Key West is a colorful place that attracts people of all ages and interests. Although some of the tourists and locals are here only for the laid-back party-like atmosphere, the island has more to offer–a wonderful place to visit with children, rich in history and culture, and plenty of beaches and museums. Ditch your car for a week and get around the island on bike or foot–the best way to explore the island.
On our recent vacation to Key West with our extended family, we met Mary Darcy and her family from Rhode Island when she recognized the Kidoinfo logo on my son’s T-shirt. In true Kidoinfo style, we swapped our kid-friendly experiences on the island. Here is our combined list of things we discovered on our vacation to Key West.
If your kids can read you may not want to do a lot of window shopping on Duval Street, or you will have to answer many questions about female body parts, obscene language, and various bodily functions displayed in bold fonts on all articles of clothing including thongs, T-shirts, and hats. Thankfully, our kids were more wrapped up in finding the next best ice cream shop or talking about the beach to notice “all” the windows.
We were fortunate to be invited to stay with extended family in their vacation rental. Mary’s only experience is with Vacation Homes of Key West.Â She says, they have an easy-to-use website and are responsive and professional.Â Since they travel with another family, they rent a larger home and share the expense.Â This gives them the flexibility and privacy that traveling with small children requires, plus cooking at home also saves money!
Bikes & Scooters
Bike rental shops are located on almost every corner. Even though our seven-year-old boys can ride bikes, we found it easier (and safer) to get around the island using tag-along bike attachments. The only place we found the tag-long attachment was at Tropical Bicycle & Scooter Rentals.
Location: Tropical Bicycle & Scooter Rentals – 1300 Duval St., Key West
Bikes rentals: $18 for the first day and $10 per day after that
Bike attachments: $10 per day
Crib, High Chair, and other rentals
Try Kathy at the Hip Tourist, a concierge service that provides everything from baby furniture to stocking your fridge before you arrive at your rental.Â Kathy is very friendly and, as a mother to small children, full of valuable information.Â She can even arrange a babysitter for you.
Location: The Hip Tourist – 903 Simonton Street, Key West
Blue Heaven Restaurant (website)
I adore this place. Located off the beaten path, this restaurant serves delicious breakfast, lunch, and dinner for kids and adults in a charming garden oasis with a game space for kids (including a ping-pong table), an outdoor bar, a small stage with live music, and roaming roosters and cats. Although the atmosphere is casual, the prices are not a bargain, but the portions are generous and the experience is definitely worth the splurge. For breakfast dine on banana pancakes or homemade granola, shrimp and grits and baked goods; dinner menu options range from grilled cheese with fresh fruit to gourmet prepared local fish dishes.
Location: 729 Thomas Street, Key West, FL 33040
Upper Crust Pizza (website)
Sister restaurant to the popular Upper Crust in Boston, they serve delicious thin crust Neapolitan-style pizza made with fresh ingredients. The best pizza on the island. Take it to go or eat in at counter stools or at a handful of tables.
Location: 611 Duval Street, Key West
Santiago’s is located right down the street from Blue Heaven, and no visit to Key West is complete without the mouthwatering tapas from this relatively new hit.Â Since it’s very small, it pays to make a reservation or prepare to spend some time at the bar while you wait for your table. If you’re bringing the kids, either arrive right at 5, or pack snacks, as the lines can be long.Â Mary waited 20 minutes for a table, in spite of having reservations, but in the end it was worth every second (try the haloumi, flambeed with brandy, which is ridiculously delicious).Â Not inexpensive, Santiago’s is definitely a splurge — especially if you are planning to order from the wine list.
Location: 207 Petronia Street, Key West
Red Fish Blue Fish
Located at the base of Duval Street just off of Mallory Square, this open-air restaurant offers the predictable pub food line up, with a Key West twist (think enormous Cobb salad with chunks of mango throughout). The children’s menu is traditional, but once the kids have their grilled cheese or hotdog, you’re steps away from the wonderful, free sunset festival at Mallory Square (see below).Â Don’t be surprised if you occasionally see some of the ubiquitous Key West chickens running through the restaurant, as the al fresco format is literally open to all.
Location: 407 Front Street, Key West
Jack Flats (website)
Actually a sports bar that happens to have a children’s menu, Jack Flats offsets delicious food (try the yummy bacon and shrimp club or the extremely generous fried grouper sandwich) with a rather casual approach to customer service.Â (I have never waited so long for a grilled cheese sandwich, even when I’m making it.) The place to go when the stars are aligned, but if your gang is starving and on the verge of a freak-out, definitely a place to skip.
Location: 509 Â½ Duval Street, Key West
Salsa Loca (website)
Fresh, cheap, and fast, Salsa Loca is some of the best Mexican food I think I’ve ever had.Â The New York Times review posted on the door is what first got us to walk in, but the chicken enchiladas and friendly service are what keep us coming back for more.Â Make sure you order lots of salsa – it’s so good you’ll want to eat it with a spoon.
Location: 918 Duval Street, Key West
Coffee & Tea House of Key West
Great casual spot for fine coffee, bagels, and the New York Times. Seating indoors or outdoors on a lovely side porch. Internet access is available.
Location: 1218 Duval Street, Key West
Flamingo Crossing Ice Cream
Delicious homemade gelato-style ice cream and sorbets in flavors of all sorts–coconut, lychee, mango, key lime, Cuban coffee, and the more mundane like chocolate chip. Generous scoops justify the price.
Location: 1105 Duval Street, Key West
Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center (website)
Opened in 2007, this is a great place to learn about reef and mangrove habitats with its touch screens, stunning photos, and roomy theater. The third Saturday of each month the center offers a free kid’s activity in the morning (while we were there, the presentation featured aquifers and how pollution spreads, using sand and various dyes in water). Call for details. The center is operated by the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
Location: 35 East Quay Road, Key West. Located at the end of Southard Street in Truman Annex, across from Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park
Operating Hours: Tuesday though Saturday from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.
The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory (website)
Home to hundreds of butterflies and exotic colorful birds from around the world. The Conservatory is truly a magical experience filled with lush tropical vegetation and cascading waterfalls, all under a climate-controlled, glass-enclosed habitat. A short educational 15-minute film detailing the fascinating world of butterflies sets the stage in the Learning Center. All visitors receive a self-adhesive monarch butterfly (plastic) at the exit.
Location: 1316 Duval Street, Key West
Admission: Adults are $12.00. Children 4-12 years Â Â Â are $8.50. Under 4 years are free. Seniors and Military are $9.00
Pirate Soul Museum (website)
Examine authentic pirate plunder, weapons, and other rare artifacts as you roam through what appears to be a pirate ship; an amazing interactive journey of 300 years of high seas adventure. This is a fun museum for pirate loving children (although admission is a bit pricey). Kids of all ages can appreciate at least some parts of the museum–depending on their age, some of the historical facts may be over their heads. The museum is authentically gritty and the quote on the outside is accurate — “This place is Disney with an edge,” so be prepared. When you first enter the museum, there is a little window on a door for a pretend brothel you may want to avoid. What is scary to one child may be fun for another. Halfway through the museum, there is a dark room with headphones to listen to an audio tape of sounds aboard a pirate ship, including loud yelling, some foul pirate language, and cannons and gunfire, and towards the end of the museum is a talking decapitated head of Captain Blackbeard. The gift shop is well stocked with great pirate toys, books, games, and shirts. Whether you go into the museum or not, the gift shop and large outdoor display windows are worth a stop if your kids adore pirates.
Ages: Recommended for 5 and up.
Location: 524 Front Street, Key West
Hours: Open Daily from 9 a.m. — 7 p.m.
Cost: Adults are $13.95, Kids (10 and under) are $7.95
This waterfront park is the site of the island’s daily Sunset Celebration. A number of street performers share their tricks and magic nightly starting about an hour before sunset. Each performer designates their stage (square of pavement) with a piece of rope. Part of the show includes trying to lure you away from watching the other simultaneous performances. Food is available from local street vendors.
Location: Waterfront at Front Street
Ages: All ages, although be advised that some of these bohemian street performers are a little edgy in their humor and language.
The Key West Garden Club and West Martello Tower (website)
West Martello Tower, a Civil War fort and National Historic Site, is home to the Key West Garden Club. Stroll the brick pathways through graceful arched courtyards and lush colorful foliage. While strolling this tranquil spot, we spotted several chameleons alongside the palm trees. We were fortunate to see the Sculpture Key West exhibition of contemporary sculpture throughout the gardens. The Space Crystallization by Ludwika Orgorzelec was an amazing suspended structure constructed of Saran Wrap, wood frame, and rocks used as suspended weights.
Location: 1100 Atlantic Blvd., Key West
Open year-round, Tuesday through Saturday. 9:30 a.m. – 3:15 p.m.
Admission: Free. Donations appreciated.
This well-equipped playground is conveniently located near a large area of bocce courts and just across the street from Higgs Beach. It is a popular stop for families on their way to and from the beach, White Street Pier, or old town Key West.
Location: Atlantic Boulevard across from The Key West Garden Club and West Martello Tower and Higgs Beach
Fort Taylor State Park and Fort (website)
This is the best beach we found. Although you have to pay a modest entrance fee, it’s well worth it. The well-groomed sandy beach has large shaded areas with picnic tables and grills. You can snorkel off the beach and see tropical fish and live coral. Snack bar and snorkeling equipment rentals available.
A small bike path runs through the park up to the fort built during the Civil War. Kids can run around, explore the fort, and check out the cannons.
Location: Fort Zachary Taylor is located at the end of Southard Street on Truman Annex in Key West.
Cost: $5.00 per car. $1.50 per person on bike or walking. Children under five are free. Includes access to the beach, fort, and small bike trail. Please call the park to verify rates.
Voltaire Book Shop (website)
If you need to stock up on books, this lovely independent bookstore has a nice selection for kids and adults.
Location: 330 Simonton Street, Key West
Other places recommended for kids we did not have time to check out:
Key West Aquarium
1 Whitehead Street, Key West
Key West Shipwreck Historeum
1 Whitehead Street, Key West