From colorful murals to lavishly painted historic homes, Key West will surprise your family with a new adventure around every corner. A buzzing seaport rich with arts and culture, Key West isn’t just a warm place to chill in the sand (though there’s plenty of that, too).
Combining a laid-back beachy vibe with a wild, vibrant history, it’s one of the most exciting historic cities in the U.S. Think your kids don’t love history? Shipwrecks and snorkeling will soon have them thinking otherwise.
Read on for six of our favorite historical attractions in Key West, sure to create memories that will stand the test of time.
1. Hemingway Home & Museum
Although passages from A Farewell to Arms might not be on the bedtime story list, there’s still lots to love about visiting the Key West home of author Ernest Hemingway. Not only do you get eyeballs on the home, gardens, and writing studio where one of America’s greatest writers lived, kids will love a visit here for one other very cool reason: the Hemingway cats.
Home to around 60 six-toed (polydactyl) cats, the descendants of Hemingway’s own six-toed cat named Snow White, you’ll spot these cats everywhere. Although friendly, visitors are asked not to approach the cats. Should they approach you, however, you are welcome to pet them. Sit in the beautiful gardens for a few minutes, and don’t be surprised if more than one friendly feline comes swishing against your legs.
Tip: Don’t skip the gift shop, where book lovers and cat aficionados will find plenty of unusual souvenirs.
- Open every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- No reservations, cash only.
- Visit: hemingwayhome.com
2. Key West Shipwreck Treasure Museum
A literal treasure trove of items salvaged from shipwrecks, the Key West Shipwreck Treasure Museum is an interactive museum that takes visitors back in time to the 1850s when being a “wrecker” was a thriving industry: collecting items left behind on the shore after shipwrecks. After you’ve explored the lively and sometimes dark history of Key West’s early pioneers, climb to the 65-foot lookout tower for one of the best views in town.
Tip: You can bundle tickets to the Shipwreck Museum and the Key West Aquarium for reduced admission.
- Open every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- No reservations; buy tickets online or at the kiosk at Mallory Square.
- Visit: keywestshipwreck.com
3. Key West Lighthouse & Keepers Quarters
Almost directly across the street from the Hemingway Home, you’ll find the Key West Lighthouse & Keeper’s Quarters. Not only is the lighthouse from 1848, it holds a cool piece of Key West history: the first Keeper was a woman, a rare occurrence at the time. Climb the 88 steps to the top for excellent views and roam the grounds and quarters to explore what life was once like as a lighthouse keeper.
Tip: Groups of 2-8 can book the lighthouse for a special Lighthouse Sunset Experience, which includes snacks, treats and wine.
- Open every day 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- Purchase discounted tickets online in advance.
- Visit: kwahs.org/lighthouse-keepers-quarters
4. Historic Ships
Let your inner pirate board a historic ship for a sailing adventure you’ll never forget. Keep in mind Key West offers dozens of sailing and boat excursions, many of which leave from the same harbor in the historic district, so when booking, be sure you’re getting the one right for your family. For swashbuckling types, we recommend taking one of the historic ships like the Schooner Jolly Rover, a red-sailed tall ship, complete with cannons, or the smaller-but-just-as-mighty Schooner Appledore, which makes its way from Camden, Maine, to spend the cooler months in Key West. It’s a pirate’s life!
Tip: Pack medicine for motion sickness for any would-be sailors who haven’t gotten their sea legs yet.
5. Fort Zachary Taylor State Historic Park
If you love the idea of spending a day swimming and building sandcastles, head over to Fort Zachary Taylor State Historic Park. From rambling nature trails to white sand beaches to shallow waters teeming with fish, this is the local’s secret for a perfect tropical playground. And while there are plenty of shady palms, when you want to get out of the sun, take a narrated tour of Fort Zachary Taylor, a pre-Civil War era red-brick fort that also houses the world’s largest arms cache of the Civil War (more cannons!).
Tip: You can rent snorkel gear right at the beach!
- Open 8 a.m. to sunset every day. Fort Taylor closes at 5 p.m.
Park fees are by vehicle ($6.50) or by pedestrian ($2.50) if you arrive on foot
- Visit: floridastateparks.org/fort-zachary-taylor-historic-state-park
6. Dry Tortugas National Park
For an epic day of history and outdoor adventure, visit Dry Tortugas National Park. Made up of seven keys—Bush, Garden, Hospital, Loggerhead, Long, and Middle—it’s on Garden Key you’ll find the historic 19th-century Fort Jefferson National Monument. In addition to the beautiful historic fort, hit the waters for gorgeous swimming and snorkeling abound.
Ponce de León named these islands Las Tortugas for the many sea turtles present, but it was not long before explorers discovered there was no viable drinking water on the islands, hence the name Dry Tortugas. As such, parents should know there is still no drinking water and very limited amenities. Board the high-speed Yankee Clipper catamaran in Key West’s historic seaport, and then prepare for a 2-hour one-way journey to arrive at Fort Jefferson. Fort Jefferson does have a visitor’s center and bookstore, but no drinking fountains or restrooms.
Tip: You can use the facilities onboard the ship and the Yankee Freedom provides a breakfast snack and box lunch on day trips, as well as water.
- The Dry Tortugas is open 24 hours, 7 days a week.
- Garden Key Visitor Center inside Fort Jefferson is open 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every day.
- Visit: nps.gov/drto
Key West is home to dozens of other amazing attractions families will love, nearly all of which are within walking distance of one another. Visit fla-keys.com/keywest to plan your next family getaway.