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16 Best Free Things To Do in Key West

by Valerie Vanr

Looking for things to do in Key West that won’t break your travel budget?  While Key West prices make it tough to visit on a tight budget, we have found some excellent free things to do.

These are our 16 favorites!

16 Best Free Things to Do in Key West

  1. Duval Street
  2. Art Galleries
  3. Historic Marker Walking Tour
  4. Southernmost Point in the Continental US Monument
  5. Mile Marker 0
  6. Key West Waterfronts
  7. Fort Jefferson Scale Model
  8. Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center
  9. Key West Beaches
  10. African Cemetery at Higgs Beach
  11. Key West Nature Trails
  12. Key West Garden Club
  13. Key West Cemetery
  14. Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square
  15. Free Duval Loop Bus Service
  16. Biking around Key West

Map of Free Things to do in Key West

Key West map with dots marking places with free things to do
Click on the map for an interactive map of the entire Florida Keys.

Duval Street

Walk Duval Street, the heart of historic Old Town Key West, and admire the interesting architecture.  Visit its many galleries and shops which are often in the century-old buildings.  Key West’s Oldest House, at 322 Duval, was built in 1829.

Take a selfie with Marilyn Monroe in front of the Tropic Cinema, just south of Duval on Eaton Street.  The beautiful St. Paul’s Episcopal Church is on the northeast corner of Duval and Eaton.

Marquee of Tropic Theatre colored bronze statue of Marilyn Monroe
John Seward Johnson is famous for bronze statues. In front of the Tropic Theatre see his statue of Marilyn Monroe in the famous pose over a gusty subway grate. Johnson was a Key West resident at the time of his death in 2020.
Red sportcar on street white St. Paul's Church behind
There have been 4 Episcopalian churches on this site since the first in 1832. This one was built in 1912.

Check out the Walgreens in the old Strand Theatre at 527 Duval.

Wander south on Petronia Street into Bahama Village and past open-air restaurants where there is often live music.  This residential area has colorful Bahamian-style houses with clapboard siding, large windows and louvred shutters.  

Art Galleries

There are small galleries spread all over the city.  The galleries on Duval tend to be in clusters.  Between Southard and Angela Streets find Art on Duval, Key West Gallery, Wyland Gallery and more.  Another cluster is further south between Catherine and Louisa Streets where the Alan Maltz Gallery is well known.

Colored-glass sculptures on pedestals with paintings hanging on wall behind
Duval Street has a number of galleries with a wide variety of artistic styles.
Rounded front corner 3-storey Key West Studios building
Four gallery spaces within the Studios of Key West host contemporary art exhibitions of both established and emerging artists residing locally and from out of town.

For lovers of contemporary art, don’t miss the Studios of Key West.  This complex, at Eaton and Simonton Streets (1 block east of Duval), is dedicated to contemporary art programming.  It has a large theatre, four galleries, a rooftop terrace for outdoor programming and more.  The galleries are free to visit and the rooftop terrace provides a great spot to look out over the city.

Historic Marker Walking Tour

In 1971 four thousand acres of Key West was designated as a US historic district (and then enlarged in 1985).  It is the largest historic district of frame buildings in the United States.  There are 120 historic markers throughout the district.  Each marker includes a short history of the site.  Eight self-guided free Historic Marker Walking Tours have been developed to discover this incredible town.

Key West Historical Marker for Tennessee Williams Exhibit window behind
There are 120 historic markers, like this one, in locations around the city. Watch for them and learn a bit of local history.

To launch the handy walking tour app on your phone, visit the Key West Art and Historical Society’s free Key West Walking Tour app.

Southernmost Point in the Continental US Monument

Visit the Southernmost Point in the Continental US.  The spot is marked with a super-sized, colorful buoy at the corner of Whitehead and South Streets.  Just look for the line of people waiting to get a picture.  The line moves quickly so don’t miss out on a selfie.  Cuba is only 90 miles away!

Val Andy beside multicoloured buoy noting southernmost point in continental us
Be sure to get a picture at the Southernmost Point monument.
Andy beside highway sign marking end of US#1 and Mile 0 Overseas Highway
Mile Marker 0 is the beginning of the Overseas Highway between Key West and Florida City and US#1’s southerly end.

Mile Marker 0

The Mile Marker 0 sign, at Whitehead and Fleming Streets, marks the beginning of the Overseas Highway.  The miles between Key West and Florida City are “marked” and used as reference points for locations along the highway.  It is suggested that this practice started with Henry Flagler’s railway mile markers (MMs) and was continued when the highway was built along the same route. 

Along with the MM0 sign there is also an End US1 sign.  This is the most southerly extent of US Route 1.  US#1 is the longest north-south road in the US running between Key West and Fort Kent, Maine, at the Canadian border.

Key West Waterfronts

Walk the waterfront at Mallory Square.  There are lots of shops to check out in the Shops at Mallory Square.  Today, the 1800s structure, built and used as a US Navy coal depot is a 2-level shopping mall with several “faster food”-type eateries.  See the Key West Historic Memorial Sculpture Garden with busts of people important to the history of Key West and the Florida Keys Historical Military Memorial. 

Cruise ships dock at the square or at the pier next door.  For a great place to window shop, people watch and enjoy the breeze, check out the unique boutiques of the Sunset Waterfront Shoppes.  And of course, Mallory Square is home to the free, nightly Sunset Celebration.

Red brick walkway between 3-storey building marina edge
Enjoy the benches along the marina in front of the Sunset Waterfront Shoppes.

The Truman Waterfront stretches along Weech Way.  Visit the Key West Farmers Market every Thursday.  Grab pictures of the Wavehenge Sundial Sculpture and the US Coast Guard Cutter Ingram.  The kids can have fun at the splash pad in the park.  The Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center is nearby.

Andy bicycle Truman Waterfront USCGC Ingram behind
The US Coast Guard Cutter Ingram is permanently docked at Truman Waterfront. It is a museum and memorial to the US Coast Guard.

Walk the harborwalk along the waterfront at the Historic Seaport and Bight Marina.  Admire the beautiful yachts, fun shops, and unique waterfront restaurants.  There are events happening year-round.  See the scale model of Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas National Park in the lobby of the Sails to Rails Museum.

Fort Jefferson Scale Model

Fort Jefferson, a 19th-century, civil war fort, is one of the largest forts built by the US.  It is on Garden Key, one of the islands protected in Dry Tortugas National Park.  See the 11-foot diameter scale model with the free national park exhibits in the Sails to Rails Museum at the Historic Seaport.  There’s also a Junior Ranger Exploration Station, and a knot tying station. 

The exhibit is a great way to learn about the national park without needing to visit.  The park is located about 70 miles west of Key West.  One of the most remote national parks in the US park system, it is accessible only by water.

Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center

This huge center, only open Fridays and Saturdays, has 6000 square feet of interactive exhibits.  Learn about the ecosystems of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, the four Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges, Dry Tortugas National Park and Everglades National Park.

Andy standing on Smathers Beach Key West looking out to Atlantic Ocean
Smathers Beach is on the southeast side of Key West.

Key West Beaches

Spend the afternoon on a Key West Beach.  The city beaches are free to enjoy.  While the beach at Fort Zachary State Park is not free, admission to the state park is very economical.  The waters at the state park are great for snorkeling and fishing (with a license).

Beach NameKnown for
Smathers BeachLong stretch of sandy shoreline with jet ski rentals.  Most popular.
Higgs BeachPicnic areas and a fishing pier.  Notable as the site of an 1800s African slave cemetery.
South BeachThis beautiful small beach is located at the southern end of Duval Street.
Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park BeachBlend of history and natural beauty.  Good snorkeling
Val standing on painted cement map of the monument for African Cemetery
The African Cemetery holds 294 men, women and children who died as a result of unsanitary and inhumane conditions aboard three slave ships from Africa captured by the US Navy in 1860. The survivors were nursed back to health by concerned Key West residents and returned to the African continent. Unfortunately many would not survive that sea crossing.

African Cemetery at Higgs Beach

Visit the beautiful memorial at the east end of Higgs Beach.  It honors the lives of those buried in the African Cemetery and explains their story. 

The cemetery holds the bodies of Africans brought to North America in 1860 aboard 3 illegal slave ships.  When the ships were captured by the navy, the Key West community came to the aid of the unfortunate captives.  They provided food and shelter for the almost 1500 ill-treated people.  Unfortunately many still died.  They were buried near Higgs Beach. 

While the burials were documented, the exact location of the cemetery was lost over the decades.  A 2002 ground-penetrating-radar survey found clear evidence of shallow graves near the beach.  A later survey found more graves further inland.  All bodies were left undisturbed and further development is prohibited, protecting the area. 

Key West Nature Trails

Explore the natural beauty of the Key West Nature Preserve.   Walk the quarter-mile trail to the undeveloped, but walkable, beach through a mangrove forest.  See lots of birds, butterflies, lizards and even snakes.  The trail starts at the end of George Street on Atlantic Avenue.

Val walking crushed stone path by wrought iron fence trees and bushes at sides
Walk the path beside the mangroves to the undeveloped beach. The signs say “If you are lucky, you may see a Southern Black Racer snake”. I was very happy to NOT see a snake of any kind.

The Indigenous Park is a native tree and bird park.  The Key West Wildlife Center is on the same property and is open to the public several hours most days.  Check the specific hours on the Key West Wildlife Center website.  Both the park and the wildlife center are free to visit.

The park’s nature trail is a great place to spot migrating birds during both the fall and spring migrations.  The Wildlife Center provides treatment to injured and sick wildlife with the hope of rehabilitating all patients and releasing them back to the wild.  Donations toward this work are always welcome.

Key West Garden Club

Visit the Garden Club within the historic Fort West Martello.  The lush gardens, which include native and exotic plants, make a great protector of the old fort. The garden club hosts events, exhibits, and educational programs.  While it is free to enter, donations are always welcome.

Val standing center flat maze bushes background
I walk every garden labyrinthe we encounter. These ones without high walls are my favorites.

Key West Cemetery

Enjoy a self-guided walking tour of the cemetery with a map available at the main entrance (Angela and Margaret Streets).  The map gives tidbits of information about some of the cemetery’s famous residents.  The cemetery is known for its quirky tombstones and epitaphs, reflecting the unique humor of the island.  Snap a selfie with the “I told you I was sick” gravestone.

Andy pointing at epitaph of a Key West cemetery gravemarker
It is said that B.P. Roberts was a hypochondriac. She got the last word. Check nearby for the epitaph of Gloria Russell “I’m just resting my eyes”.
Tombstones with small American flags at each and monument with sailor atop large flag flying on tall pole
This plot holds crewmen from the USS Maine. Veterans from the Civil War, Spanish-American War and other wars are also buried in the plot along with two British airmen, on Brazilian sailor, one woman, and one baby.

The USS Maine blew up in Havana Harbor in 1898 killing 268 sailors, about three-quarters of her crew.  The US declared war on Spain shortly after, launching the four-months long Spanish-American War.  The citizens of Key West erected the memorial in the cemetery to honor those men.  The remains of 24 crewmen from the USS Maine are buried in the plot.

Guided tours are available by contacting the Sexton’s office.  Unfortunately they are not free but the funds raised are dedicated to Cemetery preservation.

Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square

Be sure to join the free party in Mallory Square at the end the day with the Key West Sunset Celebration.  Street performers entertain all through the evening.

Man tall unicycle juggling lit torches surrounded by crowd
As the evening gets darker, the buskers light their torches and the show just gets better.

FREE Duval Loop Bus Service

The city operates a FREE hop-on hop-off bus which loops through much of Old Town, with lots of stops along the route.  The service operates 7 days a week, year round. For a map of the route, hours and frequency, check Key West’s Duval Loop webpage.

Biking around Key West

Key West is very bike-friendly, making biking a great option for getting around Key West (other than on foot).  Bring your own bike and pedal around town for free, easily getting to everything in our list.

Bike rentals, while not free, are very reasonably priced.  See the list of local Key West bike rental companies.

Val standing at bicycle Mallory Square
When we cycled through Mallory Square during the day it was quiet. In a couple hours, everyone arrives in the square for the nightly Sunset Celebration.

Know Before You Go – Parking

In general, parking in Old Town is not free.  While there are some spots in Old Town’s residential areas that are free, most are marked for Residents Only.  Buy a lottery ticket if you manage to grab one of the free spots available to visitors. 

Free parking is available at Higgs Beach.

The better option is to leave your car at your hotel and walk to one of the stops on the Duval Loop Bus Service.  Some hotels also offer free shuttles to Old Town.  

In addition to these Free Things To Do, there is so much more to do in Key West.  See our full article, A Weekend in Key West – The Best Things to Do in 2 to 3 Days, for more details.

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