Key West, Family-Style
Pedestrian friendly Key West offers many family-friendly attractions, including trolley and Conch Train tours and the new Eco-Discovery Center.*
By Laura L. Myers
Key West, a legendary two-mile-by-four-mile island, is pedestrian-friendly for families and boasts a storied maritime history of wreckers and renegades. Its appeal as a family destination, just 90 miles from Cuba, is heavily anchored in the azure-tinted waters that surround the island. Even its world-famous tourist drag, Duval Street, stretches from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean.
Key West is an ultra-casual walking town. When you leave your cruise ship to come ashore, bring along a sun hat or visor, sunscreen, sunglasses, flat walking sandals or shoes), water and camera. Temperatures average about 78 degrees year-round. Following is a sampling of what's available for families to see and do.
New is a $7 million, 6,400-square-feet Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center (305-809-4750 or www.fla-keys.com/keywest/ecodiscovery), showcasing the beauty of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Kids enjoy glimpses of North America’s only living contiguous barrier coral reef, colorful fish, interactive exhibits and a 17-minute film about underwater aquatic life.
The newly opened Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center delivers multiple eco- and educational experiences.
Visitors might walk through the replica of the Aquarius Undersea Lab, the world’s only operational underwater lab off of Key Largo. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other donors, including Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, funded the attraction that opened in mid-January.
Passengers docking at the outer Port of Key West (known as the outer Navy mole) often board a Conch Tour Train to get downtown. But to get to the Center from that pier, just walk straight one-tenth of a mile to the Dr. Nancy Foster Florida Keys Environmental Complex. Allow one hour. Admission is free but closed Sundays.
To get from downtown to the Eco-Discovery Center, hail a flamingo-pink “Think Pink” Five Sixes taxi (305-296-6666 or www.keywesttaxi.com) for a five-minute, $7 ride.
After visiting the center, allow 15 minutes to get a taxi back to a downtown-docked ship. Or, allow 45 minutes for a walk back to the pier. Head down Southard Street for two blocks. Take a left on Whitehead Street, walk four long blocks past Greene Street, and turn left to the end of Front Street, then a right to get to the pier.
Families seeking sun and shade can combine a Center tour with Key West’s nearby scenic beach park, a short walk away at Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park (305-295-0037, 292-6713 or www.FortZacharyTaylor.com), at Southard Street and Truman Annex.
From the Eco-Discovery Center, take a right at the chain link fence and walk one-tenth-mile to park entrance. ($1.50). The historic fort, completed in 1866, is a National Historic Landmark with the nation’s largest collection of Civil War cannons.
Fort Zachary Taylor State Park offers a perspective on the past and edu-tainment for kids.*
The fort’s beach park, another two-tenths of a mile walk, is popular among locals for its 87 acres of open space. It’s a good spot for swimming and snorkeling. Bring snorkel gear and swim booties.
The park’s concession sells sandwiches, ice cream, snacks and drinks. Allow 30 minutes for the walk back to the outer dock cruise tram, past the Eco-Discovery Center, on your right.
Most family attractions are near downtown Mallory Square, known for street performers and festivities that begin an hour before sunset.
If your ship docks downtown at Pier B by the Westin resort, walk straight one block, past the Hyatt Sunset Harbor resort, take a left on Front Street and walk two long blocks past the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum and the stunning red Key West Museum of Art & History, or the Custom House.
Or, take an immediate left at the downtown dock to meander around the waterfront, past the Westin resort, to reach Mallory Square.
Mel Fisher Maritime Museum (305-294-2633 or www.melfisher.org), 200 Greene St. (corner of Whitehead and Greene) houses millions of dollars in emeralds, gold chains and silver bars. All were recovered from the Spanish galleon Nuestra Senora de Atocha, sunk during a hurricane 35 miles off Key West in 1622.
This world of shipwreck archaeology, is a two-block walk (go straight, turn left on Front Street) from the downtown dock. ($6-$11).
Key West Aquarium (305-296-2051 or www.keywestaquarium.com), 1 Whitehead St., is the world’s first open-air aquarium, built in the 1930s. Kids love the indigenous Florida Keys fish and to watch shark feedings. ($5-$10).
The Key West Aquarium 's fish tanks and shark feedings are big draws with kids of all ages.*
If children tire of walking, the Conch Tour Train (305-294-5161 or www.conchtrain.com), celebrating its 50th in 2008, is an open-air, canopied yellow, orange and black trackless train that meanders around the island for an amusing tour.
Boarding for the Conch Train is at Mallory Square, 303 Front St., or at Flagler Station, 901 Caroline St. Tours run every 30 minutes from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. ($12-$25, no reservations).
Families wanting to see multiple sights might purchase an island tour on the Conch Train.*
Another option for an island tour is Old Town Trolley Tours (305-296-6688 or www.historictours.com); its comfortable trolley motors past 100 points of interest, with 10 locations to stop off at and re-board. ($12 to $25, no reservations).
The trolley tour takes families along Key West's Duval Street and past 100 points of interest.*
One highlight of many island tours is a drive by or stop at the Southernmost Point of the U.S., at the end of Whitehead Street (the farthest distance from downtown). The spot is marked by a giant red and black buoy just 90 miles from Cuba.
More Family Diversions
If there’s time during your island visit, stroll along the Key West Harborwalk, wrapping around a scenic waterfront once lined with shrimp boats. Take a taxi to Land’s End Village and begin the walk behind the rustic Turtle Kraals (305-294-2640) restaurant, great for a seafood lunch with children.
Popular Whitehead Street photo stops are by a giant kapok tree and an “End of the Rainbow” sign, at the Monroe County Courthouse, and a “Mile O” sign at the corner of Fleming and Whitehead streets.
While on any walking tour of Key West, you might want to browse these shops. Many offer goods you won't likely see (or taste) elsewhere.
Kino Sandals (305-294-5044), 107 Fitzpatrick St., sells inexpensive leather sandals (about $15) hand-tooled only in Key West, since 1965.
Flamingo Crossing (305-296-6124), 1105 Duval St., has delicious homemade ice cream, with exotic tropical flavors.
Key West Aloe (800-445-2563 or www.keywestaloe.com), 540 Greene St., has key lime- and mango-scented lotions and fragrances.
Key West Handprint Fabric & Fashions (305-294-9535 or www.keywestfashions.com), 201 Simonton St., has colorful clothing.
For More Information
For more information, contact: Monroe County Tourist Development Council at 800-648-5510 or 305-296-1552 (www.fla-keys.com).
The Key West Chamber of Commerce (800-527-8539 or 305-294-2587 or www.keywestchamber.org), 402 Wall St., open daily, has visitor brochures and maps. From the downtown pier, walk one block straight to Front Street, turn left and walk two long blocks
Laura L. Myers is a South Florida-based journalist, specializing in coverage of the Florida Keys. She has lived in Key West for five years She is a past first vice-chair, Atlantic-Caribbean chapter, for the Society of American Travel Writers and a SKAL International Miami member.
*Photos are owned, copyrighted and used courtesy of various tourism entities in the Florida Keys. All rights reserved. Please do not copy nor link to these photos. Thank you.