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What is Key West Known For

what is key west known for - southernmost buoy
A picture postcard for most people who visit Key West the first time.

Our favorite road trip in Florida is to Key West. We travel there often from our home in Clearwater Beach. Many people who have never been to Key West often ask what is Key West known for – it is difficult to answer in a short conversation. We can only say Key West is not like any place you have ever been before.

We hope the details below give people a more comprehensive look at what Key West is known for.

Things Key West is Known For

Key West is a vibrant 2-mile by 4-mile island city located at the southernmost tip of the continental United States, known for its stunning scenery, rich history, and quirky charm.

Here’s a glimpse into what makes Key West so famous (or infamous for some):

Southernmost Point

Key West is famously known as the Southernmost Point in the Continental US. A colorful concrete buoy marks the spot, and it’s a popular tourist destination for photos and capturing memories. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people line up daily for their photograph next to the red buoy.

Pastel-Colored Conch Houses

The island is adorned with charming conch houses, featuring pastel colors and unique architectural styles. Conch is a type of large sea snail, and the name reflects the use of conch shells as building material in the past due to their abundance. These colorful houses add to the island’s whimsical atmosphere. One for the fun things to do in Key West is to take an architectural tour through the phases of home building in Key West.

what is key west known for - Ernest Hemingway home and museum
The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum is one of the top things to do in Key West.
Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum

Literature enthusiasts flock to Key West to visit the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum. This historic home was the residence of the famed writer Ernest Hemingway for over a decade. The house is preserved much as it was during Hemingway’s time, offering a glimpse into his life and creative process. You might even encounter some of the six-toed cats that roam the property, descendants of Hemingway’s pet cat Snowball. Read more about the Hemingway Days in Key West.

Sunset Celebrations

Every evening, Mallory Square comes alive with a vibrant sunset celebration. Street performers, musicians, artists, and food vendors create a festive atmosphere as visitors gather to witness the breathtaking Key West sunsets.

driving to key west for sunset
A sunset in Key West can be spectacular and they enjoy them at Mallory Square.
Water Activities
things to do in Key west - Key lime pie
This dubious sign hangs in Key West at a pie shop but the origin is still in doubt – we don’t care- just have a piece of Key Lime Pie!

Surrounded by turquoise waters, Key West is a paradise for water enthusiasts. You can enjoy snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking, paddleboarding, fishing, and much more. The Florida Keys are home to the third-largest barrier reef system in the world, making it a haven for marine life. The Gulf Stream runs through the straits of Florida bringing with it some of the best deep-sea fishing in the world. Here are some of the best water sports.

Key Lime Pie

A trip to Key West wouldn’t be complete without indulging in a slice of their famous Key lime pie. This decadent dessert features a tart lime filling on a buttery graham cracker crust and is a quintessential taste of the Keys. Many people believe this tart pie was created in Key West but firm evidence is lacking.

what is key west known for
No Shot Glass is needed for some on Duval Street!
Lively Entertainment

Almost round-the-clock entertainment can be found on the island. Sunset offers a taste of Key West’s vibrant nightlife as the city lights up and turns into noisy musical vibes clashing for attention up and down the streets. All over the island, you will hear laughter, music and song. Get your guide to Key West here for all the fun.

Duval Street

Duval Street is the main thoroughfare in Key West, lined with colorful buildings, lively bars, restaurants, and shops. It’s a hub of activity day and night, offering visitors a taste of the island’s vibrant nightlife and entertainment scene. This street is internationally known for its mile-long conch style frolicking. Things to do on Duval Street Key West.

things you need when flying
Rich History

Key West boasts a fascinating history, having been inhabited by Native Americans for thousands of years before European arrival. Spanish colonists came in the 16th century, followed by wreckers who salvaged valuables from ships wrecked on the nearby reefs. The island briefly changed hands to the British before becoming part of the United States in 1822. This mix of influences is reflected in the island’s architecture, culture, and even the local dialect, Conch. Historical markers and things to do Key West.

Key West Pink Shrimp & Seafood
What is key west known for - pink shrimp
True Key West pink shrimp can be identified with a small reddish brown dot on the shell generally located on the side. There are a lot of fakes, but they are still shrimp – just not as good.

Most visitors relish the seafood and great restaurants on the island of Key West, but many don’t know those sweet shrimp they are eating most likely are “Key West Pinks”. That is a type of shrimp found mainly around the warm waters of the Keys. You can find out more about Florida shrimp here. Don’t forget Key West is also known for spiny lobster and hogfish, both served at most of the better restaurants.

Famed Writers & Artists

Beyond Hemingway, Key West has been a muse for many renowned writers and artists throughout history. Tennessee Williams, Robert Frost, Shel Silverstein, and James Audubon all spent time in Key West, and their legacies are celebrated in various museums and literary-themed tours.

things to do in Key west
Cruise ships drop thousands of people off daily to Key West – but they have to be gone by the Mallory Square Sunset Celebration.
Cultural Events

Key West’s vibrant spirit comes alive in its many cultural events throughout the year. Here are a few examples:

    • Fantasy Fest: A ten-day celebration in October known for its elaborate costumes, parades, and general air of whimsical revelry.
    • Key West Lobsterfest: Held in July, this event celebrates the Florida Keys spiny lobster season with food tastings, cooking demonstrations, and family-friendly activities.
    • Hemingway Days: An annual festival in July honoring the life and works of Ernest Hemingway, featuring literary events, look-alike contests, and special museum exhibits. Most of these events take place at the famous Sloppy Joe’s Bar, purported to be Hemingway’s favorite hangout.
things to do in Key West - sailing trip
One of the best things to do in Key West is take a sailing trip. The captain and crew will tell you about the island, ecological struggles and teach you about sailing.
Nature & Ecotourism

While the party atmosphere is famous, Key West also offers opportunities to connect with nature. The Key West National Wildlife Refuge protects diverse ecosystems, and visitors can spot a variety of bird species, manatees, and even endangered Key deer. Ecotourism operators offer kayaking tours through mangroves, snorkeling trips to the coral reef, and dolphin-watching excursions. Eco-tours in Key West.

Above All Else Key West is Known for its Conch Spirit

Key West has a unique and laid-back atmosphere often referred to as the “Conch Republic” spirit. The locals, known as Conchs, embody a carefree and eclectic lifestyle that reflects the island’s diverse heritage and artistic community. This community spirit led a group of town leaders to declare they were seceding from the United States on April 23, 1982. They created their own flag and playfully surrendered to the local army post the same day! Hence, known as the Conch Republic and Key West still has a carefree irreverence.

key west blue heaven
You can’t say Key Westers don’t have a sense of humor!

Hopefully, this deeper dive provides a richer understanding of what makes Key West such a captivating island destination and our favorite destination as Florida residents.

How to Get to Key West

There are three main ways to get to Key West, Florida: by air, by car or very limited ferry. We have enjoyed all three ways to get to Key West, but recommend the drive if you have the time.

flying to Key West
Key West International Airport (EYW) is small but growing quickly. Our last two trips have seen more much-needed construction expanding operations.
Flying to Key West:
  • Key West International Airport (EYW) offers nonstop flights from several major cities throughout the United States, including Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, Newark, New York (La Guardia), Philadelphia, Washington D.C. and Tampa. Once you arrive at the airport, you can take a taxi, rideshare service, or shuttle bus to your hotel or destination in Key West.
  • If you can’t find a nonstop flight to Key West, you can fly into one of the major airports in Florida, such as Orlando (MCO), Tampa (TPA), Miami International Airport (MIA) or Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL), and then connect to a smaller commuter flight to Key West.
Driving to Key West:
  • Driving to Key West is a scenic adventure, taking you through the beautiful Florida Keys. This is our choice for the best road trip in Florida. The only route is via the Overseas Highway (US-1) south of the Miami/Homestead area. 

This scenic route stretches over 100 miles and crosses 42 bridges, including the Seven Mile Bridge, the longest bridge in Florida. Allow plenty of time for the drive, factoring in potential traffic and stops to enjoy the scenery along the way. In fact, check our mile marker list of 133 Mile Markers in the Florida Keys.

Ferry to Key West - Key West Express
The Key West Express is a fun ferry ride to Key West and back.
Taking a Ferry to Key West:
  • There are also options for traveling to Key West by the Key West Express ferry from Fort Myers Beach or Marco Island. The ferry ride takes approximately 3.5 hours and offers stunning views of the Gulf of Mexico. We have traveled to Key West on this ferry and it just adds to the allure of Key West.

Here are some additional factors to consider when planning your trip to Key West:

  • Time of year: The Florida Keys are a popular tourist destination year-round, but the peak season is from December to April. If you’re looking for the best weather and lower prices, consider visiting during the shoulder seasons (May-June or September-November).
  • Accommodation: Key West offers a wide variety of accommodation options, from luxury resorts and historic hotels to vacation rentals and campgrounds. Book your accommodations well in advance, especially if you’re traveling during peak season. For the best hotels in Key West check this. Another option is a vacation rental from VRBO.
what is key west known for Jimmy Buffet
It is hard to calculate the big impact Jimmy Buffet had on getting the legend of Key West spread around the world, but he is one that didn’t go home.
Conclusion: What is Key West Known For
Key West street sign MM0
Getting to MM0 is the goal of any trip to Key West.

With the daily influx of guests from cruise ships carrying passengers from around the world, Key West has become an international destination.

Despite the throngs of visitors the “Conchs” have maintained their spirited eclectic lifestyle. With muted defiance of the visitors to the island that crowd their streets, they continue their carefree ways.

For visitors, Key West is known for its relaxed atmosphere, diverse culture, stunning natural beauty, and vibrant community, making it a beloved destination for travelers seeking a unique and unforgettable experience in the Florida Keys.

As frequent visitors and huge fans of this southernmost city, we find many people who came to visit and never went home – visit soon, you may learn to be a future “Conch”!

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