When you think of the best museums in Key West, are science exhibits, art work, or giant skeletons what come to mind?
Or historical artifacts belonging to indigenous people?
Well, actually it’s none of those things!
The truth is that Key West has no typical museums to speak of!
What the city does have is a vast range of specialty museums catering to unique subjects from all over the world.
From shipwreck treasures and culture to prominent personalities such as Ernest Hemingway and President Harry S Truman, Key West has many intriguing museums to entertain visitors.
Visitors can learn about diverse subjects such as Key West Naval and Maritime history, Florida Keys fire-fighters, and Robert the haunted Doll on your trip!
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Best Museums in Key West, Florida
Key West museums offer a wealth of information and are great to visit on a rainy day in Key West.
So which museum in Key West should you visit?
We suggest planning a visit to the Key West museums depending on the interests of your family.
If visiting Key West with kids, choose a museum based on the ages and attention spans of your kids to ensure a fun, informational visit.
Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum
Not many people know that the Nobel prize winning American author Ernest Hemingway spent nearly 10 years of his literary career in Key West.
His house is preserved as a museum and visitors can take guided tours of the structure to appreciate its literary significance.
On a visit, you can see the room Hemingway wrote in, admire the house’s architecture, learn about the author’s life, and watch the famous six-toed cats run amok!
The original six-toed cat – known as polydactyl -was gifted to Hemingway by a man from the Navy.
Several of its descendants still live on the premises and they all have six toes.
Adults and kids alike love to search and photograph them.
The guided tours of the house are about 20 minutes long – short enough to keep toddlers and younger kids entertained – making Hemingway House a popular Key West attraction.
Visitors can learn about the house and see interesting memorabilia and antiques.
Plan a trip during the week to avoid crowds.
Harry Truman Little White House
The Harry Truman Little White House was the Winter White House of President Harry S Truman.
The house has splendid architecture and is beautifully restored with original furnishings.
The home now serves as Florida’s Only Presidential Museum and contains several decades worth of presidential history.
On a guided tour of the house museum, you can see interesting memorabilia, precious antiques from all over the world, the presidents personal belongings, political exhibits, books about his life, and photographs.
You will also learn intriguing historical anecdotes and incidents including how JFK stayed here at the beginning of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The walk around the house is very interesting for older kids and provides a hands-on introduction to American political history.
The tour lasts for about an hour. We recommend advance tickets as the attraction is very popular.
Key West Lighthouse & Keeper’s Quarters Museum
The Key West Lighthouse and Keepers Quarters have been converted into a museum for tourists.
The light is located within the Fort Zachary Taylor State Park.
This historic light was built in 1848 to help sailors navigate the dangerous reefs surrounding the city.
After its decommissioning in 1969, it was converted into a museum and is open to the public via ticketed entry.
The trek to the top of the 50 feet tall light tower along the circular iron staircase of about 90 steps is a thrilling activity.
The views from the top are stunning and worth the climb.
You can enjoy a panorama of the entire island of Key West, the shallow coral reef surrounding Key West, search for sea birds and ships sailing on the sea, and admire the vast expanse of blue water.
Time your trip to watch the sunset views from here – an incredibly romantic experience!
The Keeper’s Quarters serves as an excellent small museum and is filled with exhibits about nautical maps, historic photos, maritime artifacts, keepers logs and life, and more.
The lighthouse ground has picnic tables and is great to rest.
Travel tip: Skip the climb if you are afraid of heights or suffer from vertigo.
Fort Zachary Taylor State Park
Fort Zachary Taylor is a Civil war era fort that was constructed to defend the mainland from a naval attack.
The fort is on the National register of Historic Places and is an amazing historic site in America.
It is preserved as an open museum and visitors can see it on guided tours.
Visitors can see cannons, gun ports, barracks, batteries, and other defense features of the fort and learn more about them through the interpretative panels.
Key West Shipwreck Treasure Museum
Fun fact: Key West was once the richest city in America and all the wealth came from salvaging precious cargo from ship wrecks!
The Key West Shipwreck Treasure Museum is the only museum in the country with a collection of artifacts from Spanish ships that sank off the coast of Florida.
The museum is located in a building recreated to look like a historic wreckers warehouse -wrecker is a person who works among shipwrecks – and even has an observation tower with stunning views.
The collection features over 500 objects collected from shipwrecks including gold doubloons, silver bars, and jewelry.
Shipwreck museum also has an extensive collection on locations of famous shipwrecks, underwater archaeology, and Key West’s maritime heritage.
It is amazing to see the treasures lost at sea and learn how the shipwreck restoration industry impacted the fortunes of Key West in the 19th century.
The museum docents guide the tours and dress up as pirates to the delight of children.
Kids can also search for gold and make their own treasure maps at the museum.
Visiting Key West’s Shipwreck Treasure Museum is one of the best things to do in Key West with kids.
Mel Fisher’s Maritime Museum
Mel Fisher Maritime Museum is another amazing place to take kids who love tales of pirates and lost treasures!
The Mel Fisher Maritime Museum is a museum in Key West, Florida that tells the story of famed treasure hunter Mel Fisher and his discoveries.
The museum has displays of salvaged treasures from Spanish shipwrecks sunk off of Florida’s coast during battles with English ships in the 16th century and the Spanish American war.
Visitors can see exhibits on salvage diving techniques, maritime history of the Keys, as well as panels depicting what life may have been like for Spanish sailors during that time.
Kids love seeing items like gold coins, jewels and silverware.
Key West Museum Of Art And History
The Key West Museum of Art and History is located inside the Custom House.
The museum is managed by Key West Arts and Historical Society. It has many exhibits documenting Key West’s history over the years.
Visitors can see a variety of historical exhibits at the museums as well as see rotating art collections.
Learn about Flagler’s Overseas Railroad, which was the precursor to the Overseas Highway, Key West art work, and see the story of Ernest Hemingway’s ‘Old Man and the Sea’ illustrated in Guy Harvey’s sketches.
The museum also narrates stories of the many hurricanes that have struck Key West.
The museum building itself – the Custom House – is a beautiful prominent building with striking architecture.
Custom House was originally home to Florida’s Custom Office and later served as the Post Office.
It has witnessed decades of Florida Keys history.
The Oldest House Museum
The Oldest House Museum is another free thing to do in Key West with kids.
The house, built in 1829, is the oldest in South Florida.
It is a small and charming structure with a pretty garden.
On a free guided tour, you can learn about the history of the house and Key West from knowledgeable guides.
This free attraction is great for visitors to see the lifestyle of that period and admire the furnishings.
Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! Museum
If you have never been to a Ripley’s Believe it or not Museum, then run now!
The museum is filled with a vast collection of bizarre objects and interactive exhibits.
Teenagers and young adults especially love seeing the exhibits, making it a hit with families.
It is a good place to keep the kids entertained on a hot summer day.
Tennessee Williams Key West Museum
Most visitors know about Ernest Hemingway’s connection to Key West but few know that Tennessee Williams also lived here.
The author called Key West home for over 30 years and has a museum dedicated to him.
On a trip, you can see old photographs, first edition books, and rare videos exploring the author’s life.
The museum is a must visit for literary travelers and Tennessee Williams fans.
Key West Turtle Museum
The Key West Turtle Museum is dedicated to the identification and conservation of sea turtles found in the Florida Keys.
The museum is small but has lots of interesting nuggets of information relating to the 7 endangered sea turtle species.
The museum is also an interesting place to learn about the turtle meat fishing and canning industry.
The industry flourished in Key West and contributed significantly to the city’s growth.
The turtle museum is free to visit, making it a great destination to explore on your Key West trip.
U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Ingham Maritime Museum
This military maritime museum is located aboard the United State Coast Guard Cutter Ship Ingham.
The USCGC Ingham sank German U-boats in the Second World War.
It also played an important part in the Pacific battle for America in the Vietnam war.
The majestic ship is almost 330 foot long and open to visitors on a self-guided tour.
Visitors can climb aboard the museum ship and admire its role and history.
See the ship and its interiors, original military equipment, and living quarters.
Touring the museum is like stepping into a time capsule.
You can envision the life of those who served on the ship in wartime, an incredible experience!
The USCGC Ingham Maritime Museum is a must for military and navy enthusiasts.
‘Sails to the Rails’ Flagler Station Museum
Located close to Mallory Square in a brightly colored building, the ‘Sails to the Rails’ railroad museum is a great stop for kids and adults.
The museum is located at the site of the original Flagler Railroad Depot and combines history lessons with model train exhibits!
Here you can gain an insight into the history of Key West and the Overseas Railroad, inspiration behind the famous Overseas Highway.
In the 19th century the Florida Keys were an island accessible only by sea.
Henry Flagler, founder of the Florida East Coast Railway, took on the ambitious project of building the railroad connecting Miami to Key West.
he built the Overseas Railroad using state of the art technology.
The railroad was severely damaged by a hurricane in 1935 and was sold to the US government.
The government laid a road over the rail bridges and thus, the most scenic drive in America was born.
It is fascinating to see relics of the railroad’s past at the museum.
Audubon House And Tropical Gardens
The Audubon House and Tropical Gardens is a unique museum in Key West located in Old Town area.
The Audubon House was originally the home of one of the richest men in Florida, Colonel Mitchell Wolfson.
The historic house contains many antique treasures and is beautifully restored with period furnishings.
The highlight of the museum is the collection of images of Florida Keys birds by J.J.Audubon, the great ornithologist and painter.
The tropical gardens surrounding the house are pretty with blooming flowers, delicate orchids, ferns, palms, and large shady trees.
Key West Firehouse Museum
The Key West Firehouse Museum is perfect for kids who love fire trucks, firemen, and fire fighting.
At this unique museum, you can get an insight into the history of fire fighting in the Florida Keys.
On a visit, the retired fire chief or other former firefighters take visitors around the yard and firehouse.
The museum has many interesting pictures and artifacts and is great for anybody with an interest in firefighting.
Fort East Martello Museum
Combine kids and haunted ghost tours and you have got an instant vacation favorite!
Very few visitors know about Fort East Martello and the intriguing museum that is located inside it.
Fort East Martello is another impressive defense structure on the island that remains unfinished to this day.
It is home to an eclectic museum filled with a variety of relics!
The museum’s most famous attraction is Robert the Doll, a haunted Victorian cloth doll!
The doll once belonged to author Robert Otto and has an intriguing story which you can learn at the museum.
The museum also features Civil war relics, Stanley Papio’s bizarre metal sculptures, and exhibits on the cigar making industry that flourished in Key West.
Key West’s many unique museums offer an interesting journey into its past. They are great attractions to visit while enjoying a vacation in the Conch Republic.
Did we miss any famous museum in Key West? Let us know in the comments.
More Southern Florida Travel Guides
Here are additional resources to help you plan your Key West trip: