Key West is sand, sun, and fun—the epitome of a Florida beach town. But it’s also so much more. Packed with history and culture to spare; state and national parks that wow; and some of the best sunlit scenery in the Sunshine State, Key West is so much more than a laidback Florida community (though it’s that, too). So brush the sand from your flip-flops and head out to explore all that this lovely place has to offer. Below are some of the best things to check out in Key West when you need a break from the beach.
6 Old Town Literary Walking Tour
Lovers of lit and fans of history will love this tour, where travelers can learn about literary heavy-hitters like Tennessee Williams, Ernest Hemingway, Shel Silverstein, and Robert Frost—all former residents of Key West. Visitors gather at the Monroe County Public Library (the oldest in the area), before embarking on this 90-minute walking tour that’s both fun and educational. Tickets can be purchased online or in advance.
- Fun Fact: Hemingway fans will also want to check out The Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum to learn more about the storied author; see where he lived, and check out a boatload of memorabilia. There are also lovely grounds and gardens to explore.
5 The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory
A cool spot to check out more than 50 species of butterfly and 20 species of exotic birds, the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory is a great spot to see some colorful winged wonders. A relaxing, educational, and low-key spot for visitors to learn about everything butterfly; all in the comfort of their glass-enclosed conservatory. You might even spot a flamingo or two!
- Fun Fact: The Learning Center is a cool place to see live caterpillars in their natural habitat as they munch away on their host plants. It’s also a great place to learn some fun scientific factoids about butterflies and their life cycles.
4 Dry Tortugas National Park
A national park that’s situated mostly over open water? Yes, please! Dry Tortugas is a one-of-a-kind spot to see plenty of marine life and birds in Key West—and it’s also an extremely popular tourist destination, so be prepared for large crowds. Visitors to this fun spot can also swim and snorkel to their heart’s content, making it a great all-in-one day trip with something for everyone.
- Fun Fact: Dry Tortugas is also the site of Fort Jefferson, built in the early 19th century as a defensive bulwark on the coast. Divers will also want to go deep to check out the early 20th century buried wreckage of the iron-hulled ship Windjammer, discovered in 1971 by archaeologists.
3 Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park
A state park and national historic monument all rolled into one, Fort Zachary Taylor is more than just a place for history buffs—its scenic beach location (one of Key West’s best) makes it a cool stop for those who don’t want to leave the beach too far behind.
- Fun Fact: Visitors can learn all about the fort and its role in the Civil and Spanish-American Wars, either via a guided tour or on their own. Be sure to check out the world’s largest collection of Civil War armaments while you’re there.
2 Key West Lighthouse & Keeper’s Quarters
Those looking for the best of Key West’s many fantastic views should take an afternoon to visit the Lighthouse and Keeper’s Quarters. Climb to the top (88 steps!) to the observation deck to get some Instagram-worthy panoramic views of Key West and the surrounding area. Though the lighthouse was decommissioned in 1969, much of the previous keepers’ memorabilia still remains for guests who want to learn more about this lovely location’s history.
- Fun Fact: The lighthouse also offers a ‘Sunset Experience’ package for those who want exclusive access to the lighthouse and its views, the keepers’ quarters, and the grounds (for up to 90 minutes). Catch a glorious Key West sunset while sipping on a complimentary bottle of wine and snacking on artisanal meats and cheeses for a truly memorable vacation moment. Tickets start at $300.00 for small groups (2-4 people).
1 Harry S. Truman Little White House
Harry S. Truman spent almost 200 days at this lovely Key West home during his presidency. Lovingly restored to its original 1949 condition, visitors can take a tour of where the Truman family lived and worked during their time in Key West. Take a guided tour to learn more about Truman and his presidency.
- Fun Fact: The Little White House isn’t just the home of former President Truman, it also served as command headquarters for an important U.S. Navy base during the Spanish-American War. The nearby Key West Naval Station is what brought President Truman to Key West in the first place, as it was recommended he travel there to rest and recover after having a cold.