Key West is a cute, colorful beachside town at the very southern most tip of the Florida Keys.
In fact this is the southern most tip of the continental United States. Some 800 keys (islands) and 42 bridges stretch into the Caribbean Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. So southern in fact, it has mile marker 0 as a street sign that people stop and photograph!
Distance: Miami to Key West is about 165 miles (265km) and takes just over 3 hours, depending on traffic.
Don’t have your own car? No worries, you can take an organised day trip to Key West from Miami and have six hours to explore down here, before being driven back. Add on extras like boat rides and snorkelling to this tour if you like too.
My husband and I spent four days driving the Florida Keys from Miami to Key West and stayed three nights in Key West. But if you are making a day trip of it (maybe on a cruise or a drive), here are some of our favorite things to do in Key West that includes must-see sights, where to eat and some great places for selfies!
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1 Eat Key Lime Pie!
You can’t come to Key West and not try the key lime pie. In fact you really should try it in a few places – even the ice cream shop where they make frozen pies on a stick!
They use real key limes down here (although the fruit has been struggling lately) and Kermit’s Key West Key Lime Shoppe is still ranked #1 (according to Tripadvisor), located at 200 Elizabeth Street.
But you will find plenty of places to try this iconic sweet and tart pie, some with meringue topping, some with cream, some without. My favorite pie was at Blue Heaven with its monstrous meringue. We shared it! (Pic below).
If you’re a foodie you’ll love this Secret Foodie Tour which includes varied cuisines from local shrimp to key lime pie and hidden eateries off the tourist trail – including key lime pie!
2 Visit Ernest Hemingway’s home – and his cats!
The 58 cats that live here at Hemingway Home and Museum were the highlight for me. Why? Because 43 of them have six toes on each paw!! He was given the original six-toed cat (called Snow White) by a ship captain when they first lived here in the 1920s and since then, several litters have produced more of the anomaly.
They are all named after famous people and also all have their own sleeping spot and live quite happily together, some on a book shelf in the shop, some on the bed, and this one on a bench seat under the trees.
Hemingway was a newspaper reporter, war correspondent and a Nobel Prize winning novelist. He moved to Key West with his third wife in 1928, into this Spanish Colonial style house built in 1851 from rock hewn from the grounds. It now stands as a museum dedicated to his legacy.
He wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls here, which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. He also bought a farm in Havana, Cuba which was their winter residence and where he supposedly invented the strawberry daiquiri. Hemingway House is a must see in Key West.
If you want to delve a little deeper into the life and times of Mr Hemingway, this 2-hour tour will take you to Ernest Hemingway’s favorite haunts. You’ll get a light lunch and a drink thrown in – and a piece of key lime pie. Note, this tour doesn’t include the house, so maybe take a tour of that first, then join this walking tour which begins in front of the house.
3 Go to Blue Heaven for lunch/dinner or a cocktail
Blue Heaven is an institution in Key West – and they do a HUGE wedge of Key Lime Pie (as you’ve seen in the pic above)!
Ernest Hemingway, a bit of a celeb about town back in the 1930s, would referee boxing matches here. Over the years it’s been the venue for cock flighting, a bordello, a billiard hall, an ice cream parlour and a gambling den.
Today it’s a really great indoor/outdoor dining venue for quintessential Key West food (jerk chicken, fish tacos and shrimp rolls) and great cocktails mixed in the hut outside. It’s popular, so if there’s no table when you arrive, just park yourself at said cocktail bar and watch the mixologist do his thing for a few minutes.
Located at 729 Thomas St.
4 Shop on Duval Street
You’ll find beach fashion and souvenirs, art galleries and curiosity shops along Duval. Pick up a memento of your Key West visit on a T-shirt or get some Christmas stocking stuffer beer bottle holders.
I love to buy local art when I travel and you’ll find several galleries and shops selling local artists work. You’ll also find loads of places to eat along here, fun bars and piazzas to sit and take in the vibe.
5 Use the Hop on Hop off trolley
Departing every 30 minutes, this is a great way to get around if you don’t fancy walking all day.
It stops at 13 Key West attractions and you can choose to stay on board or hop off, explore and hop on the next one. The whole circuit takes 90 minutes, so it’s also a good idea to get your bearings of the neighborhood first, then decide where you want to hop back to, and repeat the circuit!
Buy your Hop On Hop Off Trolley tour tickets here >
6 Stroll around the neighborhood
The brightly painted wooden houses behind picket fences are so cute that a walk along the side streets will have you taking your phone out every few steps to take a pic.
Don’t be shy to dash down side streets and say hi to any locals you meet too.
7 Visit Mallory Square
On cruise ship days Mallory Square will be going off! It’s already the place to come for sunset views and street entertainers, kiosks selling souvenirs and food outlets. The vibe is exciting, the kids will love it and you can pick up the Hop On Hop Off trolley here.
8 Tour Key West Shipwreck Museum
This is fun whether you’re an adult or a kid. I learned so much about the skulduggery of the shipwreck “industry” at the Key West Ship Wreck Museum!
There would be over 100 ships a day sailing past the Keys and did you know people used to be called ship wreckers and they were salvage crew who would dash out into the treacherous waters to “help” save the crew and its cargo?
I put “help” in quotes, because the law said that the first one to reach the stricken vessel became owner of the freight. This would typically be marble, timber or stone heading around the Keys into the Gulf to New Orleans. It might include valuables from Europe and was worth millions of dollars in today’s world.
On average one ship a week would wreck somewhere on the Florida Keys. But what you’ll also learn, in this interactive museum with short movies and lots of salvaged materials, is that some unscrupulous folk would sabotage the lighthouse to try and cause a passing ship to wreck. I know, right?!
Buy your Ship Wreck Museum tickets here >
9 Key West snorkeling
Snorkeling in Key West is a fun thing to do and you can even combine with dolphin watching. The reefs around here are not as pristine as further up the keys in places like Islamorada and Key Largo. But the water will be lovely and there’s still plenty to see.
Most Key West snorkelling tours go by boat out to the various reefs. You may not get a choice of where you will go due to the volumes of tours or the weather, but if you can get on a tour that goes to Dry Tortugas National Park, that is widely regarded as having the best visibility and also interesting things to see in the park itself.
Book your 3-hour snorkelling tour here >
For the best beaches on the Florida Keys, you’ll love this post over on my other blog. Three of them are right here in Key West, but if you’re driving or you have a car for a day, here are some stunning beaches for snorkelling, diving, picnics and camping!
If you plan on driving the Florida Keys from Miami, read my 4-day itinerary road trip post here >>