If time is limited and you only have one day to spend in Key West, here are the must see places to visit.
Once you’ve parked your car, try to orient yourself by north and south as all the main thorough fare streets run north and south. As you are walking, look for the Key West Trolley stops or the Conch Train stops. Any of those locations will tell you how to get to the main booths to purchase a ticket. Buying a train or trolley ticket is so worth it in Key West! The amount of history, information and the number of sites you will get to see on the tour outweigh your frustration of trying to navigate the streets on either foot or in your own car. The train and trolleys are a great way to learn about Key West’s unique history. Whether you take the Conch Train or the Key West Trolley you can get off at select stops, eat lunch, shop, have a drink, and make it back to Mallory Square in time for a beautiful sunset!
We purchased tickets for the Conch Train ride, so the route laid out here after is based on their stops. The first 45 minutes of the Conch Train tour are nonstop so be prepared that you cannot hop on and off for the first 45 minutes. Once that part of the tour is finished, get off at the Hemingway House and take a tour of the grounds and preserved home of the larger-than-life, romanticized famous author. Uniquely built and full of history, the Hemingway House is worth the price of admission, even if you’re not a fan of his writing. My nine-year-old thought it was cool and especially loved seeing the six-toed cats!
Next, walk right across the street and visit the Key West Lighthouse and Keeper’s Quarters Museum. At only 88 steps this lighthouse is totally climbable. Personally I am a lighthouse connoisseur, having climbed over 20 lighthouses, and I must say this one is pretty tame-not too steep and not too narrow. The rich maritime history, the lifestyle of lighthouse keepers and interesting facts make it enjoyable for all ages. Not to mention the views at the top of the lighthouse are unparalleled.
Get back on the train and get off at the Southern Most House and Southern Most Point. The Southern Most House while not all that exciting is still beautiful to look at. The historic Victorian style house is now an Inn that has accommodated presidents and dignitaries alike. Less than one block away is the famous southernmost point landmark. A great place to get a picture and say that you have now stood at the end of the continental United States. Standing there you are actually closer to Cuba then you are to Miami.
Finally, get back on the train to finish the loop and you will be able to hear about other historic landmarks and stop for a picture op at mile marker zero- which marks the end of US Rt.1
The end of the tour will take you back to Duval and Front Street where you can get off and have lunch (if you haven’t yet) or something to cool you off. Stroll Duval Street and see the famous Sloppy Joe’s Bar where Hemingway frequented and Irish Kevin’s (both have live music all day and night) as well as any number of places to eat, drink and shop.
After lunch, go shopping or stop at the Shipwreck Historeum. This museum/ historical performance explains the salvage and wrecking industry that helped make Key West the richest city in the U.S. for a time. Three floors full of real and reproduction items that were typically salvaged from shipwrecks and auctioned off, as well as short films on the history of shipwrecks and the salvage industry. The bonus with this museum is the look-out tower. The open-air 65 foot tower provides another opportunity to take some amazing panoramic photos of Key West.
Finally, sunset at Mallory Square. Mallory Square hosts dozens of performance artist and vendors selling unique items each night while the sun goddess performs her most exquisite dance- the sunset. In the western sky, of the southern most Key in the continental United States, it is hard to resist the photo op of golden skies and aquamarine ocean as far as the eye can see.
Before you go, a few things to know ahead of time.
• About parking: Take cash! Street parking is very limited and is by the hour. There are meters and they are strictly enforced. There are several public parking lots around but they only charge for the full day. We were able to find a lot right near Duval Street and paid $20 (cash) for the whole day. We simply used our phone GPS and typed in “nearest parking lot.”
•Make sure you lock your cars and hide any valuables.
•Wear comfortable shoes!
• Regarding Duval Street: There are several shops that sell T-shirts and souvenirs that some may find offensive.