Looking for unusual things to do in Key West?
Key West Florida is a tourist hot spot, bringing in millions of tourists a year. It’s an unusual type of paradise, famous for its wild chickens, six-toed cats and quirky aesthetics. Less than seven and a half square miles, with a population of less than 30 thousand, it has been said that you can walk from the north end of Key West to the south end in just at half an hour.
There are tons of attractions and various things to do in Key West, too, particularly when it comes to water sports, beaches and nightlife. But what about some of the more unique and interesting activities? Whether you’re visiting Key West or a local resident, if you’re looking for less “touristy” things to do, you can easily find several fun options around town like some incredible gardens, peculiar cemeteries and fascinating museums.
Here’s a look at 19 hidden gems and off the beaten path things to do in Key West.
19 Unusual Things to do in Key West – Hidden Gems!
Key West Conch Train Tour
Ok, so it’s not off the beaten path. In fact, it is the path. But this train tour is a great way to go sightseeing around the city of Key West. The entire ride is less than an hour and a half or you have the option to get off and on at different stops.
It’s a good idea to grab one of these tours on the first day of your visit, if you can, just so you can have a better idea of the layout of the island.
It’s a great way to see the city and to learn about some of the rich history and unique, colorful culture of the island before you go exploring it further. The tours are available in one and two day passes and they range from $18 to $80. The Key West Conch Train Tour is open 7 days a week from 10:15am – 4:15pm.
Fort Zachary Taylor State Park
This beautiful, historical fort is an incredible national monument that predates the Civil War and consists of an impressive collection of military weapons and equipment.
In fact, Fort Taylor played a role in protecting Key West during the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, WWI and WWII. Enticing to more than just those with a zest for history, though, this state park offers both adventurous and relaxing options that one should find in a place like this – swimming, fishing, paddling and even snorkeling are all available at the park.
Another neat thing about this state park is how they have a historical re-enactment on the third weekend of each month. So, whether you’re looking for some history or fun, Fort Zachary Taylor State Park has something for everyone. The fort closes at 5pm daily but the park is open until sundown 365 days a year. Entry is only $6 per vehicle.
See more: Best Luxury Hotels in Key West
Nancy Forrester’s Secret Garden
Nancy Forrester is an environmental activist as well as an artist and an educator. She has been rescuing and rehoming exotic birds for almost four decades and her secret garden is a very neat place to visit in Key West. Here you’ll find one of each of the eight remaining macaw species still living in South America.
In addition to checking out these magnificent macaws, you can also enjoy a parrot 101 lecture from Nancy herself and learn all about these fascinating birds. Classes start daily at 10am. Tours are offered from 10am – 3pm but, due to COVID, they’re self-guided now.
Leashed dogs are allowed but, if you happen to have your own parrot, they ask that you not bring it for the safety of both their own birds and yours. Adult tickets are $10, children’s tickets are $5 (ages 5 to 11) and proceeds go toward their work.
One of the unmissable Key West hidden gems.
Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory
Another type of tropical paradise you may enjoy is the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory. This incredible oasis, full of tropical flowers and waterfalls, is home to over 50 different species of butterflies from around the world, as well as 20 different species of beautifully colored birds, too!
It’s a climate-controlled, glass enclosed environment with butterfly shaped benches throughout the conservatory for sitting and enjoying the nature and scenery around you. Their Learning Center offers the unique experience of watching caterpillars eat and develop while also exploring the anatomy and life cycle of butterflies.
Don’t miss their Wings of Imagination exhibit, the butterfly gallery, which houses original artwork by Sam Trophia. Lastly, be sure to stop in the gift shop before you leave for some really neat butterfly and nature themed souvenirs. They’re open daily from 9am – 5pm with their last admission taken at 4:30pm and tickets are less than $15.
Key West Cemetery
In the mood for something slightly sinister? One of the more unusual places to visit in the city is the Key West Cemetery. This famous 19-acre cemetery sits at the bottom of Solares Hill and has some fascinating stories to tell.
Stop in the small office and ask about free walking tour guides or print one online and take a tour at your own pace. What’s interesting about this cemetery is that it was originally located elsewhere but was washed away by a hurricane in 1846.
What was salvageable was moved here, hence its establishment in 1847. Buried beneath the tombstones here are a range of complex, sad and interesting stories.
A monument also stands for the 260 sailors who died in the Havana Harbor in the explosion of the U.S.S. Maine, a U.S Naval ship, in 1898. as well as the graves of some unnamed sailors who died in the Havana Harbor
- One of the best free things to do in Key West
Blue Haven Rooster Cemetery
For quite a different type of cemetery, check out this iconic cockfighting graveyard. When you consider that local feral chickens freely roam the city, it shouldn’t be surprising that such a cemetery would exist. Where it exists is just as unique as its existence because it’s located in the courtyard of the well-known and well-loved Blue Haven Restaurant and Bar. One of the best restaurants in Key West.
More interestingly, not only has it been an ice cream parlor and a tavern before becoming the restaurant that it is now, but it has also been a pool hall with boxing matches refereed by Ernest Hemingway. As a resident of Key West, his own cats are even buried here too.
So, while poultry and feline may roam the area, ironically, many are buried there. Visit the restaurant while you’re there, too, if you can, especially their famous Key West breakfast where they play nice, calm music for a relaxing start to the day.
The Hemingway Home and Museum
Speaking of Hemmingway, check out his once home now made museum. Both guided and self-guided tours are available and descendants of his famous 6-toed cats still roam the grounds.
Some are less engaging than others but all the felines on this property are friendly. Another way to explore the life and times of Hemmingway is with a guided walking food tour. With this tour, you’ll still be able to visit his home while also getting to see some of the places he worked, fished, and boxed, as well as where he wrote “A Farewell to Arms.”
And don’t forget the tasty cuisine you get to try along the way from three different local favorite restaurants. This tour is $90 but it’s two hours of Hemmingway emersion and includes the cost of food. Or, as mentioned, skip the walking food tour and just check out his place of residency. Either way, you won’t be disappointed.
Tennessee Williams Museum
While you’re visiting the homes of literary icons, and only 3 minutes from the Hemingway Museum, don’t miss out on the chance to see the home of Tennessee Williams, one of the greatest playwrights of the 20th century. He lived in Key West for over 40 years and wrote some of his best work there.
Now an educational and historical museum, you can tour the house and learn about Tennessee Williams’ life, work and accomplishments. Here you’ll find first edition books, photos, videos, newspaper and magazine clippings and other artifacts collected or used by the famous writer.
Tours are self-guided and admission is $7. Kids 6 and under free, as well as Monroe County Students. They’re open Thursday through Sunday from 10am to 5pm but they stop taking tour admissions at 4:30pm. Oh, and if you happen to be going in March, try to catch the Tennessee Williams Annual Birthday Celebration!
Key West Guided Bike Tour with Key Lime Pie
This tour is not only a great way to see the city but it also includes a lot of historical information like bootlegging and shipwrecks that you may not get otherwise. Guides are local residents with in-depth knowledge of the area’s rich culture.
They’re incredibly friendly and genuinely want you to have a great time. On this 3-hour tour, you’ll see the ever-popular Mallory Square, Key West Cemetery, the popular vacation spot of several former presidents, the literal end of the road at mile marker 0, Higgs Beach and the White Street Pier. And, because the tour also includes Hemmingway’s house, it’s a way to have a sneak peek at it before deciding on a full visit.
Grab a picture at the famous southernmost point landmark and check out historic seaport. Finally, to wrap up the tour, enjoy a slice of fresh Key Lime pie. Tours are $50 and includes water throughout the tour and your pie. Oh, but don’t forget your sunscreen!
Key West Shipwreck Museum
This museum is an interesting recreation of a 19th century warehouse that tells the fascinating story of Key West’s maritime heritage through acting, film and shipwreck artifacts.
Climb the 65’ lookout tower to see exactly how shipwrecks were once spotted along the reef and learn all about how lives and cargo aboard were protected during fierce storms at sea. Hear stories of shipwrecks, discover salvaged artifacts from them and immerse yourself in the education of how shipwrecks have influenced the island for hundreds of years.
With some of the most treacherous waters in the world, it’s no wonder that at least a wreck a week occurred in them. The museum is open daily from 9:30am – 5:30pm with the last show taking place at 4:40pm.
Tickets range from $9 to $19 with a discount offered online and, if you’re a local resident, you can get in free with a paid adult by choosing their “hometown pass.”
Truman’s Little White House
Truman’s Little White House, located in historic Old Town, is known for being the “White House of the Winter” for President Harry S. Truman during his presidency. He was reported to have made nearly a dozen visits to this place during the 40s and 50s and spent almost 200 nights here.
Since then, Truman’s Little White House has been a popular spot for other presidents to come and relax, even becoming a “living museum” which hosts the functions of government officials still to this day.
Tour the Truman Annex to get a close, intimate view of the president’s private life and presidency or step it up a notch with a VIP White Glove Tour for presidential treatment and a ride to the waterfront in President Truman’s 1949 Lincoln Cosmopolitan Limousine. They’re open daily from 9:30am – 4:30pm and standard tour tickets range from $10 to $25 with discounts available online.
Another house worth visiting is the Audubon House. The construction on this house began in the late 1840’s by wealthy Key West resident, harbor pilot and master wrecker Captain John Huling Geiger.
Built in the American Classical Revival architecture style, Captain Geiger used only the best carpenters and materials to build this mansion and the custom craftsmanship, like the magnificent mahogany staircase, really shows it. His family occupied the home for a century but, when it was planned to be torn down, a nonprofit education organization saved it, turning it into the museum it is today.
Step back in time and see what it was like to live like one of the wealthiest families in Key West as you explore this interesting home. Audubon House is open from 9:30 to 4:15 daily but the gift shop and gallery stay open until 5pm. Tickets range from $5 to $15 and children 6 and under are free.
Key West’s First Legal Rum Distillery
This famous, award-winning rum distillery stands on the grounds of an old saloon from 1900 and was also the home of Key West’s first Cocoa Cola Bottling Company three years later, in 1903.
Becoming a distillery by 2012, 90 years after the prohibition, they offer both guided and self-guided tours throughout the day, which include free tastings of the official rum of the Conch Republic. The folks at this distillery traveled all the way to Cuba to be professionally trained in Mojito making so, while you’re there, be sure to take a truly authentic Cuban Mojito making private class, have yourself a delicious homemade Pina Colada Mojito and even take home the recipe!
They’re open daily from 11am – 6pm and tours are taken every 20 minutes from noon to 5pm. Children and pets are welcome on the tours and they only last about 15 – 20 minutes.
Key West Tropical Forest and Botanical Gardens
This tropical forest and botanical garden offers 15 acres of the only frost-free, subtropical, natural conservation and native plant botanical garden in the United States. That said, this attraction has been a local and tourist favorite for almost 90 years!
Wide boardwalks and beautiful nature trails provide a means of exploring the abundance of flowers, plant life and fauna. They also have three of the last remaining freshwater ponds in the Keys so be sure to visit those along your journey. Can’t make it for a live tour?
Try their virtual tour online which uses videos, stories and interactive activities designed to educate while still being fun. They also have events here, like their annual Art in the Garden exhibit where they showcase large outdoor artwork from local artists, created by recycled materials. Famously known as the “keeper of the trees,” this tropical forest and botanical garden is open daily from 10am – 4pm and dogs are welcome.
Key West Scavenger Hunt
Looking for some competition? Another unique way to see the city and explore its history and culture is with a fun and family friendly scavenger hunt by Let’s Roam.
Receive interactive challenges on your phone, solve riddles, complete photo challenges and answer trivia questions. Since it’s a self-guided tour via smart phone app, you can enjoy theses hunts at your own pace. See famous spots like Margaritaville, the Key West Museum of Art & History at the Custom House and the historical San Carlos Museum, established during the Ten Years War.
The walking distance is just over a mile and a half and takes less than two hours to complete. Work together as a team and you could even end up on the Key West Leaderboard! Tickets for a single day pass are $13 and are required for all players above the age of 5 but tickets are good for 2 years.
This celebration may not be a “hidden gem,” but it’s something fun to do with unique entertainment and an incredible view of the setting sun into the Gulf of Mexico. Sunset Celebration is a nightly street festival in Mallory Square with art, street performers and food vendors that attracts thousands of locals and visitors to the waterfront.
Plan to go a couple of hours before sunset so that you have plenty of time to stroll around first, watching the street performers and checking out the art and crafters. Some locals sell at Sunset regularly, but others are transient and seasonal artists.
Street performances have included a variety of acts from musicians, jugglers, tight rope walkers, magicians and even some escape artists.
Try some conch fritters and key lime iced tea from Conch Fritter Mike’s or sip on a pineapple coconut drink from Diane and Dave’s. Just be sure to catch that sunset! It’s something you just must see to believe!
Key West Lighthouse
Lighthouses aren’t a necessity anymore because of technological advances but they’re beautiful to look at and it’s a really neat experience to go up one. And the Key West Lighthouse is no exception.
Here you can climb the 88 stairs of this iconic landmark to the top of the tower where you’ll have views up to 15 miles out to sea. While you’re there, visit the Keeper’s Quarters Museum where you can learn about the life and times of previous lighthouse keepers through their belongings and photos.
In fact, one of the interesting things about this particular lighthouse is that, when it first opened in 1848, the original lighthouse keeper was actually a woman, something definitely not common during that time. Sadly, the Coast Guard decommissioned it 1969.
The lighthouse is open from 10am – 5pm daily but their last admission is taken at 4:30pm. Masks are no longer required but they are still recommended and appreciated.
Southernmost Point Buoy
Naturally, this buoy is located at the southernmost point on the island. There isn’t too much unique about this attraction except that it somehow manages to have an incredibly long line for it nearly every single day.
Friends and families come from all over just to wait and have their picture taken beside the painted buoy marking the southern tip of Key West. This marker also happens to indicate that Cuba is only 90 miles away. Interestingly, though, this buoy has survived several hurricanes, including some pretty damaging ones like Irma.
It’s managed to escape with only a few scratches, though, and still remains and favorite photo op for millions of people. To avoid the line, it’s recommended that you either go first thing in the morning (as early at 7am) or late in the evenings. And if you can’t get the picture one day, just go back and try again.
Robert the Doll
It doesn’t get more unique than a live doll. Robert is a doll that was made by a German company during the turn of the century. He stands 40 inches tall and he’s dressed as a sailor.
The strange thing about this doll is that rare occurrences happen around him including some technological malfunctions that are otherwise unexplainable. Key West has some haunted stories to tell and the one of Robert the Doll is one worth hearing. Located inside the Fort East Martello Museum, Robert the Doll is available for viewing daily from 9:30am – 5:30pm except for Christmas.
While you’re there, be sure to check out the Civil War Fort Ghost Hunt and Robert the Doll Experience to really shake things up. It’s a 90-minute tour with an hour of ghost hunting and a 25-minute lockdown with Robert for less than $50. Think you have what it takes? Give it a shot! (Children under 12 are not recommended.)