Key West, at the southernmost tip of the United States below Florida (and only 90 miles from Cuba), can leave you getting sucked into one attraction or tourist kitsch shop after another. And that can leave a dent in your wallet. How about four free things to do in Key West that are totally cool and fun? (Plus, we’ll toss in 2 bonus things to do).
All of these four free things to do in Key West are a pretty easy walk around old town – assuming no tiny kids or other limitations in your party. After driving 106 miles down the chain, usually fighting some traffic, you’ll likely want to dump the wheels and put your feet into action anyway.
Our 4 free things to do in Key West:
- Eco-Discovery Center – The Keys are all about water and marine life, so why not start here? At the end of Southard Street at the Truman Waterfront (across the street from Fort Zachery Taylor Historic State Park), this center is simply amazing for adults and kids alike. Do NOT miss the short HD movie about seeing the underwater life in the Keys – through the eyes of a child as she grows up. Enjoy the interactive exhibits, take the time to talk to the naturalists and biologists onsite who are eager to help and ready to answer any question.
- Key West’s Oldest House – Take a step back in time at this house, lovingly staffed by volunteers who are also eager to tell stories about this circa-1828 house now at 322 Duval Street. Parlin showed us around, showing us maps and pointing out city history and development. It’s a bit hidden – don’t walk past the white picket gate on Duvall among the tourist bars and hubbub. Hours can be limited so check in advance.
Watch a 360-degree video of grounds and front of the Oldest House
- Historic Hellings House – Nearly across the street at 319 Duvall is another old home, set back from the bustling tourist street with shade trees and benches. It seems quiet but don’t let that deceive. Stop in for a short tour of the rooms and hear history stories from volunteer members of the Key West Women’s Club who call this circa-1892 house their club home. Again, hours are somewhat limited so plan your stop here.
- West Martello Tower – Dating back to 1862, this Civil War-era fort now houses the Key West Garden Club. It never was totally finished as a fort. You find lovely cooling gardens filled with hideaways, and native and tropical plants, some one of a kind. When the Garden Club moved in in the 1960s, there was no soil, so admire all the hills and plants for the hard labor they demanded! Take time at the small orchid pavilion, and don’t miss the peace bell on a small knoll or the great (peaceful) views or the Atlantic Ocean.
Watch a 360-degree video of white ibis feeding at the Key West Garden Club
Bonus free things to do in Key West
Of course you can wander streets, watch street musicians, grab samples of Key Lime this or that, people watch (lots there!), breathe in the ocean air, or lounge by a pool, but two other free things to do in Key West are musts.
- Mallory Square Sunset Celebration – Honestly, this is Key West kitsch at its best with a boisterous street fair atmosphere, people hawking crafts and food, and enough alcohol floating around to sink you. But watching the sun settle down over the endless ocean, painting different colors every night for one of the most spectacular sunsets anywhere, is the reason you come. And the beauty is, the scene changes every night. So go once, go twice, go again. Just don’t stand on the tall concrete planters (as we did!) since you’ll get politely told to get down. Hey, we were just trying to get even better photographs! (Yes, don’t forget your camera!)
Watch a 360-degree video of the sunset celebration vibe on Mallory Square
- Sunrise – Although not talked about by anyone, HI Travel Tales decided if sunset was great, then sunrise had to be great too. Meaning you have to get up early. But in contrast to the raucous sunset bash, this is a peaceful gathering of early birds who silently watch the sun rise, speaking in whispers — if they must. A real treat! Head to one of the piers just east of the Southernmost Point for an unobstructed view. For example, at the end of Duval Street at South Beach or a block farther near Dog Beach.
Latest posts by Therese Iknoian
- When travel goes wrong: Sidelined by injury on the road - September 16, 2019
- How to get from Spain to Tangier Morocco - September 12, 2019
- Berlin October days filled with a festival of lights - August 30, 2019