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Essential Key West Attractions for First-Time Visitors


There is a unique blend of cultural influences found in Key West, which is evident in the island’s attractions and can be seen throughout the island. Most of the houses have Caribbean architecture and many of the older ones have been constructed from coral rock or salvaged shipboards. 

There is no better way to experience Key West than to watch the sunset from Mallory Square. Many famous writers have lived on the island, including Robert Frost, Ernest Hemingway, and Tennessee Williams. It is no wonder that Key West continues to attract artists of all kinds even today due to its bohemian and tolerant atmosphere.

Those interested in visiting the Florida Keys for the first time will want to find Key West places to stay and a few attractions to enjoy. Let’s take a closer look at a few must-see Key West attractions for first-time visitors.

Duval Street

Restaurants and shops line Duval Street, Key West’s main tourist strip. A busy day of sightseeing begins or ends here. There are many historic homes and tourist attractions along Duval Street. Hemingway Days Festival is one of several events and festivals held annually. The Conch Tour Train is an excellent way to see the whole area and the history of Hemingway’s House, Duval Street, and Old Town.

Butterfly Observatory

Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory is a great place for families to visit. The whole family will enjoy observing more than 50 butterflies in the conservatory’s natural garden habitat. More than 20 bird species and colorful butterflies live there. A visit to the conservatory is an unforgettable experience.

Dry Tortugas National Park

Seven reef islands comprise Dry Tortugas National Park, located around 65 miles south of Key West. The islands were named after the turtles found on them by explorer Ponce de Leon. There is no fresh water on the islands, hence the park’s name.

There is a 19th-century fort on Garden Key, constructed by the U.S. government to protect and control shipping channels in the Gulf of Mexico. Union deserters were imprisoned at the fort during the Civil War.

Ernest Hemingway House

Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Ernest Hemingway lived in this Spanish Colonial house built in 1851. He claimed that the salt-water pool nearly wiped him financially and contained his “last penny” pressed onto the concrete. A restored interior also features the writer’s collection of Spanish furnishings from the 17th and 18th centuries. Over 40 descendants of Hemingway’s original house cats live on the property. Many of Hemingway’s most famous books were written in this house. 

Fort Zachary

During the Civil War, Fort Zachary Taylor was built between 1845 and 1866 to protect Florida’s coast. A National Historic Landmark, it is renowned for its Civil War-era armaments, which are still being excavated. A pirate festival, sculpture contests, boat races,  and concerts are also held at the park. A swimming beach, a nature trail, and snorkeling areas are also available.

The Oldest House Museum

Francis B. Watlington lived in the oldest house in South Florida, built in 1829. Richard Cussans originally built it in another location and later moved it to Duval Street. There is an opportunity to learn about the history of Key West by visiting this house. Something about its unique charm sets it apart from the rest of the historical sites that are open to the public in the city.

You will find a collection of Key West history and original furnishings throughout the house. In addition to ship models, there is also information about the industry’s history on display. Back of the house is a garden and a cookhouse which is part of the property. Additional documents are available in an exhibit pavilion.

Shipwreck Treasure Museum

This museum showcases the fascinating history of salvage through a replica of an 18th-century wrecker’s warehouse. As a lucrative but dangerous industry, wrecking was a significant part of Key West’s economy and a vital part of the city’s economy. 

Museum actors portray the story of the Isaac Allerton, which sank in 1856 and describe the life of the daring wreckers who saved the reef’s victims while salvaging treasure. Continually running films and videos show artifacts from the shipwreck. Views of the surrounding land and seascape are excellent from the observation tower.