Imagine the Florida Keys as a long string of pearls, and Key West as the biggest pearl among the rest. Expect to see historic sites and natural wonders, and experience pure fun and thrill in this gifted stretch.
Idyllic and dynamic, Key West is Florida Key’s most iconic island to date. Thanks to its long roster of draws and features, and a long rich history. No wonder Jimmy Buffet, Ernest Hemingway, and Former President Truman all called the city home.
The last and best stop to a Florida Keys adventure, Key West has a bit of everything you could ask for. Expect to see museums, resorts, beaches, and a whole slew of icons all across.
What Makes Key West Unique?
Surrounded by water under the constant shine of the Florida sun, Key West is easily one of the most exciting places in the continental US. Thanks to its vast wealth of aquatic wonders and sea adventures, one can only do so much in this legendary city. All of its allures and sites have cemented its name as one of the must-visit places in the continental US.
For a fascinating glimpse of the city’s history of its maritime ventures and aquatic wonders, head to the Mel Fisher Maritimes Museum. This unique museum houses dozens of well-preserved remains of interesting maritime finds. Its most famous attraction has to be the two galleons and a whole slew of salvaged artifacts aboard.
The museum is perfect for families with curious younger kids and passionate history buffs. They can surely enjoy everything the museum features.
It perfectly showcases the development of the city’s maritime scene. The development of the local life during the Spanish colonization leading up to the present day can also be seen here.
The museum is open to the public from Mondays to Fridays, 11 AM to 2 PM. The Mel Fisher Maritime Museum also operates the Key West Turtle Museum which can come as a package with the maritime museum’s admission. However, it’s only available from November to April.
Surrounded by water, you’ll have a lot of water activities at your disposal around Key West. Plus, the city also sits near an abundance of underwater marvels providing a long list of must-dos. You’ll be overwhelmed by how many things you can do here in a short span of time, making the city one of the most jam-packed holiday destinations in the US.
With endless things available for you to do, comes with many tour operators as well. You can book excursions out into the deep sea, or along the coast where you can dive and snorkel. Some tour operators even offer kayaking across mangrove forests, and glass-bottom boat rides. And if you like boating and the deep sea, you can have excursions across the best snorkeling spots on a high-speed catamaran tour.
Exploring the seas and coasts aren’t the only activities available in the city. Sportfishing is also another celebrated pastime in Key West. Book with local charters that can take you around the best fishing spots, perfect for beginner to expert anglers.
Sweeping turquoise views and picturesque shores all define Key West, but surprisingly it isn’t known for its beaches. Most of Key West’s coast are all rocky and broken, most are perfect for docking and just mere sightseeing. But there are still a few good ones that have become some of the city’s coastal icons.
Here are some of the most recommended:
A Key West icon, expect Smathers Beach to be exciting, energetic, and packed. While some may want to veer away from crowds, you can’t deny the pure exhilaration that the beach holds.
Here you can see watersport enthusiasts of all kinds, not to mention throngs of beach bums getting tanned. Smathers Beach is a gorgeous stretch of soft white sands filled with the right amenities from rental shops to food places.
Just like most of the Florida Keys, Smathers is a public beach, so admission is free. However, you do have to pay for some other things like beach umbrellas, seats, volleyball nets, jet skis, and other equipment. The popular beach is a go-to hangout spot for locals and many younger crowds, especially the seasonal spring breakers.
Coming in the second against Smathers Beach, Higgs Beach is quieter and sparse, a perfect contrast for those who despise crowds. Higgs Beach is the best alternative if you’re looking for a quieter more relaxing space just near the water. This 17-acre (6.8 ha) beach also sports the same white soft sandy beach, with perfect conditions.
However, it is not as well-equipped as Smathers, you can bring your own stuff here, such as beach chairs and umbrellas. You can find a restaurant in the area as well, along with other facilities such as tennis courts and a playground.
You can still find crowds here but Higgs’ vibe is more laid-back and serene. The beach is practically made for a slower pace and a quieter take on a beach day. Higgs is meant for relaxing and kicking back.
Historical Homes and Colonial Streets
Thanks to a long and varied past, the streets of Key West today are well-preserved, colorful, and quirky. An added allure to the city’s long roster of specialties. When you walk around the city’s several streets, the remnants of the past here are still used and celebrated.
From occasional visiting pirates to the occupation of the Spanish, Key West has seen a fair share of US history. And along with it, the architectural beauty. Spain’s occupation came with the establishment of many of today’s colonial houses. You can still see a rich Spanish overtone across the city’s streets, especially in the Old Town area.
Old Town Architecture
The best testament to Key West’s rich history is its well-preserved and quirky colonial buildings lining the streets of the Old Town.
Visit and stroll around the many colorful streets and marvel at what was colonial life like during the Spanish occupation. You can still see the exquisite details of the houses’ windows, porch, and entrances. Not to mention many of these are still residences to this day.
One such example of a grand Spanish colonial house is the Hemingway House. It was once the home of the famed literature giant for almost a decade. The house of Ernest Hemingway is now a must-visit museum and a city icon through and through. It was believed that Hemingway lived here as he wrote some of his classics such as “To Whom the Bell Tolls”, and “To Have and Have Not”.
When Hemingway bought the house in 1931, it was in bad condition, decrepit you may say. He and his wife then decided to renovate the house in the hopes of restoring it to its glory. It ended up being more luxurious and grand than intended. The house sports an in-ground pool made out of solid coral and a sprawling garden.
Now the house aims to tell people how Hemingway lived in Key West with his then-wife. Some of his memorabilia can still be seen here, along with the 50 descendants of his six-toed cat, Snowball.
Famous among avid drinkers, party animals, and college kids, Duval Street is the party capital of the city. Also called the “Bourbon Street of the Keys”, the street is lined with several bars and pubs that decorate the Key West nightlife. With over a mile-long stretch, you can expect to find a bar of you’re liking. If you want to have a memorable night in Key West, Duval is the place to be.
The street sports bars of different kinds. You can have good live music in Green Parrot for a taste of the local vibe. You can also visit the historic Sloppy Joe for a taste of Hemingway. Visit also Jimmy Buffet’s Original Margaritaville to know what the song really is about.
One Human Family
The city has this certain air of acceptance and tolerance that permeates every part of Key West society. You can easily notice how the locals are embracing each other’s differences. This makes Key West a safe space where people can celebrate themselves, and ultimately each other. This unspoken custom was the root of the concept of “One Human Family”.
J.T., a local artist, was inspired by the city’s accepting and tolerant social dynamic, making everyone feel welcome and safe. So he proposed the “One Human Family” idea to celebrate this sense of love and community. Key West still remains to be a very safe community, especially for the LGBTQ+ community.
Songs were made and sung for this gorgeous string of tropical islands. Nestled south of Miami, near the third-largest barrier reef in the world, the Florida Keys is mother nature’s gift to the US. You can be sure to have endless thrills, attractions, plus gorgeous views of the sea.
In the Florida Keys, you don’t just have one key or island, you have a whole slew of them. From cute yet exciting Key Largo to the big playing Key West, you’ll never have a slow, downtime here. Expect to be taken away, and perhaps fall in love with this gorgeous stretch.
What Makes Florida Keys Unique?
The Sunshine State is famous for a plethora of things, from good weather, great outdoors, and even quirky people and local culture. Florida is perhaps one of the most gifted US states there is, if not the most. And being so jam-packed with so many sights and thrills, it is home to perhaps many of the US’ iconic parks.
Considered the Park capital of the continental US, you can expect to find a park to your liking here. Florida has 175 state parks, and that’s on top of 11 national parks, and 10 major theme parks. Thanks to this rich roster, the Florida Keys is home to ten of the 175 parks, and four nearby national parks.
Here are some you can visit:
Everglades National Park
The Everglades National Park is located on Florida’s mainland at the southernmost reach of the state. It runs all the way to Florida’s west coast, just near Miami. The park has a total area of 1,509,000 acres (6,107 sq km).
It is home to about 350 bird species, 40 mammal species, 300 freshwater and saltwater fish species, and 50 reptile species. Everglades National Park also houses the world’s biggest breeding colony of tropical wading birds. The park also has the western hemisphere’s largest mangrove habitat.
Dry Tortugas National Park
The Dry Tortugas National Park protects the historic Fort Jefferson and the Dry Tortuga islands in the Florida Keys. It is located in the Gulf of Mexico, 68 miles (109 km) west of Key West, Florida.
The park’s history of shipwrecks and sunken treasures is well-known. It is home to a diverse array of marine species. The park is accessible by boat or seaplane. Snorkeling, picnicking, fishing, birdwatching, exploring, photography, or scuba diving could all be part of a day at the park.
Biscayne National Park
Biscayne Bay is a popular watersports destination and one of the best scuba diving spots in the US. Elliott Key is the park’s largest island. It’s mostly made out of Key Largo limestone and fossilized coral reef. It’s the first of the actual Florida Keys, according to legend. It has a variety of ecosystems and is a true underwater treasure worth seeing.
Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park
The northernmost park in the Keys is Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park. It includes one of the largest tracts of West Indian tropical hardwood hammocks in the United States. It features more than 6 miles (9.7 km) of shaded and typically paved trails that are accessible to both bikes and wheelchairs on its 2,805-acre property (1135 sq km).
This state park is home to 84 protected species. You can find a self-guided nature trail in the park as well. The trail includes signage that provides information about the park’s habitat and species.
Bahia Honda State Park
This 500-acre park (202 ha) in the Lower Keys is known for its award-winning beach, soft sand, warm, shallow water, and excellent snorkeling. Campgrounds, cabins, and concessions are available in Bahia Honda State Park.
Sea turtles lay their eggs in Bahia Honda State Park, which is also an excellent place to go bird watching. Both the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean have beaches in the park. Beautiful sunsets, gentle sea breezes, clean waterways, and palm-lined beaches may all be found here.
Snorkeling tours are provided, as well as kayaks and snorkeling equipment for rent. Soft corals, small coral heads, and tropical fish may be seen.
Water Activities Galore
The Florida Keys setting is made of fewer islands and more waters. So you can definitely expect an extensive list of places and things to do across the shores, the deep seas, and everything in between.
If you’re a watersport enthusiast or an underwater explorer you’ll most definitely find what you’re looking for in all of the Florida Keys.
You can check out some of the hottest things to do:
With a plethora of marine sanctuaries and a landscape that’s almost 80% made up of ware, you can expect to find an outlandish scuba diving scene here. The Florida Keys proudly houses over 6,000 marine animals, 1,000 shipwrecks, and 3,000 nautical miles worth of protected waters.
From John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park to the USNS General Hoyt S. Vandenberg Wreck, you also have a diverse scene, not just corals and fishes. The depths of the Florida Keys is like a whole other world in itself, it is arguably one of the most visited aquatic expanses in the entire US.
With great scuba diving scenes, comes great snorkeling opportunities as well, especially if it’s rich in marine life. And the Florida Keys just happens to have perhaps the most gifted underwater stretch in all of the continental US.
Apart from its crystal clear blue waters, and conditions that allow for safe and visible snorkeling, the Florida Keys is rich in coral reefs as well. The Florida Keys sits near the third-largest barrier reef in the world, the Florida Keys Tract. Around here, you can find countless world-class snorkeling sites.
Beaches across the Florida Keys are perfect for paddleboarding, even SUP (stand-up paddleboarding). Thanks to calm and mild conditions, plus the constant sunshine. It is perhaps the latest fascinating stuff to do in the keys that are slowly becoming hits.
You can paddleboard across beaches such as Fort Zachary Tayor, or Smathers Beach. You can paddleboard across mangrove tunnels, and even alongside various marine animals. You can surely find an abundance of fascinating things to find paddleboarding through a good Florida Keys experience.
Surrounded by blue waters for miles, you can expect that some of Florida Keys’ best activities are exploring its waters. While a lot of them involve going deeper, there are also adventurous ways to conquer the surface. Boating is the best way to see much of the islands, enjoying their sheer beauty.
You can easily book boat charters across the keys, from Key Largo all the way to Key West. With boating you can see the amazing scenery around the keys, on top of other activities you can do on tour.
With an abundance of marine life, expect to find sportfishing to be a common activity in the Florida Keys. The long string of islands is home to some of the world’s most gorgeous beaches and incredible wildlife. Every year, people come to the keys to get a chance to reel in many rare catches in the waters of the Florida Keys while simultaneously having a holiday.
All the Keys
The Florida Keys is an archipelago made up of a string of tropical islands, and every one of them has charms of its own. You can expect to find plenty of experiences and fun things to do in each of the keys. This makes the Florida Keys a far more interesting place to visit than most think.
Here are some notable keys or islands:
Considered the “gateway to the Florida Keys”, Key Largo is a quintessential Florida Keys experience. You can do everything here, from diving to museum tours. Though not as cosmopolitan and upscaled as Key West, Key Largo boasts a simple, more small-town feel. A perfect beginning for the rest of your Florida Keys adventure.
Not technically a single key, Marathon is made up of 13 islands. It is the perfect key for boating, and deep-sea and reef fishing. Marathon is one of the most jam-packed keys in all of Florida Keys.
You can have waterfront restaurants, stunning beaches, and marine life sanctuaries. True to its conservation efforts, Marathon houses the Dolphin Research Center and the Turtle Hospital. The pristine nature around creates perfect excursions. You can walk trek trails such as the Crane Point Hammock and Nature Trail, and the Curry Hammock State Park.
Just like Marathon, Islamorada is made up of six islands and is perhaps the most family-friendly point in the Florida Keys. Plus, it is also dubbed the “Sportfishing Capital of the World”, so expect to have some epic fishing experiences here. If you’re going for that, that is.
Thanks to its top-tier fishing, you can also find top-notch seafood dining here. But if you’re up for some culture, you can head to the Morada Way Art and Cultural District to get acquainted with the local scenes.
Rich in Historical Sites
Not only is the state’s southernmost city one of the most popular vacation spots in Florida, but it also has a laid-back vibe. The island’s rich history includes pirates, Indians, and even sunken treasures for history buffs. Here are the greatest historic sites in Key West to see while on vacation:
Ernest Hemingway House
Perhaps the most famous historic site in all of the Florida Keys, the Hemingway Houses is a brief glimpse of the old life of the famed author. Ernest Hemingway lives and worked here for over a decade, and wrote several of his best works.
You’ll learn about the famous author’s life on the island as you tour the house and walk through the rooms and exquisite gardens. You can also see where he wrote and discover many fascinating facts about him. Built in 1851, the house still has Hemingway’s personal belongings and is home to the descendants of his beloved six-toed cat, Snowball.
Audubon House and Gardens
Built around the 1840s, the house wasn’t really John James Audubon’s. It was originally Captain John Geiger’s, a harbor pilot. The house was then occupied by the Geiger Family for the following 100 years. But it was eventually turned into a museum in 1960, saving it from demolition.
Although the John James Audubon stayed on the island by 1832, it wasn’t clear when he stayed in the house. But several of his iconic artworks are housed and displayed in the museum ever since.
Fort Zachary Taylor
Fort Zachary Taylor is a Civil War fortress and one of Key West’s most visited parks. Built in 1866, the fort saw action in both the Civil War and the Spanish-American War. Now a historic state park, you can tour the fort, and learn more about its history.
There are also various amenities, most especially a stunning beach. Not just for history and culture, Fort Zachary Taylor is also a great spot for water activities. It offers a stunning beach, with superb snorkeling, swimming, and fishing conditions. You can also have a picnic, hike, or ride a bike here.
Which Is Better – Florida Keys or Key West?
Key West is merely a part of the Florida Keys, it can be jam-packed but it is only a fraction of the entire beauty of the Keys. In this sense, the Florida Keys is the better option. It practically has everything that Key West has and more. The Florida Keys has all the combined draws of every key along the extensive stretch. You’ll never run out of places to go and things to check out.
Is Florida Keys and Key West the Same?
They are the same, and they are not at the same time. The Florida Keys is the extensive string of tropical islands jutting out of southern Florida into the Gulf of Mexico. These islands are also called keys, and perhaps the most famous of them is Key West, the final key in the string.
Is Key West One of the Florida Keys?
Key West is the last key in the Florida Keys. Often saved for last, Key West is perhaps the most jam-packed, and iconic among all of Florida Keys.
Where Is Key West in the Florida Keys?
Key West sits at the westernmost point of the Florida Keys extending from Key Largo. and the southernmost point of the continental US.