Dotted Globe contains affiliate links. If you click one of them, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Read my full Disclosure here. Thank you!
Also Read: Best Beaches to Camp in the USA
While most people tend to think of Key West as a party destination, the southernmost city has many family-friendly attractions. We made the Miami to Key West Drive to celebrate our son’s first birthday and had a blast doing a host of kid-friendly activities. Even the notorious Duval Street has many attractions for kids during the day. In fact, Key West is probably as kid-friendly as New Orleans (what, you didn’t about the many things to do in New Orleans with kids? Then you should totally check out our post) or Chicago or Orlando with its many theme parks. Key West was one of our favorite family vacation destinations. Here is what we recommend as must things to do in Key West with kids:
MOST POPULAR THINGS TO DO IN KEY WEST WITH KIDS
Key West has many popular tourist attractions that are a must for visitors of all ages. These are a hit with kids and families and basically everyone wishing to check Key West off their bucket list. We recommend visiting these top-rated tourist attractions and making memories with your kids.
Mallory Square is one of the most happening places in Key West. The sunset celebrations here every evening are lively and tourists can enjoy a variety for street performances. Our son stared in awe at the fire-eater and stilt-walker and tapped his foot in rhythm to the musicians. Mallory Square also has many food stands: we especially enjoyed the guacamole, corn on the cob, and key lime pie. Kids always enjoy the bustling activity of Mallory Square and it is one of the most popular things to do in Key West for families.
Southernmost Point Buoy
The Southernmost Point Buoy is a must visit for everyone going to Key West. While it is not actually the southernmost point (the real point is located on private land) a photo with the famous concrete buoy with ‘90 Miles to Cuba’ written on it is a long-held Key West tradition. Kids will enjoy visiting the buoy and the photo will serves as a great keepsake of your trip to the southernmost city. We recommend walking around the buoy to enjoy its views, and looking for the Key West ‘One Human Family’ mural on the concrete sidewalk. The buoy is very crowded during the day and we recommend visiting early in the morning or late evening to avoid the lines of tourists.
US 1 Mile Marker 0
If you are doing the Miami to Key West drive in a car via the Overseas Highway (and you totally should, here’s 10 reasons why) then the US 1 Mile Marker 0 is your end of the road. A photo of the entire family here is a must! The mile marker is located a short distance away from the Green Parrot bar and you need to keep your eyes peeled for the road sign.
Key West Historic Seaport And Harbor Walk
Key West Seaport is a lively dock with 200 years of history. The seaport has many attractions for kids including tarpon and fish watching from the docks. We walked along Margaret Street in the area along the Turtle Kraals restaurant and found many tarpons and other fishes swimming underneath the boats. Our son enjoyed watching the fishes swim at such a close distance. Turtle Kraals holds turtle races in the evening on some days and kids of all ages love watching them. The seaport also has many shops, boutiques, and souvenir stands and is the best free thing to do in Key West with kids.
Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park
Fort Zachary Taylor is a historic Civil War era fort located along the beach in Key West. The beach is beautiful and the park has many big trees and picnic tables. On a lucky day, you can also see dolphins from here and the water is excellent for snorkeling. The sunset view from here is amazing, so if you are in Key West for multiple nights we recommend viewing the sunset from here after you have attended the sunset celebration at Mallory Square on the first day.
While most people think of Duval Street as Key West’s party hub, this area looks very different during the day. It kind of reminds me of the New Orleans French Quarter: crazy party paradise at night, lots of eateries, sightseeing, quaint architecture and art galleries during the day. The street is also great for people watching and stepping inside eclectic shops. The thing to remember about visiting Duval Street with children is to avoid it at night and during celebrations like the Fantasy Fest in October.
Contrary to what most people think, Key West is not a great beach destination. The city is not known for it’s because but for it’s water based activities including snorkeling, dolphin watching etc. If you do want to spend some time on the beach, Smathers Beach is a good white sand beach in Key West with free parking. The beach is not as nice when the seaweed washes in but is great at other times for swimming and sunbathing.
South of the White Street Pier (see below), lies the Higgs Beach. This is a great free beach to visit in Key West with the kids. Beach parking is also free and the beach with its pretty palm trees and picnic tables is great for families. There is an African Cemetery containing the graves of enslaved men, women, and children who came to Key West aboard slave ships next to Higgs Beach. The memorial is nice to visit with older kids though not so much for the younger ones.
The Basilica Of Saint Mary Star Of The Sea
Built in 1904, the Basilica in Key West is beautiful and definitely worth a visit. The basilica has an interesting history; according to legends as long as the our Lady of Lourdes grotto stands, it will protect the city of Key West from full brunt of a hurricane. Guests are welcome for Sunday Mass; Ernest Hemingway also attended mass here on occasion. The church has striking architecture with intricate detailing, beautiful French doors and is warm and inviting. The church also has rosary path and graves of 18 nurses and clergy who served the parish. The outdoor garden is also beautiful and a tranquil place.
St Paul’s Episcopal Church
A gem on Duval Street, St Paul’s is a Grand Episcopal Church and has stunning architecture with stained glass windows, beautiful wooden beam ceiling, and striking structure. Most tours of Key West take visitors to the St Paul’s Episcopal Church. The incredible stained glass windows are a photographer’s dream and loved by everyone visiting the church; this church is a favorite with kids, adults, and families alike.
Key West Cemetery
The historic Key West cemetery is worth checking out with older kids or kids with an interest in history. Just like the above-ground cemeteries of New Orleans, the Key West cemetery is located above ground to protect the dead from hurricane damages, floods, and to increase space. There are graves dating back to the 19th century in the cemetery and many of them are now weathered and illegible. The cemetery has many special areas dedicated to Cuban freedom fighters, Confederate sailors, and soldiers aboard the Battleship Maine which was blown up in Havana during the Spanish-American War.
HIDDEN GEMS AND UNDER THE RADAR THINGS TO DO IN KEY WEST WITH KIDS
The attractions below are not that well-known or frequently visited but they all are a great hit with kids because of their uniqueness and experiential nature. Many of these attractions include understanding nature and wildlife and are a natural hit with kids. We definitely recommend adding these to your itinerary to keep your little travelers happy.
Nancy Forrester’s Secret Parrot Garden
The secret Parrot Garden has unique history; environmentalist Nancy Forrester has been rescuing abused and orphaned parrots for almost three decades and has created this place just for them. Everyday from 10 am to 11 am, Nancy explains about the parrots and lets visitors get up close with a few in an interactive talk; visitors coming after 11 am are free to explore the garden by themselves. The colorful parrots and macaws are beautiful and the secret parrot garden is undoubtedly one of the best things to do in Key West with kids.
Key West Garden Club And Martello Tower
Located inside the ruins of West Martello Tower, the Key West Garden Club has many tropical plants and orchids. Great to wander around, the garden club is one of the best free things to do in Key West with kids. West Martello Tower is a Civil War era fort and smallest of the 3 forts in Key West. It’s also located next to the Higgs beach, making it a great stop to admire the gardens and nature while at the same time getting some Florida sun. The garden club has many sections including butterfly garden, gazebo, orchids section, bonsai plants, and large trees. The gazebo has pretty ocean views. The garden also has many small salamander lizards which are a favorite with many kids. The garden is run on donations and we strongly recommend giving them back for all the good work they do.
Key West Butterfly And Nature Conservatory
In general we love visiting butterfly museums and our son likes watching the butterflies at Cockrell Butterfly Center in Houston’s Museum of Natural Science. That’s why when we came to know about the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory, we knew it was worth a visit. Visitors can see colorful and beautiful butterflies fly around in a humid, climate controlled environment and maybe even experience a butterfly land on you. The conservatory also has tropical birds and flowers and is a must for all nature lovers.
Florida Keys Eco Discovery Center
An instant hit with kids like our son who loves fishes, the Florida Keys Eco Discovery Center is my favorite for three reasons: it has an aquarium (yay, fishes), the entry is free, and it is the best place to learn about the Keys wildlife. We learnt a lot about the Florida Keys fragile ecosystem including the coral reefs and the large scale conservation efforts necessary to keep it safe. We also learnt about Aquarius Reef Base, the world’s only underseas ocean laboratory located in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
White Street Pier
White Street Pier is where you go when you want to see Key West from the water but don’t want to charter a sailing tour. White Street Pier is a long concrete Pier that extends out into the water and is known in Key West as the ‘unfinished road to Cuba’. The pier is great for bird watching, an evening stroll and to watch the sunset. You can also fish and walk on the pier and this is a great place to let the kids run free while you enjoy the ocean air. The pier is also great place to be at sunrise. In windy weather the waves crash along the pier making it great place to watch the surf.
Key West Wildlife Center
Visited by very few tourists, the Key West Wildlife Center is another free thing to do in the city with kids. The center cares and rehabilitates many injured birds including hawks, herons, pelicans, and ospreys. The center also has an aviary for the Key West chickens who are then rehabilitated to an organic poultry farm in central Florida.
Sheriff’s Animal Farm
The Sheriff’s Animal Farm is one of the best hidden gems in Key West. All the animals here are rescued or orphaned and are completely taken care of by the inmates of the correctional facility. The Sheriff’s animal farm contains a variety of rescued animals including a sloth, rabbits, alligator, tortoise, snakes, llama, ferret, pigs, and horses. Kids get to pet some of the animals and the entry is completely free. The Animal Farm is open only on 2nd and 4th Sunday every month, so we recommend checking the timing before you go.
Memorial Sculpture Garden
Another under the radar attraction, the Memorial Sculpture Garden is located to the entrance of Mallory Square and is full of Key West history. It has beautiful sculptures of Key West’s notable persons and narrates their contribution towards the development of the city. We love this free thing to do in Key West as it also allows kids to run about and relax. There are also a lot of chickens in the trees which kids find amusing. Also compared to its location in Mallory Square, it is always quiet and has no crowds.
SPECIALITY MUSEUMS AND RELATED THINGS TO DO IN KEY WEST WITH KIDS
Key West has many specialty museums that have a wealth of information on a range of subjects including recovered shipwreck treasures (think pirates!), Ernest Hemingway, President Harry Truman, Key West naval and maritime history, Florida Keys fire-fighting history and even a museum related to Robert the haunted Doll. We suggest choosing the museums depending on the age of your kids and their interests to ensure they are not bored and everyone has great family time together.
Ernest Hemingway Home And Museum
Not many people know that 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 to understand the literary significance, see the room Hemingway wrote in, view the house’s architecture and the famous six-toed cats. A navy man gifted Hemingway with a six-toed cat (polydactyl) and descendants of the pet cat still live on the premises. The guided tour is just 20 minutes long, short enough to keep toddlers and younger kids occupied while olden kids and teens will enjoy learning about the house and seeing interesting memorabilia and antiques.
Mel Fisher’s Maritime Heritage Museum
If you have kids that are excited by pirates, naval fleets, maritime history, and shipwrecks then the Mel Fisher’s Maritime Heritage Museum and the Shipwreck Treasure Museum (see below) are must stops on your Key West itinerary. The museum tour starts with interesting biographical information on Mel Fisher, a treasure hunter who discovered many shipwrecks full of gold. The museum has numerous treasures acquired from shipwrecks on display including beautiful jewelry, gold and silver bars, etc. The museum also has information on pirates and early slave trade.
Shipwreck Treasure Museum
Visiting the Shipwreck Treasure Museum is absolutely one of the best things to do in Key West with kids. The museum is located in a building recreated to look like a historic wreckers warehouse (wrecker is a person who works among shipwrecks) complete with an observation tower. This is a cool place to see real treasures and understand how shipwreck shaped the economy of Key West in the 19th century. The museum actors playing the role of pirates which delights children.
Key West Museum Of Art And History
More for older kids with an interest in historical events, The Key West Museum of Art and History has many exhibits documenting Key West’s history over the years. There are exhibits about Flagler’s Overseas Railroad (the precursor to current Overseas Highway), Ernest Hemingway’s ‘Old Man and the Sea’ story described in Guy Harvey’s sketches, and the many hurricanes that have tested Key West. The museum also has rotating art exhibitions.
The Oldest House Museum
The Oldest House Museum is another free thing to do in Key West with kids. The house, built in 1829 and the oldest in South Florida, is small and charming with a pretty garden around it. We learnt a lot about the history of the house and Key West on a free guided tour. Our guides were knowledgeable and interested in giving the tours. This free attraction is great for kids to see the lifestyle of that period and admire the furnishings.
Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! Museum
If your kids have never been to a Ripley’s Believe it or not Museum, then the one at Key West is a great place to take them. More for older kids (preteens and older), the museum has a vast collection of bizarre objects and interactive exhibits. It is especially a good place to drop in and divert the kids if you are visiting Key West in summer and the temperature is in the high 90s.
Tennessee Williams Key West Museum
Most visitors know about Ernest Hemingway’s connection to Key West but few people know that Tennessee Williams spent more than 30 years in the city. The exhibit has many old photographs, first editions of several of his works, and rare videos. The exhibition is a must for his fans and for kids with literary interests.
Key West Lighthouse Museum
The Key West Lighthouse and Keeper’s Quarters have been converted into a museum for tourists. Climbing up the lighthouse with its circular stairs of about 85-90 steps is a favorite with kids. You can see the entire island of Key West from the top and the views are just stunning. This is not really for those with a fear of heights or vertigo, but is great fun if your kids are into climbing. The lighthouse yard has picnic tables and is great for kids to play.
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 that once flourished in Key West and contributed significantly to the economy. The turtle museum is another free thing to do in Key West with the kids.
U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Ingham Maritime Museum
This is a military museum located aboard the almost 330 foot long ship Ingham which served in World War II and the Vietnam war. The warship sunk German U-boats in the world war. Today visitors can climb the floating museum and see how service men lived on warships during the war. The ship and its interiors can be seen in a self-guided tour; the ship has all the original equipment just as it was the day it was decommissioned. The tour is great for kids of all ages and they will appreciate the opportunity to board the ship.
Overseas Railroad Museum
The railroad museum combines a unique history lesson for adults with lots of train exhibits for kids. This is a great stop if your kids like trains plus it is located close to Mallory Square in a brightly colored building. I love exploring the history of Key West and the Overseas Railroad. In the 19th century when the Florida Keys were accessible only by boat, Flagler took on the ambitious project or building out a railroad to Key West. The road was known as Overseas Railroad and was completed using state of the art technology. After being damaged by a hurricane, the line was sold to the US government who laid a road over the rail bridges. It is fascinating to see relics of the railroad’s past at the museum.
Harry Truman Little White House
President Harry Truman had his Winter White House in Key West and the building serves as Florida’s only Presidential Museum. The museum is filled with lots of interesting memorabilia and still has the original furnishings. Visitors can view everything from the Truman days on a guided tour. This tour is very interesting for kids as well (pre-teens and teens), especially with all the cannons, and provides a hands on experience learning American history. The tour lasts about an hour and visitors learn a lot of history including facts like JFK staying here after the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Audubon House And Tropical Gardens
The Audubon House is a unique museum in Key West. Originally the home of one of the richest men in Florida, the house contains many treasures and has been beautifully restored with period furnishings. The tropical gardens surrounding the house are incredibly pretty. The house has the collection of beautiful paintings of Florida Keys birds by J.J.Audubon, the great ornithologist and painter, and is named after them. The gardens have orchids, and other exotic tropical blooms along with large shady trees. The Audubon House will appeal to older kids who are interested in art and history.
Key West Firehouse Museum
Great for little people who love everything about fire trucks, firefighters and fire fighting, the unique Key West Firehouse Museum has lots of information on the history of fire fighting in the Florida Keys. The small tour is with the retired fire chief or other former firefighters and takes 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 older kids and haunted or ghost tours and you have got an instant vacation favorite. White the West Martello Tower and its garden is relatively known by tourists, the Fort East Martello Museum totally flies under the radar. The museum’s famous attraction is Robert the Doll which according to legends is haunted and once belonged to author, Robert Otto. Other attractions are equally interesting including the Civil war relics, Stanley Papio’s bizarre metal sculptures, and the cigar making industry and allow visitors a greater understanding of Key West history. Fort East Martello is the third fort in Key West and remains unfinished with an impressive structure.
BEST KID-FRIENDLY TOURS TO DO IN KEY WEST
Key West Old Town is a great place to explore with your kids. The streets are great for walking and taking in the old world charm, the buildings are full of striking Key West architecture, and there are many speciality shops and eateries to relax if you get tired. Below are some of the best tours to see the Old Town.
Self-Guided Walking Tour Of Key West Old Town
In our opinion, this is the best tour to see Key West with kids because it’s free. The Old Island Restoration Foundation has a great DIY walking tour map and description called ‘The Pelican Path Self-Guided tour of Key West’. We printed out the tour and visited many of the best Key West attractions including Mallory Square, Ernest Hemingway House and Museum, Oldest House Museum, and Duval Street. The tour is pretty easy to follow and makes a great introduction to the city. We didn’t even complete the our, we just stopped when our son go tired and went into a street side shack for lunch.
Key West Hop-On And Hop-Off Bus Tours
We usually love Hop-on Hop-off tours to explore cities when traveling with kids. It saves the effort of carrying strollers or carriers for babies and toddlers while older kids do not get tired and can enjoy all the attractions. The Key West hop-on and hop-off tour is pretty good with lots of narration of Key West’s early history (something I particularly enjoy) but the best part about this our is that kids under 12 can ride for free.
Old Town Trolley Tour
Old Town Trolley is a great way to experience the best of Key West in a 90 minute (if you don’t get down) fully narrated tour. We love this tour for those with babies and toddlers; the trolley tour is short and comfortable enough to keep even the smallest of kids happy. The trolley tour visits Key West’s 12 important stops including the and guests can get down at each stop and explore for as long as they like. The trolleys return to each stop every 30 minutes and you can catch it to the next stop. For the best experience, we recommend completing the entire tour at first and then going to back to stops that most interested you.
Conch Tour Train
While most cities have Old Town Trolley tours and Hop-on Hop-off tours, no one else has the Conch Train Tour and that’s why we think this is a cool way to see Key West especially if your kids are into trains (who aren’t, especially toddlers and preschoolers?). This is also a hop-on hop-off type of tour except the kids get to sit on a cool train that drives on the roads while you hear all the interesting history behind the southernmost city. All Aboard!
Bike And Pedicab Tours
If your kids are into biking, then they will love the bike tours of Key West Old Town. Tourists get to see Key West’s most popular sights, understand the history of the island, explore its charming streets all the while indulging in a great bike ride. The tour guides cater to the kids interest, keep an eye on everyone’s biking ability, and have great local knowledge about the city. The tours offered by Key Lime Bike Tours are quite popular with tourists. If you want to tour the city without breaking up a sweat, then you will enjoy the Pedicab tours.
Key West Seaplane Tours
To get a different view of the southernmost city, we recommend taking one of the many available Key West seaplane tours. The seaplane tours have a unique view of the coral reefs, rich marine life, and the buildings of Key West. The tours are usually half an hour long and have spectacular views. The experience of open cockpit flying is a sure hit kids kids.
WATER SPORTS BASED THINGS TO DO IN KEY WEST WITH KIDS
Dry Tortugas National Park Ferry Ride
This was by far our favorite water based excursion in Key West. The full day trip aboard the Yankee Freedom III ferry to the remote and secluded Dry Tortugas is breathtaking. Dry Tortugas islands are home to the Dry Tortugas National Park, one of the least visited national parks in the country. Once on the islands you can explore historic Fort Jefferson, snorkel in pristine waters, play in the sand or hike the Moat trail. Our son enjoyed splashing in the water and seeing all the cannons atop the fort.
The coral reef surrounding the Florida Keys and Key West is the largest in the country and the third largest in the world. Snorkelers get to see colorful corals, sponges, schools of fish, stingrays, and sea turtles on the shallow water reefs. Sometimes we also saw lobsters, jellyfish, nurse sharks and even tarpons. We would recommend everyone to snorkel in Key West or atleast take a glass bottom boat tour (see below). Many snorkeling tours also involve swimming with the dolphins while others take tourists to snorkel over Key West’s ancient shipwrecks.
Scuba Diving Tours
Scuba diving tours from Key West are available for certified as well as non-certified scuba divers. If you chose a non-certified tour, you will be exploring the colorful coral reef under the supervision of a PADI-certified divemaster. The non-certified tours are perfect for beginner teen divers who are doing their first dive. The coral reefs of Key West are like a never ending aquarium and the opportunity to observe marine life from close quarters is breathtaking.
Glass Bottom Boat Tours
Glass bottom tours are perfect for those who want to see Key West’s rich marine life without actually getting into the water. The crystal clear water surrounding Key West creates a perfect opportunity to watch stingrays, manta rays, sea turtles, corals, sharks, and other colorful tropical fish. These tours are especially perfect for families with babies and toddlers as it provides a more inclusive experience. While we didn’t do the glass bottom tour in Key West, we did the one at John Pennekamp in Key Largo and had great fun. Out toddler enjoyed watching the fishes and corals.
Full Day Water Adventure Tours
Many companies including Sebago Key West offer full day water adventure tours which are perfect for older kids. The tour involves spending an entire day aboard a catamaran and indulging in snorkeling over the colorful coral reef, kayaking through the mangroves, riding a banana boat, paddle boarding, jet skis, and parasailing. Everyone can chose activities of his or her own choice throughout the day. The amount of time spent on water performing different activities makes this tour a great hit for kids.
Sail Boats And Schooner (Tall Ship) Tours
While Key West’s legendary sunset champagne and dinner cruises and sailing tours are perfect for romantic couples, the sailing tours that depart throughout the day are great for families. The tours are a great way to see and explore Key West from the water and understand the city’s rich history from your captain. Older kids can even try to steer the boat under the captain’s watchful eye.
Dolphin Watching Tours
The waters near Key West are prime habitat for the bottlenose dolphins and consequently a number of dolphin watching tours depart from Key West. The wild dolphins can be easily found in an area known as ‘Dolphin playground’ where they come to mate and feed. These dolphins are native to the Atlantic Ocean and travel in pods giving visitors a beautiful opportunity to see the playful creatures in their natural habitat. Kids as well as adults are excited to see the dolphins making this a popular activity. The tours offered by Fury Water Adventures combines dolphin watching with snorkeling over the Florida Keys coral reef with all gear being provided by the operator.
Many fishing trips can be chartered from the Key West harbor. The trips take visitors deep-sea fishing and the trips can be chosen at any time of the day including night tours. The organizers provide baits, fishing equipment, and licenses and avid fishermen can try their luck at catching sharks, mackerels, and grouper. The fishing trips are interesting for older children and families since they involve a day spent on the ocean.