Skip to main content

Five Things to Do in Key West for Under $5

Deborah Neyens is an educator and attorney from Iowa who has been to Key West for over 20 years.

A beautiful Key West sunset - for free!

A beautiful Key West sunset - for free!

Key West Attractions

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

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 for individual tickets, but packages and discounts are available.

Audubon House Museum and Tropical Garden

Audubon House Museum and Tropical Garden

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

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

2. West Martello Tower and the Key West Garden Club

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

Scroll to Continue

Read More from WanderWisdom

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

A schooner returning to harbor from a sunset sail

A schooner returning to harbor from a sunset sail

3. The Historic Seaport

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 the 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

Inside Civil war-era Fort Zachary Taylor

Inside Civil war-era Fort Zachary Taylor

4. Fort Zachary Taylor State Park

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

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

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

5. Sunset at Mallory Square

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 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 for conch fritters; $8.00 for 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 pirate-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

Key West: Where to Go

© 2015 Deborah Neyens

Related Articles