This blog post was updated on May 7, 2020.
When you take one step into Key West, it can feel as though the rest of the world has faded away; job and life responsibilities subside and you’re on a non-stop vacation. And while the southernmost point in the U.S. is known for its ability to let loose and party, when you get beyond the raucous bars of Duval Street, Key West can surprise as a family-friendly destination. From beaches to museums and historic sites, here’s your guide to a weekend with the family in Key West.
Get up early and hit the deck, or beach rather. While not known for having loads of soft sandy beaches, Key West does have a couple that the whole family will appreciate. Pack up the crew and head for Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park. Spread over 54 acres, the park includes a fine sandy beach, along with a late 1800s fort you can tour for its Civil War cannons. Aside from playing on the beach or history tours, the park is also home to a number of nature trails. When hunger presents after a few hours on the beach, you can grab breakfast, lunch, or snacks at Cayo Hueso Cafe in between dips in the water.
Spending some time on the beach might give your kids the notion to take to the seas. Key West has loads of snorkeling and boat tours, but for something appropriate for all ages, it’s hard to beat a glass bottom boat ride. You can join one of Fury Water Adventures Glass Bottom Boat rides. Try to get on the 12 p.m. tour, even though there are other tours at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. if you miss it. Your family will get to see marine life frequenting North America’s only living coral reef.
After several hours on the beach and at sea, head back to the hotel for a quick shower and then nab a ticket to the Key West Shipwreck Museum. While kitschy, the museum will entertain kids with its actors, films, and artifacts. The space spotlights the 1985 discovery of the wrecked vessel Isaac Allerton that sank off the coast in 1856. Reenactors bring back that time period for museum-goers and kids can take part in a scavenger hunt or even enjoy climbing the 65-foot lookout tower.
After a long day on the beach and wandering through a museum, everyone in the family will need a big dinner. For a true Key West experience, take the whole lot to Blue Heaven. The property boasts a rich history as it was here that Ernest Hemingway once refereed boxing matches. What will delight the little ones is the fact that cats and chickens roam the restaurant freely! If you don’t want to tango with a chicken, there’s also indoor seating. Blue Heaven serves up something for everyone with American and Caribbean cuisine on offer.
To walk off dinner before retiring for the evening, you can then take the family to Mallory Square, essentially the center of life in Key West. The square is also home to plenty of entertaining street performers. However, the main draw comes at sunset when the sky lights up in shades of pink and purple over the waterfront square.
Before the day’s activities can begin, take the whole family to Pepe’s Cafe Key West, a Key West institution since 1909. At its creaky wooden booths and tables, you can load up on a hearty breakfast ranging from omelets to French toast to pancakes to eggs any way you like them.
When you want to mingle with marine life beyond the shores along town, you can visit the Key West Aquarium, a mainstay in Key West since 1934. It’s hard to miss with its shark busting out of the building in Mallory Square. Home to alligators, jellyfish, sharks, and stingrays (just to name a few), the aquarium also allows kids to touch live fish.
After working up an appetite, you can take the family to Lagerhead’s Beach Bar. This casual beachside spot has quick bites for everyone, from fish tacos to crab cakes to your basic hamburgers and hot dogs.
When the little ones start to complain that they need to head to the beach again, Key West offers up another in Smathers Beach. Known for its soft white sands, the beach stretches for nearly a mile and is fringed by palm trees. Splash around for a while and build a sandcastle or two.
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For a classic, albeit a bit touristy tour of Key West, families will find little ones begging to hop aboard the Conch Tour Train. Since 1958, the miniature train has been taking guests around Key West’s major attractions. The 90-minute tour allows for 3 stops for breaks and largely covers Old Town Key West.
You’ll want to have your last meal in Key West near the water. Hurricane Hole supplies just that setting with outdoor seating along a boat dock, plus an indoor dining room. The menu covers it all, including soups and salads, burgers, sandwiches, and seafood.
You can’t leave Key West without sampling its most famous dessert — Key lime pie. There might be no better spot to grab a slice than at Kermit’s Key West Lime Shoppe. You can frequent two locations in town, but the original lies on Elizabeth Street. It’s easy being green at Kermit’s, where the specialty is frozen key lime pie on a stick coated in chocolate. You can feast on such deliciousness at the onsite patio. When you’re done, head back inside and pick up some Key lime products to take home.
So there you have it! A great fun-filled weekend in Key West that the whole family is sure to enjoy.
Have you taken the family to Key West? What other family-friendly spots would you add to the list?