Family Friendly Attractions in Key West

We stayed in Key West for a week - these are some of the family friendly things you can do there.

Ernest Hemingway House

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Joy S on July 26, 2011

The Hemingway house and museum is a must see in Key West. Ernest Hemingway came here in the 1930's, succumbed to the charm of the place and spent the next ten years here, drinking, writing and fishing. The house is really interesting and you can still sense his aura here sometimes.

Ernest Hemingway helped put the island of Key West on the map as a party destination with the "anything goes" attitude. He owned htis house between 1942 and 1971, but only lived in it for 10 years. Apparently the authenticity of the furnishings is disputed and few of his actual belongings remain. There are lots of photographs though where you can visualise his day to day life.

Hemingway did write A Farewell to Arms and To Have and Have Not in the study at this house. The typewriter and chair he used to write these books are on display here.

He lived here with his second wife Pauline. She was apparently very keen on Murano glass chandeliers and there are a lot of them throughout the house.

Tours begin every 10 minutes and they last around half an hour. After that you are free to explore on your own and you can stay in the house and gardens as long as you like. Our tour guide was excellent - interesting and knowledgeable and full of anecdotes about Hemingway and his antics.

The house was fairly crowded, but it is definitely worth the visit. It was built before air-conditioning, so be aware that in summer the heat is stifling. You need a couple of hours to fully explore here.

The part that is really good for children is the cats - there are more than 60 of them roaming here - they have free rein in the house and gardens. Hemingway was given a 6 toed cat by a ship's captain and some of the cats who live in the grounds are the descendents of that original cat. They are a combination of different breeds and all have names, but not all have 6 toes. Look at the website before you go - it lists all their names - we saw Harry S Truman and Audrey Hepburn amongst others. Our son loved watching the cats.

The grounds are lush and beautiful. Look out for the fountain, made from the urinal which came from Sloppy Joes Bar. The bar moved from one location to another in Key West and they took all the fixtures and fittings with them. Apparently Hemingway saw the urinal on the pavement, said to the owner that he had poured so much money down it, he felt it belonged to him. The owner told him to take it and he did, much to the displeasure of his wife!

There is a huge swimming pool in the garden. It cost $20,000 to build - the house and grounds only cost $8,000. Hemingway was angry at his wife for going ahead with this project, threw a coin at her in anger and said she may as well have his last cent! The coin is still there, preserved in the concrete.

We all thoroughly enjoyed our visit here - we loved the house and its atmosphere and hearing all the interesting stories about Ernest Hemingway. Our son loved the cats, especially those with 6 toes and watching them jump on the furniture and go anywhere and do anything they wanted.
Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum
907 Whitehead Street
Key West, Florida, 33040
(305) 294-1136

Key West Aquarium

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Joy S on July 27, 2011

Key West Aquarium is a great place to bring children - educational but still a lot of fun. We adults loved it too! It has been around a long time - it opened in 1934 and was Key West's first tourist attraction. It was built between 1932 and 1934 and was part of Key West's attempt to stage an economic recovery at that time, but advertising the city as "America's Caribbean Island."

It is small, quaint and old fashioned and is home to lots of sea creatures including tropical fish, eels and barracuda. As you go in, there is a touch tank with various creatures you can lift and handle. We spent ages here with our son - all the children loved being able to put their hands in and pick up crabs, conch, starfish and other things.

They have a couple of other tanks with rays and nurse sharks, as well as an outdoor area with larger sharks and other fish.

I read somewhere that the aquarium is a bit of a let-down. We did not agree with this view at all. Perhaps if you are expecting an huge, modern, all-singing, all-dancing place it would be. If you come expecting something quirky and quaint, you will not be disappointed. We also found it was a great place to cool down and rest out of the hot sun, while you learned about the local sea creatures.

Tickets cost $13.95 for adults and $4.95 for children and are valid for 2 days - you can come and go as much as you like in this period. The aquarium is open daily between 10am and 6pm.

They have shark, turtle and fish feedings at the aquarium - be sure to time your visit to coincide with one of these. They take place at 11:00, 13:00, 15:00 and 16:30. Expert guides explain the mysteries of the waters surrounding the Florida Keys while they feed the creatures. The whole thing is very informative and interesting, but also geared for children so they don't find it at all boring.

The guide first took us to the touch tank and told us all about the creatures it contained - she showed us how to hold a conch so it would come out of its shell; how starfish can regrow a limb and how some crabs feel a bit like a toothbrush. They then fed the rays - this was very entertaining, as they got extremely excited, popped up out of the water and splashed a lot. The guide brought a juvenile nurse shark around and allowed everyone to touch its skin which was interesting. The tour then went outside, where we watched bigger sharks get fed.

Bring some small change with you, as there are various places to buy a handful of fish feed for 25 cents. Our son loved feeding the fish outside and watching them gobble it all up.

If you have younger children and are in Key West, I would definitely advise a trip to the aquarium.
Key West Aquarium
1 Whitehead St.
Key West, Florida, 33040
(305) 296 2051

Shipwreck Museum

Member Rating 2 out of 5 by Joy S on July 28, 2011

The museum is open between 9:00am and 5:00pm. Admission prices are $15 for adults and $7 for children, you can make a bit of a saving if you buy combined tickets with some of the other attractions, e.g. the aquarium.

We had seen this museum advertised and promoted in a lot of different places, so were excited about going. To be honest we were a bit underwhelmed and disappointed, it is a lot of money for what is on offer.

The museum aims to transport you back in time to 1856 in Key West - the time when the wreckers were around. It is all about Key West's maritime heritage and shows exactly how it became the richest city in the USA at that time.

The first part of the museum is participatory and interactive. Actors playing the part of wreckers and Asa Tuft, their boss, call you to come and join them and bring you into the museum. Inside, they then tell you about the wreckers and what happened. The "shows" run every 20 minutes or so. This was quite interesting, afterwards you are free to wander around the 3 floors of exhibits by yourself.

There are a few films to watch and various artefacts. They hae treasure from the Spanish fleets of the 1600's and 1700's and a collection of pieces from the 1856 wreck of the Isaac Allerton. One of the best things to see is a 64lb sold silver bar, salvaged from the Spanish treasure galleon Neustra Senora de las Maravillas. You can try and lift it up - it is extremely heavy.

The best part of the museum is the lookout tower. You can climb up the steps to the 65 foot tower and enjoy the views at the top. There is a bell to ring when you get up there - children like to do this and shout "Wreck ashore!"

All in all, we found that this museum was a bit dry and heavy going, especially for younger children. Once the participatory first part is over, they quickly tire of the displays and there is a lot of reading to do. We were the only people in the museum - so maybe that says something. It is fairly expensive as well, in hindsight we would not have gone, and unless you have a special interest in shipwrecks, I would not recommend it.
Key West Shipwreck Historeum Museum
1 Whitehead St.
Key West, Florida, 33040
(305) 292-8990

Key West Lighthouse and Museum

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by Joy S on July 28, 2011

We really enjoyed our visit here, you only need about an hour or so to explore the lighthouse, climb to the top and have a look around the little museum. It costs $10 for adults and $5 for children, and when we visited first thing in the morning was not at all busy. I think choose carefully the time you visit, if there were a lot of people there, it might not be quite so charming.

The lighthouse is over 150 years old. It was built in 1847 to aid ships navigating the dangerous reefs off the Lower Keys. It is the last of what were 4 lighthouses on the island.

At the bottom of the lighthouse, they have the original lens - it is interesting to see close up, and is absolutely huge. You then climb 88 iron steps, which twist and turn in a spiral, all the way up tho the observation deck. It is well worth the climb - at the top you get a bird's eye view of the ocean and a lovely panorama of the whole of Key West. You can also walk into the massive lens.

At the bottom, in a separate building, there is a museum in what used to te the lighhouse keeper's cottage. It lets you see how the early lighthouse keepers lived, and there is information about them and their families. One family of 6 living in the lighthouse, was swept out to sea in the 1846 hurricane. That was from an earlier lighthouse on this spot.

They have authentic turn of the century furniture in the museum, as well as lots of artefacts that belonged to the former keepers. It is interesting, quaint and personal. They also have made what was one of the children's rooms into a sort of play room for children now. There are puzzles, books about lighthouses and some soft toys. Our son loved it, and it was great to keep him busy, while we wandered around and read all the information.

There is a little gift shop and toilets at the entrance.

I would recommend a visit here - the view at the top is beautiful, and the experience of climbing up a real lighthouse is exciting for children.
Key West Lighthouse Museum
938 Whitehead St
Key West, Florida, 33040
+1 305 294 2633

The Little White House

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Joy S on July 28, 2011

This is a must-see in Key West - an absolutely fascinating museum and time capsule where you can learn more about Harry S Truman and his presidency.

It is located in the Truman Annexe area of Key West. This was formerly the naval area and is beautiful with wide tree-lined streets and beautiful big houses. The gates leading into the area used to only be opened for US presidents. Now they are opened for the lucky residents of this beautiful neighbourhood.

The Little White House sits at the top of Truman Annexe. It is open 7 days a week, admission is $16 for adults and $5 for children. Guided tours of the house take place frequently and last about 45 minutes. Our guide was excellent - a real Truman fan - and he gave us a great insight into the personal aspects of Truman's presidency and visits here, as well as a glimpse into the politics of the Cold War and naval history of Key West.

The house is just as it was when Truman used it - many of his belongings are still here. You are not allowed to take any photographs inside.

President Truman used this as his "winter White House" for 175 days and came here 11 times. He was ordered to take a holiday somewhere warm by his doctor in November 1946 as he was suffering from exhaustion. He came to Key West, liked it, came again in 1947 in March and this set the pattern for additional visits every November to December and every February to March.

Official documents issued at this time read, "The White House, US Naval Station, Key West, Florida."

When Truman came here, cabinet members and foreign officials were regular visitors. They went on fishing trips and played poker - the original poker table is still in the house. Divison Street was remaned Truman Annexe in his honour in 1948.

The tour takes in all parts of the house. Downstairs is the aforementioned poker table, as well as the (tiny) presidential desk he had in a corner of the living room. On the desk is a sign he had made which says, "the buck stops here." Upstairs you see the bedrooms of the Trumans and his reading room where he liked to read the newspapers in the morning. His briefcase is also in the bedroom - apparently he would never allow anyone else to carry it. There was always speculation as to what it contained, the answer was his treasured record collection!

General Dwight Eisenhower also came here a number of times, including in January 1956 as President to recuperate from a heart attack.

John F Kennedy and Harold McMillan held a 1 day summit here in 1961, and President Kennedy made a second visit in 1962 immediately following the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Occasionally the house is still used for government functions and at these times can be closed at short notice. US Presidents and former Presidents are invited to use the property and stay at it - a lot of them have done, including Bill Clinton. Apparently President Obama has accepted an invitation to come, but they do not know when.

After the fascinating tour of the house, there is a little museum area with lots more Truman information and photos of his time in Key West. It is also well worth spending some time in there.

I would definitely recommend visiting The Little White House - it is so interesting and informative, and brings history right back to life.
Harry S. Truman Little White House Museum
111 Front St.
Key West, Florida, 33040
(305) 294-9911

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