However you end up in Key West – by plane, scenic car journey or, perhaps, private yacht – it can certainly run the price gamut. Regardless of the dough you dish on your trip to the island paradise, just know there are some totally free options that await.
Between the bumping nightlife, international fare and seemingly endless array of outdoor activities, here are 10 free options to sprinkle into your Key West itinerary.
Editor's note: during COVID-19 there are restrictions on travel and opening hours may vary. Check the latest guidance in Florida before planning a trip, and always follow local health advice.
1. Smathers or Higgs Beach
Completely surrounded by turquoise waters, the assumption with Key West may easily be that it has free beaches galore. That is not the case. Fort Zachary Taylor State Park is Key West’s most popular and history-loaded beach destination, but the spot does have an entry fee. For a free dose of white sand goodness, Smathers Beach and Higgs Beach are the best bets.
2. Mile 0 Marker
US Route 1 runs through 14 states and the District of Columbia, stretching nearly 2400 miles. It is the longest north-to-south road in the United States. As for its starting point? Mile 0 is in Key West. Mile 0 markers are not common whatsoever, so this makes for quite the unique photo opportunity. You can find it at the corner of Whitehead and Fleming Streets.
3. Fort West Martello Tower
During the American Civil War, Florida seceded from the Union and joined the Confederacy. Fun fact: Key West stayed on with the Union because it had a Union naval base on it. Among the island’s three remaining structures from the Civil War era is Fort West Martello Tower. Situated on Higgs Beach and built in 1862, it is worth a visit to check out its brick magnificence as well as the Key West Garden Club that now occupies its grounds.
4. Overseas Highway
If you missed out on the drive from South Florida through the Keys, a ride along the Overseas Highway is a must. Starting in Key West and running 113 miles northeast, 42 total bridges comprise the Overseas Highway. Oftentimes leaving drivers with miles upon miles of water below, it can be equally as eerie as it is beautiful. If you don’t have a car to tackle portions of it for free, Key West Transit offers treks to as far as Marathon for only $4 each way.
5. Southernmost Point Buoy
Perhaps the most Instagrammed spot on the island? That distinction goes to the Southernmost Point Buoy. And it’s not even technically the southernmost point. But, alas, no trip to Key West is complete without a picture here. Located at the corner of Whitehead and South Streets, you may have to wait a few minutes in line to snag a pic, but it’s worth it.
6. Key West Cemetery
A cemetery, really? What makes Key West Cemetery a top free thing to do is spotting the wildly quirky things on the gravestones within it. Among the classics are B.P. “Pearl” Roberts tombstone that reads, “I told you I was sick” and Edwina Lariz’ that reads “Devoted Fan of Singer Julio Iglesias.” For history buffs, there is a large monument honoring the 260 US soldiers that were killed aboard the USS Maine in Havana Harbor in 1898.
7. Key West First Legal Rum Distillery
Key West is not Las Vegas. Sorry, there are not free drinks everywhere. However, Key West First Legal Rum does offer free samples all day and tours daily from noon to 5 pm. During the tour, you’ll learn about the distillery’s history and process, which involves Florida sugar cane with, depending on the variety, infusions of everything from coconut to key lime.
8. Mallory Square
A sunset in Key West is a visual spectacle in itself. At Mallory Square – Key West’s epicenter that’s loaded with restaurants, museums and shopping options – there is a nightly “Sunset Celebration.” The celebration kicks off two hours before sunset and is never the same two nights in a row. Clowns, psychics, jugglers, musicians, acrobats and seemingly everyone and everything in between are known to make an appearance. While certainly unusual, there is no denying the good vibes that stem from it.
9. Key West Historic Memorial Sculpture Garden
From Ernest Hemingway to US President Harry Truman to Florida railroad builder Henry Flagler, so many folks have left a lasting mark on Key West. The aforementioned are part of the 36 men and women honored at the Key West Historic Memorial Sculpture Garden. The garden is tucked between Mallory Square and a string of shops. It’s small and shaded and provided a quiet reprieve from the nearby hustle and bustle.
10. Wyland Gallery of the Florida Keys
Key West is an artsy haven. And, fortunately for visitors and locals alike, much of that art is on full display. Among a number of free art galleries, the Wyland Gallery of the Florida Keys has an incredible pulse on the Key West scene and hosts regular shows. Revel in its selection of local and handcrafted pieces – often spanning sunsets and marine life. With a visit, you may easily decide to purchase and take home a little piece of Key West with you.
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