I love visiting Florida, especially the Florida beaches. But, up until recently, I never had the opportunity to travel to the Florida Keys. This year, on my first voyage on the Disney Magic, I was thrilled to see that Key West was our last port of call on the four-day journey. There’s so much to do in Key West that you could definitely spend more than one day. Here are some of the best things to do in Key West with kids, whether you are visiting for just the day, or for a longer family vacation.
Things to do in Key West with Kids
Key West is an island accessible by bridge that is the southernmost city in the continental United States. It’s four miles by about one-two miles, and is served by an airport as well as several cruise ports. The island is surrounded by both the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf Of Mexico. If you don’t have a flight option right into the Key West airport, Miami is about a 3 ½ hour drive. Our cruise left from and returned to the Miami cruise port.
There are lots of options for getting around the island. If you are arriving via cruise ship, as we did, you’ll find a few kiosks as you exit the ship. Golf cart rentals are offered, as are hop on hop off trolley tickets. We passed those and headed to the Conch Tour Train.
The Conch Tour Train runs constantly and offers four stops along the 90 minute tour. We used the Conch Tour Train more as transportation to various points in the island rather than a straight tour. Despite that, we still got quite a bit of interesting island history and information during our ride. Those who purchase tickets to the train will also receive free admission to the Hemingway Rum Company. Kids will likely love boarding the train because it looks more like an amusement park ride and less like a practical form of transportation.
Tickets are currently $31.45 (with tax) for adults and $15.76 for kids aged 4-12 (three and under is free). You can save by purchasing online, and can also purchase a bundle including the Hemingway House and Museum. You’ll get a discount on a second day on the train if you choose to take it again.
Arguably the most popular photo opportunity, the Southernmost Point marker is definitely a must see and one of the best things to do in Key West. Go early, because a line forms as tourists want to take their photo by the marker. It’s a gorgeous area on the waterfront as well. If you take the train, it’s a bit of a walk from one of the stops, so bring comfortable walking shoes.
Ernest Hemingway Home
After visiting the Southernmost Point, we decided to walk a little further to the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum. While kids may not know much about Ernest Hemingway, they will certainly love the 40-50 six-toed cats that make the house/museum their home.
It’s cash only, so be sure to bring some with you. Pay at the gate, and you’ll be able to enter the home and writing studio. Guided tours are offered at no additional cost on a set schedule. We had just missed one and decided to skip it. You can easily walk through the house yourself, reading the exhibits. Kids will likely enjoy seeing all of the cats located throughout the house and property. They really are adorable.
Key West Lighthouse and Keeper’s Quarters
Located near the Ernest Hemingway Home and the Southernmost Point is the Key West Lighthouse and Keeper’s Quarters. This lighthouse originally opened in 1848 with a female keeper. Guests can walk up the 88 stairs to get a fantastic view. While you are there, you can also see exhibits that showcase life as a keeper.
Located on Duval Street is the butterfly conservatory, where you can observe and learn about butterflies. Admission is $12 for adults and $8.50 for kids aged 4-12. It’s open 365 days per year and also offers a daily webcam.
As you arrive at the conservatory, you’ll be able to see a short movie about butterflies. Then, you can walk through the conservatory to see butterflies and birds – over 50 different species of them! Kids will definitely enjoy seeing them, and since it’s on Duval Street, it’s a convenient location to shops, restaurants, and other attractions.
Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park
This state park offers a beach as well as tours of the historic, Civil War Fort. It’s on 54 acres, and is a great location for a family beach day.
The beach is perfect for snorkeling, swimming, and fishing. Rentals of umbrellas, lounge chairs, rafts, and snorkel equipment is offered. The park charges per vehicle and people in the vehicle. It’s $4.50 for one person, $7 for two people, and $.50 per additional person. If walking or riding a bike, the fee is $2.50 per person.
In addition to the beach, you can also take a guided tour of the fort. They are offered at 11am daily. There are also nature trails, and a cafe that is open daily from 10am to 6pm.
Located right by the port is the Key West Aquarium, a public aquarium. It’s open daily from 9am to 6pm. The aquarium is within walking distance of Duval Street and other attractions, so you can definitely combine your visit to the aquarium with other things to do in Key West.
At the aquarium, you’ll find a number of exhibits, including a touch tank, shark exhibit, alligator exhibit, jellyfish exhibit, and sea turtle exhibit.
Tickets are available both online and in person. You’ll get a slight discount by purchasing online. There are also combo tickets offered that include a visit to the aquarium with a visit to the Shipwreck Treasure Museum.
In addition to the Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park, there are other public beaches in Key West. These include Dog Beach, Higgs Beach, Rest Beach, Simonton Street Beach, Smathers Beach, and South Beach.
Smathers Beach is one of the largest and most popular. It offers restrooms and shower facilities, as well as free parking and volleyball courts.
In addition to these public beaches, many of the resorts on Key West have private beachfront access. If you want to spend much of your vacation time on the beach, it may be a good idea to look at staying at a resort with a private beach.
Dry Tortugas National Park
Dry Tortugas National Park is located about 70 miles west of Key West. Seven small islands comprise the Dry Tortugas as well as the National Park, but the highlight is Fort Jefferson. In addition to exploring the Fort, there are lots of things to do, including snorkeling, swimming, touring, geocaching, and boating.
You won’t be able to access the Dry Tortugas National Park, but there are several different options to get there. These include the Dry Tortugas ferry, private boat charters, and seaplanes.
As a cruise port, you’ll find lots of shopping options on the island. As soon as we walked off the ship, we saw some stores – popular cruise port chains like Cariloha and Del Sol, as well as independent gift shops and boutiques.
Along the bustling Duval Street, nestled among the bars and restaurants, you’ll find larger chains like a Banana Republic Outlet Store and Coach. There’s also Mallory Square, which offers shops like Life is Good, Ron Jon Surf Shop, Crocs, Diamonds International, and Shell Warehouse.
Key West Cruise Excursions
If you are cruising to Key West, as we did, you’ll also have a number of excursion options to take. We opted to just get off the ship and take the Conch Train around, but there are some choices offered through the cruise lines.
These will vary based upon the cruise line you are on, but may include the following: glass bottom boat tour, bike tours, catamaran sails, snorkel tours, dolphin watches, and snuba trips. We did have a great day just exploring on our own, but if you’d prefer to do something completely different, you’ll have lots of options.
Note: if your cruise ship arrives at Key West from a foreign port, everyone will have to go through US customs. On our ship, the Disney Magic, customs came on board the ship. We were all given a time to visit the theater with our passports – based on the deck our room was on. This all happened pretty early in the morning (our time was at 7:15am). If that’s the case for your cruise, be prepared for an early morning wake up.
Hotels in Key West
Planning on staying in Key West? There are plenty of hotels for families, including many with beachfront access. Here are some options (note that we haven’t stayed at these, because we only visited for the day:
- Margaritaville Key West Resort and Marina – this resort, located at the port, offers a pool as well as beach access via their sister resort (a fee applies). It’s best for adults or those traveling with older kids.
- Havana Cabana at Key West – a new resort offering Key West’s largest pool
- Southernmost Beach Resort – this resort, located right near the Southernmost Point, has beachfront access and a pool.
- Hyatt Centric Key West Resort and Spa – this pet-friendly hotel offers a pool and gorgeous views
- Sunset Key Cottages – located just off the coast of Key West, this island hotel is accessible via ferry. It offers a pool and beach as well as programming for tweens and older.
Key West Restaurants
There are so many fabulous and delicious Key West restaurant options, including chain restaurants like the Hard Rock Cafe, as well as independent restaurants.
During our day in Key West, we decided to eat at Sloppy Joes, a casual restaurant with live entertainment and delicious bar food. Other options include:
- Sarabeth’s Keywest
- Garbo’s Grill