If you’re craving the rest and relaxation that comes with an island lifestyle, there’s no better place to visit than the remote tropical paradise in the Florida Keys.
The Florida Keys consists of 800 different keys or islands that are remnants of ancient coral reefs. The main islands are connected by a 42-bridge Overseas Highway, and Key West is at the end of the road. The famous vacation island is surprisingly closer in proximity to Cuba than Miami!
Picture a getaway where you can dip your toes into the sand, take a swim in crystal clear water with exotic marine life, and sip fruity cocktails while listening to live music and enjoying jaw-dropping sunsets.
The Florida Keys have something for all kinds of travelers, with a wide range of must-do activities both on land and underwater. This destination is perfect for both an adults-only or family-friendly adventure!
Adrenaline junkies can swim with the sharks around a living reef in Dry Tortugas National Park. History nerds will never run out of places to explore near Islamorada, such as ancient shipwrecks or the abandoned ghost town island on Pine Key.
The party never stops in the Florida Keys, making it a perfect destination for a birthday, bachelor, or bachelorette party. With an endless amount of tiki bars to explore and a thrilling party scene on Key West’s Duval Street, a trip to the islands will be an experience like no other!
With so many different things to see and do, you might not know where to begin. So we’ve compiled our list of the absolute best things to do in the Florida Keys for you. Stick to this fun and unique island bucket list, and there’s no doubt you’ll have the getaway of your dreams in this tropical paradise!
Don’t forget to check out our web story: The Top 15 Things to do in the Florida Keys
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15 cool and unique things to do in the Florida Keys
1. Camp on a Remote Island at Dry Tortugas National Park
Located about 70 miles west of Key West, Dry Tortugas is one of the most unique national parks in the country. It’s one of the least-visited iconic attractions simply due to its remote location. To get to the park, you’ll have to hop on a ferry or seaplane for a trip to the very tip of the Florida Keys.
Seaplane passengers in the Florida Keys can see all kinds of things from above, including dolphins, sharks, and sea turtles, as well as massive sunken ships!
Dry Tortugas is a 100-square-mile national park covering seven small islands, and only 1% of it is on dry land. It’s located on the southwest corner of the Florida Keys reef system, making it highly likely that you’ll come up close and personal with an abundance of marine life. Once you arrive in the park, you’ll need a kayak or canoe to explore all seven islands.
Fort Jefferson, a 19th-century structure used during the Civil War, is one of the most popular places to explore without a watercraft. The fort is surrounded by sparkling blue waters and coral reefs, so visitors are treated to incredible views on land and underwater.
One of the most unique things to do in the Florida Keys is to stay in Dry Tortugas overnight. Garden Key Island has a small campground that operates on a first-come, first-serve basis.
This gives you the chance to set up a tent and sleep under the stars on a remote, historic island. Remember that tickets to the ferry fill up quickly, so you’ll have to plan carefully to pull off this rustic, bucket-list-worthy camping adventure!
2. Write Like Ernest Hemingway
Legendary American writer Ernest Hemingway once called Key West home and wrote many novels on the island. The residence he shared with one of his wives was expertly preserved and is now one of the coolest places to visit in the Florida Keys.
If you’re looking to find inspiration from the former abode of the literary genius, you can even pay for the “writers” experience. The ticket price includes a guided tour of the home, followed by free rein of the property, including the gardens and writing studio. It may just be the best way to beat writer’s block and pump out the next New York Times Bestseller!
Hemingway was once gifted a six-toed cat by a ship captain, and his former property is now teeming with descendants of his beloved cat. The furry animals often greet visitors on-site and are considered the mascots of the estate.
If you’re visiting the Florida Keys in July, you won’t want to miss Hemingway Days, a five-day festival that celebrates the Pulitzer-prize winning author. There’s a Hemingway look-alike contest, a fishing tournament, a 5K race, and even a “Running of the Bulls” event complete with manmade bulls that parade down Duval Street.
3. Search for the Best Key Lime Pie
Florida’s love affair with Key lime pie all started in Key West. According to local legend, the recipe was invented with the tart island limes in the 1890s by a woman known as “Aunt Sally.”
You’ll learn that the people in the Florida Keys love to celebrate, so in honor of the state’s favorite pie, Key West hosts an annual “Key Lime Festival” every summer during the first week of July. The culinary event features the best Key lime cocktails and treats, as well as and pie cooking and eating contests.
If you’re visiting during any other time of the year, there won’t be a shortage of Key lime pies to taste. Virtually every restaurant has its own twist on the iconic dessert dish. Local favorites are Green Turtle Inn Restaurant in Islamorada, Blue Heaven in Key West, and Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen in Key Largo.
4. Kayak to the Ghost Town at Indian Key
In the 19th century, shipwreck salvaging was big business in the Florida Keys. Collecting valuables from busted ships was a controversial gig, but it made many people very rich!
Indian Key, a small island near present-day Islamorada, was a small community center built to serve the people who made a career out of salvage operations. In 1836, the island was home to a small town of working shipwreck professionals and even had a store, hotel, homes, warehouses, and wharves.
But that didn’t last long. Almost all of the island’s buildings were burned to the ground during a battle with Native Americans in 1840. The State of Florida purchased the island in the 1970s and designated it a historic site and park for the public.
The 11-acre island is only accessible by boat and is a popular kayaking destination. While you paddle the half-mile offshore route, be sure to keep your eyes on the crystal clear water. The shallow seagrass bed is the perfect place to spot some of Florida Key’s marine life.
An observation tower built after the island became a park will give you an unforgettable 360-degree view of the bright blue water around you. The island is off the shore of Islamorada, and a paddle there will take about 45 minutes to complete. If you’re lucky, you might even see some dolphins in the water on the way over!
5. Take a Dark History Ghost Tour
European settlers started living in Key West in the 1500s, and the islands were home to native tribes hundreds of years before that. There have been plenty of natural disasters and tragedies on the islands.
However, the people of the Florida Keys embrace the spooky history of this unique chain of islands. Key West is considered one of the top 10 most haunted cities in America!
Several tour companies will take guests on a trip around the island to tell stories of the city’s darker history. You can even opt for the ultra-popular Trolley Ghost Tour.
If you’d prefer to leave the ghosts out of it, tour companies will also take you on tour through the Conch Republic, where you can learn all about the history of Key West.
6. Go Snorkeling Near a Living Coral Barrier Reef
There’s no better place to snorkel in the lower 50 states than the Florida Keys! The islands are right next to North America’s only living coral barrier reef. On a nice day, you may be able to see farther than 80 feet underwater.
The best time to snorkel is the breezy, sunny days between December and May. Snorkeling can be enjoyable from June through November as well, but a visit during hurricane season means you’ll be gambling with potential severe weather.
Cottrell Key is a popular snorkeling place for families and has a unique sponge garden and expansive coral reefs. It’s not uncommon to spot dolphins, sharks, and stingrays while snorkeling around the Key.
Sand Key Lighthouse Reef is also an attractive snorkeling location, as it’s a protected area where fishing and lobstering are prohibited. The preserved nature of the reef means there’s a good chance you’ll have some incredible views of the creatures under the sea!
7. Learn about Ancient Shipwrecks
There are an estimated 1,000 shipwrecks in the water near the Florida Keys. And there are two different museums dedicated to the vessels that went down in these waters.
The Mel Fisher Maritime Museum is perfect for travelers who want a more formal history presentation. The collection of exhibits includes artifacts from 17th-century shipwrecks.
The building also has a science lab and is a nationally recognized research facility. You can even purchase an extended ticket to go behind the scenes in the lab and watch the archeologists at work!
The Key West Shipwreck Treasure Museum is an attraction targeted toward families and uses interactive displays to tell the stories of the maritime disaster-wrecking crews. It’s a quirky place, where actors dress in costume and share stories of when men were constantly on the lookout for the next wrecked ship to plunder.
The whole building was built to resemble a 19th-century wrecking warehouse, and there’s a 65-foot tower on the top that offers one of the best views of Key West!
8. Watch an Incredible Island Sunset
There’s no sunset like a Florida Keys sunset. Every evening, the colors in the sky are so legendary that special activities and events are programmed around them.
In Key West, people gather for a sunset celebration every day at Mallory Square. The event is similar to a mainland’s version of a farmers’ market, complete with local arts and crafts, live music, food vendors, street performers, and more.
Take your sunset party to the next level and take in the views from the water. Many tourism companies provide chartered sunset cruises daily.
If you’d like to stay active while watching the sun fade into the horizon, you can even hop on a cycle boat and pedal your way to the ultimate end-of-day island views.
9. See the Florida Keys Dolphins
The Florida Keys are famous for their impressive population of wild dolphins. On any given day, you can see groups of them swimming through the water in pods. Some of the most common places to spot them are in water that is 10 to 15 feet deep.
Key Largo and Islamorada are especially known as great places to see pods of dolphins in the water. Some companies even offer daily dolphin cruises that take you to these fun-loving creatures playing in the wild.
If you can’t get enough of watching these marine animals from a distance, you should plan a visit to the Dolphin Research Center in Grassy Key. The center offers a dolphin experience that allows guests to get up close and personal with the big fish and even swim or interact with them!
There are a lot of fish in the sea, so if you’d like to learn more about local marine life, the Key West Aquarium is a great place to learn more about the other sea creatures that live in the Florida Keys, like a massive crustacean, the giant isopod!
10. Go Scuba Diving in the Country’s First Undersea Park
Known as America’s first underwater park, John Pennekamp State Park is a must-see adventure in the Florida Keys. It’s located near Key Largo and covers 70 nautical square miles.
In this otherworldly underwater wonderland, you’ll encounter colorful coral reefs and marine life. Be careful – some scuba divers even find themselves swimming with the sharks in this area. Be aware of your surroundings as anything is possible when exploring a remote underwater habitat.
If you’d rather stay above water, you can still appreciate the beauty of the park. Many outfitters offer glass-bottom boat hours.
Canoes and kayaks are also available for rental. You can even spend a trip at the park on dry land, as there are several easy hiking trails and paths on the property.
11. Party Hard on Key West’s Vibrant Duval Street
If you’re visiting the Florida Keys in search of the party of a lifetime, you won’t be disappointed. Duval Street in Key West is known as the best place to go out at night.
It’s on par with Bourbon Street and the Vegas Strip! The street is about a mile long and lined with all kinds of daytime and evening attractions, including more than 40 bars.
Must-see watering holes include Captain Tony’s Saloon, a bar housed inside a former morgue rumored to be haunted by celebrities and former presidents. The Key West Smallest Bar is a quirky favorite for libations, beloved for its miniature jail-cell size, sandwiched between two Duval Street buildings. The Green Parrot has been around since 1890 and is a popular place to party all night long!
The biggest party event of the year is Fantasy Fest, a 10-day adult celebration with racy costumes and rowdy reveling. The event is almost as notorious as Mardi Gras, and anyone looking to have a wild night in the Florida Keys won’t want to miss it.
12. See Butterflies at the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory
If you need to take a break from all the sun-soaked action, spend a few serene hours walking among hundreds of beautiful butterflies, blooming flowers, and chirping birds.
Explore the lush grounds, and you’ll find 50 to 60 different species of butterflies and 20 species of exotic bird living in a climate-controlled, glass-enclosed habitat at the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory. Enter the conservatory for the dream-like experience of being surrounded by butterflies and colorful birds!
The habitat is also home to colorful giant plants, waterfalls, and even flamingos. The butterflies are bred in the facility, and there’s an educational exhibit that will teach visitors all about the butterfly life cycle and migration.
13. Take a Road Trip on the Overseas Highway
It might seem odd to jump into the car once you’ve already arrived at your destination, but a road trip in the Florida Keys is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before!
Swap the truck stops for an island-hopping adventure and take in the breathtaking views of the ocean. The route from Miami to Key West is about a 4-hour drive and covers 113 miles, so there’s plenty of distance to explore. The highway runs through the Florida Keys over the Atlantic Ocean, Florida Bay, and the Gulf of Mexico.
Keep in mind that traffic will be heavier on weekends, so budget extra time if you’re driving to see something time-sensitive. If you want to know more about what to look for as you glide through this unique roadway, local law enforcement has created an app with driving conditions and narrated driving tours to give you a heads up when you’re about to pass points of interest. The app also will tell you what restaurants and attractions are close to you on the Overseas Highway.
14. See the Endangered Key Deer
The Florida Keys aren’t just home to unique wildlife under the sea. The islands are also home to several endangered animals who live on land and in the sky.
One of the most commonly spotted endangered species on the islands is the Key Deer. The animals are the smallest subspecies of North American white-tailed deer and are similar in size to large dogs.
Scientists believe Key Deer traveled over a land bridge during the Wisconsin glaciation. The first European settlers wrote about encountering the miniature species in the 1500s.
The deer live on about 25 different islands in the Florida Keys and feed on native plants. They were almost extinct by the 1950s due to poaching and habitat loss, leading conservationists to create a wildlife refugee to save the dwindling population.
A visitor center at Key Deer National Wildlife Refuge in Big Pine Key is dedicated to teaching guests about the critical efforts to save this species. You’re likely to spot Key Deer in No Name Key, an island with a large amount of wildlife refuge land, and on Long Beach Road, which is at the entrance of Big Pine Key.
The Florida Keys are home to many wildlife refuges, including Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge, created in 1980 to protect the endangered American crocodile. Former president Theodore Roosevelt created the Key West National Wildlife Refuge to protect birds from poachers.
15. Explore the Florida Keys Tiki Bars
You’ll never run out of places with amazing views, fresh seafood, and fruity drinks in the Florida Keys. You’re on island time now, and that means you’ve got an endless amount of tiki bars to explore! Cabana-bar culture in the Keys is enormous, and these little huts offer some of the best drinks and meals around.
You can’t miss Lorelei’s big mermaid sign on U.S. 1 in Islamorada. The bar is a popular place to spend a happy hour and transition from day to night. The bar has a nightly sunset celebration with live music every day from 4 pm to 6 pm.
If you’d like to watch some Florida wildlife with your cocktail, give Alabama Jacks a try. The tiki hut is next to the mangroves in a wildlife refuge that serves as a crocodile habitat. The bar is located about 15 minutes north of Key Largo and is famous for its conch fritters, a deep-fried conch with a texture and taste similar to calamari.
Don’t want to get too far from the water? You can even take a tiki bar exactly where you want to go in the Florida Keys. Crusin’ Tikis are Coast Guard approved boats created to look exactly like tiki huts. Climb aboard, and the captain can take you on a sunset cruise, or you can opt to pick your own little paradise away from everything else out and relax in the water!
There you have it! The 15 best things to do in the Florida Keys! What’s your favorite thing to do in the Florida Keys?
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