Things To Do In The Florida Keys – History, Water Fun, Eats & Amazing Sunsets!

One of America’s most unique car trips, the scenic 110-mile Overseas Highway promises not just great views of the surrounding ocean, but a string of islands to excite, inspire, feed and entertain you – via an incredible 42 bridges.

Explore the wonders of nature above and below water, local (and locally conserved) wildlife, from butterflies and turtles to birds and dolphins, discover 17th-century Spanish treasure, Hemingway’s six-toed cats, President Truman’s poker table, and the last WW2 warship to down a German u-boat, then get your shopping out of the way so you can get to the sea wall for a fabulous sunset before you head to the seaport for dinner, drinks and dancing. The Florida Keys are truly a world of their own!

We’ve divided this article of recommended must-sees by category of interest – be you a nature lover, history buff, souvenir seeker or a hungry hunter of Florida conch – read on!

For The Hungry, Thirsty And Dancers…

Key West Historic Seaport

The Key West Historic Seaport has something to offer the whole family. For 200 years it was a global maritime trade base – today, it is a 20-acre area housing many of Key West’s best attractions.

Key West Historic Seaport. Source: Management

At the Key West Historic Seaport, you will find restaurants offering some of the freshest seafood on the island, including the famed conch, unique bars, fascinating museums that shine a spotlight on Key West’s history, fantastic places to stay, and numerous boats offering tours to the islands, charter fishing, boating, and water sports excursions.

Key West Historic Seaport. Photo by TravelingBum10

Being the key to all things Key West, the seaport is usually very busy. There’s always something happening, and plenty of great photo opportunities too – whether you’re there to join an excursion or just to stroll along eating, drinking and shopping for local gifts. Watch the fish being cleaned and filleted as soon as the fishing boats are unloaded, then see how the crew feed the scraps to sharks in the clear water. 

The Old Town Trolley and Conch Train run through the area, if you get tired of all that wandering on foot, or you can hire a bike. And don’t miss out on the sunset views!

Mallory Square

A street performer at Mallory Square. Source: Management

Mallory Square, a beautiful area of town set on the historic waterfront, is famous for its sunsets, street performers and shopping. It is also close to many museums, restaurants, souvenir shops, and many of the Florida Key islands’ most popular attractions. Come for the day and stay into the night – there’s always something happening in Mallory Square!

First and foremost, Mallory Square is where everyone goes to celebrate the sunset in Key West. In the past, the streets were packed with a variety of performers, everything from fire eaters and wire walkers to musicians. These days, they are fewer on the ground, though the buzz around sunset is still worth experiencing.

Get there at least 30 minutes before sunset to guarantee yourself a spot on the west-facing sea wall, and enjoy the breeze, the murmuring of the excited crowd, and the sound of music and smell of conch fritters drifting on the air.

In addition, local vendors sell paintings, shells and jewelry, among the most popular and traditional Florida Key souvenirs (we got ourselves a rooster t-shirt!)

Mallory Square vendors. Source: Management

If you’ve come with an appetite, we’ve got a list of the best places to try conch fritters in Key West all ready for you! You’ll also find hotdogs, popcorn, snow cones and other easy-to-eat foods to grab on the go as you explore. Later, hit up a bar or two to prolong the fun vibe – pick the right one and you’ll have the chance to try your feet at some Salsa!

Duval Street

Duval Street at night. Photo by Scott D.

Duval Street is the bustling heart of Key West, and a great spot to experience the city’s diverse culture and nightlife, packed to the brim with inspiring restaurants, lively bars, galleries, and shops selling unique gifts. Yes, it’s a tourist trap, but where better to let your hair down and dive in?!

Duval Street by day. Photo by Tracos22

Duval Street has a wide choice of venues, something for everyone – whatever your taste in music, whether you’re there to dance or people watch, or whether you’re there as a gay couple wanting to feel welcomed – no matter how many days or nights you visit, you’ll never get the same experience twice. Don’t overlook the side streets and hidden nooks and crannies for some crazy gems to eat, drink and dance in!

Get there and around, on foot, by bike, or on the Duval circle bus. Parking can be up to $40/day in some parking lots, so we recommend you leave your car at the hotel. 

March and May are the best times to visit – the weather is still nice and the crowds are smaller.

And don’t forget to get your own photo at the Southernmost Point Buoy, just a block away.

For The Wildlife Lovers…

Key West Butterfly And Nature Conservatory

Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory. Photo by Kathleen Q.

The small but very popular Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory houses more than 50 types of butterflies from all over the world within a giant greenhouse filled with lush greenery, flowing water and winding pathways.

Stroll through with your eyes wide and on the lookout for the 1500 butterflies flittering through the air, resting on leaves, or sitting on the fruit plates to eat. 

And butterflies aren’t the only residents of the tropical conservatory, as you’ll likely spot a fair few colorful birds, among them flamingos, and turtles too!

Be sure to explore the information gallery either before or after your trip into the garden area, as well as the butterfly nursery, displaying the chrysalises. 

Where: 1316 Duval St, Key West, FL.

Open: Daily, 9 – 4:30pm.

Ticket: Adult $15.50, Child (4-12) $12.50.

Dolphin Research Center

The Dolphin Research Center. Photo by Tammy C.

The Dolphin Research Center is a nonprofit education and research facility – every cent you spend here (and you will likely spend a lot!) goes back to the dolphins in their care.

Aside from the fun-filled narrated behavior demonstration session, which runs every 30 minutes, where you can learn all about dolphin maternity, social groupings, physiology, and natural abilities, the DRC offers numerous interactive programs, including the Dolphin Encounter swim program, Family Dolphin Splash, Ultimate Trainer for a Day, VIP Experience half-day program, Researcher Experience half-day program and Paint with a Dolphin. But as the staff tends to be accessible to answer your questions, even with general admission you’ll get an up close and personal experience.

A Dolphin Encounter. Photo by J-E SoDak.

The trainers here are kind and knowledgeable, and clearly passionate about the dolphins and sea lions which live here, and it seems the animals are as well cared for as they can be while in captivity. They say that most of their dolphins were born on-site, while others were injured and rescued as youngsters and deemed non-releasable by the government. We’ll say the ones we met certainly looked happy and healthy!

The research side of the business sees them doing cognition and behavioral research and raising awareness of the importance of conserving them and their ocean habitat. Definitely a place kids can go to learn and gain a better appreciation of nature. 

Take food and water along with you if you’re on a budget as the food truck is not cheap! 

Where: 58901 Overseas Hwy, Grassy Key, FL.

Open: Daily, 9am – 3pm.Ticket: Adults (13+) $35, Child (4-12) $25. For programs and prices, check out their website.

The Turtle Hospital

Patients at the Turtle Hospital. Photo by Hiortdahl

The Turtle Hospital’s mission is to rescue, rehab, and release sea turtles, and your contribution to this with your paid visit not only gives these turtles the chance at life, but in exchange you will get a very informative, educational session about the different species found in the Florida Keys and the threats facing them today.

The guide will explain the treatments offered to the patients before taking you on a tour of the ER and surgical suite. In the yard, you’ll meet the patients and those residents who cannot be released back into the wild, who you’ll have the chance to feed.

The turtle operating theater. Photo by Lisa P.

There are (sadly for them) a lot of turtles at this facility, many of whom were impacted by humans (another thing you’ll learn about while there), though it’s clear the staff know their stuff and really care about what they do – conservation and raising awareness.

Overall, a trip to the Turtle Hospital is an eye-opening and fun experience for all ages. Afterwards, you can “adopt” a turtle or buy some turtle souvenirs. Either way – every dollar spent is going to a good cause! 

Where: 2396 Overseas Hwy, Marathon, FL.

Open: Daily, 9am – 6pm.

Ticket: Adults (13+) $30, Child (4-12) $15.

The Laura Quinn Wild Bird Sanctuary

The Laura Quinn Wild Bird Sanctuary. Photo by Cvc10

The Laura Quinn Wild Bird Sanctuary, open every day of the year from sunrise to sunset, offers a home to more than 100 non-releasable, resident birds, among them hawks, owls, vultures, pelicans, gulls, and songbirds.

While walking around the property, looking into the cages and green enclosures, you’ll get to not only learn about their birds but also about the fragile ecosystems of the Florida Keys. It’s a great way to view a lot of large local bird species close-up and to gain an appreciation of our natural world.

A chirpy resident. Photo by LoveToDive65

The team at the center is clearly dedicated to bird health and rehabilitation, and will readily answer any questions you have about their work and the birds.

While admission is free, they have boxes set up so you can give a donation, which helps the Florida Keys Wild Bird Center’s mission to “rescue, rehabilitate, and release [where possible] native and migratory wild birds that have been harmed or displaced, to provide or locate a humane shelter for those birds that cannot be released, and to educate the public toward the importance of coexistence with all wild bird species.” What a great cause to support!

Where: 93600 Overseas Hwy, Tavernier, FL.

Open: Daily, 7am – 7pm. 

Ticket: FREE.

For Those History Buffs Among You…

The Ernest Hemingway Home And Museum

Hemingway’s writing studio. Source: Management

To be honest, we weren’t sure if this museum better suited this article’s nature section, because while it’s a very interesting destination to head to to learn about Hemingway and his time in Key West, let’s be honest, it’s all about the cats! 

Ernest Hemingway lived and wrote in this house for 10 years, completing around 70% of his best known works. Today, the house is a museum and a National Historic Landmark and Literary Landmark, recognized by the Library of Congress for its importance in US History. 

You’ll be wowed not only by the lovely yellow building itself, and the lush, beautifully kept gardens around it, but also by the residents – the numerous descendants of Hemingway’s famed Polydactyl (six-toed) cats – they are literally everywhere, in and out. If you’re not a cat lover, or are offended by the faint smell of an unchecked litter tray in the air conditioned rooms, you might want to give this museum a miss! For cat-lovers – it is heaven!

Hairy Truman, a six-toed cat. Source: Management

Guided tours run every fifteen minutes from 9am to 5pm. We found our guide to be an admirer and enthusiast of all things Hemingway, and we came away inspired to read (and reread) Hemingway’s works. His studio office was our favorite room, and there are numerous photos, paintings, furniture and other Hemingway possessions on display. 

Don’t miss the gift shop behind the house for some exclusive themed gifts. 

No reservations – walk-ups only, so get there early and aim for a weekday visit!

Where: 907 Whitehead Street, Key West, FL.

Open: 9am to 5pm.

Ticket: Adult (13+) $18, Child (6-12) $7.

Truman Little White House

The Harry S. Truman Little White House Museum. Source: Management

The Harry S. Truman Little White House Museum, Florida’s only presidential museum, which once belonged to the great man himself, makes the perfect rainy day destination. Learn about everything from this country’s 33rd president’s poker playing and his two shots of bourbon a day, to his ordering the dropping of the atomic bomb and why presidents and their wives were required to have separate bedrooms back in the day. Among the many items on display in the air conditioned mid-century house is the newspaper that got the election results wrong, a selection of great photographs, and original furnishings and memorabilia from Truman’s days.

Truman is said to have spent 175 days during 13 vacations in the home, and presidents Taft, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Carter and Clinton also used the house.

One of the bedrooms. Source: Volcanogirl

The tour guides tend to be knowledgeable, fun and enthusiastic, making it a pleasant and educational few hours spent, even if you’re not much of a history buff.

Don’t miss the gift shop!

Where: 111 Front St, Naval Air Station Key West, FL.

Open: Daily, 9.30am-4.30pm.

Ticket: Adult (13+) $22.95, Child (4-12) $10.

Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Museum

Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Museum. Photo by Tiphys

Come discover some real Spanish treasure, retrieved from the sunken 1622 Fleet of Spanish galleons, discovered by Mel Fisher and his crew, just one of the brilliant details that make this so much more than your typical maritime museum.

Treasure! Photo by Ksufan88

Rich in history, all the exhibits are beautifully and very professionally displayed and lit. Alongside the Spanish treasure, you’ll find the Spirits of the Passage and Key West African Cemetery exhibits, giving some valuable insight into the transatlantic slave trade and the Florida Key’s unique role in it. 

They also have three new collections on show: Spanish Coins in the New World, the Real Pirates of the Caribbean, and the Science of Shipwrecks. 

Take a tour of their lab to see how excavation and conservation of shipwrecks works, and hear tales of the shipwrecks found off the coast. 

The Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Museum is a great afternoon diversion whether you’re a shipwreck geek or not. 

Where: 200 Greene St, Key West, FL.

Open: Daily, 10am – 4pm.

Ticket: Adult: $17.50, Child (6-12) $8.50

Key West Lighthouse And Keeper’s Quarters Museum

Key West Lighthouse and Keeper’s Quarters Museum. Photo by Alysse712

Across the street from the Hemingway House is the lighthouse and Lighthouse Keeper’s Museum. Exploring it won’t take up much of your time, but it is time worth spending for the insight into the lives of the light keepers and their families, and for a 360 degree view of the whole Key West island from the top of the 88-step spiral staircase.

Operated by the Key West Art & Historical Society, the museum has a great self-guided tour, sharing lots of information through various displays and signs. The lighthouse family quarters are very interesting and the lenses on display are works of art.

The lenses. Photo by Alexis B.

Where: 938 Whitehead St, Key West, FL.

Open: Daily, 10am – 4.30pm.

Ticket: Adult (18+) $15.50, Child (7-18) $7.50.

For The Water Worshippers…

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

The glass-bottomed boat deck. Photo by FishingwithScotto.

The John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, around Molasses Reef, was the country’s first undersea park. If you’re a confident swimmer, join a 2.5 hour round trip snorkeling tour to get up-close to the corals and beautiful, graceful marine residents, or go scuba diving – they have two locations on offer for two-tank dives, run twice daily, at 9:00am and 1:30pm. Otherwise, you can meet the local sealife from the safety of a glass-bottom boat – there are 70 nautical square miles of fun and discovery to be had! Whichever way you plan to explore the reef, keep an eye out for the sunken Jesus sculpture!

The park territory also offers camping, fishing, swimming, canoeing, kayaking, paddleboarding and barbecuing areas for vacationers.

Scuba diving at the reef. Photo by Ty W.

Feeling adventurous? Take a guided tour into the mangrove swamps, or hike the Wild Tamarind Trail. Note that at the time of writing, the Mangrove Nature Trail was closed for repairs to the storm-damaged boardwalk, but you can enjoy a view of the area (and possibly some manatees) from the new bridge.

There are also two man-made beaches to enjoy here – Cannon Beach, primarily a snorkeling beach, with the remains of an early Spanish shipwreck some 100-feet offshore, and Far Beach, with palm trees making it the perfect place to swim or simply relax in the sun.

And be sure not to miss the Visitor Center either when you arrive or before you go – it’s packed full of useful info, and has a 30,000-gallon saltwater aquarium, whose fishy residents are fed in front of visitors daily at 11am, and six 100 to 200-gallon aquariums showcasing some of the park’s marine inhabitants. You can also get food and drink there, and choose from a selection of souvenirs at their gift shop.

If you prefer to avoid crowds, visit on weekday mornings. Reservations are always recommended, especially during the holidays.

Where: 102601 Overseas Highway (MM 102.5),Key Largo, FL.

Open: 8am until sunset, 365 days a year.

Ticket: $2.50 per person, or $8 per multi-occupant car. Each tour is priced differently. Check the state park website for more details.

African Queen Canal Cruise

African Queen Canal Cruise. Photo by Shelly L.

For anyone old enough to remember the movie “African Queen” with Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn, or who has an interest in history, this boat trip is simply a must! The boat itself is the original from the movie, though the steam boiler is just for show – it now uses a modern outboard, which is much safer.

Captain Eddie will welcome you on board, take photos for you, and readily chat to you about the boat and its history as he navigates you through the canals for an enjoyable 90 minutes on Key Largo waters.

Choose a canal tour leaving daily at 10am, 12am, 2pm, 4pm and 6pm. On Fridays and Saturdays at 6pm they offer a dinner cruise to the Pilot House Marina where you can disembark and enjoy dinner in the restaurant before boarding the boat once again for the return trip to the Marina Del Mar. You can reserve a similar lunch cruise if you are a group of at least four.

Captain Eddie. Photo by DanOrlando

We recommend watching the movie before you take this cruise. It adds a whole different dimension to the experience, and will prepare you for Captain Eddie’s fun, fact-filled pop-quiz!

Where: 99701 Overseas Hwy, Key Largo, FL.

Open: Daily at 10am, 12am, 2pm, 4pm and 6pm.

Ticket: Adult (13+) from $59, Child (4-12) from $25.

U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Ingham Maritime Museum

U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Ingham Maritime Museum. Photo by Thorsten

The 327-foot Cutter Ingham served in World War 2 and Vietnam. Before its retirement from service in 1988, it was “the most decorated ship in United States Service,” as noted in a letter from President Ronald Reagan in the exhibit room. It is the last American warship still floating to have sunk a German U-Boat in WWII, and served as the Flagship for the seaside operation of General MacArthur’s return to Corregidor in the Philippines. 

It is now a National Historic Landmark and museum ship, and is as intact as the day it retired.

Below decks. Photo by Rebecca L.

Take yourself on a self-guided, pre-recorded audio tour, so you can set your own pace and enjoy the history. Friendly staff are on hand to offer details and answer questions.

Note that there are many flights of steep ladders and narrow staircases to go up and down during the tour as you explore how the mariners lived and worked in the 1980s. We recommend you go in comfortable, non-slip and closed-toe shoes.

One area of the ship has been converted into a really insightful mini museum with pictures of the ship while it was still in service.

They also have a small gift shop and a bar area where you can buy a beer or wine and sit on the covered deck and enjoy the view after your tour – an exceptionally good place to be at sunset! Check out their happy hours every Friday and Saturday evening.

Where:  Southard St, Key West, FL.

Open: 10am – 4pm. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

Ticket: Adult (13+) $15, Child (7-12) $5.

The Takeaway

The Florida Keys has something for everyone – whether you want to eat, drink, dive, or dive into some local history. We hope this guide has inspired you, though we know this is only scratching the surface of the fun and discoveries the Keys has to offer!

What Else Can I Do In Florida?

An easier question to answer might be “what can’t I do?” because Florida seems to have it all, year-round!

Let’s start with some hot spring soaking – a therapeutic mineral bath followed by a bit of kayaking and nature appreciation. And where better to feel nature’s loving vibe than at a private Florida campground or lazing on a secluded Florida beach (or even exploring some of Florida’s best tide pool beaches!)?

And if you’re thinking of making a day or a vacay of it for your birthday, check out this listing of where to spend your birthday in Florida!


While we at Traxplorio do our very best to give you the most up-to-date information, we always recommend you do your own research before you travel, and check conditions and prices with official sites. Thanks for understanding, and enjoy your adventure!

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