10 Quirky Issues To Do In Key West, Florida (& Huge Journey Information)

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Travel guide to Key West Florida! Things to do in Key West, from drag shows to ghosts to snorkeling to Key Lime Pie. Key West Florida is one of the best quirky USA travel destinations!

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Colourful coral reefs. Six-toed cats. A haunted doll. Key West, Florida could also be one of the crucial distinctive locations in America: roosters roam the streets, drag queens rule the nightlife, and Cuba’s shut proximity colours its historical past. Your entire island is a colourful, tropical feast for the senses. Is that this paradise? I believed it might be much less …. bizarre?

To actually respect Key West in all of its quirky glory, you additionally must get to know its lengthy historical past of pirates, bootleggers, and nonconformists; its resident ghosts and grave-digging iguanas; and the resident animals who name it dwelling.

So, we tapped an insider to provide us the news on Key West’s most unusual and fantastic locations to assist us out. Right here’s every little thing you’ll want to know to plan your journey, and all of the quirkiest, finest issues to do in Key West! Take it away, Haylee!

Psst: Planning a visit to Florida? Try our journey guides to different locations close by:

Key West FAQ’s

Listed below are a number of useful issues to know whereas planning your journey to Key West:

  • When is one of the best time to go to Key West? The perfect time to go to Key West is late fall. By this time of yr, will probably be within the 80s-90s throughout the day and the wet season shall be ending, so that you received’t have to fret as a lot about random showers interrupting your day. The height summer season vacationer season will even have ended, so the island shall be much less crowded and locations to remain will usually be cheaper. 
  • Ought to I lease a automotive? I wouldn’t suggest it. The island is so small you may Uber/Lyft to the place you’re staying, then stroll or bike to just about every little thing else you’ll want to. For those who do select to lease a automotive, I’ve to warn you, as a horrible driver myself, I’d NEVER drive in Key West. The roads are tremendous busy, not solely with automobiles, however with mopeds and bicycles. For those who do select to drive, deliver change: you’ll be parking on the road more often than not and many of the meters solely take precise change. The one good thing about renting a automotive is that you would be able to take a scenic drive down the Abroad Freeway, the place you may cease and take footage of the ocean only some ft away from the highway.
  • How do I get to Key West? You’ll be able to fly straight into the Key West Worldwide Airport and take a Lyft to your lodging. Though I hate most airports, I simply have to like this one. It’s only one room, with two baggage claims, and one safety guard who simply seems at you and nods. Yup, this airport is simply as relaxed as the remainder of the island. And if you wish to get began with the comfort the moment you get on the island, there’s a tiki bar. That’s the structure: tiki bar, safety guard, two baggage claims, and a rest room. It’s superb.
  • How do I get round in Key West? You’ll be able to stroll and bike all over the place! Key West is a compact island, and many of the locations you’ll wish to go to shall be not more than a 5-15 minute stroll or brief bike trip, relying on the place you’re staying (extra on that beneath).
Footbridge to the Smathers beach at sunrise in Key West, Florida.
Footbridge to the Smathers seashore at dawn in Key West, Florida. Welcome to paradise!

Issues To Know Earlier than Going To Key West

I’m fairly certain that due to all of the ridiculous information tales that come from Florida – from Florida Man memes to a lady whose pet gator rides a motorbike and wears garments – the remainder of the nation thinks that Florida (at the least outdoors of Disney World) is a bizarre thriller land.

Effectively, I’m not going to argue with that. However for those who actually need Florida weirdness, it’s a must to go to Key West.

Key West is Florida’s quirky little island paradise. It has an extended historical past of army involvement as a consequence of its strategic location, in addition to being thought of a protected place for LGBTQ+ folks. When you received’t discover Mickey Mouse right here, there are many drag exhibits, a residing doll, and lots of cats.

There are a number of extra issues you’ll want to learn about Key West earlier than you go (that will or might not really assist you plan your journey):

  • There are lots of chickens in Key West. You’ll hear and see extra chickens than you ever have earlier than in your life right here. Cockfighting was widespread in Key West within the 1800s and 1900s, till it was banned. When that occurred, all of the chickens had been all of a sudden launched to the island. Nobody made an effort to eliminate them, and now they’re welcome on the island as pleasant wildlife. So don’t contact or feed them: they’re wild!
  • Key West can be crammed with six-toed cats. I blame Ernest Hemingway, who lived there and had a 6-toed cat, so it’s doubtless lots of the cats on the island are associated. Whereas most of those cats are pleasant, please don’t attempt to pet them. They’re nonetheless wild animals and as a normal rule of thumb, don’t attempt to pet wild animals.
  • … and in addition iguanas. The inexperienced iguanas are an invasive species believed to be stowaways on ships from Central and South America, they usually’re thought of fairly a neighborhood nuisance (apparently, they prefer to dig up graves). That stated, go away eradication to the professionals. Iguanas are superb, stunning animals and also you would possibly suppose it’s okay to choose them up for an image – however it’s not okay. It stresses the animal, they usually may severely harm you with their claws! In your personal security, don’t contact them.
  • Key West is an LGBTQ+-friendly place! Within the 70s-90s, Key West was thought of a protected place for younger LGBTQ+ folks to go in the event that they wanted shelter. Right now, Key West’s tradition is essentially formed by LGBTQ+ traditions and occasions, and also you’ll see Pleasure flags flying everywhere in the island year-round! (The subtext right here is that if any of that makes you’re feeling uncomfortable, perhaps simply keep dwelling and do some inside reflection.)
  • Florida has a big homeless inhabitants, particularly on Key West. Going to the Keys, you will notice poverty proper subsequent to very wealthy folks, and you probably have some additional change or meals, it received’t go unappreciated by them. Please needless to say the parents experiencing homelessness are our neighbors, and never a blight or an eyesore. Among the of us that you will notice may additionally be scuffling with psychological sicknesses. Though this may be startling, keep in mind that these individuals are in way more hazard than you might be, and are unlikely to hurt you in any method. Homelessness is traumatic, significantly for the mentally unwell, whose situations will be exacerbated by the stress of homelessness.  Please take into account serving to the native homeless neighborhood by donating to the Florida Keys Outreach Coalition. You can also make a monetary donation on-line or donate clothes, non-perishable meals, and unopened hygiene gadgets at Loaves & Fish Meals Pantry at 2221 Patterson Ave in Key West.
  • Key West as soon as seceded from the USA and declared itself the Conch Republic. In 1982, the usgovernment arrange a roadblock supposed to seize the numerous immigrants coming from Cuba, simply 90 miles away. It additionally inconvenienced vacationers, who’re the monetary spine of the native financial system. Effectively, Key West is just not a spot for passive folks, and that didn’t sit nicely with them. So Key West’s then-mayor declared himself Prime Minister of the Conch Republic and instantly declared warfare on the USA of America by symbolically halving a stale loaf of Cuban bread over the top of an individual sporting a U.S. Navy costume. He surrendered one minute later, however that wasn’t the top of the Conch Republic’s battles with the US authorities: within the mid-90s, the Republic attacked a Coast Guard ship with water balloons, conch fritters, and off bread. They dispersed when the Coast Guard sprayed a hose again at them. Wikipedia has a brief run-down on the whole tongue-in-cheek-but-also-not-really historical past!
  • Take the trolley! If you’d like a fast method round city AND to get some historical past when you’re at it, use the Hop-On Hop-Off Trolley Tour, which matches to 13 spots round city and is a enjoyable, academic option to spend a day. The trolley additionally doubles as a ghost tour late at evening – extra about Key West’s resident ghosts later.
  • Pack a raincoat. Concentrate on the truth that it may well rain at actually any minute, particularly within the mid-summer to early fall season. And when it rains, it pours. A mini-rainstorm can come out of nowhere and disappear 15 minutes later. For those who hate rain, my finest recommendation is to both be taught to adore it, or pray to the rain gods that you just’ll be blessed sufficient to not expertise any rain. If these choices don’t work, simply deliver a poncho.
  • Key West seashores are literally fairly rocky. Regardless of its picture-perfect look in most pictures, lots of spots on the island are fairly rocky on the shore, then step by step the rocks give option to a sandy backside. These could be a ache to stroll over to get to the sandy a part of the ocean, so water sneakers or Teva sandals are really helpful.
Private beach in Key West, Florida
You should definitely pack loads of reef-safe sunscreen, to guard Key West’s native underwater habitats and ecosystems!

What To Pack For Key West

I’m not going to let you know precisely what number of attire or pairs of shorts to pack (I belief you may determine that out by yourself) BUT I do have some recommendations for must-have necessities. Throw these in your carry-on suitcase (that is our favourite!) and also you’ll be all set.

  • Light-weight Journey Clothesline: Keep away from the dreaded seashore chafe and cling your bathing fits up on this sturdy clothesline that matches within the palm of your hand! Tip: cling it up in entrance of a sunny window fairly than in your damp, darkish toilet for sooner drying.
  • Reef-Secure Sunscreen: Going into the ocean? You’ll have to put on coral-friendly sunscreen. Except you hate coral, fish, and in addition all of human life. Reef-safe sunscreen is designed to biodegrade and never hurt ocean life. Common sunscreen bleaches coral and ensures humanity’s swift dying from local weather change. So please, for the love of society’s inevitable collapse, don’t put on common sunscreen within the ocean! Right here’s a full-sized bottle and right here’s a travel-sized model for carry-on baggage.
  • Mineral Sunscreen: That is the least dangerous sort of sunscreen, in response to science. It’s higher each on your physique and for the setting.
  • Rash Guard: Because you’ll be snorkeling and swimming and usually spending lots of time together with your naked again going through the tough solar, I extremely suggest bringing alongside a rash guard, which is specifically designed for swimming in salt water. There are even swim leggings made out of swimwear materials, which is ideal as a result of my butt is at all times the very first thing to burn after I’m snorkeling. This cuts down on the quantity of sunscreen you want, which is a win/win since I hate sporting sunscreen and it’s not nice for marine life!
  • Snorkel Stuff: Bringing your personal snorkel gear is a lot extra snug than the equipment often supplied with excursions, and it offers you the choice to snorkel by yourself on the areas really helpful beneath! As many of the locations really helpful listed below are protected to snorkel and not using a tour you need to throw a snorkel masks and somewhat bottle of anti-fog spray in your suitcase.
  • Water Footwear: For each minute that you just’re not sporting flippers, you’ll wish to be sporting these. Whether or not you’re attempting to stroll over rocks – they’re fairly, however they harm so unhealthy – or simply wading into some water, your un-cut ft will thank me later. I swear by my trusty Tevas, and Jeremy likes basic close-toed water sneakers. A reader not too long ago urged these nifty water sneakers that appear like cute tennis sneakers and will be worn out and in of the water, and we’re excited to attempt them out! (Right here’s the dude model.) You’ll be able to learn extra about our favourite journey sneakers in our journey sneakers evaluations for males & for ladies.
  • Journey Towel: I at all times deliver a light-weight, quick-drying, packable full-sized journey towel with me to the seashore! I additionally suggest bringing a sandproof Seaside Mat to take a seat on.
  • Fast Drying Shorts (His & Hers): Jeremy picked up a pair of these shorts to double as each his warm-weather every day clothes merchandise and his swimsuit. They’re a 2-for-1, which is tremendous handy for journey, they usually work nice! They dry shortly, making them good for hopping out and in of the ocean after which resuming your regular journey actions. They by no means get soiled or wrinkly and at all times look trendy. There’s additionally the ladies’s model, made out of the identical stretchy quick-drying materials as my mountain climbing pants.
  • Extremely-Mild Rain Jackets (His & Hers): Our favourite rain jackets are among the finest jackets for journey. They’re ultralight and pack down into nothing in order that they’re simple to hold round, they usually’re extremely water repellant. They’re an ideal just-in-case merchandise to throw in your day bag, together with a travel-friendly umbrella.

For extra packing ideas, take a look at our curvy-girl pleasant seashore packing listing!

The place To Keep In Key West

Except you’re planning on making the 2-hour drive from the mainland to Key West twice in at some point, you’re going to want someplace to remain. I like to recommend staying proper in the course of all of it near Duval Avenue within the stunning, historic Previous City space.

One key factor to notice, although: though there are many AirBnBs on the island, native rules require a 28-night minimal keep. So for those who’re not a distant employee on the lookout for a month in paradise, you’ll wish to e book a resort, resort, condominium, or correctly licensed trip rental. I’ve included a number of picks beneath.

  • Boutique Resort: The charming Wicker Guesthouse is positioned only one block from the Ernest Hemingway Home, with a tropical backyard and an out of doors pool. Rooms embrace microwaves and a small fridge, you may lease bikes on-site, and also you’re solely a 10-minute stroll from South Seaside.
  • Trip Dwelling: The Secret Backyard provides an enthralling non-public oasis, with two bedrooms, a totally stocked kitchen, and entry to a shared pool.
  • AirBnB: The brilliant, sunny Sugarpoppy Cottage is colourful, charming, budget-friendly, and has one of the crucial inviting non-public swimming pools I’ve ever seen – simply steps from the bed room. It’s only a block from Duval Avenue, so that you’ll have your personal non-public oasis within the heart of all of it. I’ve by no means been so tempted to choose up and transfer to Key West for a month as I’m taking a look at this place.

The Greatest Issues To Do In Key West

Go Snorkeling in a Coral Reef

One of the enjoyable methods to benefit from the native setting is snorkeling! People, I’m OBSESSED with snorkeling. Coral reefs are a complete new world to discover: beneath the blue water there may be an abundance of fish and neon-colored coral to see. With all of the life right here, you may keep within the water for hours and nonetheless end up noticing new particulars, with sea critters swimming each which method. 

However earlier than you go snorkeling, a number of essential notes: at all times use the buddy system, don’t contact the coral -for your security in addition to its – and be sure you’re sporting reef-safe sunscreen, NOT common sunscreen.

For those who’re not assured about your snorkeling expertise otherwise you’ve by no means gone earlier than, we included a number of guided tour choices.

What wildlife can I see whereas snorkeling?

Key West has lots of huge, stunning fish! Among the ones to maintain an eye fixed out for whereas snorkeling are:

  • Parrotfish: Key West has an abundance of Parrotfish! Rainbow Parrotfish are particularly eye-catching, and the Humphead Parrotfish are bigger and rarer. For those who go snorkeling and see these fish close to coral, cease swimming for a second and listen- Parrotfish hold coral clear by utilizing their enamel to scrape them, and you’ll really hear this within the water.
  • Manatees: Manatees are tremendous cool to see within the water! You usually tend to see them in areas with seagrass fairly than a coral reef, since they graze on seagrass. For those who see a manatee, take into account your self fortunate since you simply noticed a mermaid. It’s thought that sailors began the legend of mermaids by mistaking manatees for people with tails from afar. 
  • Dolphins: The Keys are crammed with bottlenose dolphins, so the probability of you seeing a number of leaping and taking part in within the water is fairly excessive. Dolphins in Florida oftentimes give delivery in spring and summer season, so for those who go to throughout these instances attempt to hold an eye fixed out for any small calves swimming proper underneath their moms. Sure excursions, like this one, will take you to particular spots the place bottlenose dolphins have a tendency to hang around!
  • Stingrays: To see stingrays in Key West, you’ll have to essentially hold an eye fixed out. Stingrays have a tendency to put within the sand and relaxation so that you would possibly swim proper over one with out even noticing it! The best option to spot a stingray in sand is by on the lookout for a sandy rock that seems to have eyes, and typically a tail if the actual stingray is feeling too lazy to bury itself in all the best way. Nonetheless, if a Large Manta Ray passes by you, you positively received’t be capable of miss it. When these rays are born, they’re already six ft huge, and an grownup can soar by the water with lengths of 24 ft.
  • Sea Turtles: For those who’re actually fortunate, you would possibly see a sea turtle! A number of species dwell within the Keys. The commonest ones are Loggerheads and Inexperienced sea turtles. Sea turtles are most frequently discovered floating alongside within the currents, trying extra relaxed than any beach-goer. 
  • Sharks: Most sharks right here aren’t significantly harmful species- nurse, lemon, and sandbar sharks are the most typical. I really noticed a sandbar shark one time whereas snorkeling! There has by no means been a deadly shark assault within the Keys- simply don’t be the primary by attempting to pet one, as cute as they’re. 
Coastline of Fort Zachary State Park in Key West, Florida
Fort Zachary State Park is without doubt one of the finest locations to spend a day snorkeling and taking part in on the seashore in Key West, Florida.

The place can I’m going snorkeling in Key West?

Key West is surrounded by reefs, however they’re somewhat methods offshore – the best option to get to them is by boat. That stated, there are a number of nice locations across the island to snorkel and see a few of these ocean creatures of their native habitats:

  • Fort Zachary Taylor State Park: The one reef I do know of that you would be able to moderately swim to is the one in Fort Zachary Taylor. The admission for pedestrians is $2.50 and you’ll spend the whole day there- there’s not solely swimming, however the park is understood for having many tropical species of birds you may see. These reefs could also be your finest likelihood to catch a glimpse on the elusive sea turtle as nicely! Since you may be by yourself on this reef, be sure you deliver your personal snorkeling gear or lease one on the park (both method, pack anti-fog spray).
  • Dry Tortugas Nationwide Park: Due to efforts by the native authorities to maintain the island reefs alive, this reef is wholesome and glad – so if you wish to see one that’s actually thriving that is the place to go. It’s colourful, with quite a lot of coral species and loads of fish to see! Dry Tortugas can be dwelling to historic Fort Jefferson. Observe that in an effort to get to Dry Tortugas it’s a must to take a ship and buy an entrance price to the Nationwide Park. This present day journey contains spherical journey ferry service, snorkel gear, breakfast and lunch, and an non-obligatory guided historic tour.
  • E-book a Snorkeling Tour: The advantage of snorkel excursions is that they may present snorkeling gear and assist from the guides, together with the information’s data on the world and native animals. This snorkel tour takes you out to the Nice Florida Reef –  the one residing coral barrier reef in the USA and the third-largest on the earth – on a 69-foot catamaran for Three hours of enjoyable within the water. Or, take a raffle on the Island Journey Eco Tour: every tour is completely different and the snorkeling location varies relying on the climate and what animals are swimming round the place! It’s also possible to select to finish your afternoon with kayaking at sundown – what an ideal Key West day!
Outside of the Audubon House in Key West, Florida.
The Audubon Home is called for white supremacist and chicken fanatic John Audubon, however was initially dwelling to a rich shipwreck scavenger who made his cash promoting pillaged valuables. Photograph Credit score

Test Out Key West’s Historic Properties

Key West’s historical past has formed it into the quirky vacation spot it’s right now, and is mirrored in its many historic properties and native legends. Understanding Key West’s historical past makes wandering its colourful streets all of the extra fulfilling!

Earlier than the island’s identify was anglicized, to Key West, it was referred to as Cayo Hueso, or Bone Island, by the Spanish who charted the island in 1513 after they had been off on the lookout for the Fountain of Youth.

Earlier than the arrival of the Spanish, the Florida Keys, together with Key West, had been inhabited by the Calusa and Tequesta peoples, who had been often called expert fishermen and knowledgeable sailors. Sadly, each the Calusa and Tequesta folks had been decimated by the late 1700s as a consequence of European illnesses and conflicts.

The island was an necessary burial floor for the Calusa folks and the Spanish named the island after the numerous human bones they noticed, however there may be some debate that the identify may be attributed to the limestone rocks and reef formations that additionally seemed like big sun-bleached bones.

Whereas Key West’s waters might have hosted pirates on occasion, it wasn’t till the early 1800s that there have been everlasting Spanish residents of the island. Ultimately, Spain transferred management of the island to the USA in 1821, nevertheless it’s simple to see the affect of Spain, and close by Cuba on the island to this present day, particularly in Key West’s historic properties and landmarks.

Listed below are among the most well-known historic spots you may take a look at on the island:

Ernest Hemingway House in Key West, Florida
The Hemingway Home! You might or might not be a fan of Hemingway’s “manly” writing and reputed womanizing, however you may’t deny that his home and its resident cats are fairly cute. Photograph Credit score

Hemingway Home & Museum

Hemingway Home & Museum is in Previous City Key West, and this yellow, ethereal, many-windowed house is within the French Colonial fashion with many artwork deco accents on the within. This can be a actually huge attraction on Key West for good cause – Hemingway was a prolific author throughout the 1920s and 30s, and he wrote two of his most well-known books on this very home: A Farewell To Arms and To Have and Have Not.

Ernest Hemingway lived in Key West for years, making the island his everlasting place of residence within the 1930s, and is the person who I’ve determined to completely blame for all of the cats on the island (in response to the official web site, greater than forty cats, who’re all named, dwell right here).

On a private notice, did anybody else have an English instructor that was WAY too into Hemingway? Or was it simply me??

Customized Home/Key West Museum of Artwork & Historical past

The second home you need to see is the enduring purple Customized Home, simply off of Mallory Sq. in one of many primary components of city. The home was constructed within the 1800s and was the Customs constructing in Key West. Through the Spanish-American Struggle, the Customized Home was dwelling to the U.S. Navy Division’s board of inquiry into the sinking of the USS Maine in Havana, which ultimately led to America formally declaring warfare on Spain.

Right now, the Customized Home is the location for the Key West Museum of Artwork & Historical past. A lot of its everlasting exhibitions relate to the Spanish-America Struggle, the Cuban Missile Disaster and Key West’s function in these historic occasions. Since there’s a naval base on the island, radar and intelligence stations had been arrange on Key West throughout the 1960s. Through the blockade of Cuba, reconnaissance planes had been housed right here to simply fly over Cuba and monitor for the presence of nuclear weapons.

For true crime lovers like me, there are additionally a number of darker displays chronicling among the tales that might be straight out of a Gothic novel. One in all these displays is a couple of “love story” (psyche, it was really horrifying and creepy) between a neighborhood German physician and his affected person, who died of Tuberculosis.

As an alternative of accepting her dying – and the truth that she simply wasn’t into him – homeboy stole her corpse, slapped some make-up on it, and lived with it for SEVEN YEARS till he was caught (AHHHHH). You’ll be able to be taught all in regards to the creepy story of Carl Tanzler on the museum.

Audubon Home Museum & Tropical Gardens

Now often called the Audubon Home, this dwelling was initially owned by John Geiger within the 1840s, a person who profited off of shipwrecks and enslaved human beings. Within the 1800s, the wrecking trade was huge in Key West due to the treacherous close by reefs, and males like Geiger – uh, government-sanctioned thieves, I suppose? – would take and resell valuables from the ships. He turned one of many richest males on the island.

Throughout this time, anti-abolitionist, white supremacist, and chicken fanatic John Aubudon visited the house and was fascinated by its gardens, and right now is assumed to have discovered inspiration from the birds flitting in regards to the colourful foliage. He later rose to fame as, roughly, “that man who pants birds.”

A lot of his chicken work line the home to this present day, and when the museum was opened in 1960 full along with his art work, it was named after him. You’ll be able to go to the museum to get an thought of how rich folks as soon as lived in Key West.

  • Editor’s Observe: Sadly, evidently the museum has chosen to depict a one-sided narrative concerning the rich former house owners of the house and the well-known painter it’s now named after, fairly than tackling the hard-to-swallow reality about how their wealth was made by potential by enslaved women and men. It’s excessive time for museums like this one to transform their narratives to be extra trustworthy, and for us as vacationers to withhold our monetary help till that shift takes place. For historic accuracy in regards to the ugly actuality of rich life within the Antebellum south, we suggest visiting the Owens-Thomas Home in Savannah, Georgia – learn our Savannah submit to seek out out why – or one in all these historic home museums as an alternative.

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