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Stretch your budget: 10 best free things to do in Key West



While many of Key West’s sailing experiences, snorkeling, city tours, and restaurant and bar hopping will put a nice dent in your wallet, there are a number of activities that are free of charge. Many are ideal for families with little ones in tow, such as the Children’s Animal Park (on Stock Island), which has been rescuing exotic animals since 1994. Several other educational attractions include the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center and the Key West Wildlife Center.

There also are several shops that go above and beyond the usual browsing experience to include hands-on exhibits, shows, and tastings like Peppers of Key West. Although Key West is not known for its beaches (the coral reef protects the island preventing sand from collecting), there are a handful of picturesque locations for beach bums.

For evening entertainment, the Mallory Square Sunset Celebration is a highlight for all ages, and performers and vendors will be on the dock long before the sun goes down. Lastly, no trip would be complete without a photo at the Southernmost Point Marker. It’s the island’s signature landmark that marks the end of the continental US. No matter what you choose to do, these budget-friendly options will help you get the most bang for your buck in this notoriously pricey paradise.


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Higgs Beach
Photo courtesy of Flickr.com/Bsivad


Not far from Duval Street in Old Town Key West is Higgs Beach, a popular (and free) spot to soak in some rays and take a dip in the shallow water. Bring a picnic to keep your costs in check. Free amenities include volleyball courts, children's playground and a dog park, and White Street Pier extends far past the sand for stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean. The end of the pier is also a great spot for kids to toss bread in the water for the fish. Don't miss the Key West AIDS Memorial, as well as the African Cemetery where victims of the Transatlantic slave trade are buried.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: With no entry fee, Higgs Beach, offers shallow waters, volleyball courts and a playground, as well as a bit of history.

Claudia's expert tip: Sometimes, large amounts of seaweed wash ashore Key West's beaches, creating odorous clumps on the sand. Check the weather conditions before planning your day.

Read more about Higgs Beach →




Nowhere is Key West's lively spirit more evident than in the city's cemetery. Cheeky epitaphs like "I Told You I Was Sick" and "At Least I Know Where He's Sleeping Tonight" cover the gravestones. The tombs are stacked above ground since the rocky soil made digging down impossible. Explore and see what you uncover. The main entrance offers a map that details some of the more interesting plots, and an unusual amount of the tombstones detail information about the deceased life. Go early in the morning or you'll be facing the scorching southern sun "dead on" in the afternoon. Online brochures are also available for those interested in planning ahead. Avoid at night.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Headstones dating back to the 1800s showcase Key West's melting pot of cultures and quirky residents with downright lighthearted epitaphs.

Claudia's expert tip: Grave-rubbing normally makes for great souvenirs, but it is a hefty $500 fine in Key West.

Read more about Key West Cemetery →


Peppers of Key West
Photo courtesy of Peppers of Key West


Belly up to the hot sauce bar to sample their spicy sauces from around the world. (It's free!) The "tasting staff" entertains and makes helpful suggestions while visitors try everything from jerk sauce to dips and "weapons grade" (the fifth and final step of the Peppers Heat Ratings) hot sauces. Cheese and crackers help return taste buds to normal, and each sample comes with a description of what you're trying. You'll be surprised when you realize you've spent over an hour kicking it with some chili sauce. They carry over 900 products but don't miss their house brand. Habanero jelly beans anyone?

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: The free hot sauce tasting at Peppers of Key West is literally a heart-warming experience.

Claudia's expert tip: The owners allow outside beverages in, so feel free to bring your own beer, or even dry chicken wings to experience the full effect.

Read more about Peppers of Key West →


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Thanks to professional kiteboarder and chef, Paul Menta, Key West has its first rum distillery--well the first legal one anyway. Located in a former Coca-Cola bottling plant, the walls are covered with mugshots of local rumrunners and old Prohibition-era newspaper clippings. The main part of the cavernous building houses two 200-gallon copper stills, and the distillers give free tours throughout the day. Monday thru Saturday at 4:30 p.m. they even have a free mojito class. At their tasting bar, you can try samples of the various flavors, while employees educate about the distilling process and provide tasting notes on each one. Taking advantage of Key West's most abundant natural resource, Key West Legal uses oak barrels cured in seawater. The residual sea salt creates a smoother more flavorful drink. The smooth Key West Raw and Unfiltered Blend is one of the top favorites for its rich fig oaky tones.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: At Key West's First Legal Rum Distillery, you can tour the production floor and enjoy a free mojito class at 4:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday daily.

Claudia's expert tip: Want to show off your inner bootlegger? Take a mugshot selfie under their captured backdrop where they even have a placard for you to hold bearing the crime as "2-MUCH-RUM."

Read more about Key West First Legal Rum Distillery →




If you're planning on spending a day at Higgs Beach, pack a picnic lunch and stop by the Key West Wildlife Center. Located just across the street inside the seven-acre Sonny McCoy Indigenous Park (with free parking), it makes a quiet, shaded break when the kids are on their third layer of sunscreen. This small rescue and rehabilitation facility offers a nature trail, which includes a freshwater pond and two aviaries. It's also a great spot for observing migratory birds in both the fall and spring. The lush vegetation attracts many types of migratory raptors, shorebirds, warblers and songbirds. The center cares for a number of shorebirds, gulls, a grey-white heron, a brown pelican, and a broad-winged hawk--all of which are unable to return to the wild (as well as a slew of the infamous Key West chickens). Admission is free, but donations are accepted.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: While not a zoo, The Key West Wildlife Center has "avian educational ambassadors," plus native wildlife drawn to their freshwater pond.

Claudia's expert tip: The free Key West Botanical Garden is also nearby, so families can spend an entire day in this neighborhood without spending a dime.

Read more about Key West Wildlife Center →


The Southernmost Point
Photo courtesy of Amber Nolan


Although it's technically not the furthest location in the US (the patch of land nearby is) the colorful, red and yellow cement buoy located on the corner of South Street and Whitehead Street marks the Southernmost point in the continental US. The monument (which is an old sewer junction) was erected in 1983 and is now one of the most photographed parts of Key West. The marker proudly states that Cuba is just 90 miles away. The crowds get busy during the day, so expect a wait in order to snap a photo (or go early to avoid the lines of tourists). Plus, sunrise and sunset shots here add an extra flair to your photos.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Taking a selfie in front of the Southernmost Point Buoy is a must-do when playing tourist in Key West.

Claudia's expert tip: Expect a long line of visitors waiting to snap pics of this iconic landmark. Go early to avoid the crowd.

Read more about The Southernmost Point →


Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center
Photo courtesy of michellenicolelowe.com


When the museum admissions and snorkeling tours start to add up, free options are always the way to go - especially when the kids can learn a thing or two. The Eco-Discovery Center provides a look into the ecosystems of the Florida Keys. On the third Saturday of each month, a kid's workshop is held that educates them about the marine environment through games, crafts, and puzzles. Just a step away from Fort Zachary Taylor State Park, exhibits include an interactive satellite map of the Keys, a replica of the Aquarius underwater laboratory, a 2,500-gallon reef aquarium, and an underwater video camera used for monitoring the health of a coral reef. Stop into the Center's theater to catch "Reflections of the Florida Keys," a short film on the diverse ecosystem of the Florida Keys by renowned filmmaker Bob Talbot.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: This free center features more than 6,000 square feet of interactive exhibits, providing an up-close look into the underwater ecosystems of the Florida Keys.

Claudia's expert tip: On the third Saturday of each month, they hold a fun children's workshop that educates them about the marine environment.

Read more about Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center →




The Key West Garden Club at Fort West Martello is one of the island's last remaining free tourist attractions. This lush paradise is set in the remains of a Civil War fort once used for target practice. Tropical plants like birds of paradise and orchids grow along the paved pathways and in the nooks and crannies of the battered red bricks. Garden Club volunteers are often on-hand to give tours of the garden pointing out many of the plants and providing some history about both the fort and the club. Sit a spell on one of the numerous benches in the shade and soak in the peace and quiet.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: These lush gardens offer a quiet--and free--escape from the bar-hopping scene.

Claudia's expert tip: Catch one of the volunteer Garden Club members for a guided tour to learn about the variety of flora and fauna.

Read more about West Martello Tower →




It may seem a bit odd to have a children's petting zoo in a jail, but Key West is known for doing things a little differently. The detention center (on Stock Island) was made to withstand a category five hurricane, and since the evacuation area was not being used for anything else, the farm was started in 1994 and began taking in homeless animals. One of the more unusual animals is a 100-pound African spurred tortoise named Albert who's joined by three others of the same species. The farm is also home to Snowflake the white alpaca, Wilbur the pig, Mo the sloth, Kelsie the lemur, Angus the bull and more. The farm is open, free of charge, the second and fourth Sunday of each month from 1 to 3 p.m. Groups may tour by appointment.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: The Children's Animal Farm has a menagerie of animals from alpacas to alligators that visitors can see, feed, pet and hold all for free.

Claudia's expert tip: Try to get a photo with Molasses the sloth, aka Mo, who is the star of the park.

Read more about Children's Animal Park (Petting Zoo) →




Don't leave Key West without seeing the nightly Sunset Celebration on the Mallory Square Dock where the crowd is as colorful as the sky. Entertainers like jugglers, tight-rope walkers, psychics and musicians all compete for your attention and illustrate one reason the island is nicknamed "Key Weird." Be sure to check out Dominique and his talented "flying" cats. Local artists have their wares on display like hand-crafted silver jewelry, painted t-shirts and underwater photography. Vendors sell everything from coconuts with straws to conch fritters, while the real star of the show sets a blazing trail to the horizon. Picture-perfect moments abound, and as the sun takes its final bow into the Gulf of Mexico, the crowd breaks into applause.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: This carnival-style celebration is a must-do to kick off an evening in Key West. Amidst the revelry, you'll have picture-perfect views of the sunset.

Claudia's expert tip: Make sure you head to Mallory Square at least an hour before sunset for the full experience and pack extra camera batteries.

Read more about Mallory Square Sunset Celebration →


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Meet Claudia Miller

Claudia Miller has been writing about South Florida for over 17 years--seven from Key Largo. A budding photographer, she can usually be found stalking a sunset. Despite being a tad...  More About Claudia

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