10 Things You MUST Do in Key West
Let’s assume this is your first visit to the southernmost island off mainland America. You have heard about Key West and the many things to do there – most of which you need to forget about right now.
Let’s start with the things you really won’t miss, despite the fact most tourists do them! Here’s a list of things to forget about –
- Captain Tony’s – this is a run-down tourist attraction with a tree in the middle. Read the history of how they moved Sloppy Joe’s from this site to it’s current location. However, the history is more interesting than the bar.
- The Lighthouse – if you want to climb the 88 steps to the top of the lighthouse, go ahead. But once you reach the top with a dozen other fools, what have you got? The same view you would have if you got in any elevator in the La Concha Hotel and went up to the rooftop bar for a rumrunner!
- The Beaches – hey, we know a good beach! Beaches in Key West are fun for the sun, but dark brown sand usually with seaweed washed up is not my type of beach. Go to Clearwater Beach or Sanibel for a real pure white sand beach.
- Margaritaville Restaurant – Jimmy Buffet will not be there. Something is fundamentally wrong with a bar that has a bigger gift shop than the bar! The burger is good, but there are plenty of good burgers in Key West. Love Jimmy and his music, but the restaurant is not on my list.
So, we have some time wasters out of the way, what are the things you MUST see?
- Mallory Square at Sunset – I know this is popular, but where else can you watch the sunset and 20 acts and performers at the same time – FREE?
- Take a Walk – In fact, take two walks! First walk the length of Duval Street just before dark. Then walk back the opposite way after dark. Yes, we know it’s a mile long, but there are probably 75 bars you can stop at along the way. Plus, the sights you will see and the sounds you hear are the heart of Key West. The people, the shops, the sidewalk peddlers, the bar bands all mix together in a delightful motion picture.
- Conch Train – Ok, we know this is kind of corny. But the Conch Train takes you all around this 2 mile by 4 mile island. Saves you a lot of walking time and you get some history (some of it is even true).
- Museum of Art and History – We are a sucker for a really good museum. Key West has a history unequaled by most communities. The Island dwellers went through native Americans, Spanish explorers, pirates, modern day thieves, hurricanes and wars. The Museum of History is a great place to spend an air conditioned afternoon on a sunny day.
- Fort Jefferson – about 70 miles west of Key West are the Dry Tortugas. Another set of islands that have but one structure – Fort Jefferson. This fort was built in the mid 1800’s. It will amaze you from a construction standpoint. It was used to house prisoners during the civil war. The Most famous of which is Dr. Mudd. If time allows, take a boat to Fort Jefferson or, better yet, take a pontoon airplane that is just a 45 minute ride. Beautiful scenery and superb snorkeling is available around the island.
- Key West Cemetery – Read the history before you go. Then read the tombstones that date back almost 200 years. If it seems creepy to walk among the some 100,000 souls buried there, get over it. The history on the headstones will put you at ease.
- The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory – We like this place on the south end of Duval. Butterflies in all their stages of development highlight this attraction. The birds, flora and colorful setting makes this a perfect family exhibit. Kind of touristy, but nature’s beauty is confined in this auditorium of natural habitat.
- Sloppy Joe’s – We don’t like to include this, but find it a must. Sloppy Joe’s has become to Key West the same as Mallory Square, the southernmost buoy and the Hemingway House – it is a first time tourist tradition! No, the food won’t be anything but ok. The place will be crowded. The place will be noisy and the band will be loud – it’s Key West!
- The Hemingway House – Perhaps if Ernest Hemingway had never spent a few years in Key West, the town may not have been as fantasized as it is. Hemingway’s former home, built for his wife, is a glimpse of another era and worth the visit.
- Louie’s Backyard – Ok, sometime during your Key West visit, put on your best pair of flip flops, the one last clean t-shirt and maybe wash your face. You are going to Louie’s Backyard at the southern end of the island for a nice lunch or dinner. Order the Key West Pink Shrimp. The story of the “Key West Pinks” is as interesting as the view of the Atlantic Ocean from Louie’s Backyard.
The above Top 10 Key West Must Do’s are our favorites from 40 years of watching Key West evolve. Over that period of time most of the above attractions were there. Are there others we recommend? Here is the short list.
Other favorites include
- seeing Michael McCloud at the Schooner Wharf,
- people watching along Duval from The Bull,
- traveling the Seven Mile Bridge on the way to Key West,
- visiting the Hogfish Grill on Stock Island for their famous hogfish sandwich,
- listening to the entertainment at the Smoking Tuna,
- eating whole belly clams at DJ’s Clam Shack
- breakfast at the Blue Heaven
- fishing the flats of the Marquesas’ is a great way to spend the day
Finally, walking though “Old Town” in Key west is a way to see several types of architecture, period homes and the new construction being mixed with the old homes.
We consider Key West one of the great cities of the world. Based on the number of foreign visitors, we must be right. Visit soon.
For More Things to do in Key West –
Just One Day in Key West – Things to do