The Ultimate Guide to Things To Do in Key West for Free
Welcome to Key West, where blissful beaches and breathtaking sunsets await! If you’re looking for the ultimate guide to free fun, you’ve come to the right place. From picture-perfect beaches to vibrant entertainment, this tropical paradise offers an abundance of budget-friendly activities that will keep you entertained from sunrise to sunset.
The island of Key West has such diverse cultures, activities, history and environments that there are so many free things to do in Key West that you won’t need to waste a dime on entertainment! The 2-mile by 4-mile island is easily walkable, particularly if you stay at the right locations.
From sunrise at beautiful beaches to sunset that amazes, we will keep you busy from early morning until the sun makes its green splash into the sea with free things to do in Key West Florida.
Exploring the Beaches of Key West
Key West has numerous beaches both public and a few lesser-known popular places, but fun locations. Heading to a beach is one of the top free things to do in Key West.
- First, make your way to Smathers Beach, one of the largest public beaches on the island. Bask in the sun, take a dip in the crystal-clear waters, or simply relax under the swaying palm trees. Smathers Beach offers a wide range of free activities in Key West. This includes beach volleyball, paddleboarding, and snorkeling. So grab your sunscreen and get ready to enjoy a day of fun in the sun at this beautiful beach.
- Head over to Higgs Beach. This is a popular spot for locals who like their early morning walk along the Atlantic Ocean. Visit the African graves memorial for 294 people who died in 1860 were buried here. This free attraction in Key West is popular for visitors to the Keys.
- Nearby is the little-known Rest Beach. It is designed just for that – relaxation. 300 feet of sand to do nothing but rest – no facilities, no sports – just rest on the beach! Of course, this is another free activity in Key West.
- Our favorite beach in Key West is the little-known Simonton Street Beach. At the north end of Simonton Street (Simonton is one street east of Duval), is a patch of beach looking at the busy waterway into the Key West Bight Marina. You also have a view of Sunset Key, the ultimate vacation location in the Keys. There is even a taco shack if hunger strikes you. Mainly locals here enjoying the characters in the neighborhood!
There are several other beaches scattered around the island. The most popular remaining beach is Fort Zachary Taylor Beach. While it is wildly popular, it costs $2.50 per person or $6 for a family carload to enter the park.
If your budget allows, Fort Zachary Taylor Beach is the best beach on the island.
Where to Watch Sunset in Key West for Free
As the sun starts to set, Key West transforms into a magical paradise. There’s no better way to end your day than by witnessing the breathtaking sunsets that the island is famous for.
We have the best free locations to watch sunset in Key West –
- End your day at Mallory Square where you’ll be enthralled by the dazzling entertainment at the nightly Sunset Celebration. Witness street performers, local artisans, and breathtaking fire jugglers as you soak in the vibrant atmosphere. The Sunset Celebration is a free event that attracts both locals and tourists alike, making it the perfect place to watch sunset in Key West.
- West of Mallory Square is a waterfront path along the Opal Resort & Marina. There are a few benches and wide walkways to view the sunset away from the crowds at Mallory Square.
- As mentioned, when discussing beaches above, Simonton Street Beach is a great place to plop a blanket down and watch the sun fall into the horizon. There will be boats going by heading to and from sunset celebrations on the water.
- For a more intimate sunset experience, make your way to the Key West Historic Seaport. Take a leisurely stroll along the waterfront as the sky changes colors and find a cozy spot to watch the sun go down. The Key West Historic Seaport offers a picturesque setting with its charming boats and waterfront restaurants, making it the perfect place to relax and soak in the beauty of a Key West sunset. Sitting on a dock watching the sun go down is a pretty cool experience.
- Another great spot to watch the sunset in Key West is at the Southernmost Point Buoy. Located at the southernmost tip of the continental United States, this iconic landmark offers panoramic views of the ocean and the setting sun. Imagine a picture of both at the same time – the buoy with sunset!
Walking Three Famous Streets – Fun Free Things To Do in Key West
It seems much of Key West’s history and allure has come from three popular streets. Whitehead, Duval and Caroline Streets have numerous things to do in Key West Florida for free.
- The Southernmost Buoymaybe the most photographed site in the world. Join the crowd of visitors as they snap photos and take in the breathtaking scenery. This big red marker is part of thousands and thousands of photographs 24 hours a day!
- On the west side of Whitehead Street and Truman, just a couple blocks away, is a famous landmark called the Key West Lighthouse. The Lighthouse is from the days when boats needed the light to keep from wrecking on the coral reefs near the island. It stands as the tallest structure in Key West.
- The Ernest Hemingway Home is just a few steps north on Whitehead on the east side of the street. This is where the internationally acclaimed writer and sportsman Ernest Hemingway spent his days in Key West. While taking a tour will have a fee, walking by and taking pictures of his home from the 1930s is free.
- A couple blocks further is one of the famous bars of Key West, which we will discuss in another section. For now, the Green Parrot Bar claims to be one of the oldest bars in Florida, a claim made by several others also.
- A few small blocks away near Fleming Street is mile Marker 0, the beginning and end of US Route 1 which runs 2370 miles along the eastern coast of the United States from Key West to Maine. This is one of the “must-have picture” moments of your trip.
- On your way to where the first flight from Key West to Cuba took place in 1927, note the Bayan Trees that line the street. Many are as big as some of the small cottages around Whitehead Street.
- At Caroline and Whitehead, you will see the birthplace of Pan American Airlines and the first flight in 1927.
Another block down the street is the Audubon House and Gardens, the original home of James Audubon.
Duval is perhaps one of the most famous streets internationally known for entertainment, art and bars – tons of bars! It is easy to overlook some famed places along Duval when there is non-stop activity from dusk to dawn.
We will point out some of the famous, and maybe infamous, places along Duval. Remember, looking and photography are free on Duval – and usually expected!
When reaching Front Street from Whitehead go east to Duval. Turning right on Duval Street will be heading back south.
- The first thing you will see about a block south on Duval is The Smallest Bar in the World. This four-seater stuck back in a hole is worth a photo. Note that it is in The Custom House, a hotel dating back to the 1800s.
- Another block south is Green Street – STOP – if you look to your right (west) note that Captain Tony’s Saloon is just a half block down. Across from you, on the southeast corner of Green and Duval is the world-famous Sloppy Joe’s. The significance of the two bars are thatSloppy Joe’s was where Captain Tony’s is until the owner, Joe Russell, Ernest Hemingway, and a few friends moved everything one night in 1938. The legend is that the move was over a $1 a-week increase in the rent!
- A couple blocks south is a large corner three-story building on the northeast corner of Caroline Street and Duval. There are three bars, each located on a separate floor, The Bull (ground level), The Whistle Bar (2nd story) and Garden of Eden (3rd Floor). While The Bull and their decorative wallpaper is the most famous of the three, the Garden of Eden gets a lot of attention because it is clothing optional! Walk in The Bull and check out the walls.
- The Oldest House in Key West is just a half block south. They do charge but take all the photos you want from the outside.
- On the opposite side of the street another half block away is the oldest church congregation south of St. Augustine Florida dating back to 1832. Paul’s Episcopal Church stands tall on a street that has many less-than-religious objectives! The church is always open to visitors.
- Just a block and a half further south is Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville. Jimmy passed away in 2023, but this is where his billion-dollar empire of hotels, records, restaurants and beloved songs got its start. Walk around the restaurant and t-shirt shop and enjoy Jimmy’s music and legendary friendliness.
As you will discover, Key West is one of Florida’s oldest cities. The buildings, customs, cultures, and legends date back several hundred years. We haven’t pointed out all the many things you can and will see along what is affectionately called the “Duval Street Crawl”.
The architecture, street vendors, and colorful locals – all are subject to some fun experiences and photo ops..
Essentially, Caroline runs east and west along the northern part of Key West. Much of the street is near the waterfront which accounts for some of the fun things to do in Key West along Carolne Street. You may recognize that line from a Jimmy Buffet song.
- Starting from the far east end of Caroline Street where it starts at Grinnell St., you will see the Sails to Rails Museum on the north side of the street. While the price of entry to the museum is very expensive, it documents a transition from everything being imported and exported through Key West by sailing vessels until the early 1900s when Henry Flagler brought his railroad into Key West at this site.
- Walk into the area towards the marina behind the museum building. Here you can see some novelty stores, an antique car full of shells, and see the boats along the waterfront. There is a pier where you can walk out along the charter boats, transient ships and boaters on both sides. The Half Shell Raw Bar, one of the oldest and most famous waterfront restaurants, is at the base of the pier.
- Back out on Caroline Street about a block west is Pepe’s. This famous restaurant also claims to be the oldest restaurant in Key West. Looking at the building, it is believable they are the oldest!
- Across the street, about half a block west is BO’s Fish Wagon. This is worth a few pictures! Between the old wagon out front and the junk they have accumulated, you wouldn’t know there is a restaurant there!
- Beginning with William Street, the notable scenes are the restored (and some unrestored) old homes along Caroline Street. These “Conch style” homes were a combination of European architecture and southern tropical necessities to be call Conch houses.
- The Curry Mansion Inn about a half block before you get to Duval Street was a home that the richest man in Key West built in the late 1800s by the name of William Curry. Before being purchased by some uncaring developers, the Curry Mansion did free daily tours of the home. Now, sadly, all that is left is a picture-taking moment of how the rich lived in Key West two and a half decades ago.
The Must Visit Free Attractions In Key West
We are just getting started with Florida Travel Blog’s free things to do in Key West. Some of our favorite free attractions in Key West are below.
- The Key West Cemetery. We know a cemetery may not be appealing to some people. However, like everything else in Key West, it is not what you would expect and certainly more interesting than any other cemetery you have ever seen. This unique cemetery is filled with elaborate gravestones and fascinating stories. It is located in the middle of Old Town and worth the visit. You can find a self-guided tour here. See the Key West Florida Map below.
- Florida Keys Eco Discovery Center – This captivating center is all about the ecology of Key West and the Florida Keys. Great place to learn and teach kids about our world. Located near the Fort Zachary Taylor entrance in a stand-alone building.
- West Martello Gardens and Tower – This free attraction in Key West is a gem. Located on a former Civil War fort site, the gardens are maintained by the Key West Garden Club and open to the public. Don’t pass up a combination of beauty and history. Near Higgs Beach.
- Truman Waterfront Park – This is a perfect place to take the kids with water features, safe walkways and plenty of things to do. Check out this video showing the highlights of Key West’s newest park. Everything is free!
- Key West Bight Marina and the Historic Seaport – No visit to Key West is complete without walking the docks of the Key West Bight Marina. From famous restaurants, multimillion-dollar yachts, charter fishing boats, scuba and snorkel tours to grand old sailboats. This active waterfront is never dull day or night. You may spot some of the yachts of the rich and famous that dock there frequently.
Participating in Free Outdoor Events and Festivals in Key West
Key West is home to a vibrant arts and culture scene, and there are several free outdoor events and festivals that take place throughout the year.
One of the most popular events is the Key West Art in the Park, held on the first Sunday of every month. This outdoor art show features a wide range of local artists showcasing their work. Take a leisurely stroll through the park, admire the artwork, and even purchase a unique piece to take home as a souvenir.
Another must-visit event is the Key West Food and Wine Festival. While some of the events require tickets, there are also free tastings and culinary demonstrations that you can enjoy. Indulge in the flavors of Key West and discover the culinary delights that the island has to offer.
Before heading to Key West, check to see if there and festivals, celebrations or events scheduled during your stay. Most events have a lot of free activities associated with the event. A partial list is below:
- 41st Annual Literary Seminar – second week of January.
- Annual Florida Keys Seafood Festival – second week of January.
- Fantasy Fest – last week of October.
- Championship Super Boat Races – second week of November.
- Hemingway Lookalike Contest – Third week of July.
- Key West Songwriters Festival – First week of May.
There is just about an event or festival every other week. Always check here for a complete schedule of events.
Enjoying Free Live Music and Entertainment in Key West
Key West is known for its vibrant music scene, and several venues offer free live music and entertainment throughout the week. You can listen and watch from just outside the perimeter or stop in for a refreshment.
- One popular spot is Schooner Wharf Bar, where you can enjoy live music every day of the week. From rock and blues to reggae and country, Schooner Wharf Bar showcases a variety of talented musicians. You can listen from the docks or streetside. The Schooner is at Key West Bight Marina.
- If you’re a fan of jazz, make your way to The Green Parrot Bar. This iconic Key West establishment is known for its lively atmosphere and world-class jazz performances. Head over on a Sunday evening to catch the famous Jazz Jam, where local musicians come together for an unforgettable night of music.
- One of our favorite places to listen to great music is after the sunset celebration on Mallory Square. Retreat to the El Meson de Pepe Cuban restaurant as you leave the Square. There they place Spanish music, dance and sing to the delight of the outdoor crowd.
Many local bars and restaurants on Duval Street have daily and nightly entertainment.
Final Tips for a Fun and Affordable Key West Trip
Key West truly is a paradise for those seeking free fun and adventure. From its pristine beaches to its awe-inspiring sunsets, this tropical oasis offers a plethora of budget-friendly activities that will leave you with unforgettable memories.
To make the most of your trip, be sure to plan ahead and research the free activities and events that are happening during your stay. Take advantage of the island’s natural beauty and explore its beaches and parks. Immerse yourself in the rich history and culture by visiting the historical sites and participating in free walking tours. And don’t forget to indulge in the island’s vibrant music and arts scene.
Remember to pack sunscreen, comfortable shoes, and a sense of adventure. Key West is waiting to be explored, and with this ultimate guide to free fun, you’ll be able to experience the best of the island without breaking the bank. So grab your sunscreen and indulge in all this tropical island can offer and the many free things to do in Key West.