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The 20 Best Things To Do In Key West For First Timers

Key West

Key West is an island city in the United States that is part of the state of Florida. It is a port of call for cruise ships and many visitors to the island come as part of a cruise. There are plenty of things to see and do on the island and you can fit a lot into your days even if you are only visiting for a short time. If you are planning your first trip to Key West then the top twenty things that you will want to see are listed below.

20. Key West Cemetary

A cemetary may not usually be somewhere that you would associate with top places to visit, but the Key West cemetary is a perfect example of just how unique the people from these islands are. Some of the tombstones have quotes on them such as 'I'm just resting my eyes'. You will also find tombstones in the shape of unusual objects such as a ship mast. The cemetary has been in use since 1847 and so there is a lot to be learned about the history of the island here. There are guided tours which will show you some of the more interesting plots in the cemetary.

19. Bayview Park

There are usually activities happening in Bayview Park that the whole family can get involved in. These activities will vary throughout the year and so visiting this park often involves just seeing what is going on. Moneycrashers suggest using this park as a place to relax if you are traveling between the old and new town as it is in the center of these two points. There are tennis courts at the park as well as a number of other sporting amenities. There is also a picnic area if you want to stop at the park for a bite to eat.

18. Pepe's Bar

Pepe's Bar is one of the oldest bars on the island and you can tell this just by looking at it. It was first opened in 1909 and from the outside it does not look as if it has changed that much. It may look small from the street but it is bigger than it looks and there is an extensive seating area outdoors at the back of the bar. One of their most famous regulars was Ernest Hemingway, but there have been many more notable guests over the years. There is plenty of signed memorabilia on the walls that pay tribute to these guests.

17. Sloppy Joe's

Sloppy Joe's is another bar that Hemingway used to frequent. The first incarnation of the bar opened in 1933 on the day the Prohibition was repealed in the United States. The owner of the bar, Joe Russell, was known to host illegal speakeasies on the island before this repeal took place. The bar was known as the Blind Pig first of all which was changed to the Silver Slipper when a dance floor was installed. In 1937, the bar moved to its present location. The name Sloppy Joe's was suggested by Hemingway as a reference to a club in Havana that was owned by Jose Garcia. The Havana club sold iced seafood and the floor often became wet because of the melted ice which led to the customers teasing Jose that he ran a sloppy place.

16. Key West First Legal Rum Distillery

This attraction is suggested by Conde Nast Traveller as a spot to visit in Key West to discover more about the whole process of distilling rum. The tour of the distillery is free and there are samples of food and drink that you can try on your way round. There are even soft drinks available if you have children with you on the tour. One of the highlights of the distillery is the mojito making course that is offered on a daily basis. It is recommended that you book a place on this course in advance to avoid disappointment.

15. Smathers Beach

Key West is better known for its coral reefs than its beaches, but the most popular beach on the island is Smathers Beach. Although the beach does get busy, it is quite large and you will usually be able to find a spot where you can sit and relax. There are also activities such as volleyball that you can take part in. US Travel News reports that most visitors to Smathers beach comment on how clean it is. There is plenty of parking nearby if you are traveling here by car. There are no permanent places to eat, but there are always a number of food vans nearby that serve a wide variety of cuisines.

14. Basilica Of Saint Mary Star Of The Sea

Even if you are not Catholic, then this cathedral is still well worth a visit. The architecture inside the cathedral is very grand and there is a maritime feel to the whole place. When you have spent some time looking around the inside of the cathedral, it is also worth taking a walk around the gardens which have been immaculately landscaped. Don't be surprised if you encounter some chickens roaming around the gardens as they are almost a permanent fixture at the cathedral.

13. Wild About Dolphins

Wild About Dolphins lets you view and interact with dolphins in their natural habitat. You will be taken off the coast of the island on a boat called the Amazing Grace and will sail to an area where dolphins are known to frequent. You can relax on the boat and watch the dolphins as they swim by. If you want to get even closer than you can take a swim in the ocean or even go snorkeling. The dolphins can usually be found quite close to the shore and so the water you are swimming in will not be that deep.

12. Historic Seaport At Key West Bight

The seaport at Key West Bight was a bustling port for almost 200 years and it was still used on a regular basis up until the 1990s. It is still used a port for private yachts and there are some impressive vessels here that you can will see when you visit. The seaport is also very well-known for the quality of the restaurants that can be found here. It is also a good area for shopping as there are a wide variety of shops that can be found along the waterfront. Key West Bight is one of the most picturesque areas of the island and so is well worth a visit.

11. US Coast Guard Cutter Ingham Maritime Museum

The CGC Ingham was used in service for over fifty years. Vacation Idea suggests that this is a great place to let the kids explore This cutter participated in the Second World War and has received a Presidential Unit Citation on two different occasions. Ingham is one of several National Historic Landmarks that can be found on the island.

10. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

The John Pennekamp State Park was the first park in the United States to be completely under water. There are over 200 nautical miles of reefs and the best way to see this is by diving or snorkelling as this will let you get up close. However, there are also glass bottom boat trips available for those who prefer to stay dry. There is also a beach at the park where you can sit and have a picnic, and short walking trails that will take you along the coast.

9. Audubon House And Tropical Gardens

Aubudon House is a mansion that was built in 1840 for Captain John Huling Geiger who lived there with his family. The home was named after the ornithologist John James Aubudon who had spent some time on the island in the 1830s. It was purchased by the Mitchell Wolfson Family Foundation in 1958 who restored the house to show how a wealthy Key West family would have lived in the 19th Century. There are many tropical plants that you can discover in the garden by following the brick pathways.

8. Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center

All of the marine life and plants that can be found in this center are native to the Florida Keys. There are over 6000 square feet of exhibits to discover at the center. The official website of the center explains that the sanctuary needed to be set up in order to protect the marine life in the area. A highlight of the center is the Mote Marine Laboratory which is a 2,500 gallon reef with living corals. There are also many tropical fish to view in this exhibition.7. Key West Lighthouse And Keeper's Quarters Museum

There is a narrow staircase in the Key West Lighthouse with 88 steps that will get you to the top. It can be quite hard work getting to the top as there is not a lot of space on the staircase, but once you make it then the views are worth it. The lighthouse served the island for over one hundred years, but it was decommissioned in 1969 when new technology meant it was no longer needed. Today it is a museum dedicated to former keepers and there are some of their former possessions on display.

6. Mallory Park

Mallory Park can be found at the northwest tip of the island and this is where you will get the best view of the sunset. There is a Sunset Celebration that takes place here every night which begins about two hours before the sun is due to set. There are food vendors and arts and craft stalls that set up every night. There is also street entertainment such as jugglers and magicians which really helps to create a party atmosphere. Hundreds of tourists visit Mallory Park at sunset and so it does get quite busy.

5. The Little White House

The Little White House was a holiday home for Harry S. Truman. It was given this name because Truman spent so many working vacations here. It started life as the headquarters of the naval command station and this was the role it played in both World Wars. It is still used as a holiday home for government officials today but part of it is open to the public as a museum. There are guided tours available on a daily basis.

4. Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park

This state park is listed as a US National Historic landmark because of the role the fort played in the civil war. There are regular civil war reenactments that are held here throughout the year. There is a beach here and it is considered to be one of the best beaches on the island. Beach and water equipment such as snorkels and floats are available to hire and there are many places throughout the park where you can get something to eat.

3. The Southernmost Point Of The Continental US

An interesting fact about Key West is that it is closer to Cuba than it is a Walmart. No visit to the island will be complete without getting a photo with the buoy that marks the southernmost point of the continental United States. The best time to get this photo is probably just after breakfast as by midday the queue for this photo opportunity can get quite long. Visiting the buoy earlier in the morning also means that you have more chance to do other things for the rest of the day.

2. Duval Street

Duval Street is the liveliest part of the island and some of the islands best restaurants can be found here. The bars on this street are open until the early hours of the morning and you won't find anywhere for a quiet drink in this area. If you are visiting the area with your family then you should find that most places will allow children to eat in the premises in the early evening. For those that are over 21 you can easily spend the whole day and night on this street bar hopping.

1. Hemingway's House

One of the most popular attractions on the island is the Spanish Colonial style mansion that was home to Ernest Hemingway. He lived here with his second wife Pauline and the couple moved in soon after they were married. The studio where Hemingway wrote some of his most famous novels is still exactly as it would have been when he was working there. The house is also full of the Hemingway's personal effects, many of which were collected on their trips to Europe.

Dana Hanson

Written by Dana Hanson

Dana has extensive professional writing experience including technical and report writing, informational articles, persuasive articles, contrast and comparison, grant applications, and advertisement. She also enjoys creative writing, content writing on nearly any topic (particularly business and lifestyle), because as a lifelong learner, she loves to do research and possess a high skill level in this area. Her academic degrees include AA social Sci/BA English/MEd Adult Ed & Community & Human Resource Development and ABD in PhD studies in Indust & Org Psychology.

Read more posts by Dana Hanson

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