Things to do in Key West, FL

Get Your Bearings in Key West

By Amber Nolan
Key West Expert

Stay
Eat
See & Do
Party
Shop

Where to Stay

Key West is known for its iconic B&Bs, small inns and gay-friendly guesthouses. These lodgings offer the classic Keys experience that will allow you to meet and mingle with the owners and other guests. There are several luxury resorts including two from the Waldorf Astoria collection as well as the Westin on Sunset Key, a private island getaway. Many hotels boast their own stretches of soft-sand beaches - a rarity in the Florida Keys.

Caution:

Book well in advance, particularly during holidays. Many hotels sell out quickly!

Hot Tips:

Many hotels are also pet friendly.

What to Eat

From classic pub grub and street stands to upscale dining, Key West is a culinary dream! Fresh seafood reigns at almost every restaurant and is often fused with tropical fruits like coconut, mango and citrus. Breakfast and brunch on the island are an event in themselves and the perfect way to casually start any day. Think: lobster Benedict washed down with a mimosa (or two). 

Be Sure to Sample:

Key lime pie and conch fritters.

Things to See

For such a small island, there is no shortage of things to do. Key West has a rich history, from the Ernest Hemingway House, to the "Little White House," you'll learn a thing or two on a historical tour. Many people get out on the water for fishing, snorkeling, kite boarding, scuba diving, and kayaking. Drinking margaritas is a popular pastime and there is almost always a festival to celebrate something! 

Hot Tips:

Lobster Fest, Pride Fest, and Fantasy Fest are great times to celebrate in Key West!

Places to Party

Key West is a party city, and happy hour can easily melt into an all-night affair. Duval Street is loaded with bars touting live music, while a scattering of upscale wine lounges have cropped up as well. Key West is very gay-friendly, and there are several drag shows that offer a lot of laughs and very talented singers and dancers. Down in the seaport you'll find classic Key West bars that maintain the old island vibe.

Caution:

It's all too easy to get wrapped up in happy hour and miss the Sunset Celebration in Mallory Square. Make sure you catch it at least once!

Where to Shop

You'll find all things weird and wonderful in Key West! The island is known for being a bit quirky, as evident by their tongue-in-cheek sovereign nation status "The Conch Republic." Hand-painted plaques with catchy slogans and quotes, handmade jewelry, pottery, t-shirts with outrageous sayings, and decorative shells are just a few common souvenirs you can pick up. Many shops sell Key-lime flavored jams, pies, candy, and other cooking spices, and tropical island attire can be found in specialty shops.

Best Local Souvenir:

Conch Republic flag or "one human family" bumper stickers.

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Things to do in Key West


Key West is known for...

Six of Key West's most unique features and characteristics.

1. Weather:

Key West has one of the most notoriously mild climates in the country, with locals even claiming that the area has never experienced a single frost. The area has distinct wet and dry seasons, with rain falling most days through the wet season (May through October.) During the summer, the air can be quite humid, but temperatures rarely break 90 degrees.

2. Festivals:

Chances are, there’s some form of parade or celebration going on in Key West. Fantasy Fest kicks off in October when nearly 100,000 people attend the annual street party. The crowd dresses in the most outrageous costumes and a king and queen are crowned. The Key West Food and Wine Festival, held in January, has the city's best venues and chefs offering up tastings and samples all over the city, and it also offers a number of educational seminars. Lobsterfest, in August, is another food-themed festival with a more specific focus on, obviously, the lobster. There are also a number of notable gay and lesbian parades and festivals held throughout the year including Pridefest, which is held in June.

3. Notable Residents:

Key West has been beloved by a number of iconic figures over time. According to popular legend, Ernest Hemingway wrote A Farewell to Arms in Key West, along with a number of other pieces, including the Depression-era To Have and Have Not, his only novel set in the US. Playwright Tennessee Williams was also a regular visitor to Key West; he rented a number of residences throughout the country, but the only home he actually owned was located here. Key West is also sometimes referred to as the "Winter White House" owing to the fact that a number of US Presidents (Truman, Roosevelt, and Kennedy to name a few) spent extended amounts of time there.

4. Drinking:

Spring breakers flock to Duval Street’s dive bars each year, and cruise ship passengers pour into Margaritaville to search for their lost shaker of salt. (Jimmy Buffet’s hit song was written about Key West.) When walking down the street, the unofficial Florida drinking rule of “pour your drink in a plastic cup and you won’t get in trouble” reigns supreme. Pub crawls are a popular way to pass the time (and not remember much of it). Key West is, after all, an island in the sun, and there’s no shortage of refreshments.

5. Water Sports:

As Key West is an island, it should come as no surprise that water activities are one of the prevalent past-times. Avid anglers will think they've died and gone to heaven with all the fishing options at their disposal. There are dozens of fishing charters poised to deliver an unparalleled experience on the water to amateurs and seasoned fishermen alike. There's also no end to the variety of kayak tours, snorkeling adventures, dolphin encounters, water skiing, and parasailing options. For a multifaceted experience, try taking a glass bottom boat sunset cruise and enjoy the breathtaking sights while you sip on champagne.

6. One Human Family:

It’s easy enough to point to the weather, water, and nightlife as reasons to visit Key West, but without the people that live here, it wouldn’t be the same. Even in a city that depends on tourism to boost the local economy, the locals aren’t trying to nickel-and-dime visitors. Their welcoming demeanor is genuine, and the “One Human Family” motto is evident in the way that they accept all walks of life. The city is full of interesting, laid-back characters that are always willing to make new friends.