Over the course of one day in Key West, you can experience the joie de vie of the southernmost city in the continental United States.
At only four miles long and about two miles wide, the city packs a lot into a small space—beaches, historic homes, an iconic lighthouse, fabulous food, lively bars, interesting shops, and intriguing galleries, all wrapped up in an official philosophy of “One Human Family.”
This itinerary circles you through Key West’s highlights. You start early at the always-open attractions in order to maximize the time for museums and facilities with designated hours. But allow time to soak up the happy vibe of this quirky, tropical place, like nowhere else in the United States.
7:30 a.m.: Take Photos at Southernmost Point
Make the most of your day by getting out early. Visit Southernmost Point, South and Whitehead streets.
As the name suggests, the red, white, and black concrete buoy, with the whimsical “The Conch Republic” insignia, marks the southernmost point in the continental United States, a spot just 90 miles from Cuba. It’s a place to take selfies and to enjoy the expansive sea views.
8 a.m.: Breakfast Near Southernmost Point
Stop for breakfast near Southernmost Point. The French-inspired bistro, the Banana Café, near the foot of Duval Street, specializes in tasty breakfast crepes but also serves bagels, lox, seafood omelets, and granola.
Alternatively, nearby Southernmost Sandy’s Café, on Duval Street, has been serving Key West Cuban and seafood cuisine since 1954. Try omelets or Cuban egg and meat sandwiches to fortify you for the day ahead.
9 a.m.: Meander Through the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservancy
The nearby Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservancy places you in a dreamlike garden of tropical plants, beautiful birds, including two flamingos, and hundreds of brightly colored butterflies.
A stroll through the enclosed glass aviary is peaceful and exciting, especially when a butterfly alights on your shoulder or arm.
Increase your chances of the delicate creatures being attracted to you by wearing bright red or yellow. An introductory film describes the butterfly’s life cycle from egg to caterpillar, chrysalis, and butterfly.
A bonus of a morning arrival may well be the increased chances of watching the marvel of a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis and drying its wings.
9:45 a.m.: Climb the Key West Lighthouse
The panoramic view of sea and sand from the top of the Key West Lighthouse is worth the 88-step climb. Constructed in 1848 and decommissioned in 1969, the lighthouse remains an iconic Key West symbol.
In the Keeper’s Quarters Museum, you learn about some of the lighthouse keepers, including the fascinating history of Barbara Mabrity, who took over her husband’s job as keeper after his death in 1832.
Mabrity, the first woman in the U.S. with that job, maintained the 1825 lighthouse and a temporary beacon that was used after an 1846 hurricane destroyed the original lighthouse. She kept up the new 1848 lighthouse until 1864, when she retired aged 82.
10:30 a.m.: Tour the Ernest Hemingway House
An icon of American literature, Ernest Hemingway and his wife Pauline lived at the Key West house, a gift from Pauline’s wealthy uncle, from 1931 to 1939.
During this time, the Hemingways restored the 1851 Spanish colonial-style home and installed the first in-ground pool in Key West.
The pool cost a whopping $20,000 in 1938 dollars. Legend has it that Hemingway jokingly told Pauline to take his last penny, too, as he pressed one into the cement surrounding the pool. That penny is still visible.
Also visible are some 60 descendants of Snow White, a six-toed cat gifted to Hemingway. About half the kitties have six toes; you’ll see them around the grounds of the house.
You learn about the house, the Hemingways, and their lives in Key West on the 20-30 minute guided tour. At the house, Hemingway completed such well-known works as The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Death in the Afternoon.
11:30 a.m.: Stroll Duval Street and the Surrounding Neighborhood
From the Hemingway House, walk a block or so to Duval, Key West’s main street, which stretches from the Southernmost Point marker to Mallory Square.
In the evening, Duval is a pub crawl paradise, hopping with bars and partygoers. During the day, though, the street exudes a family-friendly atmosphere, making it one of the best things to do in Key West with kids.
Meander up and down Duval and the surrounding streets, admire the pastel-painted homes with gingerbread trim, and browse the T-shirt and gift shops.
For an unusual souvenir, consider a lifelike statue of yourself created by 3D Mini Me Key West. After technicians scan you in a 3D photo booth, a process that takes seconds, you choose the size of the sculpture, from three to 14 inches, and the base. The shop promises you will receive the lifelike miniature within four to six weeks.
The official logo of inclusive Key West is “One Happy Family.” At Duval and Petronia streets, the four crosswalks feature the stripes of the rainbow flag, a symbol of LBGTQ unity.
For local art, browse the Gallery on Greene, a showcase for Floridian, Cuban American, and international artists. At the Key West Art Center, view works by local artists.
12:15 p.m.: Go Local for Lunch
Take in some Key West history by having a drink or a meal at Sloppy Joe’s at the corner of Duval and Greene. From 1933, the establishment operated as a speakeasy on a nearby street, under a different name.
In 1937, the saloon, then called the Blind Pig, moved to its current location. Hemingway, who patronized both places, convinced the owner to rename the bar Sloppy Joe’s after a Havana spot.
Menu items include conch fritters, pizza, Cuban sandwiches, and the original Sloppy Joe, a mega-sandwich of ground beef with sauce.
At the Conch Republic Seafood Company, try the cracked conch (lightly breaded and fried), crab cakes, or mahi mahi. The restaurant plates burgers, chicken sandwiches, and other items for non-seafood lovers.
1:15 p.m.: Swim and Snorkel at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park
Glistening turquoise water surrounds you in Key West. Take advantage of the setting by relaxing at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park’s beach, home to some of the best snorkeling in Key West.
Combine beach fun with history at the facility on the island’s southwestern coast, just two miles from downtown.
Rental chairs and umbrellas are available, making beach relaxing easy. Since the hard-packed sand is rocky in places, be sure to wear beach shoes. The water is relatively calm and refreshing.
Snorkelers may spot lobster, parrotfish, and other sea creatures near the jetties. The beach area has lockers, showers, and bathrooms.
For lunch, if you haven’t already had some, the park’s restaurant serves burgers, Cuban sandwiches, and other fare.
Before departing the state park, explore the historic fort. Situated where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Gulf of Mexico, the stone fort, completed in 1866 and controlled by Union forces, guarded the area against Confederate forces.
Known for a large collection of Civil War weapons and equipment, the fort’s row of cannons impresses. See them on a guided tour or explore on your own.
3 p.m.: Discover the Booty of Spanish Galleons at the Mel Fisher Museum
Gold coins, gold and silver jewelry, emeralds, and a gold chalice embedded with stones that supposedly neutralize poison are some dazzling exhibits at the Mel Fisher Museum.
Fisher, a persistent and renowned wreck diver, salvaged items from the Nuestra Senora de Atocha and the Santa Margarita vessels, both of which sunk off the Florida Keys in 1622.
After a 16-year search, Fisher found the Spanish galleons in 1985, salvaging more than $400 million in treasure.
Learn about Fisher’s quest, the scientific tools used to identify the sunken vessels, and piracy and the slave trade.
4 p.m.: Take a Key Lime Pie Break
Key lime pie is a famous dessert that Key West is known for. The iconic treat, the official state pie of Florida, uses Key limes, a variety that’s juicier and sweeter than Persian limes.
Locals consider the dessert to have been invented in Key West, although some food historians dispute that. Never mind; the custard and graham cracker crust pie is delicious.
Many places serve delectable versions of this treat. Consider ordering slices from Kermit’s Key Lime Shoppe, Key Lime Pie Company, or the Key Lime Pie Bakery
Key Lime Pie Company. Some places even feature slices dipped in chocolate. Near Mallory Square, El Meson de Pepe, a Cuban restaurant, serves a delicious version called torta de limon, plus fragrant Cuban coffee.
4:30 p.m.: Visit Mallory Square
Key West is the kind of place where there’s a party at Mallory Square every night. Two hours before the sun sets, musicians and jugglers start arriving, as do food vendors and local artists selling canvasses and trinkets.
Locals and visitors gather to watch the sky turn pink and red as the sun dips below the horizon on the Gulf of Mexico. Even if you don’t stay until sunset, you can explore nearby shops, enjoy the panoramic water views, and soak up the joyful vibe as a finale to your one day in Key West.
Inspired to visit Key West and learn more about the culture, food, and history? Browse Celebrity’s cruises to Key West and plan your day in the Conch Republic.