Helpful tips for planning the perfect Key West vacation for your family in Florida! In Key West, the number of unique experiences you can have in one day is almost unbelievable.
Disclosure: This post was written in collaboration with Historic Tours of America, Key Largo Princess Glass Bottom Boat Cruises, Dolphin Research Center and Go City® Pass. This post contains affiliate links. All opinions expressed are my own.
Family Friendly Key West Vacation
Key West is a one of a kind tropical island city. You can crystal clear waters with a diving, snorkeling or sailing expedition. Savor a Key West sunset at Mallory Square. Or take a relaxing stroll down Duval Street, grab a cold drink, listen to a local band or pick up a souvenir for friends and family back home. You can experience a taste of Caribbean culture in Key West.
It’s been quite some time since we’ve been on a Vij Family Road Trip and we figured one of the best places to start would be in our own Florida Backyard. I’ve lived in Central Florida since I was a teenager and have never been to the Florida Keys. CRAZY to wait this long, I know.
I decided a vacation in Key West would be a great destination to add to our road trip to Miami. Key West is a fun place and can be relaxing, romantic, or even a little wild, you get to pick your adventure.
Our Key West adventure first started off from Miami with an airboat ride in the Everglades. Next up was a glass bottom boat cruise over North America’s only coral barrier reef in Key Largo. With a special stop at the best tarpon feeding in Florida for lunch at Robbies of Islamorada.
Then we headed onto the famous 7 mile bridge over the ocean. The views were spectacular from the bridges. We planned to walk the pedestrian part of the old bridge at sunset which was incredibly beautiful and we highly recommend it.
As one of America’s most unique road trips, the scenic 110-mile Overseas Highway combines ocean views, 42 bridges, natural wonders, and history like no other location. Each region of the Keys has its own unique character. Did you know there are 44 islands that are populated in the Florida Keys?
The Florida Keys are a chain of limestone islands that extend from the southern tip of the Florida mainland southwest to the Dry Tortugas, a distance of approximately 220 miles. They are island remnants of ancient coral reefs (Upper Keys) and sand bars (Lower Keys).
We planned for a 3 day 2 night trip to the Florida Keys for our family vacation. Honestly, we could have spent several more days in the area especially if you plan to get out on the water.
The Florida Keys are packed full of opportunities for adventure and relaxation and a little bit of history. It definitely was a memorable family vacation in the Keys.
Few places in the U.S. offer a road trip with such easy access to such a range of unusual and fascinating creatures, including dolphins, sea turtles, Key deer, tarpon and even butterflies and chicken.
I want to share some tips with you on what I learned in my research about the Keys and the best places to attractions to visit while you’re there with kids.
Are you ready to start planning your Key West vacation too?
I started by asking the experts, my local friends who’ve also grown up in Florida and have taken advantage of visiting Key West on a regular basis, especially for lobster season. I had often heard the best way to see the Keys was from the water, but we discovered there are quite a few things on land too. Which is where we focused on attention for this trip.
Top Things to Do in Key West
When planning your Key West family vacation, check out these top things to do with kids in Key West.
- Old Town Trolley Tours
- Key West Aquarium
- The Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory
- Key West Lighthouse
- Mallory Square
- The Keys History & Discovery Center
- Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park
- Southernmost Point of the Continental U.S.A.
- Don’t forget to take a photo at Mile Marker Zero
For families with older kids we’d recommend including…
- Key West Shipwreck Museum
- Harry Truman Little White House
- Hemmingway House
- Dry Tortugas National Park
Once you’re done with all the options on land, we’d recommend heading out onto the water for canoeing, snorkeling, kayaking, jet ski, dolphin tours, sand bar excursions, boat tours, and more! You can see the water options at the Key West Visitors Center website.
We choose a Glass Bottom Boat Cruise over the famous coral reef.
Before you travel to the Florida Keys are some fun facts you should know about the region you’re traveling to and what makes it geographically so unique.
Fun Facts about Key West for Kids
- The Florida Keys is home to the third-largest barrier coral reef in the world.
- The Gulf of Mexico is connected to the Atlantic Ocean by the Straits of Florida, between Cuba and the Florida Keys.
- Running four miles long and about two miles wide at its widest, Key West is a small island.
- Key West is the southernmost city in the continental USA and is actually nearer to Havana, Cuba than to Miami, Florida.
- A key is a special kind of island that is made from built-up coral deposits.
- Key West has a healthy population of chickens that roam free on the island.
- Key West’s strategic location has a long military history.
- The Florida Keys consist of 44 islands connected by 42 bridges.
- There are over 1700 islands that make up the Keys.
The string of coral islands that create the arc from the Florida peninsula south toward Cuba has a long history of attracting pirates, profiteers and seekers of a Caribbean lifestyle within the United States.
Henry Flagler, an early developer of the Florida Keys, inadvertently gave the country one of its most scenic roadways when his Overseas Railway, running from mainland Florida down to Key West, was destroyed in a 1935 hurricane. That land route eventually became the Overseas Highway, or U.S. 1, vaulting across channels, and linking 44 islands, via 42 bridges.”
Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary protects 2,900 square nautical miles of waters using an approach that addresses the variety of impacts, pressures, and threats to the Florida Keys ecosystem.
The fragile habitat is increasingly under threat from hurricanes, disease, boat groundings, rising ocean temperatures, pollution, and human interactions.
NOAA and partners have developed an unprecedented, decades-long approach to restore seven iconic coral reef sites in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
FUN FACT: Did you know that many of the Keys fall within the boundaries of three national parks?
- Biscayne National Park, a short distance south of Miami Beach, includes several of the northernmost keys
- Everglades National Park, most of the keys in Florida Bay
- Dry Tortugas National Park, which includes historic Fort Jefferson (begun 1846), encompasses all the westernmost keys.
We discovered as part of our Miami Go City Pass there were several locations included in the Florida Keys. Many of which are part of Historic Tours of America. If you’re planning a trip to Key West, I’d recommend getting a pass with one of these two companies. Both are a so helpful and make it affordable to visit several locations on the island.
From the Southernmost Point to the quaint streets of Old Town, the Old Town Trolley tour takes you to all the major areas and attractions in Key West. Old Town Trolley Key West sightseeing tours are one of the best ways to see the city.
There are many locations for stops, we caught ours in Mallory Square and then discovered it had a stop right next to our hotel which made it even more convenient.
The sightseeing tour is also designed so that you can hop on and off and explore on your own. With frequent pickups at all our stops, the trolley helps you avoid walking long distances.
Plus each trolley has a friendly conductor narrating the tour with a fascinating and fun mix of trivia and humorous stories. The Old Town Trolley tours have become a favorite of mine when we visit new towns for a quick tour of all the important historic locations and attractions in the area. Plus I don’t have to drive!
We actually learned a lot about the beginnings of Key West while visiting the museum and all the treasures that were found aboard ships. You stepped right back into time as you walk through the museum observing the artifacts.
During the golden age of sail, over 100 ships per day passed by Key West. The waters they were sailing were well known as some of the most treacherous in the world. On average, at least one ship per week would wreck somewhere along the Florida Reef.
Right next door we visiting the Key West Aquarium. This historic Key West attraction is home to sharks, turtles, stingrays, tropical, and other various fish found in the beautiful waters of Key West. It is actively involved in the conservation of the delicate eco-system of the Florida Keys.
My girls were immediately drawn to the touch tank located at the front of the building.
They have Live Presentations throughout the day, take a look at their Daily Schedule.
Just a few blocks down from Mallory Square, you can tour the historic Harry S. Truman Little White House in Key West and learn about a fascinating period of American history. Listen to guides sharing fascinating stories about the history of the house, which was built at the beginning of the 20th century. Learn what Thomas Edison and Dwight D. Eisenhower did during their stays, and, of course, about Harry Truman’s long love affair with this gorgeous property.
On your visit to Key West, plan to stroll around Mallory Square. You can grab a bit to eat, look at the ocean and perhaps catch a glimpse of a cruise ship docked. Be sure to visit for their nightly Key West Sunset Celebration. As the sun sinks into the sea you’ll find the nightly festival hosts visitors from all over the world who come to take part in the magicians, jugglers, clowns, psychics, local musicians, artists, and food vendors that combine for an incredible cultural experience.
It’s also the beginning of the famous Duval Street.
One of the most popular destinations on the island of Key West, Duval Street is the main drag of downtown, running north and south from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean. It’s about a mile long – this is where the heartbeat of the city comes to life with a diverse array of restaurants, shops, outdoor cafes, galleries, world famous pubs, and attractions.
Parents… A little warning, you may find some inappropriate quotes on T-Shirts and products as you walk the streets, although Key West is family-friendly, kids are not the target audience of Duval Street.
Hop aboard the Key Largo Princess Glass Bottom Boat Cruise for a two-hour tour as you cruise through the waters of the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park to view the exciting, beautiful, underwater world of the Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary.
If you come to the Florida Keys, the Dolphin Research Center is a must visit! The Dolphin Research Center is an educational and research facility. There isn’t a scripted show but instead, they offer narrated behavior sessions. I can’t express how much we learned from and enjoy our visit here. We can’t wait to return and see their dolphins again.
Here are the Miami Go City® Attractions in the Key West Area:
- Key Largo Princess Glass Bottom Boat Cruise
- Sunset Watersports Key West Snorkel Dip & Sip
- Island Safari Bike Rental
- Sunset Watersports Key West 2 Hour Kayak Rental
- Sunset Watersports Paddleboard Rental
- Harry S. Truman Little White House
- Key West Aquarium
- Key West Shipwreck Treasure Museum
We’d suggest getting a Go City Pass to explore the Florida keys on your next adventure. Here’s more info about the Go City Pass.
There is a Go City Miami Pass with two options. You can either choose the…
Miami All-Inclusive Pass
- Pick a 1, 2, 3 or 5-day pass, whichever suits your trip.
- Go see it all – visit as many attractions as you like.
Miami Explorer Pass
- Get picky with a 2, 3, 4 or 5-choice pass.
- Go at your own pace – you’ll have 60 days to use your pass.
The Florida Keys are one of those places that you could visit time and time again and see new things each time. I can’t wait to bring my family back again and again to treasure its beauty.
You may also enjoy these family travel ideas near Key West…