Key West Guide - Activities

Things to See & Do

When Ponce de Leon and other explorers arrived on the shores of the island, they found it littered with bones -- from native Indians and others who had visited (many tragically). Spaniards called the island Caya Hueso (Island of Bones) and it is thought that Key West is an English corruption of that early name. You'll see mention of Caya Hueso, or "Bone Island" around the town.

Embrace the Conch Republic

You'll also see a strange flag flying in some quarters. In 1982, the US Border Patrol placed a road block on US Highway 1 at Key Largo to restrain the flow of drugs and illegal aliens. Traffic was often backed up for miles, and tourism suffered. A few Keywesters got together and formed the nation of "The Conch Republic", and seceded from the Union. The new government immediately surrendered to the United States and requested $1 million in foreign aid. The stunt worked and the roadblocks were removed. The flag still flies in Key West, and you can obtain a Conch Republic passport at souvenir stores.


Much of the joy of visiting this unique corner of the United States is in its museums. There are museums devoted to authors and naturalists, to military campaigns and wrecking captains and other early residents, as well as the area's sea life. The following suggestions are only a few of the many museums, and historic buildings that are open to the public.

Audubon House and Tropical Gardens (205 Whitehead St.) is the restored home of a Captain Geiger, with whom famed naturalist John James Audubon stayed while cataloguing the birds of Key West. An audio tour of this 1840s home is available, and the one-acre garden has a wonderful collection of tropical plants. You'll find a gift shop with Audubon prints, (305) 294-2116.

The Curry Mansion Museum (511 Caroline) is a huge, 25-room Victorian mansion, which is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., (305) 294-5349.

The Earnest Hemingway Home and Museum (907 Whitehead St.) was the novelist's home, filled with cats (and still is). Many of the cats have six front toes -- descendants of a six-toed cat given to the writer by a sea captain. Visiting this house/museum is a wonderful way to learn about Hemingway and his family while they were living in the city. The future of the cats is now threatened by the federal government, for reasons too arcane to deal with here.

Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society (200 Green St.) holds a collection of treasure and artifacts from Caribbean shipwrecks. The exhibition changes twice each year.

East Martello Museum (3501 South Roosevelt Blvd.) is at one of two remaining Martello towers that guarded the island from potential enemies from the Spanish days. This is a fine place to get caught up on Key West history, and particularly the military importance of the island in centuries past.

Little White House (111 Front St. (Truman Avenue)
This was the "Winter White House" of President Harry S. Truman, and he vacationed here frequently during his presidency. Set in the military base, the president was protected at all times. (305) 294-9911.

Pirate Soul ( 524 Front Street)
Opened in 2005, this $10 million museum is the result of one man's obsession with things piratical. Pat Croce, former president of the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team, has long collected pirate memorabilia. It's all here and it's quite a treasure trove of authentic pirate stuff: one of two existing jolly roger flags, a journal from Captain Kidd's last voyage, a treasure chest once owned by Captain Thomas Tew, and much much more.

The pirate-themed restaurant, called Pat Croce's Rum Barrel, is next to the museum. For information, call (305) 292-1113. Pirate Soul is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Adults $13.95; children 3-10 $7.95


Two motorized tours take you around the island, with narration, pointing out the major highlights. The Conch Train is the longtime popular tour that covers 60 unusual and historic sites. You can catch it at Mallory Square. For information, call (305) 296-6688.

Old Town Trolley Tours does much the same, taking you on all-weather trolleys to the historic sites, (305) 296-6688

Mosquito Coast Wildlife Tours offers guided kayaking through the waters of the keys, to mangrove islands and other biological highlights in sea kayaks. For information, call (305) 294-7181.

Adventure Charters and Tours provides guided kayak tours of the Great White Heron and Ker Deer National Wildlife Refuges. Tours are half-day or full-day. (305) 296-0362.

Many of the city's museums and historic homes offer guided tours.

Things to Do

The sunny warm weather at Key West invited beach activity. Families enjoy Higgs Beach, where the kids use the children's playground. the beach has a pier, sailboat rentals, and barbecue grills. Smathers Beach has picnic tables, plus parasailing, and jet ski rentals.

Key West Golf Resort has an 18-hole championship course, designed by Rees Jones.

Sunset Celebration
You can't go to Key West without participating in the nightly sunset hoopla at Mallory Square. Mimes and jugglers entertain just before sunset. You can buy food and drinks from vendors. Everyone gathers on the docks to watch the sun go down over the Caribbean, and it's an awesome sight, usually getting a standing ovation from the crowd.

Fantasy Fest
Held during the last week of October, Fantasy Fest is the island's largest celebration -- a phantasmagoria of masks and costumes, parties and parades (on foot and by boat), attracting thousands of visitors to the island. Many of the hotels hold their own celebratory events (special dinners, dances, poolside bashes). The final parade, held on Saturday night, has had more than 50,000 costumed revelers, with many more looking on. For information, call (305) 296-1817.

The Red Barn Theater In Old Town Key West (319 Duval Street), offers year-round productions of musicals, contemporary classics and modern classics. - 305-296-9911

The city's Tennessee Williams Fine Arts Center presents operatic performances, symphonic and chamber music, and dance. This large hall attracts national touring companies, presenting classical drama and Broadway hits.

Waterfront Playhouse, at Mallory Square, stages musicals and original dramas, year-round, plus an annual songwriters festival. (305) 294-5015.

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