today, actors, artifacts and films bring the story to life at the Shipwreck Museum.
15. Dry Tortugas National Park
The Dry Tortugas are an archipelago of seven reef islands. “Dry” refers to an absence of fresh water, while “tortuga” means turtle. Relax on soft sand beaches in a national park 65 miles southwest of Key West. Consider allinclusive tours that include your snorkeling equipment and lunch.
Where to Stay in Key West Florida
Key West resorts include waterfront properties as well as those in the historic district. Key West all-inclusive resorts are a popular option.
1. Casa Marina
Casa Marina is an historic four-star waterfront resort. Enjoy the many attractions of Old Town Key West. Guests are just minutes away from Simonton Beach and Higgs Beach.
2. Hyatt Centric Key West Resort and Spa
The Hyatt Centric Key West Resort and Spa is a four-star resort in the Key West Historic District. Guests are minutes from the Shipwreck Museum, Audubon House and other Old Town attractions.
3. The Reach at Key West
When you stay at The Reach, you’ll be on the waterfront, minutes from Simonton Beach and South Beach. This four-star Waldorf Astoria resort is close to the Audubon House and Hemingway House.
4. La Concha Hotel & Spa
La Concha Hotel & Spa is a four-star hotel centrally located in Key West. The Key West Film Society, Red Barn Theater and Jackson Square are all close by.
5. Hilton Garden Inn
The Hilton Garden Inn is strategically located at Key West’s entry point. Hotel guests enjoy easy access to Duval Street, Old Town, Mallory Square and the Little White House.
6. 24 North Hotel
At 24 North Hotel guests enjoy easy access to the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory. This four-star hotel is also near Mallory Square and the Key West Lighthouse.
7. Best Western Key Ambassador Resort Inn
The Best Western Key Ambassador Resort Inn is a waterfront resort near Smathers Beach and the Fort East Martello Museum.
8. The Gates Hotel
The Gates Hotel is just minutes from Smathers Beach. Also nearby are Mallory Square, Fort Zachary Taylor and Old Town Key West. Browse the shops on Duval Street.
Key West FL offers plenty of ways to enjoy the coastal scenery whether you are looking for family fun, nightlife, or leisure. Guest ReservationsTM has you covered with over 100,000 lodging options worldwide. Check out our hotel booking options for Key West to help you find the perfect fit for your Key West vacation.