Table of Contents[Hide][Show]
- 1. See a Sunset
- 2. Flowers and Butterflies in Key West
- 3. Local Artisans
- 4. History Lesson
- 5. Travel around
- 6. Historic Home
- 7. Farmers Market
- 8. Cuban History
- 9. Cool Off
- 10. Discover
- 11. Native Trees
- 12. Key West Wildlife Center
- 13. Key West Lighthouse
- 14. Cemetery Tour
- 15. Walk Bahama Village
- 16. See the Buoy
- If your budget allows
Situated on the southernmost point of the continental United States, Key West has extravagant resorts as well as inexpensive B & B’s on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. A popular island city and port stop in Florida, Key West offers visitors plenty of things to do for free or at a minimal cost. Read about the 16 things you can do for free in Key West.
The island city, once home to Ernest Hemingway and Jimmy Buffet, and the winter White House of Harry Truman, now specializes in water sports, diving and snorkeling in the coral reefs, and fresh fish. Strolling along the main drag in Key West, Florida, is entertainment enough for some vacationers. But for those seeking additional free family-friendly activities, Key West delivers.
1. See a Sunset
Spending the evening watching the sun set over the water at Mallory Square is a cheap way to get a nightly thrill. The nightly sunset celebration deserves the spontaneous applause it often receives.
2. Flowers and Butterflies in Key West
The Key West Garden Club has a small botanic garden next to Higgs Beach Dog Park. It is the perfect place to spend some time in the shade if the sun at the beach overwhelms. Sit in a gazebo if there is no wedding going on, and look for native and imported plants, from orchids and tropical bromeliads to water lilies and baobab trees.
TravelingMom Tip: Skip the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory and see the butterfly garden here for free!
3. Local Artisans
The Key West Artisan Market, held on Sundays from November to April, features food, textiles and jewelry. There is a different theme each week focused on island living. The artisan market runs from 10 am to 2 pm at Higgs Beach, in the parking lot at the Key West Wildlife Center.
4. History Lesson
The African Burial Ground, also known as the African Cemetery at Higgs Beach, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1860, the US Navy captured slave ships headed to Cuba, and more than 1,400 Africans stayed in Key West. Weakened from their journey, many died and were buried on the island. Historians working with the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum used ground-penetrating radar to determine where the unmarked graves were. Now you can read the engraved plaques and follow the slave ships’ routes.
5. Travel around
Take the free Duval Loop bus that goes near the historic district, to the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory, and to the Truman Little White House.
TravelingMom Tip: If you’re traveling without the kids, stop in Key Largo on your Florida road trip to Key West. Key Largo is the home of Bungalows Key Largo, an all-inclusive resort in Florida for adults only.
6. Historic Home
The Oldest House & Garden Museum contrasts sharply with the Duval Street bars and T-shirt shops in modern Key West. Built by a ship’s captain in 1829, it has a separate cook house. The house, where the captain raised his nine daughters, has original furnishings. Sit in the tranquil garden and reflect on a quieter time in Key West.
7. Farmers Market
The Thursday farmers market, open from 2 pm to 7 pm, at Truman Waterfront has a gorgeous display of native plants and orchids for sale. You can also buy local produce and cheeses, pickles, honey and natural soaps.
8. Cuban History
San Carlos Institute has a small museum on Cuban history and culture. This is the site of Jose Marti’s speech in 1892 launching Cuba’s drive for independence. The beautiful 1871 building is worth exploring, inside and out.
9. Cool Off
Truman Waterfront Park has a splash pad where little and big kids can cool off, and a playground where they can burn off excess energy.
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Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center has exhibits on land and marine animals, and plants native to Key West. You can also see a coral reef.
11. Native Trees
The Sonny McCoy Indigenous Park, just off the Atlantic Ocean, features native trees and birds.
12. Key West Wildlife Center
The Key West Wildlife Center, open from 11am – 2pm every day but Wednesday, has a nature trail with a freshwater pond and two aviaries. Go in fall or spring to see migratory birds.
13. Key West Lighthouse
Since Key West sticks out into the Atlantic Ocean, a lighthouse was key to the safe passage of ships. Admission to the 1848 Key West Lighthouse is pricey, but you can see the historic lighthouse from outside without paying.
14. Cemetery Tour
Located in Old Town, the Key West Cemetery offers free walking tour maps from the entrance at the northwest corner of Passover Lane and Angela Street. The oldest gravestones, built on the highest point in Key West, date from 1829 to 1843.
15. Walk Bahama Village
The colorful houses in Bahama Village celebrate the Caribbean and Bahamian influence on Key West. Walk around the 16-block historic neighborhood in Old Town, which has a flea market, kiosks and local shops.
16. See the Buoy
Head to the corner of South Street and Whitehead Street to see the official southernmost point of the continental United States, marked by a colorful concrete buoy.
TravelingMom Tip: If you stay at the historic Curry Mansion Inn, you get a number of freebies. A full breakfast, including made-to-order omelets, is offered, as well as an evening cocktail hour with appetizers. And you can explore the mansion, listed on the National Register of Historic Places for free. Key West visitors who bed down elsewhere have to pay $5 for a tour.
Another really nice perk: You can use the pool and showers if you have an early arrival or a late departure. No getting back in the car or on a plane with sand between your toes.
If your budget allows
Worthy splurges in Key West include Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park, a civil war-era fort; Dry Tortugas National Park, accessible only by boat; and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. All charge admission, but give you hours of entertainment.