When people think of Key West, they normally jump right to drunk people partying all day and night. That does happen, but Key West has so much more to offer and is actually a great location to visit with your family.
Key West has that distinctly Caribbean look. All the buildings are very close together and painted bright colors. Barely two cars can fit down the street at a time, and you have to be careful not to hit any of the resident roosters.
This is NOT a good city to drive your rig in, unless you have a Class C motorhome or smaller, and even that would be a challenge.
Our first stop was at Fort Zachary Taylor. Surprisingly, it’s not easy to find good beaches in the Florida Keys, because the coral reef that surrounds the Keys prevents nice beaches and sand from developing. However, the beach at Fort Zachary Taylor is the nicest beach in Key West. You do have to pay admission, but it should cost you less then $10.
The fort is really cool, and you can go in and walk all over the place to check it out. One of the things I really like about the Keys is they are so lax with rules. There’s no one patrolling the fort, and you can literally run, jump and climb to your heart’s content! There are also signs scattered around the area that help visitors learn about the history of the fort. We discovered that it was very important during the Civil War. www.floridastateparks.org/park/Fort-Tayloryygttygt
After you have toured the fort, head over to the beach. It’s a very pretty beach, but the area of nice sand is only about 2 yards by 10 yards. The rest of the beach is pretty rocky. Yet, the view makes up for it. They do offer lawn chairs for rent, and there is a food stand selling hot dogs, burgers and beer.
Right off to the side of the food stand, you can relax on a nice patio with tables and chairs, or you can bring a picnic lunch and enjoy it on the picnic tables at the back of the beach. If at all possible, schedule your stay so you are there for the sunset. It is gorgeous and well worth the wait. www.fortzacharytaylor.com/home.html
If you are looking for more action than the beach scene, you can head right out of the Fort Zachary Taylor Park and over to the the Eco Discovery Center. Admission to the center is FREE, and so is parking in their lot. The center offers interactive displays to learn more about the Florida Keys and its marine life. floridakeys.noaa.gov/eco_discovery.html
Here’s a tip: You can leave your car in the parking lot in front of the Eco Center (it seriously looks like a lot in the middle of the street) for free, and then walk to downtown Key West. It is about a mile walk, but most of it is shaded and is a really pretty walk. Plus, you don’t have to worry about parking hassles in the downtown area.
Once you get to downtown there is a variety of things to do. If you really want to see all that Key West has to offer, I recommend doing the Conch Train tour. It takes you around Key West and make four stops where you can get off and then back on a different train, if you would like. The driver narrates the journey, offering a great overview of Key West and it’s history. Best of all, the ticket is good for two consecutive days! So, if possible, plan to be there for two days. www.conchtourtrain.com
The Conch Train tour travels past a monument commemorating the Southernmost Point of the United States. Then you will know where it is in case you want to get off at the next stop to walk and stand in line to take your picture by the monument. Or, do what we did, and just take a picture while driving by. www.cityofkeywest-fl.gov/egov/apps/locations/facilities.egov?view=detail&id=79
After completing the Conch Train tour, head over to the nice, air-conditioned Shipwreck Museum. The museum is filled with amazing artifacts from a shipwreck that happened on the shores of Key West. You can also go down in the basement, which is actually below sea level, to watch a video about shipwrecks. The staff offers a guided tour of the museum, which would be great to take without little kids. However, you can choose to walk through the exhibits on your own. The best part is the Shipwreck Tour is an overview platform at the top of the museum. It’s a great spot to look out over all of Key West, the harbor, and the amazing ocean. It is worth the climb, so go for it! www.keywestshipwreck.com
Next is the Key West Aquarium. Remember when I mentioned that the Florida Keys is lax on rules? You can see that here in full force! When you first walk in there is a touch tank, which our kids found pretty incredible to actually touch some sea creatures. However, the next tank is NOT a touch tank. There are sting rays in that tank, and they are not use to being touched. The third tank down is a tank full of sharks.
Yes, I know most people have seen sharks in an aquarium, but these sharks are aren’t right behind glass. You could literally reach out to touch them. But, hold on to little hands going up the stairs, or they could trip and fall straight into the tank. You can view more marine life in back of the aquarium where turtle and sharks are kept in the ocean water. There is even had an Albino turtle. If you stay for the programs, you can also help feed the sharks. www.keywestaquarium.com
If you fancy doughnuts, you won’t want to miss Glazed Donuts in Key West. You can easily walk to it from any of the downtown attractions. They have a variety of really unique flavors, but be sure to try their special Key Lime doughnut when you are there – YUMMY! http://www.glazeddonuts.com
History buffs will want to check out the Little White House in downtown Key West. Other than it’s color, it doesn’t bear any resemblance to the real White House in Washington, D.C., however, it served as the winter home of President Harry S. Truman and was also used as the Naval Station’s Command Headquarters during the Spanish-American War as well as World War I and II. www.trumanlittlewhitehouse.com
American author Ernest Hemmingway called Old Town Key West home for 10 years, and you can pay to tour the house and gardens. While enjoying the narrated or self-guided tours understand that you’re doing so with the approval of nearly 40 pampered cats that still live at the Hemmingway Home. www.hemingwayhome.com/
By this point, you’re probably ready for a beer and the kids might be looking for ice cream. There are a couple of ice cream shops and stands where you can buy snacks. But, if you’re looking for a cheaper alternative, there is a CVS close by where you can buy a 12-pack of beer and some ice cream for about the price of two ice cream cones at the shops.
Now that you are refueled, it’s time for Mallory Square, which is a nice, big open area where you can hang out, check out the cruise ships or just sit down to relax for a minute. Then, around 6 p.m., the Sunset Celebration begins. All the street performers come out, and they perform some captivating shows like fire throwing, tight rope walking, sword swallowing and bagpipes.
There are food vendors and souvenir stands all over the place. When the sun begins to set, everything stops and gets really quiet as everyone watches. Key West is a really cool place and it is totally appropriate to be there with kids up until sunset. After that, it can get crazy. www.mallorysquare.com/discover-mallory-square
If you are looking to get dinner in Key West, there are a ton of great restaurants. One of the best ones to visit with kids is Blue Heaven. It’s a colorful restaurant in Old Bahama Village. The best part is that while you’re waiting for your food, your kids can play ping-pong or play in the sandbox on site. They’re also known for their resident chickens walking around the courtyard. Your kids can have fun chasing them around or just watching them. Just be careful not to step in chicken poop! Blue Heaven offers exquisite menu with a variety of items. But you won’t find anything fried. in fact, the restaurant doesn’t even have a fryer. www.blueheavenkw.com
Another restaurant option, if you are looking for FRESH seafood, is Hogfish Bar & Grill. This restaurant isn’t right in downtown, so you’d have to drive about 15 minutes to get there. But sometimes it’s nice to get out of the hustle and bustle of Key West. This restaurant is a favorite of locals, so you know it’s good. Make sure you take time to check out the license plates on the wall to see if you can find your state. And I highly recommend requesting a table outside. That way you’ll be right next to the marina where you can spot some pretty luxurious and fancy boats, and even a few houseboats. www.hogfishbar.com
The Florida Keys have a lot of great RV parks. There isn’t one in downtown Key West, but there are some just a few miles out of town, like Boyd’s Key West Campground. If you don’t want all the hustle and bustle of Key West every day, you can also choose to stay at Sunshine Key RV Resort or any of the other RV resorts you pass along Highway 1. A lot of the nearby resorts even offer a shuttle service into Key West. www.boydscampground.com
Key West is a unique place to visit and truly is the American Caribbean vacation. If you’ve never been there, plan a trip this winter. There aren’t many places in the United States that are sunny and in the high 70s in January. If you’re taking the time to travel all the way down to Key West, be sure to also schedule plenty of time to check out the abundant activities all along the keys.