Is visiting Key West with kids a good idea? When our family planned a trip to Key West we had countless people tell us that it was not a family-friendly place to visit. Of course, this put me on a mission to find ALL the fun family activities to partake in on our Key West visit!
We ended up LOVING the Florida Keys and would totally love to visit again in the future and recommend it as a family travel destination.
I have had so many people reach out and ask for tips and planning advice so here is my personal kid friendly Key West travel guide for families:
Travel Tips for Visiting The Florida Keys with Kids
The Florida Keys are NOT an easy-to-visit location. We live in South Georgia, and it is a nine-hour drive from our town to Key West. This is a big reason we’ve never considered visiting because “it’s so far.”
BUT we were pleasantly surprised that the drive was NOT bad at ALL. It was a very easy, smooth drive and one that we would take again.
I also think flying would be a great way to get there and then renting a Jeep or convertible or something if you’re visiting kid-free and can feel the sea wind blowing while taking in the gorgeous views.
Either way I highly recommend making sure TO DO the DRIVE through the Florida Keys. Don’t just fly into actual Key West. Either drive the whole thing or fly into Fort Lauderdale and rent a car and drive from there (also saves money on the flight tickets!).
Our kids were ages 12, 9 and 6 on this trip and they handled the drive very well and also appreciated the beautiful views too – even in our van we rolled down the windows and made ’em get off their screens and soak it up!
Where to Stay in Key West with Kids
We actually didn’t choose to visit Key West in order to visit Key West…we had planned a trip to an all inclusive resort in Mexico and when it didn’t work out we started searching for resort options in the US and found Hawks Cay Resort in Duck Key.
It is about an hour north of actual Key West and is PERFECT for families!!! Hawks Cay is NOT an all-inclusive resort BUT it very much has that resort vibe with lots of activities and fun things to choose from, a kids club, plenty of pools, and multiple options for accommodations ranging from standard hotel rooms to three-bedroom villas.
We stayed in a two-bedroom villa and had a full kitchen and gorgeous views as well as a quiet pool just off our back porch that was never overly crowded or busy.
We tend to avoid staying in hotels when we travel. We have four kids so it usually makes sense for us to try to find a condo, vacation rental home or villa on vacation over trying to find a hotel large enough for us. Our two bedroom villa was perfect at Hawks Cay and if we go back with all four of our kids we will for sure book the three bedroom villa option they have available.
(By the way, if you’re looking for a vacation rental home at Disney World… we’ve got one that’s perfect for families!)
The resort also has dolphins that live on-site and offers dolphin encounter packages at additional cost (we LOVED it!). I’m pretty confident that this is something the whole family could get into regardless of your kids’ age ranges. There are also several on-site restaurants and even a Starbucks!
We also loved the location of the resort and that it wasn’t located IN actual Key West. Duck Key is centrally located in the middle portion of the Florida Keys so we strategically planned our trip to allow for exploring some of the popular tourist spots and a local restaurant or two on the way to the resort as well as planned a day to make the full drive down to Key West to enjoy the spots there too!
How to Plan a Family Key West Trip
Key West is well known as a party kinda town. It’s the place where people go to soak up the sun and let loose. We are mindful as parents to not put our kids in situations that may make them uncomfortable and we personally try to avoid wild party environments even when we don’t have our kids with us. It’s just not our jam!
However, we also believe that ANY destination can be a kid-friendly one with the right kind of planning. Here are my tips for planning a family friendly Key West vacation:
Schedule the Trip on Weekdays and Avoid Holidays
If you’re planning to visit actual Key West…plan to visit during the WEEK. Not only will it help minimize traffic frustrations but it will also help make finding parking easier AND minimize the wild environment the weekend tends to bring with it.
We visited Key West over our kids’ winter break from school (President’s Day weekend in February). While it was a school holiday, it’s also not one where people tend to take major vacations. I would probably avoid Key West during Spring Break as the vibe reminds me of Panama City Beach which I’d also avoid on Spring Break 🙂
(However, there is one place I WOULD recommend visiting during Spring Break… Disney World!)
Key West in February was PERFECT with the weather too! We were expecting it to be cooler but it was perfection. High 70s/low 80s every single day and even the water wasn’t chilly like we had been anticipating. A great winter escape to warm weather 🙂
Do Everything EARLY
We made the hour drive from Duck Key to Key West early in the morning. This allowed us to avoid traffic! There is really only ONE highway to take you through the Keys and just like the Florida Keys are known for the gorgeous views…it’s a place that is also known for its horrible traffic.
Planning our activities and meals for earlier than the normal times also helped us avoid crowds of people and any rowdiness that may have occurred later in the day.
We scheduled everything we could for the earliest time slots available. We ate lunch around 11 am and dinner around 4:30 pm. We visited Mallory Square at 5 PM which is right as the Sunset Celebration festivities were getting started.
By arranging our day on the early side of things we really had a minimal crowd experience even in highly visited tourist spots. Kids do well having things early anyway so it helped our day run smoothly!
Schedule Activities in Key West
If you’re planning a family trip, MAKE PLANS. Don’t just show up and go with the flow.
I typically love to walk and explore a new town with my husband but I knew going in that having a solid game plan for our day in Key West was crucial to it going well with the entire family!
We visited Fort Zachary Taylor State Park, had a scheduled trolley tour of the city mid-day, and then had a trolley ghost tour for the earliest time slot that evening. Having these planned activities really allowed us to enjoy the area and have a great time without encountering any uncomfortable moments for our kids.
The party gets rolling EARLY in the Keys…so yes even mid-day you’ll see people who have already had a bit too much to drink and we had a few people yell things at the trolley during our ride so it made me thankful we made those plans! I do NOT think we would have enjoyed our Key West day without that set agenda!
The biggest tip is to keep a constant watchful “mama eye” and ear out for anything that may be inappropriate for your kids…simply redirect their attention elsewhere. When we visited Mallory Square a few of the street performers got pretty graphic and pretty rude with some racist comments. My husband and I just gave each other “the look” and left the area and found a quiet, beautiful spot to watch the sunset. Our kids didn’t even notice anything was amiss at all and the moment didn’t take away from our day whatsoever.
Key West with Kids: Kid-Friendly Activities in the Florida Keys
I was pleasantly surprised by just how many awesome kid friendly activities are available in Key West!!! We had a four night, five day stay and had tons of things to do and could even go back and still have oints of interest we didn’t have time to visit. Here are some of the best places to go!
Enjoy Hawks Cay Resort
A big reason we booked our stay at Hawks Cay was due to the family-friendly atmosphere it provided. There is a kid’s club called Coral Cay with a putt-putt course, crafts, games, pirate-themed water park, kid-friendly pool, and more.
There is also a beautiful salt water lagoon perfect for kids to play and parents to keep a watchful eye without worrying about open water where crashing waves can carry them out to sea! The lagoon was even better than a regular outdoor pool!
I knew I wanted to have some sort of hands-on dolphin experience in Key West and there are many to choose from. I looked into Theater of the Sea as well as the Dolphin Research Center but in the end decided to book through Hawks Cay as their package includes photos and they are REALLY good quality and I felt like the overall experience looked better and more hands-on and it was fabulous!
There is so much to do at Hawks Cay that you could truly plan a trip there and not ever leave the property. We really wanted to take advantage of just having our oldest kids with us so we planned a lot of big kid activities but if we’d had our toddler along we would have been plenty satisfied with just spending time at the resort.
You could also book a stay at the resort and just stick to doing the activities included in the resort fee and still have plenty to do! Items included in the resort fee are: unlimited use of the putting course, sports field, hard and clay tennis courts, parking, Island Tram (super handy), Coral Cay (kids club), access to the Calm Waters Spa Fitness Center, wifi, bike rentals, kayaks and paddle boards.
Hawks Cay is located in Duck Key which is just a short few minute drive to Marathon and is about an hour to Key West.
Since we drove to the Keys we were able to make a stop on our way down and take part in the must-see spots in Islamorada. Islamorada is located about 45 minutes north of Duck Key so it was the perfect stopping point on our drive.
We visited Theater of the Sea and I highly recommend it! It is set up in an easy to follow format that makes it a quick activity too. They basically guide you through brief shows and tours that are all flowing from one to the next. Each show is engaging enough to keep your interest while also being short enough so you don’t get bored.
My husband is NOT an animal guy (actually neither is my 12 year old) but even they agreed it was a worthwhile visit. The dolphin show was THE BEST we’ve seen even better than the Georgia Aquarium and Sea World!
In my research I do think the dolphin encounter at Hawk’s Cay is a better option than the one offered at Theater of the Sea. However they do have TONS of other animal encounter options that may be worthwhile if you’re crew is interested in hands on experiences. (I’d personally love to do the sea lion one).
Also while in Islamorada we visited Robbie’s which I read was a MUST DO on every site. Maybe back in the day it was a better experience? The area is really neat, Robbie’s is not just a restaurant. It has a full market area with fun little booths set up selling souvenirs and snacks and such.
We did not eat at the restaurant, but did enjoy the marketplace area. The main attraction at Robbie’s is the feeding of the tarpons and THIS experience was NOT what we’d anticipated. While it was hilarious it was also pretty terrifying to be attacked by pelicans. Two of my kids had legit bites on them!
I do think it’s a great tourist stop but I don’t think you have to feed the tarpons to enjoy it. Totally a family friendly spot but the attacking pelicans make it a little less fun for kids 😉
What to Do in Key West With Kids
As far as visiting Key West we planned for ONE full day to hit all the tourist highlights in Key West and having a full day was plenty to do all the things we wanted to do and have experiences we wanted to have.
We got a good feel for the area and took in all the must-see sights while keeping it all kid-friendly by scheduling all of our activities.
Fort Zachary Taylor
We visited Fort Zachary Taylor as we have some history buffs in our crew and enjoyed seeing the historical sites and reading up on its history. To visit Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park it’s a per person cost but a very low fee. We opted for the self-guided tour and it took us about an hour.
We visited early in the day which also helped us avoid the heat as well as the crowds.
There is a TON to do at Fort Zachary Taylor including a guided tour and I’ve read it’s a FANTASTIC beach spot too. Key West doesn’t actually have a lot of beach areas and Fort Zachary Taylor is considered a great beach location to enjoy the water and waves and sand. You could easily spend a full day at the fort if desired. It perhaps goes without saying, the crystal clear waters are amazing!
Key West Tour with Trolley Tour
We did a good bit of research into tour options and decided on one of the Old Town Trolley tours with our kids during our day in Key West. We chose this tour because we liked the idea of a relaxing riding tour where we could hit the highlights of the history of Key West as well as hop on and hop off if we saw something of interest! This means you get to see exponentially more than you would have on foot if you are traveling with young children.
The tour was PERFECT with kids as it wasn’t overly detailed and it was nice that the kids weren’t having to walk everywhere. It was also nice to not be encountering a lot of the party goers because we were in the trolley. It also helped us be able to see some of the tourist spots that were located further away from the main hub of Mallory Square.
If you’re not traveling with kids I don’t know that I would suggest this tour as it wasn’t as detailed or informative as I would have preferred if it were just my husband and I but it’s a great option for families! We also had a wonderful experience with this tour company when we visited Savannah and it’s why we chose it over other popular tour options, including the Conch Train Tour (it looks neat but we would have felt a lot of guilt riding on a train without Spear!)
Southernmost Point – Mile Marker 0
Part of our trolley tour took us out to the Southern Most Point which IS a must-see item when visiting Key West but is located a bit “out of the way” from the main tourist area (Duval Street) so it was a pretty decent drive on the trolley to get there. We hopped off, got our photo, and hopped back on.
There isn’t a whole lot to see at the Southernmost Point but it is so neat to be at the furthest south part of the United States! The Southernmost Point Buey is one of the most photographed spots in the entire country.
There are several little themed shops as well as restaurants along the street so you could spend some time there if desired.
Be sure to offer to take the person in front of you’s photo for them and don’t be shy to ask the person behind you to take your photo too!
Mile Marker 0 is actually not in the same location as the Southernmost Point but the trolley tour also took us by that location. The actual Mile Marker 0 sign is frequently stolen so I would not plan on a photo opportunity there!
Mallory Square Sunset Celebration
When researching the best things to do in Key West with kids I kept seeing Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square pop up again and again. It begins every evening about 1-2 hours before the sun is supposed to set (if you’re unsure on what time the sun is setting just ask anyone…the sunset time is like common knowledge to the locals haha).
It is a free activity! Vendors, musicians and street performers all set up and there is lots to see and take in and every experience is unique!
When visiting with kids I HIGHLY recommend walking through about 90 minutes before sunset. Be warned that the entertainers tend to be very off-color in their comedy and vulgar language is to be expected. We lucked out and saw one that was more of a family-friendly vibe.
We did leave the area well before sunset as the performers and onlookers alike seemed to get a little too rowdy for our comfort level with our children BUT even if you leave Mallory Square it doesn’t mean you’ll miss the sunset! We walked down just a bit and had a great viewing spot with plenty of peace and quiet to just enjoy the moment.
Key West Ghost Tour
Something we really wanted to do with our older kids on this trip was their first ghost tour. Again, I did a good bit of research. I didn’t want a walking tour because I knew they would be exhausted by that point in the evening. I also didn’t want a ghost tour that would be overly scary.
When choosing a tour we noticed that you can get a discount for booking multiple tours through the Old Town Trolley Tour and in my research the most family-friendly ghost tour in Key West is their tour, Ghosts and Gravestones Tour was perfect!
We LOVED it and it was a great first ghost tour experience for the kids. It also included a stop at the Key West Shipwreck Treasure Museum which broke up the trolley ride nicely and allowed us to see a bit of the treasures while learning about the creepy history there.
The tour was not overly scary, our 6 year old did great with it! I would HIGHLY recommend it as a Key West ghost tour experience with kids.
Family Friendly Dining in Florida Keys
We are not huge “foodie” people and did not do a ton of research on where to eat prior to traveling and that is a regret I have as restaurants get BUSY and get busy FAST. By eating early for most meals we didn’t have too long of wait times (or too rowdy of crowds) which was nice but the times when we did have to eat later we ran into some headaches.
Overall we were extremely impressed with the awesome food we ate but especially with the fantastic service. Everywhere we went everyone was awesome!
Here is where we ate during our trip and my thoughts:
We stopped for breakfast at an AWESOME spot on our way down to Key West in Islamorada called Harriette’s and it was fantastic. They had super yummy food including key lime muffins.
We also visited Robbie’s of Islamorada and while we didn’t eat a meal, we did get shaved ice and it was super good. I highly recommend ordering the Islamorada as it’s tigers blood + pina colada + ice cream + condensed milk. YUM.
Duck Key / Marathon
Hawk’s Cay is located in Duck Key and is just a few minute drive to Marathon which is a great spot to pick up groceries and other necessities if you choose to stay in a villa at Hawks Cay. Looking back I wish we’d done more meals at the villa rather than spending time eating out!
Hawk’s Cay has plenty of options for dining on property and we enjoyed a delicious dinner at Angler and Ale. The food was fantastic and we all loved everything we ate!
We also went over to Marathon one night for a pizza and ate at Causway Pizza and it was great too!
Dining with Kids in Key West
We spent one day in Key West and enjoyed all of the food we ate all day long!
We kicked off our day with an early lunch at the Original Margaritaville. It was a GREAT PLACE for kids. Super fun theme and vibe and very easy to order menu. We did visit at 11:30 am so we avoided any sort of real tourist crowd which was great for us to relax and enjoy our food.
We also stopped at Bad Boy Burrito for dinner while walking through downtown Key West and we also enjoyed it! We sat outside and, again, ate early so we didn’t have ANYONE around except for another family with small children 😉
We also didn’t miss the chance to try frozen key lime pie. It’s one item you HAVE to try while in Key West and it didn’t disappoint!
Water Fun Activities in Key West with Kids
Key West is known for its beautiful location and gorgeous weather! We are not a fishing kinda family so that wasn’t an activity we were interested in. Our kids have never been snorkeling or jet skiing so those two items were must-dos for us!
Since we were staying at Hawks Cay we tried to find options available nearby. We rented jet skis from Grassy Key which was less than a 10 min drive up the road from Hawks Cay and they offer many other affordable rentals and experiences as well. We were actually able to drive the jet ski from the rental place to the backyard area of the villa we were staying in! It made it SUPER easy to trade off kids and we had a BLAST.
For snorkeling I did a lot of research and really wanted to find a glass bottom boat in case the kids didn’t enjoy snorkeling so they’d still be able to see the coral reef and some tropical fish from the boat. I didn’t have any luck but in my research I did learn that the middle-keys (where Hawks Cay is located) is an ideal location for snorkeling!
It was great that there were so many snorkel excursion options not far from the resort. We booked through Starfish Snorkeling and it was about a 20 min drive from Hawks Cay. We had an excellent experience, we didn’t get lucky with the conditions but the captain was wonderful in helping find a safe spot to do some exploring!
We visited in February and did rent wetsuits as our southern blood would find the water chilly but everyone else on our boat didn’t use wet suits so I don’t think they are a “must have.”
Additional Key West Attractions for Kids
We left our family trip to Key West totally satisfied with everything we did and experienced and have no regrets. But there is still SO MUCH more we could explore if we were to visit again in the future! Some other kid friendly activities you may want to look into while planning your trip include:
- Touring The Ernest Hemingway Home
- Visiting the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory
- Exploring the Key West Aquarium
- Spend a day at Dry Tortugas National Park
- Climb the Key West Lighthouse
- Soak up the Sun and History at Higgs Beach
- Spend more time at the Key West Shipwreck Museum
- Check out the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum
- Explore Bahia Honda State Park
- Visit the Truman Little White House
Final Thoughts on Visiting Key West with Kids
We had an absolute BLAST on our visit to Key West with our kids! There were moments where we really missed our three year old back home but overall felt like the trip was best suited for kids who were a bit older as many of the activities were more geared towards older kids, our older kids could better handle the long drive, and older kids are more flexible with their schedules too.
While we were warned that Key West is not a kid-friendly place, we felt like it ended up surprising us in all the best ways and we’d totally visit again! My answer to the questions: Is Key West good for families and is Key West kid-friendly is YES! It is what you make it and we left the trip feeling like it was a wonderful family vacation location and Key West with kids is a totally enjoyable experience.
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