When my husband and I had a chance for a kids-free getaway we chose to explore Key West, assuming its reputation as the tropical “French Quarter” complete with its 24-7 happy hour culture and flamboyant characters parading in the streets could be fun but maybe not the best place to vacation with kids. We were surprised to find it also provides families, a fun-filled, cultural experience not found in many tropical destinations.
Sand and Sun
Most beaches in Key West are only thin strips of white sand but Ft. Zachary Taylor Historic State Park has a large beach with picnic areas and chair and umbrella rentals. Accessible by boat or seaplane, Dry Tortugas National Park is home to Ft. Jefferson, a 19th Century Fort with some of the most spectacular snorkeling in the Keys. There are numerous boat excursions available through local operators including deep sea fishing charters and catamaran tours that provide an opportunity to explore North America’s only living coral reef. Glass bottom boat tours allow visitors to view tropical sea life in the clear, turquoise water without getting wet. Water sports experts offer tubing, parasailing, deep sea diving, and jet ski adventures.
Culture and Museums
Older kids may enjoy tours of Ernest Hemingway’s Home and Museum, if not for his literary achievements and his home’s unique architecture, maybe for the legendary stories of the more than forty, six-toed cats that live there. The Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory houses hundreds of butterflies and many exotic birds among cascading waterfalls and tropical trees and plants. Interactive exhibits at the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center feature the unique and complex eco-system in the Florida Keys and admission is free. Enjoy the beautiful sunset near the pier at Mallory Square as acrobats, fire swallowers, jugglers and other performers amaze crowds while local artisans sell original art and local crafts.
There are a variety of popular restaurants in Key West with French, Cuban and Caribbean influence. Blue Heaven is quintessential Key West from its shabby chic setting to chickens and roosters roaming the property. Enjoy variations of eggs benedict with lime Hollandaise, shrimp and grits or Jamaican Jerk chicken or fresh seafood specials with a tropical drink on a patio shaded by a canopy of tropical foliage. Sarabeth’s Key West operates in an 1800’s historic clapboard house with indoor or outdoor dining, offering fresh seafood and interesting twists of old favorites kids and adults love such as a griddled smoked mozzarella sandwich, pumpkin waffles, meatloaf with smoked Gouda and balsamic glazed onions, old fashioned fried chicken and green chile pepper macaroni & 3 cheeses. One of the most popular places for con leche coffee or a succulent Cuban sandwich is Sandy’s Café, a local favorite. Of course, be sure to try anything Key Lime, offered at most every dining and drinking establishment in town.
Key West is a unique opportunity to introduce your kids to the natural beauty of the tropics surrounded by the colorful architecture and funky culture of this one of a kind destination.
Learn more about ways to enjoy Key West:
How to Get There
The fastest way to reach Key West is to fly into the Key West International Airport. Most flights originating outside Florida will have at least one stop or a connection but the airport in Key West is small, friendly and pleasant to navigate.
If you have extra time to travel, fly to Miami International Airport, rent a car and enjoy the 120 mile scenic drive through the Florida Keys. Plan for a four to five hour journey depending on traffic and stops. Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon and Big Pine Keys are well worth exploring along the way.
Where to Stay
Ocean Key Resort and Spa - http://www.oceankey.com/
Santa Maria Suites - http://www.santamariasuites.com/
DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Grand Key Resort
The Reach, A Waldorf Astoria Resort
Casa Marina, A Waldorf Astoria Resort
The Westin Key West Resort and Marina - http://www.westinkeywestresort.com/
Hyatt Sunset Harbor Resort - http://www.hyattsunsetharbor.hyatt.com/
Popular Attractions and Activities
US Coast Guard Maritime Museum
Harry S Truman Little White House
Florida Keys Eco Discovery Center
Ft Zachary Taylor Historic State Park
Moped, Conch Cruisers and bikes