When people try to tell me that Key West is “just for adults,” I reply with a big fat “wrong.” My grown children and my two grand kids live in Key West and most of what we do for fun is family stuff. My grandchildren were born in Key West, and as I write this, my granddaughter is turning 11 and my grandson is almost 15. So, like many American kids their age, they’re involved with soccer, softball, tennis, music, and theater productions. But they also have the unique opportunities that come with living on a tropical island where they can swim, snorkel the reef, scuba dive, windsurf, go boating in the Gulf of Mexico, or just hang on the beach.
So… as a young grandmother living in Key West, I state from personal experience that there are plenty of amazing things for our kids to do here, and the same opportunities are available to your children on vacation. Here, I’ll give you my personal suggestions on how to plan your Key West family vacation and then offer up some my ‘Top 15 Favorite Things to do the Kids.’
A Place to Stay with the Family in Key West
The first thing you need to do is choose your lodging. I recommend that you rent a vacation rental house (generally called a villa), preferably with a swimming pool. You’ll have plenty of space and privacy, and with your own kitchen, you’ll spend a lot less than you would on two or three hotel rooms. Think about it…the kitchen alone will save you money on food and you’ll have more cash to for family activities.
A house makes it much easier to ‘keep an eye’ on the children, and the swimming pool can be focal point for the entire family. But please keep in mind that most swimming pools are not large and do not have diving boards. On the other hand, they generally have decks or patios for sunning and lounging around.
As you choose your villa, keep in mind that most vacation rentals that are licensed to rent for less than a month, are in the Old Town Key West neighborhoods. It’s actually a lot of fun and very convenient to rent a house in the downtown Old Town neighborhoods as it is very easy to walk everywhere. But you can also find great vacation rentals in the more residential White Street Gallery, Beachside, and Truman Annex neighborhoods.
You’ll want to get settled in as smoothly as possible, so it’s a good idea to find out how close your rental is to the closest grocery store. Key West has some great local grocers that take orders by phone or on-line and deliver right to your door. A few vacation homes are very close to the local grocers, and the island has three large chain supermarkets on North Roosevelt Blvd if you decide to stock up yourself.
Now that we have food and lodging out of the way, let’s get down to planning the fun stuff. And once you get here, there is not doubt you will discover favorites of your own.
MY ‘TOP FAVORITE 15 THINGS’ TO DO WITH THE KIDS IN KEY WEST
Key West Beaches
Going to the beach is one my very favorite things to do with the kids. When they were really little we would go to Higgs Beach nearly every weekend. Higgs has white sand and the water stays shallow for a long way out making it a great swimming place for the children. There’s a fantastic beach restaurant with bar, a volley ball net, and there is also a little kid’s playground, ‘Astro City,’ across the street.
As the kids got bigger, we starting going to Fort Zachary Taylor State Park Beach. It has fantastic snorkeling and 54 acres of land to explore along with a pre-Civil War Fort. The kids also like to go to all the other Key West beaches depending upon what they want to do.
I have a few absolute favorite activities I love to do with the kids. Because we live on a tropical island, many of them are water oriented, but there are also many ‘on land’ adventures to choose from.
- The Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory – A magical and breathtaking indoor solarium filled with flying butterflies, birds, tropical plants, streams and waterfalls.
- Mel Fisher’s Treasure Museum – See artifacts found on the famous shipwreck Atocha and Santa Margarita.
- Ghost Tours – Night time local tours lead you to ‘haunted houses’ and offer fun lore and ghostly stories.
- Fort Zachary Taylor State Park – Walk through a pre-Civil War Martello Fort and then go to the beach.
- Key West Light House Museum – Visit the restored lighthouse & Keepers quarters, and climb the 88 step spiral stairway for an amazing view.
- East Martello Towers – Walk through this pre-Civil War Martello Fort and grounds. Learn all about Key West history and climb the citadel with 8 foot granite walls for an amazing view of the ocean.
- Private Charter Boat trips out into the Gulf of Mexico – ‘Back Country.’ These trips can include visiting deserted islands, kayaking, snorkeling, and fly fishing – depending on the charter boat and captain you choose.
- Sunset sail on the harbor – Choose of the tall wooden ships and feel like a real pirate.
- Wild Dolphin Watch Tours – Go to where the dolphins are and observe them in their wild natural habitat.
- Parasailing for the older kids – Exhilarating adventure trip on the water.
- Glass Bottom Boat Trip – Observe the living coral reefs without getting in the water.
- Visit Fort Jefferson and The Dry Tortugas – Take a high speed catamaran on the 70 mile boat trip from Key West.
- Key West Aquarium – See and touch many of the local species found in our waters and learn about the beauty and diversity of inshore and barrier reef ecosystems.
- Bike Rides – Riding along the south shore along Higgs and Smathers Beach, and riding through Truman Annex and then on to Fort Zachary Taylor is a favorite ride with the younger kids.
Since many of the activities are in or around the water, your children may develop an interest in further learning about and exploring the fragile ecosystem of the world’s oceans. Our children and grandchildren have developed a love for the sea that has led them to surfing, sailing, scuba diving, and boating. Exploration of the sea continues to help carry them through the challenging years of adolescence.
So when people suggest to you that Key West is an adult party vacation destination, you can tell them definitively they have been completely misinformed. This island is a wonderful place for families and children to live… and to vacation. The only problem will be finding enough time on your trip to experience everything you want to do.
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