Located at the southernmost point in the United States, Key West is famous for its warm climate, sunny beaches, lively bar scene and legendary sunset celebrations. But if you think all that makes it a destination geared toward grown-ups only, you’d be mistaken! Key West offers plenty of kid-friendly, fun and downright thrilling activities to entertain even the most hard-to-please members of your family – teens and tweens.
Teens and tweens are a picky bunch. How do you find the right balance between fun, adventure, education and a little R&R when traveling with 11-17 year olds? That’s a question I asked on a recent trip to Key West with my teenage son.
But I needn’t have worried. Key West is packed with fun things for teens and tweens to do! Here are nine places to check out in Key West to ensure your kids never utter the words “I’m bored.”
1. Go on a Watersport Adventure
With its tropical warm waters and some of the most amazing coral reefs in Florida, Key West is prime for snorkeling, jet skiing, parasailing, and other ocean adventures. Teens love being active, and this is an ideal option for the whole family.
There are several tour companies that offer watersport excursions in Key West. We did a combo sailing and snorkeling tour with Sebago Watersports. If you prefer more action, you can request their Power Adventure excursion, with snorkeling, jet skiing, parasailing, kayaking, and paddle boarding. All tours provide food and drinks, and their staff is very attentive and friendly.
2. Climb the Key West Lighthouse
The Key West Lighthouse was built in 1848 by the U.S. Navy, who recognized the need because of the many coral reefs and shallow waters around the island.
Today the Key West Lighthouse serves as a museum dedicated to the lighthouse keepers who lived and worked there over the years. Visitors can climb the 88 steps to the top for a fantastic view of the city, and go into the adjoining Keeper’s Quarters to view photographs and belongings of the former lighthouse keepers.
There are a lot of lighthouses dotting the east coast and this one is by no means the tallest. (For example, St. Augustine’s Lighthouse rises 200+ steps compared to Key West’s 88 steps to the top.) But this one is significant and fun to visit as it captures the essence of Key West’s maritime past.
3. Discover Haunts on a Key West Ghost Tour
Explore the darker side of Key West with a nighttime ghost tour. We went on the Ghosts & Gravestones Tour, which is a combo trolley and walking tour. The trolley took us on a narrated ride past the city’s most notoriously haunted sites, and then into two buildings – the East Martello Fort and the Shipwreck Treasure Museum – to experience some haunts first hand. Tours are led by “Ghost Hosts.”
The ghost tour was cool and just moderately scary enough for my 13-year old. For older teens and the truly daring, make sure you borrow an electromagnetic meter from the tour guide to detect the presence of ghosts.
TravelingMOM Tip: A ghost tour is perfect for teens, but not recommended for young kids!
4. Visit the Shipwreck Treasure Museum
If there’s one museum I highly recommend for tweens especially, it is this one!
The Shipwreck Treasure Museum takes visitors back to the mid-1800s, the era of the wreckers. It’s a fun, interactive museum where kids can learn about Key West’s maritime history. The Shipwreck Treasure Museum combines actors, films, and the actual artifacts from the wrecked vessel Isaac Allerton, which sank in 1856 in the Florida Keys.
My son really enjoyed the interactive exhibits and being able to climb up the 65’ tall lookout tower.
5. Watch the Sun Set at Mallory Square
Located in Key West’s historic Old Town, Mallory Square is a waterfront plaza. Mallory Square faces west towards the Gulf of Mexico, allowing for a spectacular view of the sunset, and its nightly “Sunset Celebration” is one of the most popular things to see and do in Key West.
Every evening before the sun begins to set, hundreds of tourists gather here to watch the beautiful sunset and to enjoy exhibits of arts and crafts, live music and street performers. This tradition began in the 1960s, and the celebration still takes place every day.
As a special treat, take your family on a sunset sail. A number of tour companies offer these nightly excursions, and many include wine (for the parents!) and appetizers.
6. Visit the Key West Aquarium
The Key West Aquarium is located right next to Mallory Square in the heart of town. Originally built as an open-air aquarium in the 1930s, it is one of the oldest aquariums in Florida. Home to a variety of native sea creatures, visitors can get a good view of sea turtles, tropical fish, sharks, and alligators.
This aquarium is fairly small and took us about an hour to see everything. Educational talks and feedings occur every 30 minutes.
Although we weren’t sure if he’d be too old, my son really enjoyed the aquarium. He especially liked being able to feed the stingrays and sharks. Younger kids will like the touch tanks and craft table.
7. Take a Ride on the Conch Tour Train or Old Town Trolley
If you want a relaxing way to see Key West, hop aboard the Conch Tour Train or Old Town Trolley. Both companies have multiple ticket windows and offer comprehensive tours of the town with hop on/hop off privileges to make the most of your visit.
If you don’t hop off, it takes about an hour and a half to make the loop. Learn about architecture, Key West history and popular attractions including the historic waterfront, Harry S. Truman’s Little White House, Ernest Hemingway’s House, the Southernmost Point and the Key West Lighthouse.
This is a great way to take in the town in one fell swoop, especially if your time in Key West is limited!
8. Visit the Turtle Hospital
Cheating just a bit here, as the Turtle Hospital is not located on Key West but rather Marathon Key, about an hour away. However if you have kids who love turtles it is worth the drive – either as a day trip from Key West or an attraction to hit on the way down as you are driving through the Keys from the mainland.
The Turtle Hospital is the first state-certified veterinary hospital in the world for sea turtles. They offer daily tours that include an educational presentation, behind-the-scenes look at the hospital and surgery rooms, and a visit with the sea turtles in their “hospital beds” – individual tanks where injured turtles are recovering, or the pools where the hospital’s permanent residents (those who can never be released into the wild) reside.
My son is a turtle maniac, so visiting the Turtle Hospital was a no-brainer for us. But even if sea turtles are not necessarily your kid’s thing, you’ll still want to consider a visit to learn about the facility’s mission of “Rescue, Rehabilitation, Release” and experience some memorable interactions with these magnificent sea creatures.
TravelingMOM Tip: Because this is a working hospital, all visitors must be part of a tour group (aka no wandering on your own). Reservations are recommended.
9. Take a Picture at the Southernmost Point
A massive, colorful concrete buoy marks the Southernmost Point of the USA, which is closer to Cuba (90 miles) than mainland Florida.
This is probably the most photographed landmark in all of Key West. As such, it also tends to get crowded as people line up to wait their turn to get a photo. It is not unusual to see upwards of 100 people in line.
We got lucky – if you can call it luck – to hop off the trolley at the site just as a torrential rainfall started. Armed in our plastic ponchos, we were the only ones crazy enough to be at the shore. So while we didn’t have to wait in line to get a picture, we did get more than a little wet.
Rain or shine, don’t miss your chance to get a photo at the Southern Most Point in the United States!