Blake Walsh

20 Free Things to Do in Key West, FL

  • Published 2022/11/03

Located on the Southernmost Point of the continental United States, Key West is an island paradise full of sunshine and sea life.

It’s just 90 miles from Florida’s mainland.

It boasts a seven-mile-long beach and sandy bottom, ensuring that it’s an ideal diving location year-round.

This city’s location offers curious individuals an opportunity to be closer to nature at any time of day.

It’s home to some of the best beaches in Florida, restaurants with amazing views, and one of the most vibrant art scenes in the country!

However, it’s essential not to forget how Key West offers visitors some extraordinary annual events, such as the Fantasy Fest.

Every autumn, it takes place and brings a little bit of magic into every visitor’s holiday by costumed people and exotic parade floats.

The performers from around the country get together to create an atmosphere that makes partying extra fun!

You’d be pleasantly surprised by the island and its laid-back vibe and welcoming residents!

So if you’re planning on visiting Key West any time soon, be sure to check out these 20 free things to do in Key West.

Catch the Sunset at Mallory Square

People Watching the Sunset in Mallory Square

Leonard Zhukovsky /

As far as iconic sunset experiences go, it doesn’t get much better than Mallory Square.

The square comes alive during happy hour, with all sorts of food and drink vendors setting up the shops around 5 pm.

Mallory Square attracts hundreds of people to its dockside bars and restaurants to watch the sailboats crowding its channel, toting colorful parasails high in their wake.

View of parasail boats during sunset from Mallory Square

Jkantz Photography /

You have a great view of Mallory Square from most areas in town, so whether you’re staying on Duval or one of the side streets, you’ll have a front-row seat to a Key West icon.

Night at Mallory Square

Policas /

At sundown, performers take to an elaborate stage built into a barge anchored just offshore, entertaining locals and visitors alike with acrobatics that are among some of the best in Florida.

Sure to be an unforgettable way to spend your final hours in Key West.

Tip: Get there about 15 minutes before sunset to avoid having to fight crowds.

Chairs and tables on Mallory Square's sunset pier

lazyllama /

Take Your Dog to Dog Beach

A Dog in Dog Beach, Key West

Radoslav Cajkovic /

Yes, that’s a real thing, and it’s great.

Located near Louie’s Backyard, Dog Beach is a designated section of beach just for dogs and their owners to play in.

It’s a fantastic place to enjoy an afternoon with your dog.

Dogs can go off-leash on designated areas of this beach, but make sure to check out your surroundings before letting your pooch loose.

Some parts of the beach are less populated than others.

People in in Dog Beach, Key West

Romain7189 /

Keep an eye out as well for other people who might have picked up hitchhiking sand fleas, though!

If you don’t have any dogs with you, keep your eyes peeled for some puppies walking alongside their owner around town.

Most dogs love swimming in warm Florida waters, so don’t be surprised if you get invited for a swim buddy.

The adorable factor alone is enough to make it worth checking out!

Welcome sign of Dog Beach

Chuck Wagner /

Key West First Legal Rum Distillery

In 2013, Florida’s first legal rum distillery opened its doors to the public at Simonton Street, Key West!

And the man behind it is no other than kiteboarding-pioneer-turned-chef and restaurateur Paul Menta.

They are open from 11:00 am to 6:00 pm on Monday until Thursday, 11:00 ​am to 7:00 pm on Friday and Saturday, and 10:30 am to 5 pm on Sundays.

But every 20 minutes, you can get a free tour of their distillery from 12:00 pm until 5:00 pm.

The tour takes about 15 minutes, with kids and pets welcome!

Not only will you get to learn about rum production, but you’ll also get some great history of whiskey making in general.

If you’re traveling with kids who have no interest in these things, they can entertain themselves by waiting on one of Key West’s gorgeous beaches.

While they’re at it, you can sip sweet cocktails and try out your newfound knowledge!

Find Cheeky Epitaphs at Key West Cemetery

An Angel statue in the Key West Cemetery

Fotoluminate LLC /

The old town cemetery in Key West is full of interesting people, strange epitaphs, and, in some cases, rather scandalous histories.

There’s one grave here that many visitors will never forget.

It was for two Spanish-American War soldiers killed by American troops during the Battle of Matecumbe.

The statue in front of their graves says it all: Fusilados por su pais y errores de sus compatriotas (They were shot by their countrymen for their own mistakes).

Cheeky, but true.

A Woman in Bicycle in Key West Cemetery

Fotoluminate LLC /

Another epitaph reads, Carpe diem!

Another epitaph reads simply: I told you I was sick.

If these sentiments inspired you to create your own witty tombstone for visitors to enjoy, visit Swampy’s Unique Memorials for ideas.

I told you I was sick written on a headstone at Key West Cemetery

Chuck Wagner /

Take a Dip at Smathers Beach

Sunset in Smathers Beach

Jon Bilous /

After your long drive down to Key West, you might want to start with a relaxing dip in one of its most famous and beautiful beaches: Smathers Beach.

Smathers Beach’s location is on Key West’s southern shore, about a mile from the city center.

It’s less than an hour wait for flights, which is definitely a plus if you enjoy watching airplanes take off or land at the airport.

Footbridge to the Smathers Beach

Zhukova Valentyna /

You might find it annoying at the same time, though, if you’re not fond of the sounds.

The beach features a small, shallow lagoon and plenty of open space for sunbathing and swimming.

With beautiful surroundings and crystal clear water, Smathers Beach is perfect for spending an afternoon lounging around.

Don’t forget to pack your swimsuit!

Sailboats docked at Smathers Beach

Chuck Wagner /

Climb the Stairs of the West Martello Tower

Exterior of the West Martello Tower

Averette, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The West Martello Tower is a feature of Joe Allen Garden Center and the Key West Garden Club.

It’s a historical site that you should try to fit into your itinerary when visiting Key West.

The West Martello Tower sits on a small island just off Fort Zachary Taylor State Park in Key West.

Built in 1862, this historical attraction lies in one of the most beautiful gardens.

In 1976, the West Martello Tower made it to the National Register of Historic Places record and is undoubtedly one of Key West’s greatest gems.

Although the fort didn’t taste any battles, it is one of few national historical sites to enjoy such status.

The best time to go is at sunset when you can capture some beautiful shots of both land and sea.

Get a Selfie With the Southernmost Point Buoy

The Southernmost Point Marker in Key West in Sunset

Editorial credit: Stuart Monk /

The southernmost point in America is a popular tourist attraction.

At Mile Marker 0, you’ll find a cluster of tourists and locals alike in front of a low stone marker that reads “Southernmost Point in the Continental United States.”

Located at Whitehead and South Roosevelt Streets, the southernmost point is always full of people trying to get pictures with it, but don’t let that turn you off from seeing it.

The marker is a large stone pillar on North America’s most photographed beaches, Duval Street.

People Taking Picture With the Southernmost Point Marker in Key West in Sunset

Michael Rosebrock /

There are chairs set up all around where you can sit down and admire your surroundings while also getting great shots for social media.

You can also get postcards stamped here or grab a souvenir from one of the nearby gift shops.

Explore Key West Eco-Discovery Center

Outside View of Eco-Discovery Center

Haydn Blackey from Cardiff, Wales, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

As you head out of Miami, make sure to make a pit stop at Key West Eco-Discovery Center, located on 35 Quay Rd.

From exploring local reefs to watching actual divers up close, you can get an inside look at what it takes to be a marine biologist while also learning about sea conservation and recycling efforts.

Explore some of these undersea creatures up close with free entry into three areas: interactive touch pools, aquarium, and aquarium lab.

This non-profit marine science facility also offers a fantastic view of Florida Bay and Biscayne Bay.

And it’s totally free!

Be sure to check out their observation tower for some incredible photo ops.

You can also view wildlife up close to their boardwalk or visit one of their many educational programs.

It is open daily from 10 am – 5 pm, but entry ends at 4:30 pm.

Relax at South Beach

People Having Fun in South Beach

Birute Vijeikiene /

Since South Beach is just a short 5-minute walk away, simply pack your bags and check out their beach if you are looking for something free to do in Key West.

This picturesque spot sits on the easterly shore of Key West, just beyond the southernmost point of the United States, and is a lovely beach for all of the locals and tourists alike.

South Beach is a 200-foot-long stretch of sand bordered by the Southernmost Beach Resort at one end and the South Beach Pier at another.

While it is not as large as their neighboring beaches, you can still lounge under an umbrella or rent out a cabana.

The South Beach Pier stretches out 100 feet out into the water, offering great photo opportunities for fans who love maritime history.

The pier sits next to the South Beach Cafe, which serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily.

It also has a nice indoor dining room or outdoor patio with breathtaking ocean views!

Have a Picnic at Key West Wildlife Center

Sometimes a picnic is just a picnic.

But at Key West Wildlife Center, a local nonprofit organization dedicated to rescuing and rehabilitating animals who suffered an injury or got displaced from their natural habitats, picnicking means more.

The center is a great spot to learn about Florida’s threatened plants and animals.

It’s an excellent opportunity to learn about those majestic creatures while sharing your lunch with some of them!

And, if you need some shade from those Texas summer rays, there’s a freshwater pond where you can go for a swim to cool off your body and soul.

The center also has two aviaries where you can hang out with a few friendly birds known to sing beautiful melodies.

You can also catch a glimpse of some live reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates.

Before leaving, make sure to check out Croc Encounters, where you can watch a gator feed!

Oh, and admission is totally free!

If you love learning about nature, then put Key West Wildlife Center on your list of things to do in Key West before leaving!

Take a Selfie With the 0 Mile Marker

Mile Marker 0 in Key West

lazyllama /

The marker for mile zero is an exciting spot to visit if you are in Key West, if for no other reason than because it’s the very first marker.

It’s similar to how the southernmost point of the continental United States is also located in this city.

The site is one of the best-known land-based markers of its kind globally, staging thousands of pictures daily.

Daytime view of the 0 Mile Marker

Mulevich /

You should include this spot as part of your itinerary as it serves as a symbol of how far you’ve come and all the places you’ve visited.

The wait here doesn’t usually take too long, either, which is why it’s an absolute no-brainer for those who’re looking for fun things to do in Key West!

If there are gorgeous buildings you want to snap pictures of, an autumn trip to this island will absolutely ensure the opportunity.

See the Flowers at Key West Garden Club

A Signage of Key West Garden Club

Kristi Blokhin /

The Key West Garden Club may lie at Higgs Beach Dog Park, but it’s really their nursery that draws visitors to visit.

It was originally built as a Civil War fort, but it has become an open-air oasis for plants and wildlife.

The nursery is rich in tropical plants, cacti, and succulents.

A small waterfall at Key West Garden Club

photravel_ru /

Visitors can explore at their leisure, although on Saturday mornings, you can take part in a free guided tour to get an idea of what goes into creating some of these vibrant ecosystems.

Since tours are every Saturday at 10:30 am, you should arrive 15 minutes early for many people visit the place.

Be sure to check out each plant for more information on its origin or its use in landscaping projects around South Florida.

Lush flora at Key West Garden Club

photravel_ru /

Pet Animals at Monroe County Sheriff’s Office Animal Farm

At 5501 College Road in Key West, FL lies Monroe County Sheriff’s Office Stock Island Detention Center.

The farm opened along with the opening of the detention facility in 1994.

The facility is home to the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office Children’s Animal Farm, a petting zoo created to entertain and educate children.

While here, you can explore the farm, feed animals, learn about animal safety, crime prevention, and natural resources.

You get to meet Lala the Silver Fox, Kinx the Kinkajou, Coco the Skunk, Rocky the Fox, Thunder the Miniature Zebu, Jack the Ostrich, Julien the Lemur, and more!

This place is a dream for kids and adults alike who love animals!

It costs nothing to get in, but they do welcome donations.

You can visit the place every other Sunday from 1 pm. to 3 pm.

Parking is also accessible at the site.

Soak in Some Rays at Higgs Beach

Beautiful view of Higgs Beach in Key West.

Benny Marty /

Higgs Beach is a true must-see on your Key West vacation.

It’s a secluded beach located on Stock Island, a 15-minute boat ride from Key West.

The spot is also known for its postcard-worthy sunsets.

The southernmost beach in Florida, it’s a great place to relax and soak up some rays.

You can rent sun loungers at Higgs Beach for about $8 per day if you don’t want to bring your own.

Pier in Higgs Beach in Key West

Tlshelton79 /

Several small food stalls along Higgs Beach sell fresh fruit drinks and other snacks if you need something to nibble on during your stay.

Plus, if you’re looking for something more active than just laying out, there are kayak tours that can take you around famous spots, such as Mallory Square and Fort Zachary Taylor State Park.

Be sure to swing by The Fish House for some fresh fish tacos after taking in all that Vitamin D!

Clear waters of Higgs Beach

Naeblys /

Walk around San Carlos Institute and Learn about Various Programs Held Onsite

Exterior of San Carlos Institute

travelview /

The San Carlos Institute (commonly known as the San Carlos) is a hub for Cuban ancestry) on Duval Street in Key West, Florida.

The institute was established in 1871 with the help of Cuban exiles to conserve and advance Cuban culture, language, and patriotic beliefs.

The San Carlos Institute is now a multifunctional building that serves the Key West neighborhood as a museum, gallery, learning facility, library, conference hall, and theatre.

Exhibit in San Carlos Institute

photravel_ru /

It welcomes guests and holds several events throughout the year.

In addition to hosting several well-attended cultural and artistic programs, the institution maintains a variety of long-term historical installations about Cuba.

Take a Photo of the Famous Kapok Tree

Daytime view of the Kapok Tree

Kristi Blokhin /

The Kapok Tree is the nationwide tree of Guatemala and Puerto Rico.

It is also referred to as Ceiba and Silk cotton and is one of Key West’s most popular trees for photography.

It may extend up to 230 feet; it has a trunk up to 10 feet in diameter, without including its legs or roots.

View of the Kapok Tree branches

Katie Louise Marshall /

Additionally, it was revered by the Mayans, who thought that the spirits of the deceased ascended a mythological tree called the Kapok, whose branches reached the skies.

Its bark is used medicinally and has been employed to treat type II diabetes and headaches and as an aphrodisiac.

Explore Duval Street and Prepare to be Amazed

Bicycle ride along Duval Street

Fotoluminate LLC /

Key West, Florida’s Duval Street, runs from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean and is designated as a commercial street in the island center.

Duval Street is a central location for activities, dining with a local flair, shopping, and cool drinks.

It honors William Pope Duval, who served as Florida’s first territorial governor.

Buildings along Duval Street

xbrchx /

This 1.25-mile strip is bustling with action, live music, bicycles, pedicabs, and residents carrying birds on their shoulders; it also makes for amazing people-watching.

Duval Roadway is among the few sites in the world that meets two bodies of water, making it not your typical street.

The broad walkways are lined with bodegas, stores, hotels, and art galleries.

Shops along Duval Street

Danita Delimont /

Pay a Visit to Basilica of St. Mary Star of the Sea

Exterior of the St. Mary Star of the Sea

rj lerich /

A Minor Basilica of the Catholic Community, St. Mary Star of the Sea is situated in Key West, Florida.

It is the earliest parish in the Archdiocese of Miami and among the first Catholic parishes in Florida.

The church is a significant asset to the National Registry of Historic Site listings in the Key West Historic District.

Interior of the St. Mary Star of the Sea

Jay Yuan /

At the Basilica’s entryway, you may pick up brochures that will take you on a self-guided guided tour of the building.

Visitors worldwide, including residents, are free to worship and drop by the Gift Shop.

Facade of the St. Mary Star of the Sea

rj lerich /

Learn More about History at the Oldest House in Key West

Exterior of the Oldest House in Key West

Dietmar Rauscher /

Duval Street is home to the earliest house in Key West and throughout South Florida.

The home has family photographs, vintage items, replica ships, and records that tell the history of early Key West, in addition to family photos and original furniture.

Richard Cussans, who moved from the Bahamas to Key West in 1826, was the architect of the Oldest House.

A large, tranquil garden with chairs in the back of the home invites visitors to relax and meditate.

Signage of the Oldest House in Key West

Darryl Brooks /

View the oldest still-standing Cook House in South Florida onsite!

It is the oldest surviving original cookhouse in Key West and is located behind the Oldest House and goes back to about 1838.

The wood structure of the cookhouse on the site of The Oldest House is among its most remarkable features.

The timbers are enormous, possibly three times the size of the wood used to build the building itself.

Final Thoughts

With Key West’s beaches, museums, shops, and nature trails to explore, there are so many things here for people of all ages to take in.

Travelers have the option of touring the rich history that surrounds the island city or visiting one of its many free attractions, ranging from art galleries to exotic wildlife exhibits.

Your stay in this charming paradise is sure to be fun-filled regardless of whether you’re traveling with family or friends.

© All rights reserved.