Key West, Florida, is a place known for pub crawls and debauchery, but that doesn’t mean visitors with children can’t also have a family-friendly vacation there.
My husband and I have visited Key West both as a couple and with children, and we have found the Conch Republic to be a great getaway no matter what.
Here’s why Key West makes a great trip for kids:
1. Weird stuff. If seeing occasional people in strange outfits isn’t enough, there are the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not museum, the Ghosts & Gravestones tour, and the nightly spectacle of live performers at Mallory Square for the Sunset Celebration. Watch jugglers, joke tellers, musicians and other entertainers at this unique gathering spot on the ocean while everyone watches the sun set over the water.
2. Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park. This Florida state park has a nice beach where you can see Coast Guard ships come and go. And as the name indicates, there’s history here, too — tour the historic fort dating back to the Civil War. Swim, snorkel, dive, fish (kids under age 16 don’t need a license), bicycle, walk the nature trail, do some birdwatching, and have a simple lunch at the park concession.
3. Tram tours. Ride the streets of Cayo Hueso in a trolley lookalike with Old Town Trolley Tours or in a “steam train” tram with Conch Tour Train. These open-air trams provide narrated sightseeing as they roll through town, so you can learn Key West trivia as well as easily get from one attraction to another. Some tram packages offer the tram tour in addition to visits at some attractions. Kids 12 and under ride for free.
4. Food. Chocolate-covered frozen key lime pie on a stick? Homemade ice cream? Fresh fish sandwiches in the funkiest restaurant without walls? Eating outside while stray cats walk by? These are some of our family’s favorites. Key West is a great place for finding great eats.
5. Butterflies. Visit the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory to wander through an enclosed garden full of butterflies and colorful songbirds flitting everywhere. You might even the conservatory’s flamingos.
6. The Southernmost Point. OK, some kids might not be bowled over by the black, yellow and red marker that stands at what some consider the southernmost point in the continental United States. But some kids will like the photo opp at a true Key West landmark. Be warned there might be a line to get that family pic. To find the marker, just follow Whitehead Street all the way south.
7. Water fun. Kids will enjoy splashing in a hotel pool, digging in the sand at the beach or watching the boats go by. Better yet, get your family out on the water. Check out the ferry that takes you to Dry Tortugas National Park well off the coast of Key West where you can tour Fort McKinley and snorkel before coming back to Key West, or one of the many kayak, snorkel and stand-up paddleboarding tours. And if your family dives, this is a great place to do it.
8. Cruise ships. You might arrive in Key West on a cruise ship (it’s a popular port for many Caribbean-bound trips), but if you don’t, you can still visit Mallory Square to see these giants come and go. For some little kids, that’s impressive.
9. Six-toed cats. Visiting the Ernest Hemingway home might not hold a child’s interest, but seeing the descendants of the famous author’s cats roaming the grounds — some of which are polydactyl, or have an extra toe on their feet — may interest a kid enough that you can enjoy the tour yourself.
10. Petting a shark and holding starfish. The Key West Aquarium is a must-do if you have kids. Kids flock to the touch tank, and the fearless will feed fish to the nurse sharks. There are also lots of tanks full of fish — and alligators!
11. Pirate booty. Well, treasure in general. Key West is steeped in pirate lore and the discovery of treasure. Visit the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum and the Key West Shipwreck Treasures Museum. The kids will even learn some history. For a bonus pirate-like experience, look into a cruise on one of the schooners from the marina.
12. Wild chickens. Kids get a kick out of seeing roosters, hens and chicks strutting around like they own the island. Because, well, they kind of do. The chickens are free to roam, and you will see them here and there around Key West, taking curious onlookers in stride.
Key West is still the place for the outrageous, eccentric, bawdy, and artistic. But there’s no reason to keep kids away from the outdoor, historical, and downright fun aspects of the island. Especially if you stick to mostly daytime activities, a family can create a memorable, adventurous trip to Key West.
This post was updated from a post previously published by the author.