Key West, Florida evokes images of turquoise waters, sunny skies, palm trees, lazy days fishing – in short, just about anything to do with water. But, what if you don’t swim, don’t have a boat, and just want to enjoy the scenery and whatever else Key West has to offer? Is there anything happening that’s not on or in the water?
The answer is yes! I recently spent the better part of a day and a night there, and never got in the water. I enjoyed it so much I’m still dreaming of palm trees and fluffy white clouds drifting across azure blue skies. (In fact I liked it so much I’ve been researching the job and housing market there.)
I didn’t realize it was possible to pack so much into one day, but then again, Key West is only 4 miles long by 1.5 miles wide – you can bike or walk the island in a day or less.
The main industry is tourism, and the locals know how to make the most of what their slice of paradise has to offer. Key West is one of the friendliest places I’ve ever visited, and people are happy to help you or just engage in conversation.
Here’s my top ten list of things to see and do in Key West. All of them are family friendly, and most of them are free – or at least, very very affordable.
Old Town Trolley Tour This is the first thing I’d recommend. It’s a great way to get oriented to the island, and the tour is only an hour and half long. I really did know more about the island afterwards. Our guide was, of course, a native Floridian who grew up in Key West. Some of his aside comments were pretty hilarious and he gave a very thorough tour.
Be aware that there are a number of different trolley tour vendors and some are a bit more expensive than others. We were offered a two day pass for $30.00, or a one day pass for $20.00. Since we were leaving the next day, obviously the one day pass made more sense. When you buy your ticket(s) make sure to ask what time the last tour leaves. You can hop on and hop off at most stops, but if you take the last tour of the day, you will be limited as to which stops you can get back on.
Much of the culture of Key West developed around salvaging wrecked ships. In fact, it was once the main industry of the island, and made Key West the richest city in Florida.
1 Whitehead Street
Take a Bicycle Tour
If a trolley tour isn’t your thing, ride a bike. Key West is small and compact, so riding a bicycle makes sense, as parking a car is a bit of a hassle, (and you don’t need it). You can take a self guided tour, or go with a tour company like Key Lime Bike Tours. Most B&B’s offer bike rentals and a map.
Basically you can see everything you’d see on the trolley tour. If you go on your own, you won’t get the local scoop, though.
Hemingway Home Museum
If you’re a literary sort, don’t miss Hemingway Home and Museum. Hemingway lived in Key West for over ten years and completed A Farewell To Arms within seven weeks of moving to Key West. The history of Key West and Hemingway are legendary, and if you’re a Hemingway fan, I think it’s a must see.
907 Whitehead St.
Casa Antigua and the Pelican Poop Shop
If you can’t get enough Hemingway, stop by Casa Antigua where Hemingway stayed for a few weeks upon moving to Key West. I discovered this place on an early morning walk, but they weren’t open yet. An annual literary festival and competition, Hemingway Days is held here.
314 Simonton St.
Key West Lighthouse and Museum
Also on Whitehead St. is the Key West Lighthouse, now a museum. Climb the eighty-eight steps to the top for a wonderful 360 degree view of the island. There’s also a small museum that runs a short film with history of the island and some of the original lighthouse keepers.
938 Whitehead St.
Food is always a big part of a memorable trip. Whether it’s something simple like a refreshing gelato on a summer day, or a regional dish that you won’t find anywhere else, a good meal is often the most cherished vacation memory. Key West has a bit of every type of cuisine, with a strong Caribbean influence, and of course, seafood.
The weekend I was in Key West was Lobster Fest weekend. I ate lobster cooked in ways I never could have imagined. I tried the honey tempura battered deep fried lobster on a stick and lobster mac and cheese. I’m really a traditionalist and prefer my lobster steamed or grilled with butter, but the lobster mac and cheese was too delicious. I was happy I had someone to help me eat it!
For dessert, I couldn’t resist checking out Duetto, a real Italian gelato and coffee shop. The owner is originally from the Piemonte region of Italy. My travel companion, who just happens to be from Italy, had an espresso and pronounced it the real deal. I had a pistachio gelato – tasty – but I still think it tastes better in Italy.
Create a Photographic Souvenir
It’s kitschy, but as you can see people line up to have their photo taken with the buoy at the Southern Most Point in the United States. There is a trolley stop nearby and you can get off for the photo op, then catch the next trolley.
Take a Walk
Just because you don’t have a boat doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy walking around the marina. There’s shopping and restaurants, and you never know whose yacht may be docked there.
I like to read the names of the boats and see what flags they are flying. It’s also fun to just observe people who live and work on boats – such a different lifestyle.
Right by the Marina is Kermit’s Key Lime Pie. Kermit sells just about anything you can think of key lime flavored, and they’ll let you sample everything. You can also buy a slice of key lime pie to go, or eat it on their patio.
Enjoy great color and architecture, especially in the old historic center.
Watch the Sunset
Finally, the quintessential Key West experience, sunset at Mallory Square. About 6:00 pm the square fills with entertainers of all varieties, but I was mesmerized by the sunset and watching the boats sail by.
There you go, I think that’s at least ten things you can do, and never put even your big toe into the water.
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