Key West is unlike anywhere I’ve ever traveled before. It reminds me a little of any classic beach town. Laid back beach vibes meet a healthy dose of commercialization and raucous nightlife. Key West also feels a bit like the Caribbean. The year round warm climates, outdoor activities, great casual restaurants and happy hour specials remind me of a Caribbean getaway. And then there’s the quirky side of Key West. Where else can you find a place dominated by chickens, dogs frequenting the bars with their owners, and interesting characters wherever you go? And I won’t even get into describing Fantasy Fest! Beyond the beach vibes and experiencing its quirks, there are lots of things to do in Key West Florida. Whether you visit for a day, a weekend, or three days in Key West, a trip to this iconic Florida destination is something you must do in your lifetime.
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Key West: One Human Family
Key West’s motto is “One Human Family”. In fact, the entire phrase is, “All people are equal members of one human family”. Coined by artist J.T. Thompson in the year 2000, the phrase unites all people, regardless of their nationality, race, sexuality, or any other differences between us. When it all comes down to it, we all live together on this planet and should not use these distinctions to divide us. We should embrace our differences, celebrate that we’re all unique, and realize that we all function best together as a society as we’re all linked to one another on earth. Key West is progressive with a small town appeal, and it’s a safe haven for all.
Things to Do in Key West Florida: Day 1
First things first: how do you plan to get to Key West? You can fly directly to Key West via Miami, or you can expand your trip to embark on a road trip of the Florida Keys. If you’re renting a car for a Florida Keys road trip, I suggest browsing Discover Cars for a rental car. They scour the web for the best prices across all car rental companies.
And as always, I don’t recommend leaving home without proper travel insurance. You never know what might happen while you’re traveling, and you don’t want to be left with hefty hospital payments or additional costs if you need to return home early. Compare travel insurance online to get the best deal to cover yourself.
So, you’ve arrived in this charming beach town and you’re looking for what to do in Key West. I like to call this day the “Best of Key West”. These are the best things to do in Key West, all in one day. If you only have one day in Key West, here are the Key West must do attractions and activities. This is the perfect Key West itinerary if you’re planning a day trip or you’re only spending a day in Key West. Here are the top things to do in Key West Florida.
The Hemingway Home and Museum
When I embarked on my Florida Keys road trip, the first tourist attraction on my mind was the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum. It’s a beautiful, Spanish colonial home, and it’s one of the top places to go in Key West, if not the whole Florida Keys. Even though the history of Hemingway and his home in Key West is fascinating, most people (like me) are drawn to the Hemingway House for the cats.
I first learned about Ernest Hemingway’s home on an Animal Planet TV show about cats. Did you know that Hemingway loved cats? His first cat, Snowball, was a polydactyl cat, meaning that she had one more toe on each foot than the average cat. Polydactyl cats have six toes on their front paws and five toes on their back paws, appearing as though they have thumbs or they’re wearing mittens. The other cats that lived (and still live) at Hemingway’s house are descendants of Snowball. So, most of these cats are also polydactyl.
The Ernest Hemingway Home is important because Hemingway wrote over 70% of his books in Key West, Florida. The house itself is very majestic with high ceilings and huge windows. There are historic photographs of Hemingway and interesting personal artifacts, like his original typewriter.
As an animal lover, the cats of the Hemingway Home are the main attraction. If you’re walking around the interior of the house or the garden, you’re bound to run into dozens of cats who don’t mind the extra attention. So, perhaps the Hemingway Home will be at the top of your Key West itinerary like it was for me. It’s not your typical historic site, and it’s a Key West must do attraction.
Key West Lighthouse
Across the street from the Hemingway Home, you’ll find the Key West Lighthouse. In fact, you can see the top of the lighthouse from the Hemingway house (and you can view the Hemingway house from the top of the lighthouse, too!). Definitely add the Key West Lighthouse to your Key West itinerary. Every lighthouse is unique in its own way, and the Key West Lighthouse is no exception.
The Key West Lighthouse isn’t in a typical spot for a lighthouse on the edge of the water. It’s the only lighthouse in the USA entirely within the city limits. The first lighthouse, constructed near the Southernmost Point at the water’s edge in 1825, was destroyed by a hurricane in 1846. The new lighthouse was built away from the ocean at this location on Whitehead Street.
Ascend 88 steps up the circular staircase to the observation deck at the top for brilliant panoramic views of Key West. It’s a pretty narrow, twisting staircase, and there’s only one way up and one way down. You don’t have to be in amazing shape to climb all 88 steps, but it might be a little difficult if you get claustrophobic. If it’s a busy day, you might have to take turns ascending and descending the lighthouse. Fortunately, we didn’t run into that issue.
Another interesting fact about the Key West lighthouse relates to its keepers. The first new lighthouse keeper in 1848 was a woman, which was practically unheard of back in those days. Over the years, the lighthouse had three female lighthouse keepers. When planning to spend one day in Key West, don’t hesitate to add this lighthouse to your travel plans.
Lunch at Sugar Apple Organic Cafe
The Sugar Apple Organic Cafe and Market is a natural grocery store with a vegan cafe. You’ll find delicious 100% plant-based meals and smoothies at the Sugar Apple Cafe. I selected the Grilled Tofu sandwich with tahini sauce and a side salad with key lime dressing. The menu has so many yummy options that it was tough to choose. There are lots of salads, sandwiches, and other entrees at this cozy little cafe. They also had the Beyond Meat burger.
Do you want to see more vegan options in Key West? Check out my Key West vegan restaurant guide!
Coffee and Cake at Moondog Cafe
While Moondog Cafe is a sit down restaurant, there’s a little seating area at the front of the cafe for those simply wanting to enjoy coffee and a dessert. You can also easily order a coffee for takeaway, too. I was amazed to discover the sheer amount of vegan desserts in their front case. Nearly half of the desserts are vegan-friendly! I had a slice of vegan key lime cheesecake and an iced coffee with plant-based milk. So yummy.
Key West Butterfly Conservatory
The Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory is a peaceful retreat in the heart of Key West. Go for a stroll around this climate controlled, glass enclosed habitat to witness hundreds of colorful butterflies and flowering plants. There are two rescued flamingos who live at Key West Butterfly, rescued from a roadside zoo in Canada.
Feel your stress drift away as you wander around this tropical paradise, admiring up to 60 species of butterflies. I was a little skeptical to visit because I wasn’t sure if it would feel more like a zoo with birds and butterflies in close captivity. However, I didn’t feel like the creatures were bothered by any presence of humans, and they could easily fly away at any moment. The butterflies and birds receive great care here, plus I loved how the rescued flamingos could have proper care, too. I’m happy to include it in my Key West travel guide, and hope you have a chance to unwind here.
The Southernmost Point
The Southernmost Point is one of those places where you can say you’ve been, and have the picture to prove it. In Key West, this particular spot is the southernmost point of the continental United States. As the post says, it’s just 90 miles to Cuba from there. You might have to wait in a 10-15 minute long line-up to get your picture at the Southernmost Point, but it’s one of those iconic things to do in the Florida Keys.
Also, please be a courteous tourist when you’re visiting the Southernmost Point. After waiting to get your photo, the last thing you want are some random tourists walking around in the background of your picture. While most people were thoughtful tourists, there were a few who kept wandering into other people’s shots. Don’t be that tourist. Take your photo and step away from the area!
Mile Marker 0
Much like the Southernmost Point, Mile Marker 0 is a tourist trap. While it’s merely a sign posted at the side of the road, there are numerous gift shops by Mile Marker 0 with kitschy souvenirs. Snap a picture with the sign if you happen to be walking by. But, you don’t need to go out of your way for it. If you’re spending one day in Key West, it’s an iconic place to grab a picture.
Key West Hydrobikes
Seeking a fun activity for your Key West itinerary? You can ride a bike on the water with Key West Hydrobikes. These water crafts are super unique and work much like a bicycle: peddle your legs to move forward and you control the steering with the handlebars. There’s a slight learning curve, but the friendly staff can help you out.
There are solo and tandem hydrobikes, so you can experience this adventure with a partner. You can rent hydrobikes to take them out for a spin or take a guided tour to nearby landmarks. It’s great for those who want to do an activity out on the water without swimming or getting wet.
Dinner at Lucy’s Retired Surfers Bar & Restaurant
Lucy’s Retired Surfers Bar and Restaurant on Duval Street has a laid back atmosphere with delicious drinks and yummy food. You simply must order one of their frozen, slushy drinks, like the Frosé (so good!). They don’t have too many vegan options, but I loved the black bean burger, as well as the nachos and salsa.
Key West Travel Guide: Day 2 (Weekend in Key West)
Staying for a weekend in Key West. There are so many fun things to do in Key West Florida that it’s hard to do it any justice in only a day. Let’s continue the adventures for a second day in the Keys!
Coffee at the Fisherman’s Cafe
The Fisherman’s Cafe is a little hut near the waterfront with some of the best coffee in Key West. Stop here for your morning coffee before heading on your Honest Eco tour as it’s near where the boats dock. While this cafe’s food is very fish focused, they also serve a black bean burger with fries that’s vegan-friendly. I put the The Fisherman’s Cafe first thing in the morning on this Key West itinerary because the coffee is delicious and inexpensive.
Honest Eco Kayak and Snorkel Tour
If you’re looking for sustainable, eco-friendly, and fun things to do in Key West Florida, my favorite tour is the “All of the Above” tour by Honest Eco. Board SQUID, one of the first electric powered passenger boats in the USA that they built from scratch. “All of the Above” means that you get to witness dolphins in the wild, take a kayaking trip, go snorkeling, and taste a delicious all vegetarian (and mostly vegan) lunch on board.
The staff at Honest Eco are amazing. They are biologists who focus on conservation efforts, sustainability, and ethical wildlife viewing opportunities. We saw so many dolphins, but kept at a safe distance as to not disturb them in any way. While kayaking at the Key West National Wildlife Refuge, our tour guide told us all about the local birds and wildlife. We kayaked through dense, mangrove forests, for an awesome adventure. I saw so many fish, lobsters, and stingrays while snorkeling. This same guide took the plunge into the water with us to point out sea creatures and take photos on our behalf.
Back on board, our lunch was catered by a local establishment called Date and Thyme. I really appreciated that the entire lunch was vegetarian and almost entirely vegan. Honest Eco takes sustainability and conservation seriously by offering an eco-friendly vegetarian meal. I really admired that stance, and not only because I follow a vegan diet and could eat almost everything served in the buffet. If you’re looking to book any tour during your weekend in Key West, Honest Eco is my top recommendation. It’s one of the best things to do in Key West Florida, hands down.
Walk Around Duval Street for Shopping
Need some retail therapy? Duval Street is the famous main street of Key West where you’ll find loads of shops and restaurants. Duval Street is also the main hub of nightlife in Key West. You can walk around with alcohol on the streets, too. I don’t know many places in the USA that allow that! It’s a pretty happening place all day and all night. Duval Street belongs on any list of things to do in Key West Florida even it’s a little commercialized and touristy.
Coffee Break at Coffee Plantation
Coffee Plantation is another great place to stop and get caffeinated. I stopped at this little house in Key West for an iced Americano to go, but the cafe itself is very cozy. It looks like you’re being welcomed right into someone’s home.
And I didn’t even realize it until writing this article, but Coffee Plantation is a “Realty Cafe” where you can connect with a local real estate agent over coffee. I think this is the very first realty cafe I’ve ever visited. While I’m not looking to buy any property in Key West at the moment, stop by Coffee Plantation for a coffee or a coffee and a house if you really fell in love with Key West (so much that you want to move there!).
Mallory Square Sunset Celebration
You can’t go to Key West without attending the Mallory Square Sunset Celebration at least once. It’s simply the place to be when the sun goes down. Since the 1960s, this event embodies the spirit of Key West. Starting two hours before sundown, Mallory Square welcomes street performers, artists, vendors, and visitors from all over the world to gather and celebrate this local, cultural experience. As the sun starts to go down, gather along the edge of the waterfront to watch the sky turn vibrant shades of red, orange, and pink as the sun disappears into the Gulf of Mexico.
Dinner at The Cafe Key West
The Cafe is a mostly vegetarian restaurant in the heart of Key West. While there is some fish on the menu, mostly everything is either marked as “vegan” or “non-vegan”. It’s a very vegan friendly restaurant, and I thought the food here was super yummy. Choose from sandwiches, salads, pizza, tacos, stir fries, and other main courses. I ordered a Spicy Szechuan Stir Fry with tofu, noodles, and vegetables. It was pretty spicy and so tasty.
Key West Itinerary Day 3
Okay, you’re spending 3 days in Key West. That’s a great choice! Some people visit Key West for 3 days or even up to one week. It really depends how fast paced you want your trip to be. Also, it’s nice to fit in a little time for relaxation without zipping around from place to place. Here are some of the best things to do in Key West Florida for an awesome third day.
Coffee at Keys Coffee Co
Keys Coffee Co was a recommendation from my shuttle bus driver from the Perry Hotel. I asked for the best coffee in Key West, and he pointed me towards Keys Coffee. I ordered a coffee here and indeed, it was some of the best coffee in the Florida Keys. They have an impressive coffee menu with plant-based milk always available.
You can also order food at this casual cafe, too. The vegan items on the menu include: avocado toast (ask for no egg), the Tel Aviv wrap (hummus and veggie wrap), salads, smoothies, and bagels with hummus, avocado, or peanut butter.
Beach Day at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park
You might be thinking that I’m writing all about my Florida Keys road trip and haven’t visited a beach yet! When you’re in Key West, venture over to Fort Zachary Taylor State Park to enjoy Key West’s best beach. You can go swimming and snorkeling right at the beach, and it’s possible to rent an umbrella with lounge chairs, too.
You can also explore the nature trails, go bike riding, dine at the Cayo Hueso Café, check out historic Fort Taylor, and so much more. It’s easy to spend an entire day at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park. If you’re looking for the best Key West beach, head directly to the Fort Zachary Taylor State Park.
Coffee and Lunch at Cuban Coffee Queen
Cuban Coffee Queen has a few locations in Key West, and their coffee is amazing! I ordered an iced coffee with plant-based milk, and it was so refreshing. Cuban Coffee Queen also has food for lunch with a few vegan options. I recommend trying the hummus sandwich with a side of beans and rice.
Discover Street Art in Key West
Street art lovers, rejoice! There are so many colorful murals in Key West to discover. You can walk all over town hunting down Key West street art. It was one of my favorite things to do in Key West Florida. Here’s where you’ll find some vibrant and beautiful murals (listed beneath each photo). There are also some murals at the Key West International Airport.
Dinner at Bad Boy Burrito
Bad Boy Burrito in Key West has several vegan options on the menu, all clearly marked. It’s a fast food restaurant with a few outdoor dining spots, but you’ll find that most locals take their burritos as takeaway. You can choose from the selections on the menu or build your own burritos / burrito bowls. It’s somewhere to stop for a quick dining option before a night on the town.
Mojito Making Class at Key West First Legal Rum Distillery
If you’re into local distilleries, mojitos, or learning a new skill, this is an exciting activity to add to your Key West itinerary. Head over to Key West First Legal Rum Distillery for a short tour and introduction to the distillery. Next, venture into the mojito tasting room to learn how to make the best mojitos ever. Yes, they’re the tastiest mojitos I’ve ever tried.
The owners are very fascinating people who have mastered the art of the mojito. They sailed to Cuba on a schooner and became the first rum runners from America to Cuba. Trained by the Cuban people on how to make the best mojito, they’ve brought their knowledge back to Key West to share these skills. You’ll receive the proper training, hand written instructions, and the tools to make your own mojitos at home. This is one of the most fun things to do in Key West Florida. I can’t wait to host my own mojito party to bring a taste of the tropics back to Canada.
More Fun Things to Do in Key West
If this Key West itinerary wasn’t enough for you (or you’d like to swap in these activities and attractions), here are even more things to do in Key West Florida.
- A Key West Sunset Sail aboard a 60 foot catamaran, with beer, wine, champagne, a full liquor bar, and hors d’oeuvres.
- This Key West Hop On Hop Off Trolley Tour will help you get around town, explore Key West at your own pace, and provide you with lots of knowledge and tips from a local.
- A Key West Ghost and Gravestone Tour takes you on a journey aboard the “Trolley of the Doomed” where you’ll learn why Key West is one of the top 10 haunted cities in the USA.
- Take a day trip to Dry Tortugas National Park on a catamaran from Key West.
Where to Stay in Key West
I stayed at the laid back Perry Hotel Key West, just outside of Key West. While it’s about a 20 minute drive to Key West on neighboring Stock Island, there’s a hotel shuttle that will pick you up and drop you off from Key West all day long. You can also park your car at the Perry Hotel for free, if you need it throughout your stay. I recommend not driving to Key West because it’s difficult to find parking and it’s expensive. Furthermore, if you want to enjoy a mojito or two in Key West, you can take the hotel shuttle back without drinking and driving.
The Perry Hotel is such a beautiful boutique property that you might be tempted to stay on site for your entire trip. There’s a pool, restaurants, outdoor patios, and poolside bars. And then there are the little touches that make your stay memorable and enjoyable, like a complimentary glass of champagne upon checking in.
The room has everything you need for a comfortable stay. There’s a flatscreen TV, complimentary Wi-Fi, a Keurig coffee maker, a fridge, a pillowtop mattress, and a bright and spacious bathroom. Every room comes with an over-sized private balcony with sweeping views of the property. Feel the cool, ocean breezes as you watch the boats sail in and out of the harbor.
I discovered that the Perry Hotel is like a destination in itself. There’s a large swimming pool and a great poolside bar where you could easily spend the day. Even though it’s not directly in Key West, it gives you a little break from the hustle and bustle of the town. One of the best things to do in Key West Florida is enjoy some quiet time at the Perry Hotel.
I also enjoyed dining at their restaurant, Matt’s Stock Island. Their outdoor patio is the perfect place to spend the evening with friends. The cocktails are delightful, and many items on the menu can be prepared vegan. While the restaurant is very fish and seafood focused, the staff members were very familiar with veganism and prepared an assortment of side dishes for my meal. You’ve gotta try the black bean fritters with the avocado sauce!
Ready to spend some time and stay overnight at the luxurious Perry Hotel Key West? Book your stay at the Perry Hotel Key West (with free cancellation) or read more reviews of the Perry Hotel as written by fellow travelers.
Best of Key West Map
Here’s a map of all the best things to do in Key West Florida. You’ll see everything on this Key West itinerary on a map of the town. Feel free to reference or save this map to your own personal Google Maps account for your upcoming trip.
There are lots of things to do in Key West Florida, and we encourage you to visit this fun, quirky, and unique destination. It’s a great way to soak up the sunshine and spend time with fellow members of this “One Human Family”.