Key West Introduction Walking Tour, Key West

Key West Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), Key West

For the historically curious as well as for party people or laid-back drifters, Key West is a small paradise at the end of the road, with some truly awesome sunset views. The smell, flavors and visions of Hemingway-esque Old Town with its pirates, shipwrecks, quaint homes and historical sites exist in the middle of one of America's premier party towns.

Even though there aren't any grand museums in the traditional sense, there are a few real stand-outs, such as the Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society and Museum (famous for its impressive displays of gold, jewelry and artifacts retrieved from wrecked Spanish treasure ships) or the Little White House – one of the most interesting of the Keys' historical attractions. This self-guided tour will lead you to the island's most popular landmarks and attractions.
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Key West Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Key West Introduction Walking Tour
Guide Location: USA » Key West (See other walking tours in Key West)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 16
Tour Duration: 3 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.0 Km or 2.5 Miles
Author: Caroline
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Mallory Square
  • Key West Aquarium
  • Key West Shipwreck Treasure Museum
  • Key West Museum of Art & History
  • Mel Fisher Maritime Museum
  • Audubon House & Tropical Gardens
  • Harry S. Truman Little White House
  • Bull and Whistle Bar
  • St. Paul's Episcopal Church
  • Duval Street
  • Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory
  • The Southernmost Point
  • Key West Lighthouse & Museum
  • Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum
  • Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center
  • U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Ingham Maritime Museum
Mallory Square

1) Mallory Square (must see)

Fronting on world-famous Sunset Pier, Mallory Square is known for the lively crowds that gather in the evening to watch the sunset and marvel at the wacky street performers, whom some have been there for many many years. The performers range from a one-man band and fire jugglers to world famous Kwinci, who swallows a 40-inch balloon and walks barefoot on broken glass (you have to see this to believe it). Then there's Warren Lee, the Sophisticated Swindler. No trip to Key West is complete without seeing Dominique and his Flying House Cats. Somehow, he has trained his cats to jump through hoops of fire and other, very un-cat-like tricks. Bring cash and if you stop to watch, tip these performers – they deserve it. Surrounding are many delightful shops and craftsmen selling their wares, and you can get some nice food and drinks all coupled in with the spectacular view of the sun sinking into the Gulf of Mexico – a photographer's delight.

Why You Should Visit:
It can get very crowded near sunset time as it's quite a popular destination, but the people-watching is fun as you have all kinds of walk of life. The breeze is usually pretty refreshing even on hotter and humid days due to the oceanfront location.
Key West Aquarium

2) Key West Aquarium (must see)

Dating from 1932 and claiming to be the first tourist attraction in the Keys, the Aquarium attracts first-time visitors by its uniqueness. Originally open-air (one of the first and largest at the time), it is now home to exhibits on alligators, Atlantic Shores talks, jellyfish, shark feedings, sea turtle conservation, and a touch tank. Some people complain about the price, but put this on your list if you prefer aquariums where you can take time looking at each exhibit rather than fighting off crowds for just a peek. Giant sharks thrash around during feeding time in the outdoor pens and tiny colorful reef fish flit about in small tanks lining the walls inside. The ticket is good for two days and you can go in and out as much as you want.

Why You Should Visit:
The shark feeding is something to see, plus some really interesting murals of the local history in a very quaint space.
Tours aren't crowded; you can easily hear and there is enough breathing room around if you avoid the heat of the day.

Check the feeding schedule to take advantage of the full experience.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am–6pm
Key West Shipwreck Treasure Museum

3) Key West Shipwreck Treasure Museum (must see)

Combining actors, films and actual artifacts, this museum attempts to tell the story of four centuries of shipwreck salvage in the Florida Keys. Itself a re-creation of a 19th-century warehouse built by wrecker tycoon Asa Tift, the museum displays many artifacts from the 1985 rediscovery of the wrecked vessel Isaac Allerton, which sank in 1856 on the Florida Keys reef and turned out to be one the richest shipwrecks in the city's history, having resulted in the Federal Wrecking Court's largest monetary award for the salvage of a single vessel. Also included are relics from Spanish galleons, including a silver bar salvaged from the Nuestra Senora de las Maravillas that guests are encouraged to try to lift. Once they make it to the top floor, guests can also walk up the lookout tower for a great view of the harbor and most of Key West.

Why You Should Visit:
To learn about the many interesting artifacts and history of the shipwrecks that made Key West one of the richest towns in the US. At the same time, you can get a great discount by buying combo tickets for other Key West museums.

Taking a small flashlight, to read many of the signs and posters or labels, would be quite helpful.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am–5:30pm
Key West Museum of Art & History

4) Key West Museum of Art & History

On off-weather days, this museum is a great place to visit for the terrific artwork on display, as well as for the wonderful educational boards and artifacts to delight history buffs as well as a more general audience. A tremendous exemplar of Richardsonian Romanesque architecture, the structure was built in 1891 with red bricks brought from New York, iron from Pennsylvania and workers from the whole country. Exhibits include local history, famous personalities such as Ernest Hemingway, maritime history, and works by long-ago local artists with many talents and backgrounds. Overall, it's an affordable, comprehensive, and air-conditioned experience. Easy access to the upper floor containing touring exhibitions.

Be sure to make time for the gift shop – a gold mine of top quality items at reasonable prices; not exactly what one would expect in a beach town. Books by local authors, art, fun decor pieces, jewelry... So many pretty things!

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9:30am–4:30pm
Mel Fisher Maritime Museum

5) Mel Fisher Maritime Museum (must see)

The story of Mel Fisher and his discovery of the Nuestra Señora de Atocha along with its treasures are near what fantasy dreams are made of and what epitomizes the cultural attitudes behind the Conch Republic – Key West's strange-but-true 1982 "secession" from the United States. In a way, the story really has it all, and when reading it and viewing the artifacts, the looting, the scheming, the treachery, the deaths and tragedies can all come to light.

This museum is exactly what it advertises and is filled with interesting finds from the 17th-century Atocha vessel: stunning jewelry, coins, part of the hull and so much more, as well information on wreckers and pirates on the upper floor. There is also a very interesting section on the slave trade and another on Cubans doing what they can to reach America – but even more important is the fully operating Conservation & Archaeology lab, where admittance is allowed during a private Lab Tour that allows touching the artifacts while learning about their various stages of conservation. Some, depending on type and density, can take anywhere from weeks to years for full conservation before being placed on display!

Take the Conservation Lab Tour (extra fee) conducted by the extremely knowledgeable marine archaeologist who will take you through each step of the process from discovery to de-encrustation and preservation of artifacts. Plus it's really cool to be able to actually handle an encrusted artifact from a shipwreck and see all of the tools being used!

Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri: 8:30am–5pm; Sat, Sun, Holidays: 9:30am–5pm

Lab Tours:
Mon-Fri: 11:30am–2pm (Holidays excluded)
Audubon House & Tropical Gardens

6) Audubon House & Tropical Gardens

This nicely restored home from the 1840s was saved from the wrecking ball in the 1950s due to outstanding ornithologist, J.J. Audubon's connection with the garden and an image he painted. Since then, it has been used to commemorate Audubon's visit and to celebrate his work, as well as give a glimpse into mid-19th-century life in Key West. The property was the city's first restoration project, and currently contains lots of antique furnishing purchased from auctions in Europe, along with original Audubon art in the adjacent gallery. As for the garden, it is filled with specimen palms, orchids, hybrid crotons and tropical gingers, etc., and is the backdrop for many weddings and events. A meditation pond and scattered seating areas among the plants make it a nice shady place to relax in while walking around the rest of this part of Key West.

Why You Should Visit:
For those who enjoy nature, art, botany, architecture and photography, this is an amazing place to be.
The grounds are very beautiful and although a corner property, it still manages to be private and very personal.

Don't miss the unique gift shop in the garden, stocked with items that are well above much of what you can see elsewhere. Make sure to also listen to the volunteer's history of the place, then view the video on the 3rd floor for further information.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9:30am–5pm (last entry: 4:15pm)
Harry S. Truman Little White House

7) Harry S. Truman Little White House (must see)

Built in 1890 and originally waterfront, this used to be the First Officer's quarters on the submarine base naval station before turning into President Harry S. Truman's winter White House for 175 days during 11 visits. During such visits, Cabinet members and foreign officials were regular guests for fishing trips and poker games. More notably, Truman came here shortly after his 1948 re-election, on which occasion Division Street was renamed Truman Avenue in his honor.

In 1991, the house opened as a state historic site and museum. Today regular guided tours take visitors through the site, and one can enter the rooms where the Trumans lived, worked and relaxed. Items such as President's briefcase, books, telephone, and famous "The Buck Stops Here" sign are still at his desk. (The reverse of the sign says, "I'm From Missouri.")

Why You Should Visit:
Docents here are friendly and knowledgeable while the facility has all of the original furnishings for enhanced authenticity. It is also worthwhile exploring the Truman Annex area which is a beautifully landscaped part of Key West that many miss.

Although the entry fee is rather steep, you have the option to purchase the tickets at the front and bundle them with one of the other attractions in Key West to save a few dollars (they take credit cards, too).

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am–5pm (last entry: 4:30pm)
Tours are offered approx. every 20 minutes
Bull and Whistle Bar

8) Bull and Whistle Bar

One of Old Town Key West's oldest establishments, the Bull harks back to the seafaring days of yore. It's always a good place to sit and pass the time sipping on a favorite beverage, enjoying live music, and watching people stroll by. Despite being an open-air bar, they somehow managed to have hand-painted murals all around, which is quite visually stimulating.

The 2nd-floor Whistle Bar has pool tables, a nice casual atmosphere, and a balcony overlooking Duval Street; also, if you're brave enough, there's a 3rd-floor clothing-optional "Garden of Eden". Rolling Stone magazine's "best-kept secret in Key West", the Garden offers great views, live bands, body painting, and a few brave souls in their birthday suits.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am–3:30am
St. Paul's Episcopal Church

9) St. Paul's Episcopal Church

You don't have to be religious to appreciate the sheer beauty of this wonderful church. Situated on Duval Street, it has a very special elegance and appeal, and there is no charge to view the stunning stained glass windows, the beautiful wooden beams on the ceiling, or catch one of the marvelous impromptu concerts held during season on alternate Sunday afternoons. A pamphlet inside relays more about the windows as well as the church's long history. Famously destroyed several times by weather calamities, the building had the first chime of bells in Florida, inaugurated in 1891. On February 1st of 2020, St. Paul's has celebrated the 100th anniversary of the current church building, the fourth on the same site.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 8am–7pm
Duval Street

10) Duval Street (must see)

Duval Street is the most famous and most traveled street in all of Key West where one can find an array of bars, clubs, restaurants, lodging and shops. Designated a "Great Street" in 2012 by the American Planning Association, it runs approximately north and south across the island from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean. The north (lower) end of Duval (or “wild” side) is home to Mallory Square, the majority of bars and tourist attractions, and where most of the carousing takes place until all hours of the night (and early morning!). The south (upper) end of Duval (the "quiet" side) is home to the Southernmost point, with a mix of early Key West Victorian mansions and bungalows dotting the neighborhood. Although it is more residential and less filled with tourists, the sidewalks still bustle with activity due to art galleries, boutiques, inns and bodegas lining them.
Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory

11) Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory (must see)

The Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory is a butterfly park that houses from 50 to 60 different species of live butterflies from around the world in a climate-controlled, glass-enclosed habitat. It is a genuine educational experience as guests can get a close-up view of a variety of live caterpillars feeding and developing on their host plants. Also, there are flowering plants, trees and waterfalls, along with several species of free-flying "butterfly-friendly" birds, such as red-factor canaries, zebra finches, cordon-blue finches and "button" or Chinese painted quail.

Best to go in the morning while everything is out and moving. You will love it!
Spend as much time as you like, but be sure to follow the tour guide to get the low-down on everything in the enclosure. Alternatively, the self-guided tour has signs and descriptions explaining all of the different types of butterflies.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am–5pm (last admission: 4:30pm)
The Southernmost Point

12) The Southernmost Point (must see)

The Southernmost Point of the continental USA is marked by a concrete buoy in Key West. It was originally just marked with a sign, which was often stolen. In response to this, by 1983, the city of Key West erected the now famous concrete buoy – effectively an old sewer junction that was dug up in the area and found too heavy and large to move, so it was painted up to look like a buoy. This is the most popular attraction in Key West and it is always crowded during the day (be prepared to queue up for about 30-40 mins for the photo op). If you don't like crowds, you can come here early in the morning and admire the unforgettable view of the sun rising from the Atlantic.

It's the journey, not the destination for this one...
Key West Lighthouse & Museum

13) Key West Lighthouse & Museum (must see)

If you can fend off the claustrophobia and don't mind heights, you can climb to the top of this historic lighthouse (completed in 1848) to see the old lantern and to enjoy a panoramic view of the entire island/key and the ocean. There are 88 tiny and constricting steps to the top. There are also three small landings you can stop on to rest if you need to. Near the tower, you can see an interesting banyan tree that seems to have been planted when the lighthouse was built. There is also a small museum house that tells the history of the lighthouse.

The stairs up the light might get a little interesting if you're not in sneakers, so it might be a good idea to swap the flip flops if you do the climb.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9:30am-4:30pm
Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum

14) Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum (must see)

Ernest Hemingway's house and beautiful garden in the heart of Old Town Key West was transformed into a museum that tells us something about the life and career of one of the most well-known American writers. A National Historic Landmark that attracts crowds of tourists, this was Hemingway's home from 1931 to 1939, where the famous author wrote some of his best novels. He retained title to the home until he died, which is now a private, for-profit landmark and tourist attraction populated by six and seven-toed cats that are descendants of Hemingway's own cats. They only take cash on the door so make sure you have some.

Why You Should Visit:
The house is terrific, the Hemingway memorabilia is great, the guided tour comes at no extra cost, and you can afford yourself the time to explore the grounds (with a small pond) on your own.

Don't miss the sad but adorable six-toed kitty graveyard in the back.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am-5pm
Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center

15) Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center (must see)

A free, kid-friendly museum in Key West? Yes, indeed. The Eco-Discovery Center is operated by NOAA and provides educational material on reefs, mangroves, wildlife, and oceans, with environment-educational monitors in each area.

Upon arriving, you enter the section that contains replicas of hammocks, mangroves, and dunes. After that, there is a replica of the NOAA undersea laboratory, as well as information about different reefs. There's even a 3D video about underwater reefs and shipwrecks and an additional aquarium that contains local ocean life.

A definite stop for anyone with kids in Key West!

Opening Hours:
Tue-Sat: 9am–4pm; free admission
U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Ingham Maritime Museum

16) U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Ingham Maritime Museum (must see)

One of only two preserved Treasury-class U.S. Coast Guard Cutters and the fourth ever to be named for Treasury Secretary Samuel D. Ingham, this was the most decorated vessel in the Coast Guard fleet and was the only cutter to ever be awarded two Presidential Unit Citations. The Commandant of the Coast Guard has declared USCGC Ingham the National Memorial to Coast Guardsmen killed in action in WWII and Vietnam, who are identified on a memorial plaque on the quarterdeck.

Now a member of Key West Maritime Memorial Museum, Ingham is perhaps the best location to watch the sunset away from the crowds. On Fridays and Saturdays they set up the bow and west-facing deck with tables, chairs and a cash bar. Otherwise, the self-guided tour is awesomely informative covering the cutter's service from the 1930s to the 1980s and is, as such, a must for history and military buffs.

Opening Hours:
Tue-Sat: 10am–4pm

Walking Tours in Key West, Florida

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Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.4 Km or 1.5 Miles
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Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
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Useful Travel Guides for Planning Your Trip

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