How To Visit Key West With Kids

I grew up in South Florida.  Hurricane season wasn’t any different than when the spring rains roll in, in Northeast Ohio.  Every once in a while a hurricane of substantial size would blow in and we’d ride it out in the bathroom at my grandparents’ house.  There are of course those exceptions.  I went through hurricane Andrew in 1992 and Hurricane Wilma required me to evacuate from my college dorm. And I can remember watching as Katrina decimated Louisana.

This year, however, seems different.  It’s been hurricane after hurricane.  And these storms are full of uncontrolled power, destroying everything they touch. We spent some time in Key West back in the Spring and had a great time.  Unfortunately, the keys were right in the path of hurricane Irma.  She rolled through and left a trail of destruction in her wake.

Many of the residents make their living off of tourism.  While donating funds and supplies definitely helps the island begin to rebuild; I’m sure most of the small business owners and restaurants would tell you the best thing you could do is to come visit!  I’m hoping this post might encourage some of you to take the trip.  If you have a couple days off and are wondering where to visit – pick Key West! You won’t be sorry!

Here’s how to do it with kids in tow:

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Stay off Duval Street:

We had some reservations about taking the kids to Key West, and most of them centered around Duval Street.  It’s no secret, Duval street is where the party starts, and I just wasn’t sure my kids were ready for all that top-notch people watching; if you catch my drift (wink wink).  We ended up staying on the other side of the island and that was a great decision.  We could spend time downtown and head out before things got too out of hand.  I’d look for an Airbnb or HomeAway property a little off of the main strip.


Hit the beach:

We stayed right near Smathers Beach.  It’s picturesque with its white sand and blue waters.  We checked out a couple of different beaches, and most were pretty rocky or not very kid-friendly. They were fun to explore, but this is where you’d want to park yourself if you are planning for the traditional beach day.  There is a concession stand on one end and we had lunch at one of the food trucks that park near the beach.

There are limited shade options here.  Here’s the umbrella we love when we hit the beach with babies.  I also took an inflatable baby pool to fill with water for the tots to play in, which ended up being a great idea, if I do say so myself.


Visit a deserted island:

I mean really, how cool does that sound? 70 miles off the coast of Key West is a Dry Tortugas National Park.  It’s a series of islands with the main one hosting Fort Jefferson.  We haven’t actually made it out to the fort yet because it is a 2-hour boat ride and there were just too many variables to take my 1-year old twins on the journey.   The park is known for its snorkeling, wildlife, and history.  Everyone I’ve talked to has highly recommended it, we can’t wait to check it out on our next trip.

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Watch the Sunset at Mallory Square:

Mallory Square is known for its incredible sunsets.  What you might not know is that as the sun sets the square comes alive.  Street performers, merchants, and food vendors all have a spot for your enjoyment.  Each evening hosted a number of different performers and my son enjoyed being able to participate in a few of the acts.  From magic to juggling to fire-breathing to sword swallowing you will see it all here.  I wouldn’t expect to get any breath-taking pictures here, despite all the reviews, it’s very crowded and unless you are there early, you probably won’t have a front row seat to the sunrise.


Do the Aquarium: 

All of my kids (ages 7, 1, 1,) loved the aquarium.  It’s small, but it’s very hands on. There’s a touch tank, turtle feeding, and shark feeding demonstration to name a few. It won’t take you a full day but it’s located right downtown and there are several restaurants and shops to occupy the rest of your afternoon.


We bundled our tickets since we wanted to visit the shipwreck museum, which was a way to save a few dollars.  I wouldn’t recommend the shipwreck museum for kids under 5.  It definitely has some interesting parts and an awesome observation tower you can climb to the top of.  However, it’s a lot of reading and history that might not keep your little ones engaged.

Grab some history at Fort Zachary Taylor:

You know I’m a sucker for a good learning opportunity.  We toured Fort Zachary and were transported back to civil war times.  There are also nature trails and a beach to visit.  We found the beach to be a bit rocky, but still enjoyed some fun in the sun.


Get some Cupcake Sushi

Did you really think I could have a post and not talk about food, specifically chocolate?  Well, that was just silly.  At Cupcake Sushi you can order bite-size cupcakes in an assortment of flavors designed to look just like sushi rolls.  The only word going through your mind right now should be yum.  Visit early in the day, once they are out of their rolls the shop closes for the day.


Go to the southernmost point in the evening:

You can’t visit Key West without going to the southernmost point of the USA.  My advice would be to go in the evening.  The cruise ships typically pull out around 5pm and their passengers go with them.  There’s always a line to have your picture taken, but it’s significantly shorter in the evening time after the ships leave.


Go Fishing:

Key West is known for its fishing, and there are plenty of boats you can charter.  But we found the best kid-friendly fishing to just be off the causeway.  The water was so clear, that in the evening we could see stingrays, jellyfish, and several large nurse sharks.  My son even caught a small shark.  It was the highlight of his trip!


Don’t forget the water sports:

When it comes to water sports, Key West has it all.  I’ve done a jetski tour of the island in the past which was really fun.  This trip I took my 7-year-old parasailing on the Fury and it was a great experience. You can see our pictures here.  You can also rent boats for the day or take snorkeling tours.  There’s a water activity available here for everyone.


Earnest Hemmingway, who had a house on Key West, sums up the island perfectly when he said, “Live in the full life of the mind, exhilarated by new ideas, intoxicated by the romance of the unusual.”

Hope to see you down in the keys soon!