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Five Things to Do in Key West for Under $5

Updated on December 07, 2016
A beautiful Key West sunset - for free!
A beautiful Key West sunset - for free! | Source

Are you planning a trip to Key West, Florida, but don’t have a lot of extra cash? Traveling to the southernmost city need not break the bank. Here is a round-up of five great things to see and do in Key West that won’t cost you a thing (or will cost next to nothing). And when you’re ready to splurge, we have some ideas for you there, too.


1. The Pelican Path Self-Guided Tour of Key West

Milton Curry House is stop 45 on the Pelican Path walking tour
Milton Curry House is stop 45 on the Pelican Path walking tour | Source

Free:

The Old Island Restoration Foundation offers a free, printable walking tour of Old Town Key West on its website. The tour starts at Mallory Square, the historical hub of the Key West ship wrecking industry, and takes you past 51 historic buildings and other Key West attractions. The route takes one to two hours to complete, longer if you linger at any of the stops along the way.

If you have a little money to spend:

Take a tour of the Geiger Home, stop 3 on your walking tour and the site of Audubon House Museum and Tropical Gardens. The historic home’s renovation in the late 1950s sparked the Key West restoration movement. The museum offers a look at the life of a wealthy ship wrecker and his family in the mid-19th century and features an extensive collection of original works by John James Audubon. The famed naturalist is said to have visited the property during his time in Key West.

Cost: $12, discounts available

When you’re ready to splurge:

If a two-hour walk isn’t your thing, hop on board the Conch Train Tour at the Front Street Depot. You’ll get a comprehensive 90-minute tour of Old Town Key West, with three stops along the way if you want to get off and explore. (Your ticket is good all day - simply hop on the next train that comes along.) Your admission comes with discount coupons to several Key West attractions like Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum and the Key West Shipwreck Treasures Museum.

Cost: $30.45 individual ticket, packages and discounts available.

Audubon House Museum and Tropical Garden
Audubon House Museum and Tropical Garden | Source



2. West Martello Tower and the Key West Garden Club

A garden oasis awaits inside the crumbling walls of West Martello Tower
A garden oasis awaits inside the crumbling walls of West Martello Tower | Source

Free:

The island of Key West is home to three Civil War-era fortifications, all designed to protect the country’s Atlantic and Gulf coasts after the War of 1812. Construction began on West Martello Tower after the start of the Civil War in 1861. The military tore down much of the structure in the 1890s to provide materials for new armaments at Fort Zachary Taylor. Locals then used West Martello as a source of free bricks, which left the fort in ruins.

In the 1950s, congressman and avid gardener Joe Allen saved the remaining structure from demolition by earmarking it for use by the Key West Garden Club. Club members established a collection of native and exotic plants within the ruins, creating a botanical sanctuary with tranquil garden vignettes and views of the sea. The grounds are maintained by volunteers during weekly educational sessions and are open to the public.

Donations are appreciated.

If you have a little money to spend:

If you were delighted by the Key West Garden Club’s version of a butterfly garden at West Martello Tower, you may want to invest in the price of admission at the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory. More than 50 species of butterflies and 20 species of birds live among flowering plants, cascading water, and tropical foliage in a climate-controlled, glass-enclosed habitat. Also make sure to check out the on-site learning center and gift shop jam-packed with unique, butterfly-themed items.

Cost: $12, discounts available

One of over 50 species of butterflies at the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory
One of over 50 species of butterflies at the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory | Source



3. The Historic Seaport

A schooner returning to harbor from a sunset sail
A schooner returning to harbor from a sunset sail | Source

Free:

Key West’s Historic Seaport, also known as the Key West Bight, has been the base of the island’s maritime activities for nearly two centuries. It once served as the home of three historically important Key West industries, the sea turtle, sponge and shrimp fisheries. Although over-fishing brought an end to those activities, a scenic stroll along the Harbor Walk gives visitors a glimpse of this history via interpretive markers that are posted along the way. The Dry Tortugas and Key West Bight Interpretive Center offers more history and free admission.

Other no-cost seaport activities include admiring the historic schooners and lavish yachts docked in marina, looking for tarpon and manatees in the water, and watching the fishermen return to dock and clean their daily catch.

If you have a little money to spend:

The Historic Seaport is home to a multitude of eating and drinking establishments specializing in fresh seafood. The iconic Half Shell Raw Bar, housed in a former shrimp packing facility on the wharf, offers daily happy hour food and drink specials. With a casual, open-air atmosphere and license-plate décor, the Half Shell is a favorite watering hole of the local fishermen. Grab a stool at the bar and order the buffalo shrimp and a cold one. If Laura is working, tell her I sent you.

Cost: $5.50 buffalo shrimp basket, 2-for-1 drinks (from 4:30 to 6:30 daily)

When you’re ready to splurge:

Depart from the Historic Seaport on your own sea adventure. If you want to catch your own dinner, fishing charters leave from Pier A at the foot of Margaret Street for open sea or flats fishing trips. Or try another water sport like diving, snorkeling, parasailing or kayaking, found all along the Harbor Walk.

Cost: Varies widely, plan on $600+ for a private fishing charter or $40+ for a snorkeling excursion

Tarpon swimming along the Harbor Walk
Tarpon swimming along the Harbor Walk | Source



4. Fort Zachary Taylor State Park

Inside Civil war-era Fort Zachary Taylor
Inside Civil war-era Fort Zachary Taylor | Source

Under $5:

Its centerpiece may be the fort after which it is named, but Fort Zachary Taylor State Park is a favorite of many for its beach, snorkeling and views. The fort served as the base for U.S. Navy blockade operations during the Civil War, when Key West remained under Union control. Catch a free guided tour at noon or take the self-guided tour any time until 5:00 p.m. to see the fort’s gun rooms and artillery collection. Bring your beach bag and snorkeling gear for a swim in the ocean when you’re done. Stay for sunset. The park has a concession stand if you get hungry or thirsty.

Cost: $2.50 for bicyclists and pedestrians; $4.50 for single occupancy vehicles, $6.50 for 2-8 passenger vehicles

When you’re ready to splurge:

If your visit to Fort Zachary Taylor State Park leaves you wanting more, you’ll want to visit Dry Tortugas National Park. Getting to what is one of the most remote U.S. National Parks is not easy or cheap – you have travel by seaplane or boat 70 miles into the Gulf of Mexico – but you will be rewarded with more military history, more fort, and more snorkeling. Massive Fort Jefferson sits in the middle of a tiny archipelago of sandy, bird-filled beaches and waters teeming with marine life. The masonry structure was built during the mid-1800s and used as a Union prison during the Civil War. Day trips to the park generally include lunch and snorkeling gear. Camping is available, but you better bring everything you need, including water; they’re called “Dry” Tortugas for a reason.

Cost: $165 round-trip via high speed ferry (2-1/2 hours each way); $265-465 round-trip via seaplane (40 minutes each way)

The beach at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park
The beach at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park | Source



5. Sunset at Mallory Square

Mallory Square is home to Key West's nightly sunset festival
Mallory Square is home to Key West's nightly sunset festival | Source

Free:

Key West long has been celebrated for its sunsets. Today’s Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square started as a daily gathering of hippies in the 1960s and became a legitimate street festival somewhere along the way. Legend has it that, long before the hippies, Tennessee Williams started the tradition of applauding the sunset from Mallory Square. The crowd still claps at the precise moment the sun slides below the horizon. In the mean time, street performers and craft vendors keep them entertained.

If you have a little money to spend:

Head over to the south side of the Island to the Afterdeck Bar at Louie’s Backyard. Louie’s is an elegant restaurant housed in an oceanfront Victorian mansion. The Afterdeck Bar out back hangs out over the ocean and makes a great spot to watch to watch the sky explode into a million colors at sunset. Have a drink and an appetizer. If Marcy is working, tell her I say hello.

Cost: $8.75 conch fritters; $8.00 Louie’s red sangria

When you’re ready to splurge:

Put a Key West sunset cruise on your bucket list. Back at the seaport, you have plenty to choose from. There are catamaran party cruises with live music and dancing; there are pirated-themed cruises. A sunset cruise on the Western Union or another historic schooner is a spectacular way to end the day in Key West.

Cost: Varies; plan on spending $40 or more

A Key West sunset sail
A Key West sunset sail | Source



Key West: Where to go

show route and directions
A markerAudubon House Museum and Tropical Garden -
205 Whitehead Street, Key West, FL 33040, USA
get directions

B markerConch Train Tours -
201 Front Street, Key West, FL 33040, USA
get directions

C markerWest Martello Tower and the Key West Garden Club -
1100 Atlantic Boulevard, Key West, FL 33040, USA
get directions

D markerKey West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory -
1316 Duval Street, Key West, FL 33040, USA
get directions

E markerDry Tortugas and Key West Bight Interpretive Center -
240 Margaret Street, Key West, FL 33040, USA
get directions

F markerHalf Shell Raw Bar -
231 Margaret Street, Key West, FL 33040, USA
get directions

G markerFort Zachary Taylor State Park -
Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park, Key West, FL 33040, USA
get directions

H markerMallory Square -
400 Wall Street, Key West, FL 33040, USA
get directions

I markerLouie's Backyard and the Afterdeck Bar -
700 Waddell Avenue, Key West, FL 33040, USA
get directions

A markerDry Tortugas National Park -
Dry Tortugas National Park, Key West, FL, USA
get directions

Have you been to Key West?

See results

© 2015 Deborah Neyens

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    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 24 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I don't know if I've mentioned it, but I've never been to Florida. No desire to go at all, but I would love to see Key West. You're talking my language here....activities for less than a five spot. Very nice, Deb!

    • DeborahNeyens profile image
      Author

      Deborah Neyens 24 months ago from Iowa

      Thanks, Bill. Key West is very different from the rest of Florida. It's its own little Conch Republic.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 24 months ago from Central Florida

      You're bringing back memories, Deb. Key West is like no other place on this Earth. Well, at least not in Florida. It's a different world down there. The people are friendly and laid back. The architecture is amazing and the streets are quaint. Color abounds in Key West. It's such a beautiful place!

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 24 months ago from Florida

      My one trip to Key West was a fun filled adventure. We saw a parade (there is a name for this, but I can't remember), where people in the parade had NO clothes on; just had their bodies painted! It was some sort of annual parade.

      Yes, it is quite beautiful.

      Voted UP and shared.

    • DeborahNeyens profile image
      Author

      Deborah Neyens 24 months ago from Iowa

      Thanks, Shauna. I do love Key West. My BFF moved there 21 years ago and I try to get there at least once a year for a visit. Some day I may not leave!

    • DeborahNeyens profile image
      Author

      Deborah Neyens 24 months ago from Iowa

      Mary, it sounds like you were there for Fantasy Fest! I've actually never been down there for the parade (which is right around Halloween). One of these years .... Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image

      Catherine Giordano 24 months ago from Orlando Florida

      I don't travel much, but it is fun to be an armchair traveler. I loved your beautiful pictures. I'll save this because I live in Florida and maybe I'll visit Key West one day. Voted up+++ H+ too.

    • randomcreative profile image

      Rose Clearfield 24 months ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      Fabulous overview of notable Key West attractions! I love the range of options. Thanks for sharing.

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 24 months ago from sunny Florida

      I love this. You did such a great job of showing where to go with little or no money and what to do with a little stash of it. Key West is a unique and wondrous place to visit. My kitty is the child of a Hemingway kitty from Hemingway's kitties.

      Voted up++++ shared and pinned to Awesome HubPages

      Angels are on the way to you ps

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 24 months ago from Orlando, FL

      Awesome tourist guide to visitors of Key West!! Just an idea but you should pimp this out to the Chamber of Commerce in the Keys! I'm tweeting it to them! I still have my wonderful memories of the Keys...the first time I ate Gator was while I was there. Yummy...just like chicken! :)

    • DeborahNeyens profile image
      Author

      Deborah Neyens 24 months ago from Iowa

      Thanks, Catherine, Rose, PS, and Linda. Linda, great idea! Thanks for tweeting.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 24 months ago from south Florida

      Next time I'm in Key West I will have this list of attractions with me that you have so thoughtfully provided. Thanks for your time and effort, m'dear.

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 23 months ago from Nashville Tn.

      Thanks Deb for this beautiful tour of Key West. I've never been but sure want to now that I've read your hub and viewed your fantastic photos. Voted UABI and sharing.

      Audrey

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 23 months ago from USA

      What a wonderful hub. It's been a few years since I've been and now I want to go back! Voted up and more and sharing, pinning.

    • poetryman6969 profile image

      poetryman6969 23 months ago

      Looks like we will be doing the butterflies and the trains the next time we are there. Thanks!

    • DeborahNeyens profile image
      Author

      Deborah Neyens 23 months ago from Iowa

      Thanks for reading and commenting, drbj, Audrey, Flourish, Poetryman. I hope you all get to check out some of these attractions sometime. (Poetryman, the train exceeded my expectations!)

    • profile image

      TheBizWhiz 23 months ago

      I went to Key West about 18 years ago and had a blast. Hopefully I can take my family there, so thank you for the tour! I will definitely go to all of these places.

    • DeborahNeyens profile image
      Author

      Deborah Neyens 23 months ago from Iowa

      Thanks BizWhiz. I hope you make it back some day!

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Glimmer Twin Fan 23 months ago

      We went to Key West on our honeymoon but I did not see as much of it as I had hoped. I got food poisoning on our second day there and didn't leave the hotel room for 3 days. Horrible, but at last we were able to see some of the sights, just not as many as I'd hoped. I really wanted to see the Fort, but no go.Interesting hub and great photos.

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 22 months ago from Northeast Ohio

      Great travelogue hub on Key West and what to do there for free or inexpensive tourist attractions. Voted up!

    • Buildreps profile image

      Buildreps 21 months ago from Europe

      Beautiful Hub, with your own pictures. Great subject. Looks great. I've never been there, but I will try to remind your Hub when I am in the neighbourhood :) Voted up!

    • DeborahNeyens profile image
      Author

      Deborah Neyens 21 months ago from Iowa

      Glimmer, what a horrible way to spend a honeymoon! So sorry to hear that. You will have to go back sometime. Thanks for reading and commenting.

      And thank you, Kristen and Buildreps. I appreciate the comments and votes. Glad you both enjoyed the hub.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 15 months ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Sounds awesome! A well-shared hub with nice photos.

    • Farawaytree profile image

      Michelle Zunter 14 months ago from California

      Hey there, I love your hubs about Key West. I used to live there and got married at the West Martello Tower Gardens long ago. Haunted Key West is great too - so much history there. Fantastic job!

    • DeborahNeyens profile image
      Author

      Deborah Neyens 14 months ago from Iowa

      What a great spot for a wedding, Farawaytree! I'm glad you are enjoying my Key west series. I am heading back there in a couple of months, so look for more Key West articles soon. (Something about being there makes me want to write, write, write.) : )

    • Farawaytree profile image

      Michelle Zunter 14 months ago from California

      Yes, I have some wild stories from my time there. Perhaps I'll share one day! Have a great trip!

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 6 months ago from Orlando, FL

      I'm glad Hurricane Hermine was only a category one, Key West was spared because I am ready for a road trip again...one day. :)

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