Key West is one of my favorite family vacation destinations. It’s a treasure trove of unique, and slightly odd, sightings… all done in a playful way. In fact, it seems the entire attitude here is “come out and play”. Even though it’s known for its adult attractions, there’s plenty for kids to do in Key West. It takes about 3 hours to get there from Miami, so check out our post on Keeping the kids occupied en route. I would recommend planning a few stops along the way, too.
Before you get to Key West, you pass though Big Pine Key and the Lower Keys. Take a detour at the National Key Deer Refuge (Big Pine and Lower Keys) to get a glimpse of the elusive key deer, a very small deer stunted from the salt marshes where they live. I’ll admit, I’ve never seen one and I’ve been through here about 5 times. But here’s a tip from a travel forum that I will try next time: “The best place to see some is to go northwest from Big Pine out to No Name Key. This is a right turn in the center (at the only traffic light) of Big Pine. Follow the signs past the No Name Pub. After you’ve crossed the bridge, proceed very slowly to the end of the road. Your chances of spotting one or two are pretty good.”
Kid Friendly restaurant tip: No Name Pub is a good place for pizza.
If you want to stop for a little beach break, make a pit stop at the Bahia Honda State Park (Big Pine Key) Sandspur is the largest beach, Loggerhead the shallowest and best for little kids, while Calusa is the smallest beach in the park. Bring a picnic lunch here if you want to eat.
Known as the Conch Republic, their motto is “The mitigation of world tension through the exercise of humor”. These people know how to have fun. Duvall Street is the main drag. (Click here for a fun live web cam from outside Sloppy Joe’s Bar.) Walking up and down this street will lead you to most of the shops and restaurants. (Fair warning while window-shopping; some of the displays are adult- only content.) When you get tired of walking, you can rent bicycles (kids bikes and trailers, too!), scooters, electric cars, or catch a bicycle taxi/rickshaw.
A few of our favorite things to do with kids in Key West:
Glass bottom boat cruise: (off the Hyatt) Sit below and watch what goes on under water. It’s not really worth it, though if it has just rained since the sea will be a bit murky. We did the sunset cruise, but a morning cruise might be better as they up the age limit for free kids tickets to 6-and under for that one. Now that you’ve got your sea legs, check out the Pirate Soul Museum for all you scurvy pirate fans.
For a little excitement, try the Southernmost Scavenger Hunt starting at the La Concha Hotel. The ‘Classic’ is the family friendly version and is really fun.
The Pelican Poop Shoppe. (314 Simonton St.) has beautiful art for sale, but the name will make the kids chuckle… worth a photo of the store name alone for kids, especially if you have boys. What is it with boys and gross bodily functions? About 2 blocks east of Duvall St. on the Mallory Square end of town.
Check out Hemmingway’s house with all the 6-toed cats. The garden is cool with banana trees and koi pond. It’s a self-guided tour, so you can go through quickly or linger, depending on your child.
Even non-train lovers will enjoy the Conch Tour Train. It’s a 90-minute ride, but there are a couple of stops if the kids are getting antsy and you want to get off and walk around instead.
Butterfly and Nature Conservatory (Butterfly House) on Duvall St. is home to hundreds of huge, colorful butterflies. You’ll also see beautiful exotic birds in this compact place. Nearby, stop for a tasty treat at Kermit’s Frozen Key Lime Pie on a Stick (Duvall St.) After your trip, you can order them shipped to your house for a tasty reminder of your trip!
Speaking of eating, a couple of kid friendly restaurants that I love, are the Blue Heaven Restaurant (wait in line-no reservations, but kids love the dirt floor and roosters running around the open air restaurant); and Mangoes right on Duvall St. with sidewalk seating and a kid friendly menu. At Mallory Square, we had great Cuban sandwiches at El Meson de Pepe. The lobby is colorful and fun, too.
There’s something magical about an island sunset, isn’t there? Mallory Square Sunset Celebration is the biggest attraction. There are dozens of street performers, and vendors selling art and souvenirs on Mallory Square. It’s right where the cruise ships dock, so when ships are in, it’s pretty crowded. To get there, go to the end of Duvall St. and walk left. (behind the Hyatt) Be sure to stop at Ben &Jerry’s on Mallory Square for ice cream.
The only beach to speak of is at the Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park. That beach is gorgeous! It’s also at the opposite end of Key West, so a great place to get away from all the action.
For more attractions for kids in Key West, check out the Key West Attractions Association website.
As for kid friendly hotels and resorts: Parrot Key Resort (formerly Hampton Inn), Casa Marina Resort, Hyatt (recommended. Gorgeous property right off Mallory Square. Great if you have a napper and don’t want to trudge all the way across town.), Marriott Courtyard (nice moderate priced properties, family suites have microwave and refrigerator)
I hope you’ll love Key West as much as I do! Share your Key West tips with us in the comments below.