One of the top vacation destinations in the country is the Florida Keys, and it is easy to see why! There are so many fun things to do in the Florida Keys for people of all ages. I have been a few times and, on each visit, there is no shortage of enjoyable experiences. If anything, I have a hard time squeezing in everything I want to do in Key West and the surrounding Keys.
Most people think of Key West, but the Florida Keys are actually a coral cay archipelago with hundreds of islands. This post will cover things to do in the Florida Keys from Key Largo to Key West. It takes over two hours to get between the two, so keep that in mind for planning! However, for anyone driving, I think it helps to have some attractions to check out on the drive down to Key West. I have broken this list up into nature, historic and active things to do in the Florida Keys, as well as events, for fun experiences any time of year or for any budget.
Nature Things to Do in the Florida Keys
Though there is lots of parting in Key West, these islands are home to very scenic parts of Florida. I definitely recommend taking some time to appreciate the gorgeous environment during your trip. This part of the list contains things to do in the Florida Keys to experience the local nature and wildlife.
Enjoy the Views at Bahia Honda State Park
The Florida Keys are known as a coastal wonderland, but surprisingly there are not as many white sand beaches as you would think! If you do want some beach time, my recommendation is Bahia Honda State Park. This area of Big Pine Key is absolutely stunning with turquoise water and palm trees right on the beach. My favorite part though is the views of the old railroad bridge! Make sure you hike around the area before chilling out at Calusa Beach to take in all the breathtaking sights.
Take a Day Trip to Dry Tortugas
The other renowned Florida Keys beach is Dry Tortugas, but this one is a lot more challenging to get to! Only accessible by ferry or seaplane, this 100 square-mile island is one of the most picturesque spots in the state! While here, you can explore Fort Jefferson, go snorkeling around the coral reefs and of course relax on the beach. There is even a place to camp here for the true island experience!
Visit the Key West Butterfly Conservatory
For a beautiful and immersive experience, check out the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory. This park has over 50 species of butterflies, as well as exotic birds and tropical foliage. Here you can walk through a jungle of butterflies of all colors that might even land on you! Inside there are also educational exhibits and live caterpillar feedings. It’s a colorful experience for those who appreciate the little things!
Watch the Sunset
A favorite thing to do across all Florida Keys is to watch the sunset go down. The views are frequently magnificent and though you can see them anywhere, there are also some unique ways to enjoy it. The most famous spot to watch the sunset is Mallory Square, where every one on Key West celebrates the sunset, often with performances and music. Another popular way is on a boat and you can book sunset sails, ecotours and yachts from all the main islands. Other favorite happy hour locations include Snook’s Bayside on Key Largo, The Island Fish Company on Marathon and Lorelai Cabana on Islamorada. Wherever you are when the sun goes down, it’s worth a watch!
Explore the Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park
Another island experience you won’t want to miss is checking out Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park. Just off the coast of Islamorada, you can boat or kayak to this jungle hideaway. Established by a wealthy chemist in the 1920’s, this eccentric island is now free to tour. You can explore on your own or take one of the hour-long walking tours on the weekend. Either way, this is a rare opportunity to explore a tropical jungle and get the chance to see the coastal fauna and wildlife, like the Liguus Tree Snails.
Learn How to Help Sea Turtles at the Turtle Hospital
Of all the things to do in the Florida Keys, one that I recommend most is a visit to the Turtle Hospital. Located on Marathon Key, this rehabilitation center is dedicated to helping injured sea turtles. The main experience here is a 90-minute tour that includes the hospital facilities as well as pools with hatchlings and adult sea turtles! I learned so much about the different types of sea turtles and how they go about rehabilitating. It is such an excellent place to check out for any turtle lover!
See Sharks and Rays Up Close at the Key West Aquarium
Though there are plenty of fish in the see, you can get a chance to view them up close at the Key West Aquarium. Kids love this place, especially the touch tank, and adults can have a lot of fun too. Here you can see Sharks, Alligators, Tropical Fish and Stingrays and learn about their ecosystems. In the touch tank, you can touch and even hold conch, sea stars, slate pencil urchins, and horseshoe crabs! It’s the best way to experience with marine life without having to put on a bathing suit.
Historic and Unique Things to Do
Another side of the Florida Keys you will want to appreciate is the fascinating history of the area. Being so close to Cuba and an island outpost since the colonial times, this part of Florida has been an interesting part of United States history. Between ancient forts and historic homes, there is a lot to learn here that I have included on this next part of the list. I have also included some quirky things to do in the Florida Keys here so you can truly appreciate the Conch Republic!
Visit the Hemingway House
One of the most unique things to do in the Florida Keys is visit the iconic Hemingway House. This is where Ernest Hemingway resided in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. Most notable is that he owned a six toed cat while he was here and now the house is home to many of its descendants that lounge around the property. The tour guides here has all sorts of interesting stories and you can learn a lot about the Keys and Hemingway while visiting this attraction.
Take Your Picture at the Southernmost Point
If there is one essential thing to do in the Florida Keys, it is getting your picture taken at the Southernmost Point. This colorful buoy marks the Southernmost Point in the Continental U.S right at the end of Whitehead Street. There is usually a 10–15-minute wait to get your picture and there is no photographer, so we asked the person in line behind us. Even with the wait, the picture is a fun souvenir to have for any Key West trip!
Tour Fort Zachary Taylor
The most historic landmark in the Florida Keys is definitely Fort Zachary Taylor, which has been around since 1866! This fort played an important role in both the Spanish-American War and the Civil War and now you can explore it! They offer daily tours of the fort itself at 11 AM, although you are welcome to walk around on your own. Not only can you check out the ancient structure and canons, but there is also a gorgeous beach here great for swimming or snorkeling at. You can have a monumental day here!
Climb up the Key West Lighthouse
Another ancient landmark on Key West is the Key West Lighthouse which was constructed in 1848. Though it no longer operates, you can still visit the lighthouse and learn about some history of the area and life at the lighthouse. The best part is climbing to the top and getting a view from the highest point on the island!
Explore Duval Street
The place where all the action takes place in the Florida Keys is the famed Duval Street. Though often touristy, this has been the focal point of the Florida Keys since the beginning. You can visit bars on this street that icons like Hemingway and John Dos Pasos drank at and marvel at the Victorian Era mansions that are still preserved. There are plenty of tours that walk through here, or you can enjoy the walk on your own and usually drink a beer while you do too!
Trek Through the Key West Cemetery
For a quirky and free experience, a lot of tourists visit the Key West Cemetery. This is open to the public and surprisingly fun to peruse! Most of the residents here are from the 1800’s and many of the tombstones have interesting inscriptions. There is even a self-guided tour here to follow along the different plots!
Take the Hot Sauce Challenge at Peppers
This activity may seem like an odd one, but it was a very memorable experience in the Florida Keys for me! At Peppers, you can enjoy a free tasting of ten different hot sauces, increasing in spiciness. Though they start out mild, it is quite the challenge to make it to number 10! The shop owners are super friendly and make the experience so much fun. And though we thought we might just get one hot sauce, the options were so distinct and tasty, we ended up buying a few different hot sauces and they were our favorite souvenir of the trip!
Visit a Museum
For those wanting to learn something new on their Florida Keys vacation, there are over half a dozen distinguished museums to visit. On Key West, both the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum and the Shipwreck Museum offer fascinating exhibits on coastal history. Here you can also experience art and history at the Fort East Martello Art Museum, The Customs House Museum of Art and History and The Truman Little White House. Over in Islamorada, the History of Diving Museum is also a fun stop for any scuba divers. This does not even cover all the museums in The Florida Keys, so there is plenty of education to be had here!
Active Things to Do in The Florida Keys
If you like exciting activities that get your heart racing, the Florida Keys are a place for extreme action! Though it is often viewed as a laid-back area, the diverse nature often allows for all sorts of outdoor things to do. If you like water sports, there are definitely plenty of opportunities for that here. However, you can also find some great trails for biking and hiking. Here are my recommendations for active things to do in the Florida Keys.
Go for a Scuba Diving or Snorkeling Excursion
The Florida Keys are known to have some of the best scuba and snorkeling in all of Florida! The many coral reefs off the coast are a wonderland for viewing tropical fish, turtles and more. If you like scuba or snorkeling, I definitely recommend taking an excursion while you are here. The best spot is the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo. Not only are the reefs great, but you can also see the famous Christ of the Abyss statue submerged in the sea. Key largo is also home to a variety of wreck or reef dives, including Molasses Reef and The Duane.
Pretty much all the keys offer excursions to reefs, like Sombrero Reef near Boot Key and Looe Key Reef. Down in Key West, the 522 feet long USNS General Hoyt S. Vandenberg that was intentionally sunk, is also an amazing sight to see! With shallow waters, it is hard to dive off the beach, but you can snorkel off most beaches, including Fort Zachary Taylor and Dry Tortugas!
Take a Paddleboarding Tour
Paddling on a board or in a kayak is another essential way to experience the Florida Keys. There are ecotours offered all over where you can explore the mangroves and look for manatees. I find that you see more during the day, but many tours also offer a night experience where you paddle on light-up boards and look for lobsters! If you are an experienced paddler, you can always rent a board and go out on your own, but I always see more and have more fun with an knowledgeable guide!
Enjoy a Scenic Bike Ride
Driving down to Key West is a great sight alone, but if you really want to experience the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail, you can cycle on it. There is about 90 miles of bike lane here so you can bike some of it or if you are serious, bike the whole thing! Some people make a camping experience out of it, but no matter what the experience, the views are unbelievable.
Go for a Fishing Excursion
Another highlight of the Florida Keys is the amazing fishing you can do here. Anglers from all over visit these islands for a chance to catch Bonefish, Tarpon, Snapper and more. There are a variety of options for taking a fishing trip, from renting your own boat or taking a charter to fishing from the shore or on a pier! Islamorada is the best spot for fishing, as it is known as the Sportfishing Capital of the World, but all of the keys offer great fishing opportunities.
Explore the Keys on a Hike
Though you won’t experience much elevation on a Florida Keys hike, there are still plenty of nature trails to check out. I find taking a couple hour trek through one of this is the ideal way to see some nature and get some cool pictures. Big Pine Key has the most nature spots with both the National Key Deer Refuge and the Fred C Manillo Wildlife Trail being cool spots to check out. In Key Largo you and your pets can hike through the hammocks of the Wild Tamarind Trail and in Marathon, there is a half mile trail at Curry Hammock State Park. Key West has less hiking areas but the Key West Hiking Trail is fun to walk around.
Feed the Tarpon at Robbie’s
Feeding the Tarpon at Robbie’s on Islamorada is basically a rite of passage for any first time Florida Keys visitor. This roadside attraction is a short stop for big fun. You can get a bucket of fish for $4 and feed the massive tarpon that linger by the dock here. These things are huge and jump very high out of the water! This may not seem that exciting, but the massive fish and pelicans clamoring to get your fish will have any one feeling exhilarated!
Events in The Florida Keys
Everyone knows about Fantasy Fest, the annual 10-day long party that takes over Key West every October for a pre-Halloween bash. However, there are so many more fun festivals and events to experience in the Keys all year. Its unique location makes it the perfect backdrop for both all out and laidback events of all kinds. Here are some festivals that I want to experience in the Florida Keys.
Fantasy Fest – Last Week of October Annually
For an out of this world street festival, Floridians flock to Key West every October for Fantasy Fest. For ten whole days, Key West is transformed into a big block part complete with parades and parties. Attendees also wear crazy costumes and it’s the chance to truly let your freak flag fly!
Key Lime Festival – First Week of July Annually
Another Key West festival to check out is the Key Lime Festival, held every year around the Fourth of July. During this event, there are culinary events throughout the island celebrating this tart fruit. Whether you like pies or cocktails, there are lots of delicious ways to enjoy this event.
Island Fest – Annually in April
Over in Islamorada, Island Fest is held every April to kick off the start of Spring. This weekend event hosts concerts, an art show, food stands and more to celebrate island life. It’s a great way to experience all the creativity and fun Islamorada has to offer!
Marathon Seafood Festival – Annually in March
Foodies should check out Marathon Key in March for the seafood festival of the year! This island annually hosts one of the largest seafood festivals where you can dine on local lobster, crabs, shrimp and more. The event is A la Carte, so you can order whatever you like along with beer, wine and cocktails and enjoy the live music at the festival. There is even a boat show and art vendors too!
Key West Brew Fest – Every Labor Day Weekend
For a chance to try all the best Florida brews, you can end the summer with the Key West Brew Fest. This event hosts breweries from all over the state for the ultimate street party! With admission including all-you-can-drink, you can try whatever beer you like, as well as local food trucks.
Know Before You Go: Things to Do in The Florida Keys
It’s hard not to find fun things to do in the Florida Keys, but I hope this article helped give you an idea of all the options! If you are driving down, I recommend staying in the Keys for at least four nights so you have enough time to experience all there is to do before driving back. A lot of people also enjoy staying in Marathon or Islamorada for a few nights and then Key West for the weekend in order to get the full experience! No matter what island you visit, you can definitely have an unforgettable Florida Keys vacation! Here are some things to keep in mind before you go.
- The best times to visit the Florida Keys is November through May. You may be able to get better deals in the summer, but it is a lot hotter and there is a risk of hurricanes.
- If you are going in the ocean, use sunscreen without oxybenzone. Sunscreens that contain this ingredient can be harmful to sea life.
- For flying into the Florida Keys, I recommend the Key West Airport! The Miami airport works too and may have better deals, although it is a three-hour drive to Key West.
- Unless you fly into Key West and only stay on that island, you definitely need to rent a car. This is the only way to experience more than just one of the Florida Keys.
- There is plenty of nightlife in Key West, with many bars open all night and often with live music. The rest of the Florida Keys can be quiet, with the exception of dive bars and tiki bars.
- For a beach vacation, I don’t recommend staying on Key West. The other islands have less crowded and cleaner beaches, as Key West is more about the local experience.
Have you been to the Florida Keys before? Let me know what your favorite thing to do here is if you have! For more advice on visiting the area, check out my guide to the Florida Keys and my printable bucket on Etsy.