A few fun facts about Key West:
Did you know that the concrete buoy in Key West that marks the southernmost point in the Continental US is actually NOT the southernmost point? The true official point is on a private island off the coast. Nevertheless, it still makes a fun photo-stop!
Did you know that Key West is closer to Cuba than the nearest Wal-Mart?
photo courtesy Flagler Centennial Committee
Did you know that January 22nd, 2012 marks 100 years since Henry Flagler's railroad first reached Key West? Click to learn more about the railroad and the historic importance of linking the keys to the mainland.
Did you know: Ocean Key Resort and Little Palm Island are the only two Lower Keys hotels to appear on the 2012 Conde Nast Gold List, Travel + Leisure's Top 500 Hotels List, and AAA's 2012 Four Diamond Hotels list. Be sure to contact Sunshine Travel before making a reservation; even though these resorts are highly acclaimed, there are still other great luxury lodging options available in Key West that may be better suited to your travel style!
Key West has a reputation for being a haven for drinking, a little bit of craziness, and lot of gay pride. (How many other cities do you know with a clothing-optional bar? Or more bars per capita than any other US city?) So maybe that’s not what you have in mind when selecting your next family vacation spot!… However, you might be surprised to find that there are a lot of family-friendly things to do with kids in Key West! Whether you’re just visiting for the day via cruise ship, or staying a few nights, you’ll find plenty of activities to keep the young ones happy, while you kick back and relax in Margaritaville yourself! Here are some great ideas:
There are many museums and tourist attractions available that kids will enjoy. You can start out with an overview from Trolley Tours or aboard the Conch Tour Train (kids 12 and under ride free!). If you think your kids will get bored with the narration, no matter how interesting and informative it might be, why not rent an electric car and tour on your own? Several places offer these rentals, such as Adventure Rentals (who also happen to rent scooters and Harley Davidsons!)
If your kids like pirates, shipwrecks, and treasures, check out Mel Fisher’s Maritime Museum and the Key West Shipwreck Historeum. Older kids with an appreciation for literature and history may enjoy the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum or the Harry S. Truman Little White House.
photo courtesy of: Key West Lighthouse Museum
If you have young kids, you may have found that most lighthouses don’t let you climb to the top unless you are a certain height or age - not so at the Key West Lighthouse Museum : while admission is free for kids under 6, everyone can climb the 88 steps to the observation deck of this lighthouse that dates from the mid-1800s!
photo courtesy of: The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory
Be sure to make a stop at the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center. You and your children will be able to explore over 6000 square feet of interactive exhibits. Through learning about native plants and animals, observing a Living Reef exhibit, and viewing the different South Florida ecosystems, the hope is to increase awareness and appreciation of conservation in South Florida. Best of all, admission is free! Also with free admission is the Turtle Kraals Museum. While there are no live turtles, there are several family-friendly and educational exhibits about sea turtles, and it's worth a stop if you're nearby and the kids like turtles.
If your children are interested in viewing some live animals, note that kids tend to enjoy the shark feedings and touch tanks at the Key West Aquarium.
And for a peaceful and wondrous stop, The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory was recently awarded the People’s Choice Award from TripAdvisor for the #1 Attraction in Key West! This is not a place to quickly breeze through - be sure to really slow down and take it all in. Don't forget to bring your camera!
photo courtesy of: Florida State Parks
Key West is actually NOT known for great beaches. However, if you need some beach-time on your vacation, there are a few choices. Smathers Beach is the largest public beach in Key West, and has been recently revitalized. It’s relatively family friendly, with white sand, and calm waters (and right across the street from the Sheraton Suites, see below). Fort Zachary Taylor State Park is another great option. You can tour the fort, and then have lunch (in the café, or bring your own picnic). Beach equipment and watersport rentals are available. Snorkeling is good, but be sure to bring watershoes as the shoreline can be rocky. And if you must stay at a beach-front resort, check out Casa Marina, A Waldorf Astoria Resort; it's one of the few Key West resorts with their own private beach (see below).
If your kids are older, there are plenty of opportunities to get out on the water. Try Stand Up Paddleboarding, or the Ultimate Adventure from Fury Water Adventures, for a day filled with snorkeling, catamaran rides, jet skiing, parasailing, kayaking, and a water playground. Sebago Key West offers a similar Power Adventure, including banana boat rides and paddle boards. There are also multiple outfitters for fishing and sailing trips.
Back on land, make sure you have your picture taken at the Southernmost Point. And last, but not least, don’t miss the nightly Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square. Try to arrive about 2 hours before sunset to watch the street performers (think sword-swallowers and juggling unicyclists), passing boats, and to get a good seat on the edge of the pier!
Family-friendly hotel accommodations in Key West include:
Sheraton Suites - directly across from Smathers Beach with a free shuttle to Duval Street.
Hyatt Key West Resort & Marina - families can reserve a second room for their kids at 50% off (based on availability) at this hotel that is centrally located to most of Key West's attractions.
Casa Marina, A Waldorf Astoria Resort - while not right near Duval Street, this resort has an 1,100 stretch of private beach, which is a rarity for resorts in Key West, and families like the quieter atmosphere.
Sunset Key Guest Cottages - part of Westin, on a 27 acre private island reachable by boat launch from the Westin Key West, if you really want to have that get-away-from-it-all feeling with the family.
Be sure to contact Sunshine Travel to find a resort that suits you best...and to get a great deal as well!
The Florida Keys have become a sophisticated culinary destination in recent years, influenced by the Caribbean and locally grown tropical foods. “Best foods” in Key West range from conch fritters at a walk-up stand to fine dining in a reservations-only restaurant, so it’s up to your own personal tastes to discover your favorites.
Instead of highlighting the well-known dining establishments, I’ve decided to tell you how to sample some of Key West’s signature items on your own. If you want to savor the flavor of the Keys and you’re unable to get there, just swing by your local bookstore or library and pick up Linda Gassenheimer’s The Flavors of the Florida Keys. It’s a great collection of recipes from locals as well as celebrated restaurants throughout the Keys. Cook up a few of these specialties, put on your flip-flops, get the Jimmy Buffet playing, and you’re halfway there!
For more serious foodies, there’s no better way to sample the culinary offerings of Key West than the Key West Food and Wine Festival, January 26-29, 2012. Highlights include 2-hour strolls through some of Key West’s unique neighborhoods to sample food and wine from various restaurants, seminars, wine tastings, and even coconut bowling. It all culminates in the 18th Annual Master Chef’s Classic, the premier culinary competition of the Lower Keys. Not only is there a panel of judges, but there is also a “People’s Choice Award” up for grabs...if you are lucky enough to attend this event, you’ll get to sample the chefs’ creations and put in your vote as well!
If you can’t make it to the Festival this year, consider Key West Food Tours for when you do visit. You’ll get insight into the local history of Key West, as well as a sampling of some of the best restaurants on a 2 -hour walking tour around town.
If it’s seafood you’re after, check out the 7th Annual Florida Keys Seafood Festival January 14, 2012, from 11am to 8pm at Bayview Park in Key West. Many types of fresh seafood will be on the menu, including Grilled Spiny Lobster, Stone Crab Claws, Key West Pink Shrimp, and Conch Fritters. There’s also live music, and even activities for the kids.
Other upcoming food and drink events this year include Taste of Key West (fundraiser for AIDS Help) in late April, June’s Key West Bacchanalia (proceeds benefit Breast Cancer research), and if you’re a beer aficionado, don’t miss the Key West Brewfest over the Labor Day weekend.
If fancy food and wine isn’t your thing, there’s still plenty of fun to be had with drinking and eating. Did you know that Key West has more bars per capita than any other city in the United States? Work your way through some of Key West's famous drinking establishments on the Key West Pub Crawl, or if you don’t like organized group tours (or want to visit more bars!), do it yourself with these tips from the Travel Channel.
If you are looking for a more family-friendly (or alcohol-free) tasting experience, why not go in search of the best Key Lime Pie? In 2006, the Florida House of Representatives and Senate actually passed legislation declaring that Key Lime Pie is the Official Pie of the State of Florida! There’s plenty of debate over who has the BEST Key Lime Pie in Key West. Featured on Food Network, Kermit’s Key West Key Lime Shoppe offers more than just Key Lime Pies - you can choose from salsas, spices, jellies, and even Key Lime Dog Treats! And the Key West Key Lime Pie Co. is home to The Original Key Lime Pie Bar: slices of their handmade key lime pie dipped in rich chocolate and served on a stick. Have fun sampling and decide for yourself!