One of the most famous Key West attractions, Mallory Square is where much of the city’s history began. A bustling waterfront at one time—it was where US Navy Ships, warships and other massive vessels came to port and where Cuban cigar makers and sponge collectors sold their wares. Today, thousands of people gather every day to devour local seafood and other delicious cuisine. Buy out-of-the-ordinary treasures, browse through art galleries and boutiques and take in the spectacular harbor view. And when the day is done, folks from every walk of life come together to be a part of the world famous Sunset Celebration. It’s a sight to behold and a party not to miss - as the sun makes its descent into the horizon, musicians, fire-eaters and other street performers come out, as do local food vendors serving up conch fritters and other mouth-watering island specialties. Sing, dance, shop, eat, meet and mingle at Mallory Square; it’s an authentic Key West experience.
Key West Shipwreck Treasure Museum
Ready for a voyage back to another century, to an era of dangerous shipwrecks and salvagers? Then, step inside the Key West Shipwreck Treasure Museum and begin the adventure with a climb to the top of the 65 foot observation tower. You’ll discover the thrill the wreckers must have felt as they waited for ships sinking off the Key West coast—and learn how their salvaging efforts made Key West the richest city in America. See artifacts and treasure from actual shipwrecks, watch presentations about the shipwrecking industry and enjoy laser shows and a variety of exhibits. One Whitehead Street; 305-292-8990.
At the Key West Aquarium you’ll see some of the world’s most intriguing and exotic sea creatures and learn about the spectacular marine life and underwater world that surrounds the Florida Keys. Watch as sharks and turtles enjoy their lunch and see moray eels, barracuda and dozens of other tropical fish up close. Knowledgeable guides offer an inside look into the life of many sea species. The Key West Aquarium has been delighting guests of all ages since 1934 and is one of island’s most popular stops. 1 Whitehead Street; 305-296-2051.
Once a second home to Harry S. Truman, the Little White House is a part of America’s political and historical past. It was built in the late 1800’s as an officer’s quarters for the Navy, but soon became the winter home of Truman and his family. Truman had such a deep affection for the island that he spent many days here—and as a result the Little White House became an arena for political meetings and many important events. John F. Kennedy, Dwight Eisenhower, Jimmy Carter and other prestigious leaders visited over the years and were said to be equally allured by the home and its tropical setting. Guests who visit today can take a tour, see personal items that belonged to Harry, Bess and Margaret, and learn more about Truman’s life on the island and the history of the Little White House. 111 Front Street; 305-294-9911.
Many find Key West strange during the day; but after the sun goes down, the restless souls of the island’s frightful past begin to stir. You will hear their tales that have been all but forgotten as you travel the narrow, dark streets of Old Town - filled with 19th century wooden houses that hold on to the secrets of their former inhabitants. Stories so tragic, so chilling, you’ll see why Key West is one of the top ten most haunted cities in America. EXCLUSIVE nighttime entry into one of the island’s haunted Civil War forts - once quarantine barracks for suffering soldiers left to die from yellow fever; now home to eerie Robert the Doll who can play tricks on you if you don’t play nicely. 501 Front Street; On the corner of Front and Duval Streets; 305-29-GHOST (305-294-4678).
Guests to the Sails to Rails Museum will journey through the Age of Sail, a time when tall ships plied the treacherous waters of the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico and Florida Keys from the 1500s to early 1900s. These waters were once filled with treasure-laden Spanish galleons, dreaded pirates, merchant ships and more as the New World made its riches known to all who sailed her waters. As a young nation began to grow and her influence grew, the Age of Sail gave way to The Age of Rail. Railroads opened up frontiers of this emerging nation whose commerce, wealth and independence reached out to many. The United States of America was built on the foundation of its railroads and Florida was certainly no exception. The Age of Rail, particularly for Florida, was an opportunity for expansion. 901 Caroline Street; 305-293-8716.
Key West’s rich Cuban heritage is brimming within the walls of the Cayo Hueso y Habana Historeum. Here, visitors can watch as Cuban cigars are hand-rolled at the cigar shop. They can browse through Abuela's Bodega and find gift items and memorabilia that represents the strong Cuban influence on the island. Delectable Cuban cuisine at El Meson de Pepe, lively music and genuine Cuban items help illustrate the colorful history that is still so much a part of the culture throughout Key West. 410 Wall Street; Mallory Square; (305) 293-7260.
The Fort Jefferson Dry Tortugas National Park is one of the top Key West attractions. Almost 70 miles west of Key West, nestled among coral reefs, and white sandy beaches, lie seven remote islands called the Dry Tortugas. When you visit, you are treated to one of the most unique National Parks in the world. These seven islands are a rare combination of natural and historic resources. Not only are you surrounded by a vast expanse of sea, sky, sandy beaches, and coral reef, but you step into a park rich in history including a 19th century Civil War fort, the largest brick structure in the Western Hemisphere. Cruise in spacious comfort aboard The Yankee Freedom III, the fastest, largest and most state-of-the-art vessel ferrying passengers to the Dry Tortugas National Park. 240 Margaret Street; (800) 634-0939; (305) 294-7009.
Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory
Delicate butterflies flutter about among flourishing plants and tropical flowers; you may even have one land on your shoulder. At the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory, hundreds of butterflies of every size, shape and color live in a tropical haven. Learn about how the butterflies are bred in captivity and many other interesting facts about these graceful creatures. Kids and adults enjoy this unique and beautiful attraction. 1316 Duval Street; (305) 296-2988.
Journey back to another era with a visit to the Ernest Hemingway House Museum. It is here that Ernest Hemingway lived from 1931 to 1961 and where he wrote many of his acclaimed novels including To Have and To Have Not. Many of Hemingway’s characters and storylines were linked to Key West. Guests can tour the home which is filled with furniture and other items that were used by him and his family. The lovely Spanish styled house was built in 1851 and is also home to more than 40 cats - many of which are six-toed, and all that are descendents of Hemingway’s original pet. As you take the guided tour, you’ll learn all about Hemingway, his life and career, his adventurous past and the six-toed cat he loved. 907 Whitehead Street; (305) 294-1136.
Today’s the day” was his mantra and incredibly, Mel Fisher’s lifelong pursuit and dreams all came true before he died. The day was July 20, 1985 when, after 17 years of searching, Mel Fisher and his crew recovered the $450 million treasure from the Nuestra Senora de Atocha and the Santa Margarita, two galleons that sunk in 1622. 200 Greene Street; (305) 294-2633.
The perfect complement to the odd and unusual sites in Key West, Ripley’s Believe! it or Not is a spectacle to be enjoyed by adults and children of all ages. The museum features 500 exhibits of strange, out-of-this-world items that made Ripley’s famous. As you tour through displays, see photographs and artifacts, you most definitely wonder, is it real or not? Located on famous Duval Street, stop in to get out of the hot sun—stay awhile to witness the weirdness. 108 Duval Street; (305) 293-9939.
The Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden is the only "frost-free" botanical garden in the continental United States. A tropical environment with ample rain allows most trees to retain their leaves in the dry season (December through late May). It is home to many endangered and threatened flora and fauna. 5210 College Road; (305) 296-1504.
The Audubon House marks the beginning of the restoration movement in Key West. Saved from being demolished in 1958, the 19th century Key West original is now a historic museum featuring the artwork of John James Audubon. Audubon, who visited the home in 1832, is famous for his exquisite drawings of birds. Visitors to the museum are given a guided tour of the house and gardens, interesting tales and facts about local history and the opportunity to see 28 of Audubon’s first edition works. Gorgeous antiques and time-period furnishings are also to be seen throughout the house. In the gardens, delicate orchids, pretty bromeliads, lush tropical foliage, an herb garden and an 1840-style nursery provide a lush retreat. 205 Whitehead Street; (305) 294-2116.
Built in 1891, the Custom House had many uses including a post office, court house and government center. Today, after a $9 million restoration, the beautiful red brick building is as glorious as it was back in the day and is home to moving works of art that portray the colorful past of Key West and historic national events. Self guided tours take you through the era of pirates and tobacco salesmen, to the life and career of Ernest Hemingway and beyond. See Mario Sanchez’s wood paintings of old Key West and portraits of famous Key West residents by Paul Collins. Find out how the Navy got rid of the pirates and how Key West went from riches to bankruptcy…and back. 281 Front Street; (305) 295-6616.
If you’re up for a climb, you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of Key West and the ocean. The Key West Lighthouse was built in 1825 to help the many ships entering the port avoid the hazardous reefs. Today, you can climb the 88 iron steps to the top of the tower for a scenic look at what the lighthouse keepers watched over for more than 120 years. Tour the grounds to see the Keeper’s Quarters which have been restored to their original charm and view the displays of nautical artifacts, antique furnishings, maps and vintage photos. The Lighthouse Museum is on the National Register of Historic Places. 938 Whitehead Street; (305) 294-0012.
The East Martello Fort, complete with an eight-foot thick granite wall, was built during the Civil War Era to withstand any bombardment but was never completed and never saw any hostile action. The casemates, citadel and courtyard today make up the museum. Among its collection are Key West artifacts, historical records and military memorabilia. Also on display are the state's largest collections of painted wood carvings and drawings by Mario Sanchez. 3501 S. Roosevelt Blvd.; (305) 296-3913.
For a truly serene experience, take a moment to stroll through the Key West Garden Club at the West Martello Fort. A popular spot for weddings, lush, tropical plant life, quaint brick pathways and glorious arched courtyards make a visit here unforgettable. A National Historic Site, the fort features gun mounts, a conservatory and a brief glance back at the Civil War era. Guests can view a rare collection of native and exotic trees and plants, including blooming orchids and bromeliads. A water lily pond and waterfall add to this site’s charming allure. Visitors are welcome to stroll, sit, relax and reflect at this free attraction. 1100 Atlantic Boulevard; (305) 294-3210.
The oldest house in South Florida was built in 1829 by Captain Francis Watlington who was, among other things, a wrecker. Watlington and his wife and their nine daughters lived in the house for many decades. A beautiful example of the kind of colonial architecture found in the Caribbean, the house is now a museum that welcomes visitors from around the world. Guests see paintings, model ships and an outdoor kitchen. Furnishings, carpets and the house décor all reflect the era of the wreckers and their success that made Key West the richest city in America at one time. 322 Duval Street; (305) 294-9501.
Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1973, Florida's southernmost state park is popular for recreation, as well as U.S. military history. The fort was one of a series built in the mid-1800s to defend the nation's southeastern coastline. Guided tours of the fort are available daily. 100 Southard Street; 305-295-0037.
Embark on an adventure to the world-famous reefs off the coast of Key West. Aboard the Pride of Key West—the magnificent Key West Fury catamaran with a glass bottom, you’ll enjoy the fresh sea air as you voyage above the lively marine world underneath. Once you arrive above the reefs, be ready to catch your breath as vibrant sea life abounds right beneath your eyes. Through the glass bottom, you’ll see colorful fish, coral and plants. It is a fabulous way to explore the water without ever leaving the boat! End of Duval Street between the Ocean Key House and Pier House Resorts. (305) 294-8899.
People from all over the world come to Key West for the unique atmosphere, world-famous attractions and of course, the refreshing turquoise waters that surround the island. Whether you’d like to dive in and snorkel, fly above the water in a parasail, go on a glass-bottom boat excursion, take a sunset cruise or try your hand at jet skiing, Fury Catamarans offers a myriad of exciting adventures. From reef snorkeling excursions and sunset cruises to glass bottom boat rides and combo packages, stop by the Fury Catamaran departure point at the Westin Marina in Mallory Square for information and reservations. 237 Front Street #109; (305) 294-8899; (800) 994-8898.