Located at the southernmost point of Florida and the United States, Key West is known for its sunny weather, lively bar scene and legendary sunset celebrations. But if you think all that makes Key West 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.
17 Things to Do in Key West with Teens and Tweens
- Go on a Watersport Adventure
- Climb the Key West Lighthouse
- Discover Haunts on a Key West Ghost Tour
- Visit the Shipwreck Treasure Museum
- Check Out the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory
- Experience the Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square
- Visit the Key West Aquarium
- Take a Ride on the Conch Tour Train or Old Town Trolley
- Visit the Turtle Hospital
- Visit the Hemingway Home
- Go to the Beach
- Rent Bikes
- Take an Island Jet Ski Tour
- Travel to Dry Tortugas National Park
- Visit the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center
- Explore Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park
- Take a Picture at the Southernmost Point
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. We had an amazing time, as Key West is packed with fun activities for teens and tweens to enjoy! Here are 17 things 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, sailing, 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 Key West Shipwreck Museum
If there’s one museum I highly recommend for tweens especially, it is this one!
The Key West Shipwreck 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 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. Check Out the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory
The Conservancy is a neat spot to check out with kids! More than 60 species of butterflies and 20 exotic birds fly freely throughout the glass-enclosed, tropical habitat within the Conservatory. It’s also home to a wide spectrum of bright and beautiful flowers, plants and bushes for the butterflies to land on, putting visitors quite literally in the center of all the action.
6. 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.
7. 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 life, the aquarium allows visitors to 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. The things teens will love most is the sharks! You can really get up close and personal with them at the Key West Aquarium. They have an open shark tank that you can literally fall into if not careful!
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.
8. 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 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. The main depot for both tours is on Duval Street.
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.
9. 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. You can either take a day trip from Key West or hit on this attraction 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.
10. Visit the Hemingway Home
The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum is a beautiful Spanish Colonial style mansion built in 1851. Ernest Hemingway and his wife Pauline first moved there in 1931, and it is where Hemingway wrote many of his famous novels.
Today, visitors can tour the Nobel Prize-winning author’s house and gardens and visit with over 40 cats that call the property home. The cats are descendants of Ernest and Pauline’s unusual 6 toed cats, and still, share the same unique 6 toe trait as their ancestors! The cats are used to visitors and, for the most part, they’re super-friendly. Teens will enjoy giving them some love while touring the museum.
11. Go to the Beach
Teens love hanging out at the beach, and Key West has several great ones to choose from! Smathers Beach is located on the opposite end of the island from Mallory Square and the bulk of restaurants and tourist attractions. So if you are looking for more of a low key beach experience, Smathers Beach is for you!
If you are looking for a beach close to all the action, check out Higgs Beach where you’ll find a pier and a park. The water level at Higgs Beach is low for quite a stretch from shore, so you can walk pretty far out.
TravelingMOM Tip: The sand at Higgs Beach is pretty rocky, so consider bringing water shoes!
12. Take an Island Jet Ski Tour
You can rent a jet ski just about anywhere, but on Key West, you can go on a two –hour guided jet ski tour around the entire island of Key West!
We did Barefoot Billy’s Island Jet Ski Tour and my teen absolutely loved it! The tour begins with a safety lesson and some time to get comfortable with the equipment. The tour will make five stops at various points of interest, including The Southernmost Point, Historic Key West Bight, and Sunset Key. It’s a fantastic way to experience Key West from a whole different perspective!
13. Travel to Dry Tortugas National Park
Condé Nast Traveler named the Dry Tortugas National Park “one of the most beautiful places in Florida.” With an honor like that, how can you resist checking it out?
Located 70 miles (about two hours by boat) off Key West, visiting Dry Tortugas National Park is a commitment, but if you have the time it shouldn’t be missed and teens will love it! With its shallow reefs and clear blue Gulf waters, the Dry Tortugas have some of the best snorkeling. Teens will also enjoy exploring the island and taking a tour of Fort Jefferson, once the largest maritime fort in North America.
14. Visit the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center
The Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center is a natural history museum in Key West. While it is obviously educational, teens will enjoy it because there are many hands-on lab and ecological exhibits!
The Center features over 6,000 square feet of interactive exhibits including a mock-up of Aquarius, the world’s only underwater ocean laboratory. A walk through the Aquarius exhibit offers glimpses of the beautiful marine life at the reef and shows how scientists live beneath the sea during research expeditions. Other exhibits cover the plants and animals of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
15. Rent Bikes
Busy streets and limited parking make biking around the island an efficient and family-friendly way to cover a lot of ground in Key West. It’s also fun and great exercise! We rented beach cruisers from Island Bicycles for a super reasonable $12 a day. (At the beaches near home in Southern California, bike rentals can cost more than that for an hour!) And not having to worry about getting the bikes back in an hour made for a stress-free day of exploring.
16. Explore Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park
Located near the southern tip of Key West, Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park is a National Historic Landmark, predating the Civil War. It houses the largest cache of Civil War armament in the world. Beyond its historical importance and interesting exhibits, the park is just a fun place to hang out! It has a great beach with picnic tables and offers teens a sunny spot to swim, snorkel, hike around or go fishing.
17. 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 of your Key West family vacation at the Southernmost Point in the United States!