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Head to the southernmost point in the United States for a true taste of the tropics. Key West, Florida is a quirky, vibrant little island that feels worlds away, ​​famed for its sunsets, turquoise waters, and wooden gingerbread houses painted in the pastel pinks and greens of the Caribbean.

Located at the very end of the picturesque Florida Keys archipelago, Key West is close to Cuba and the Bahamas, giving it that Caribbean flair without leaving the US. And although it’s famed as the home of key lime pie, this destination offers much more, from high end art galleries to literary festivals and cool bars.

With both land and sea-based activities to entertain everyone, a unique culture, and a buzzing food and beverage scene, Key West caters to all ages and interests. One thing’s for sure; this charmingly eccentric oasis knows how to pack a lot of fun into its eight square miles.

Discover all the fantastic things that make this tropical island such an amazing destination.

Key Lime Pie

What is Key West known for - key lime pie

Key lime pie

Dessert lovers will swoon over the opportunity to taste authentic key lime pie in the place where it was invented. The original tart treat is made out of the key limes that grow on the island and here, they do it right.

Historically, the pie was a favorite of fishermen and is believed to date back to sometime in the 1800s. The delicious dessert filling contains egg yolks, sweetened condensed milk, and key lime juice, of course, usually over a crunchy graham cracker crust.

Famous store of Kermit’s Key West Lime Shoppe

Kermit’s Key West Lime Shoppe

Key West is host to several bakeries and culinary hot spots that offer traditional key lime pie. Although you’ll find it on most menus, there are a couple of celebrated establishments selling the classic pie that are a must.

Perhaps the most well known is Kermit’s Key West Lime Shoppe where you can try the treat in pie form, or frozen and dipped in chocolate, on a stick. Another popular spot is Key West Key Lime Pie Company.

Excellent Snorkeling

Crab spotted while snorkeling in Looe Key Reef Marine Sanctuary

Looe Key Reef Marine Sanctuary

Explore the thrilling underwater world surrounding Key West, where you’ll find rich and diverse marine life. The Gulf of Mexico and the warm Atlantic waters provide ideal conditions for snorkeling, with fantastic clarity. Join a boat trip and venture out to some of the most popular snorkeling sites; you’ll discover shipwrecks and a wide array of colorful marine life.

Encounter up to 150 species of tropical fish with a snorkeling expedition to the HMS Looe, a shipwreck located at the Looe Key Reef Marine Sanctuary. This well-known spot is popular with both snorkelers and divers and offers the chance to see marine life such as barracuda, angelfish, moray eels, and even sharks amongst the rainbow-hued coral.

For any level of snorkeler, the Sand Key Lighthouse is a fantastic choice and an unforgettable experience. This historic lighthouse is encircled by a rich reef, where you may see snapper, triggerfish, grouper, sea turtles, and nurse sharks.

Read: Where to Find the Best Snorkeling in the Caribbean 

Culinary Treats

People eating conch fritters

Conch fritters

Food enthusiasts will be in culinary heaven when visiting Key West. Food tours are a wonderful way to experience all the delicious culinary offerings, dipping into some of the top eateries to sample the local specialties that Key West is known for beyond the iconic key lime pie.

Indulge in some fresh seafood; conch fritters and conch chowder are local delicacies, whether you’re at a top restaurant or a laid-back street food shack. Key West pink shrimp and Florida lobster are also popular choices that are served as fresh as it gets. With Cuba a mere 90 miles away, good Cuban food is easy to find in Key West as well.

What is Key West known for - Peppers of Key West

Peppers of Key West

Get spicy with some classic Key West hot sauce at Peppers of Key West. Seemingly every kind of pepper is made into a delicious sauce that you can try and purchase to bring home as a souvenir.

Beautiful Beaches

Turquoise waters of Smathers Beach

Smathers Beach

Lounge on Key West’s white sand beaches and relax in the Florida sunshine. Head to the southern shores for Smathers Beach, one of the city’s most popular stretches of sand. The almost mile-long beach has everything, whether you simply want to chill with a good book and admire the view or join a game of beach volleyball.

Woman looking at the clear blue waters of Fort Zachary Taylor Park

Fort Zachary Taylor State Park

Or claim your patch for the day on the white coral sands of Higgs Beach, located on the edge of Old Town and a well-loved destination for a dip in the calm, shallow waters. Watersports, a playground, a wooden pier, and even a dog park can also be found at this fun seaside destination.

For a side of history with your beach experience, Fort Zachary Taylor State Park is an excellent choice. A Civil War fort and guided tours highlight the storied past of this historical landmark.

Stretch your legs on the lush nature trails and enjoy fantastic snorkeling off the white sand beach here, where parrotfish, snapper and lobster are common. Pack a picnic or pick up lunch at the beach café; you won’t want to leave this natural seaside paradise.

Rich Literary History

Front porch of Ernest Hemingway House

Hemingway Home & Museum

Throughout history, Key West has been a favorite of famous writers both as a temporary retreat and permanent residence. Visit the house-turned-museum of one of the most well-known residents, Ernest Hemingway.

Tour The Hemingway Home & Museum, where you can stroll the hallways once walked by the novelist, and get a glimpse into his life in Key West during the 1930s. You’ll likely spot a few of the famed six-toed cats that still inhabit the leafy grounds too.

Another enthralling stop on your literary tour is the Tennessee Williams Museum on Truman Avenue. Exhibits detail the playwright’s life and history, particularly during his time living in Key West from 1941 until his death in 1983.

Other celebrated authors and poets who have sourced inspiration during their time in Key West include Robert Frost, Shel Silverstein, and Judy Blume.

Lively Bars

People hanging out at Sloppy Joe’s

Sloppy Joe’s

Embrace the colorful bar scene that Key West is known for. Authentic pubs, live music, and entertainment abound here.

Head to the popular Duval Street, the center of the action, where you’ll find that there is always something going on. The restaurant and bar-lined street stretches just a mile long, but is host to many lively establishments serving ice-cold drinks and a buzzing atmosphere.

Make sure to stop into Sloppy Joe’s, a Key West icon since 1937 and former hangout of Ernest Hemingway. The bar is open all day, with live music from lunchtime.

Mallory Square is another legendary Key West destination, where you’ll find street entertainers and live music all day long. This is the place to come for food vendors, gift shopping, and tropical clothing, but above all, for rum runners or a Hemingway-inspired mojito on the waterfront.

Exciting Watersports

What is Key West known for - watersports

Parasailing in Key West

Experience some of the best of Key West’s outdoor life with a wide selection of exciting watersports. Enjoy the sea as your playground with snorkeling, diving, jet-skiing, fishing, stand-up paddling boarding, and more. Embark on a thrilling jet ski tour around the entire island or catch a thrill with a higher vantage point on a parasailing expedition.

If you’re interested in spotting wildlife from above the surface, too, head out on a dolphin-watching cruise where you’ll have the chance to see graceful marine mammals swimming and jumping in the clear Key West waters.

Or paddle your way through the shallow waters of the lush mangroves in a sea kayak. You could see sea turtles and rays, and in the trees above, tropical birds and basking iguanas.

Read: Fun Things to Do in Key West With Kids 

Amazing Architecture

Aerial view of Key West's Old Town

Old Town

Historic buildings adorned in pastel shades are one of the most enchanting sights that Key West is known for. Stroll the city’s Old Town to discover the structures known as “conch houses”, dating back to the 1800s with a Bahamian influence in their clapboard facades and wide balconies.

Marvel at the blend of elegant architectural styles in the Old Town, many dating from the 19th century and featuring Colonial, Victorian, and Queen Anne designs with tropical touches and white picket fences.

These old houses range from sea captains’ mansions to modest cigar makers’ homes and reflect the style of Key West’s early settlers. All the buildings have been beautifully restored to protect the island’s heritage.

Historic Lighthouses

Lush landscape of the Key West Lighthouse

Key West Lighthouse

For a small island, Key West is host to an impressive six lighthouses in total. One of the most popular to visit is the Sand Key Lighthouse, perched in the water and known for excellent snorkeling in its vicinity.

The Key West Lighthouse, right in town, dates back to 1848. Here, dive into the rich maritime history with a visit to the Key West Lighthouse and Keeper’s Quarters Museum. The keeper’s quarters feature photographs and other artifacts detailing the history of lighthouses all along the Florida Keys. Climb 88 steps to the top of the lighthouse where you’ll be rewarded with a stunning panorama of Key West and the surrounding seas.

Souvenir Shopping

Inside a souvenir shop in Key West

Souvenir shop in Key West

Key West is full of quirky, arty shops and boutiques perfect for browsing and souvenir shopping. From island treasures to iconic culinary gems, you’ll have no problem finding a Key West gift to take home.

Purchase something tequila-based at the well-known Margaritaville store on the bustling Duval Street, the heartbeat of the town. Other notable Key West souvenirs include Keys Salt Scrub for the spa-lovers, pickles at the Pickle Baron of Key West, delicious raw honey, and coffee from the local Baby’s Coffee.

If you’re a fan of key lime pie, stop into one of the famous bakeries and grab a piece or a whole pie to ship home.

Read: Tips for Buying Souvenirs in Port 

Botanical Garden

Butterfly at the Tropical Forest and Botanical Garden

Tropical Forest and Botanical Garden

In addition to the beautiful ocean to explore, Key West is known for the Tropical Forest and Botanical Garden, 15 acres of native gardens and forest. Wander the boardwalks through the property’s lush grounds, where trees native to the Keys, Cuba, and the Caribbean are nurtured and protected. Since the mid-1930s, volunteers have tended the gardens, a job known as the “keeper of the trees”.

Learn about the indigenous flora, endangered species, and vegetation of Key West. You’ll also have the chance to spot tropical birds, dazzling butterflies, and subtropical plants. Spot wild terrapins sunning themselves by the pond, and keep an eye out for the elusive bald eagles and herons.

Read: Best Things to Do in Key West for Couples

People eating at the Kermit’s Key West Lime Shoppe

Kermit’s Key West Lime Shoppe

From culinary indulgences to aquatic adventures, a visit to Key West is always memorable. On a luxury cruise to Key West, you can experience all the amazing things that make this island destination so unique. Browse itineraries on our website and plan your tropical vacation today.

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Free Vacation Planning Services