Best Historic Sites and Cultural Attractions in Key West

For such a tiny U.S. island, Key West has a rich history and has played an important role during numerous events of the Civil War. Its strategic location as the southernmost city in the United States, meant that naval forces and vessels spent significant time docked on the island, while three forts were erected to help protect the U.S. from invasion. On the Dry Tortugas, Fort Jefferson remains the largest masonry structure in the Western Hemisphere while Fort Zachary Taylor and East Martello Museum are also fascinating in their own right. There are many other museums for those interested in history, including the San Carlos Institute which showcases Key West's Cuban heritage, the Earnest Hemingway Home for information about the literary legend, and the Key West Lighthouse and Keepers' Quarters.

For a bite to eat while exploring the past, the Key West Historic Seaport has some of the best happy hour food and drink specials in Florida, plus numerous shops, sailing cruises, and snorkeling tours. Divers can hop on a scuba diving adventure to the Cayman Salvage Master, or visit several other wrecks that met their end in the waters surrounding the island. Back on land, a tour of the Key West Cemetery reveals some interesting characters who once lived on the island, and the Truman Little White House offers an important piece of national history. Here are Key West's 10 best historic sites.



A common misconception travelers have when planning a trip to Key West is that there will be sparkling white-sand beaches - when in fact they are few and far between. Fort Zachary Taylor is one of the exceptions and is blessed with a...  Read More

Cayman Salvage Master


Divers will appreciate the 187-foot Cayman Salvage Master, which lies in 70 to 95 of water. In the late '70s and early '80s, the steel-hulled vessel played an important role transporting Cuban refugees during the Mariel boat lift and was later...  Read More



Key West has served as a presidential retreat since 1880 when Ulysses S. Grant visited the island. This house belonged to Harry Truman and his wife Bess. Truman reportedly despised living in Washington and viewed this as his sanctuary. Truman...  Read More



Just three weeks after arriving in Key West, Ernest Hemingway finished "A Farewell to Arms" and he and his wife fell in love with the island. They built their home in 1851 and it is now a National Historic Landmark. Beautiful gardens blooming...  Read More

Key West Lighthouse Museum
Photo courtesy of Amber Nolan


Key West's iconic lighthouse was built in 1847 and originally powered by 15 oil lamps that helped guide sailors to the island. Although it no longer serves as a functioning lighthouse, visitors can climb the 88 winding steps to the top for...  Read More



About 70 miles from Key West lie the Dry Tortugas National Park, seven islands that straddle the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea, and Atlantic Ocean. Shallow waters surrounding the islands are the resting place of numerous shipwrecks. The...  Read More



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...  Read More



Back in the late 1700s, the Key West Historic Seaport had a safe anchorage and stocks of drinkable water at primitive wells ashore. Settlers of the island relied heavily on marine life as an integral part of the economy, including fisheries for...  Read More



This structure was constructed in 1862 to protect Fort Zachary Taylor from confederate attack. Now it is an eclectic museum that houses various artifacts from Keys life and history. See found art sculptures by Stanley Papio, woodcarvings by...  Read More



The San Carlos Institute was founded in 1871 by Cuban exiles of Key West as an educational, civic, and patriotic center, and now serves as a museum, library, art gallery, theater, and school. The museum played in important role in Cuba's history...  Read More


Meet Amber Nolan

Originally from upstate New York, this restless traveler has a knack for befriending interesting characters. You can usually find her just about anywhere that has a hammock. Amber's favorite...  More About Amber