Key West at the southernmost tip of the US needs a long drive along the Florida Keys. Don’t let it scare you, the Caribbean town is worth it. Once you are there, the fairy-tale houses and tropical style make you want to stay – but what if you only have one day in Key West?
On our trips to the US we have been twice to Key West, and on our next trip we certainly want to make the 166 mile drive again. But why? We will show you.
A typical Key West home
Key West is so very different that you get a strong feeling of being abroad. In the Caribbean tropics and there’s so much to see and do.
If you visit Key West for just a day, be it on a cruise or by car, you will need to know where to go and not waste away your only day. That’s why we planned a Key West walking itinerary and also marked it on a Google map.
To help you even more, we also searched in our photos to show you what to expect in the tropical town.
Key West and the Florida Keys
Map of the drive to Key West along the Florida Keys
This is South Florida: Miami, the Everglades and the Florida Keys. Key West is where the Florida Keys end and driving time therei is 3 or 4 hours one way without stops.
Another way to go Key West is to take a cruise. Many Caribbean cruises sailing from Miami stop at Key West and give you a whole day on the shore.
We have a separate post about the Florida Keys. It’s about the drive from Miami to Key West and you will find it here: Florida Keys: Drive from Miami to Key West
But now to the end of the Keys:
What to See in One Day in Key West
Tropical building style of the Florida Keys
The old part of Key West is small enough to explore on foot, in one day. Caribbean cruisers almost come to the old town – full of Victorian houses like this one: beautiful white, yellow, blue villas with verandas and tropical gardens.
Then there is the Caribbean shore: the large ferry port and a separate small-scale fishing harbor that we will soon show in photos.
There’s the Mallory Square where to be when the sun sets and of course Ernest Hemingway’s home. And pretty shopping streets and even prettier restaurants. And a lighthouse and the southernmost tip of the continental USA.
One Day in Key West: Walking Map
One-day Key West walking itinerary on the map
The map shows the old part of Key West where our walking itinerary is marked with blue dots.
If you arrive by car you will come from the east and the ferry again harbor is on the north shore. The fishing harbor (the Historic Seaport) is in the north east behind Caroline Street, Mallory Square west of the cruise harbor and the Hemingway home in the south.
Now you know where the sights are and can place them on the map.
About the houses:
What to See: Victorian Houses
In the tropical climate of the Florida Keys
This is a most typical Key West building with airy verandas on all sides.
Many Key West houses have even more decorated gingerbread carvings in the Victorian style of the 1800’s.
Some more Caribbean-style homes:
Caribbean-style homes of the Florida Keys
The houses are built in a way that makes it easier to live in a hot climate. The wide verandas are for shade, large windows for cooling breezes and shutters to keep out the sun and protect the house from storms and hurricanes.
And the many trees around the houses are there for more sun and wind shelter.
End Point of The US Highway 1
End of the US Highway 1 in the Florida Keys
Here you can see where the US 1 highway ends. The US 1 is a 2400 miles (3800 km) long highway. It starts in Maine in the far north and follows the east coast all the way through the Keys.
One Day in Key West: The Historic Seaport
Harbor life in the Florida Keys
This is the historic seaport we mentioned, located at the northern edge of the town. You can see fishing boats come and leave, why not join them and take a fishing charter?
Views of the historic seaport of Key West
The harbor has a wooden boardwalk along the water and a real concentration of seafood restaurants, shops and music bars. This restaurant really looks like a good one, should we try it?
A seafood restaurant in the historic seaport
Pelicans and Turtle Museum
A Caribbean pelican
Pelicans are nice to look at. There are most of them visible at the time fishermen come from the sea. Such friendly, peaceful birds that look so wise.
There are sea turtles as well and a small sea turtle museum in an old boat shed on the pier.
Florida Keys sea life: fish, pelicans, turtles and manatees
One day in Key West: Key Lime Pie
Key lime pie
One day we stopped at one of the many tropical-looking restaurants for some oysters – and ordered Key lime pie for dessert, you must try it here. And noticed that in the Florida Keys they really know how to prepare key lime pie!
An iguana waiting for oysters from our plate
A big green iguana was staring at us and I don’t know if it wanted our oysters or the Key lime pie. I would think it’s a plant eater but it sat there as long we had lunch and first disappeared when we left.
A hungry iguana waiting for Key lime pie
A typical Caribbean cafe
That was a Caribbean style restaurant, just one of the many.
So if you get tired of walking, take it easy, sit down with a view and have a cooling tropical drink. And do it even if you don’t get tired.
Sometimes this popular destination gets too crowded, mainly during peak travel seasons. In November when we were visiting it was not crowded at all.
Then our second trip happened to be in the spring break weeks. At that time it was really crowded and noisy both day and night. Try to avoid travel peaks if you can.
Traditional Old Town Hotels
Our Key West hotel Westwinds Inn
If you stay longer than one day in Key West wwe recommend accommodation in local style: small family hotels and homestays exist throughout in the old town.
We stayed at a hotel called Westwinds Inn. This is the facade of the hotel and there are more of the same kind of old buildings behind it.
They also have a green tropical garden where they serve the breakfast, outdoors! We liked our hotel, it was a good choice and the room rate was reasonable. A link to their website: Westwinds Inn.
The shady hotel garden of Westwinds Inn
Veterans Day parade
In a warm climate seasonal happenings and traditions look very different than in the north. This is a Veterans’ Day parade in November, a lot of military material, US flags and great costumes marching through the town.
Parading though the old town
When the parade was over many of the people watching wanted to hand over their small paper flags to our cute little 3-year old sitting in a stroller. The little girl was so happy for her striped US flags that she took them back home to Europe.
Caribbean Colors and Signs
Tropical colors in a street sign
Here are some samples on the tropical style you can see everywhere. As all signs and little things have a lot of color they look so artistic. They really use tropical colors down here.
The tropical Florida Keys
One Day in Key West: Shopping Streets
Key West shopping street
This is Duval Street, one of the main shopping streets. Duval Street is full of souvenir shops and cloth stores. Busy at daytime when cruisers are docked – and you can tell when they have left.
Shopping in Key West
If you only stay one day in Key West it could be a good idea to rent a bike in the shopping streets and get a bit further away through the island. Alternatively you could use the local tourist trolley that circulates around the town.
Key West motorbikes
The Bahama Village of Key West
The Bahama Village of Key West
The Bahamians were the first that lived in Key West and they still have a living community in the outskirts of the old town, that is named after them.
The Key West Bahamian Village in photos
The Bahama Village differs from all other Key West areas in that it’s so different and original.
Street life in the Bahama Village
People live their life outdoors and chicken cross streets. Bahama Village houses are small and simple, always painted in strong Caribbean colors.
The Hemingway Home
Gate of the Hemingway Home
Then Hemingway’s House, the by far most famous attraction of Key West. In this house Ernest Hemingway lived with his family in the 1930’s.
The guided tour of the house we took turned out to be a splendid idea. We went to the interiors, saw his rooms, gardens and office where he sat writing his books.
The Hemingway Home has many six-toed cats
In the Hemingway Home there are cats everywhere, inside and out and in all rooms. They are not just any cats but grandchildren in many generations of Hemingway’s cats.
Hemingway’s cats had a special feature, they had six toes, and many of the cat granchildren still seem to have the same feature, six-toed cats.
The Hemingway Home at the far end of the Florida Keys
One Day in Key West: Mallory Square
Evening sun at Mallory Square
Mallory Square is the place where people come and watch the sunset. Artists entertain the crowds and it reallly looks like everybody is having a good time. Why not, they are in the Caribbean islands!
Mallory Square evening
Then, after the sun has set they all go to the nearby tropical restaurants for dinner.
A lighthouse helping seafarers back home
Almost opposite to Hemingway Home on Whitehead Street is an old lighthouse that has a small lighthouse museum. For panoramic views of Key West climb the 88 steps to the top.
Ernest Hemingway’s home seen from the street
The Southernmost Point of the US
Visiting the southernmost point of the US
A few blocks south of the Hemingway Home is the southernmost point of the continental US. There is a big marker for that and always crowds of people shooting photos of the memorabel moment they have been here.
You can’t get further, the southernmost point
So now we have spent one day in Key West and our self-guided walk has come to its end. Maybe you will now have to leave this tropical paradise, or maybe you decided to stay.
If you leave you’ll probably be back one day – return to Key West’s exceptional charm.
More on Florida Travel
- Drive along the Florida Keys
- Four Short Walking Trails in the Everglades
- Read about biking in Shark Valley, Everglades
- Explore Miami by car
- Cycling along Miami Beach and Ocean Drive
- See the Ocean Drive Art Deco District
Pigeon Key, one of the islands in the Florida Keys