10 Lesser-Known Alternatives to Touristy Key West Attractions
Time to explore some non-touristy things to do in Key West? There is so much more to the island than Duval Street and Mallory Square! Whether you’re looking to escape the crowds, or simply want to see a different side of town, this tourist-trap free list will inspire you to get off the beaten path and get started on a memorable trip to Key West. If you add just a few of these lesser-known alternatives to touristy Key West attractions to your itinerary, you’ll have an unforgettable visit.
1. Touristy: Southernmost Point Buoy / Alternative: Ballast Key
Although the anchored concrete buoy signifies the southernmost point in the continental United States, the true destination is actually 10 miles away at Ballast Key. The island south and west of Key West is privately owned, with all 26 acres under the supervision of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. Skip the long line at the Southernmost Point Buoy and take a boat ride to the island, which made a cameo in the Bond movie License to Kill and once hosted artists, writers, and celebrities like Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Judy Blume, and Gloria Estefan.
2. Touristy: Ernest Hemingway House / Alternative: “Oldest House”
As iconic as the Ernest Hemingway House gets, the “Oldest House” in Key West is a perfectly charming place to explore. The former home of Captain Francis Watlington and his family was built in 1829. Visit the Oldest House Museum at 322 Duval St. and take a tour to learn about the history of the house and the people that lived there.
3. Touristy: Mallory Square / Alternative: Fort Zach
We love Mallory Square as much as the next tourist, but the Sunset Celebration sometimes reaches an exasperating level of crowdedness. Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park is where the locals go to escape the Mallory Square madness. Located on the west end of the island, Fort Zach has one of the best views of the Conch Republic’s spectacular sunset.
4. Touristy: Duval Street / Alternative: Whitehead Street
Walking Duval Street is one of the best pastimes we know of. Just one block to the west and running parallel to Duval, Whitehead Street is also a fascinating street to explore, albeit with far less foot traffic. You’ll pass destinations like the famous kapok tree, Key West Lighthouse, Mile Marker 0, Audubon House and Tropical Gardens, and the First Flight Island Restaurant and Brewery, the former home of Pan American World Airways.
5. Touristy: Smathers Beach / Alternative: Higgs Beach
Although Smathers is the largest and most frequented beach on the island, Higgs Beach is a great spot to lay down your towel. Sandwiched between the Higgs Beach Pier and Edward B. Knight Pier on the southern end of the Casa Marina neighborhood, Higgs Beach has a small stretch of white sand where you can relax in the sun.
6. Touristy: Kermit’s Key Lime Shoppe / Alternative: Old Town Bakery
Often referred to as the best key lime pie on the island (Food Network even agrees), a slice from Kermit’s means braving the crowds that wander into their Elizabeth Street shop. Old Town Bakery has a slice that can rival Kermit’s. Their housemade old-fashioned key lime pie uses fresh-squeezed key lime juice to make the custard that is cradled in a delicious gingersnap crust. Each slice is topped with fresh whipped cream made in-house just before serving. Visit them on Eaton Street.
7. Touristy: Sloppy Joe’s Bar / Alternative: Green Parrot Bar
As the mega popular Sloppy Joe’s on Duval is known as a “Key West tradition”, the Green Parrot has been a quieter second home to fishermen, vagabonds, hippies, and sailors since 1890. Visit the Whitehead Street hangout for happy hour deals, live music, and bar games.
8. Touristy: Historic Seaport District / Alternative: Bahama Village
While Key West’s Historic Seaport District is home to a plethora of restaurants, bars, and things to do, the Bahama Village neighborhood is where visitors can experience the Old Florida charm. Colorful Bahamian-style architecture and open-air restaurants line Petronia Street, which is where you’ll find hidden gems like Blue Heaven, Firefly, and Santiago’s Bodega.
9. Touristy: Sunset Sail / Alternative: Kayak
A full bar, live music, and passed hors d'oeuvres are part of the allure of a sunset cruise, but if you’re wanting a low-key coast through the water, consider renting a kayak. Check out your options with Lazy Dog Adventures and get those arms working while enjoying the sunset. Visit Lazy Dog’s website for their guided tour or rental options, give them a call, or visit 5114 Overseas Highway for more details.
10. Touristy: Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservancy / Alternative: Local Wildlife
The beautifully landscaped Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservancy is one of the most popular attractions on the island. Instead, opt to get outside in mother nature by seeking out the Key’s most loved and well-known wildlife. Find colorful roosters roaming Old Town, iguanas in the Middle Keys, Key deer in Big Pine Key, or Loggerhead sea turtles in the waters of Key West, all of whom call the Florida Keys home.