Our tiny island is so rich with history. And it shows with the sheer number of museums found in Key West. Here is as comprehensive list as I could put together for those visiting and interesting in our island’s history.
Audubon House and Gardens – 205 Whitehead Street – The museum was established in 1960 after Col. Wolfson restored the house originally built in the 1800s by Capt. John Geiger, key West’s very first harbor pilot. The plants that Geiger planted here drew Audubon to visit the house in 1832, and many of his drawings are based on these plants. The House and gardens are open for tours daily from 9:30 – 5.
Casa Antigua – 314 Simonton Street – This house was originally built in 1919 as the Trev-Mor Hotel. It was one of the island’s first hotels, made of recycled bricks from Ft. Zachary Taylor and advertised as being fire proof. The upper floors had forty-six rooms and on the ground floor there was a Ford dealership. This was the first place that Ernest Hemingway stayed when he came to the island in 1928. The building is now a private residence on the upper floors, but the main floor is a gift shop called the Pelican Poop Shop. You can buy souvenirs of your Key West vacation and for $3.00 or so you can also tour the gardens behind the house.
Cayo Hueso y Habana Historeum – Mallory Square – Located inside an old brick warehouse that was built around 1879. You’ll see shops, displays, and smell the wonderful Cuban food of Pepe’s Casa Cayo Restaurant. Stay for dinner and drinks one night; YUMMY! And you can also find music and dancing in the evenings.
Curry Mansion – 511 Caroline Street – This mansion was home to Florida’s first millionaire, William Curry, and is now a beautiful Inn. Guests of the Inn can feel like they have stepped back into time with the antiques and pictures that adorn the mansion.
Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum – 907 Whitehead Street – My favorite Key West museum; the house and the grounds are beautiful and the gift shop has a lot of neat Hemingway books and trinkets for the Hemingway aficionado. You can take a guided tour of the house which lasts about 30-minutes, and afterwards you can roam the grounds for as long as you like. You’ll see plenty of the famed six-toed cats lazing around. Open daily from 9 – 5.
Flagler Station Overseas Railway Museum – 901 Caroline Street – Inside this reconstruction of the Key West train station is a themed mercantile loaded with candies, railroad memorabilia, and many other era souvenirs. Past the shop is the museum. Three films about the railroad can be seen. And a history teller will talk about life of a railroad worker.
Fort East Martello Museum and Gardens – 3501 S Roosevelt Boulevard – This Civil War era fort was never completed, but it now houses one of the most detailed histories of our island. There are also art exhibits from Stanley Papio and Mario Sanchez. This is not a typical Key West museum; it is much more. Open daily from 9:30 – 4:30; closed on Christmas.
Fort Jefferson – Dry Tortugas – The only way to get to this historic Civil War fort is by boat or seaplane. It lies 70 miles west of Key West. Besides visiting the fort and taking a tour of this largest brick building in the Western Hemisphere, you can swim, snorkel, and bird watch. Plus you will have some phenomenal photo ops.
Fort Zachary Taylor – 601 Howard England Way – This Civil War fort is now part of the State Park system. The park has a beach, a cafe, and nature trails in addition to the fort, which has narrated tours daily. Open daily 8am – sundown. The fort closes at 5pm.
Key West Aquarium – 1 Whitehead Street – This is the smallest aquarium I have ever visited, but it is very interesting. There is an alligator exhibit, a jellyfish exhibit, a touch tank, shark feedings, and the very cool Atlantic Shores exhibit which is a 50 thousand gallon saltwater tank displaying tropical fish, game fish, sharks, and sea turtles as well as red mangroves. Open daily 10 – 6. Tour Times and shark feeding are at 11am, 1pm, 3pm, and 4:30pm.
Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory – 1316 Duval Street – The conservatory is home to a huge array of plants to make the birds and butterflies that live here comfortable in a nature like setting. The learning center includes a 15 minute film that details the lifecycle of a butterfly and the walls are covered with educational information about these flying beauties. The gallery, Wings of Imagination, displays hundreds of different types of butterflies sealed in acrylic cases. The gift shop is stocked with items that will make a butterfly lover’s dreams come true. This is note only an informative place to visit but the conservancy is truly a beautiful and relaxing place to spend some time. Open daily from 9 – 5.
Key West Firehouse Museum – 1026 Grinnell Street – A non-profit organization dedicated to the restoration,preservation, and maintenance of Fire House No. 3 as an historic site and museum dedicated to the collection, preservation,interpretation and exhibition of artifacts about firefighting in the Southernmost city of Key West. Open Tuesday – Saturday from 10am to 3pm.
Key West Heritage House Museum and Robert Frost Cottage – 410 Caroline Street – Unfortunately, this little gem has closed and is no longer available for tours. But, you can actually rent this house on a monthly basis! There is a beautiful courtyard and pool to enjoy.
Key West Shipwreck Historeum – 1 Whitehead Street – This is a really neat museum that combines actors, films, and artifacts to teach visitors all about the wrecking operations in Key West from years ago when the island was the wealthiest city in the USA. There is also a 65′ lookout tower to climb. Open daily from 9:40 – 5pm. (The last show starts at 4:40.)
Lighthouse and Keepers Quarters Museum – 938 Whitehead Street – Built in 1847, this lighthouse is no longer in operation, but it is still spectacular. You can climb the 88 iron step circular stairway if you dare. (I cannot bring myself to do it even though I know the view would be amazing!) Great history and a wonderful example of life in here in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Open daily from 9:30 – 4:30; closed on Christmas.
Lofton B Sands African Bahamian Museum – 325 Julia Street – This 1920s house covers the history of the island’s African American population. Open daily 10 – 6. Admission is free.
Mel Fisher Maritime Museum – 200 Greene Street – Fisher was a local celebrity that earned world-wide fame when his crew found the Spanish galleon Atocha and a huge treasure with it. The museum has many artifacts from the find as well as a film about Mel and underwater treasure hunting. Open daily: weekdays from 8:30 – 5 and weekends from 9:30 – 5.
Museum of Art and History at the Custom House – 281 Front Street – This building was constructed in 1891 and served as a post office and a court house, eventually being abandoned until the city restored it to its present glory. The exhibits here are always changing, so check it out every time you visit Key West for more island history and fine arts displays. Open daily from 9:30 – 4:30; closed on Christmas.
Oldest House and Gardens – 322 Duval Street – This is not only the oldest house in Key West; it is the oldest house in all of South Florida! Docents are available to answer questions about the property and the family that built it. The house itself is full of the original furnishings, old documents, and family portraits. Behind the house if am amazing garden and the only surviving Cook House is South Florida. Open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 10 – 4. Admission is free!
Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! – 108 Duval Street – This museum houses the weird and the wacky. Open daily.
San Carlos Institute – 516 Duval Street – This museum houses a research library that documents Key West’s Cuban population. There is also an art gallery, and much more in this magnificent building. Open Friday – Sunday from noon – 6. Admission is Free.
Southernmost House – 1400 Duval Street – Now a beautiful ocean front inn, this building was constructed in 1896 as a private home. In the 1940s the house was sold and turned into a Cuban Cafe. In the 1950s it refurbished and reverted back to a house. And the family that owed this beautiful house had many famous guests visit them including Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, Ernest Hemingway, King Juan Carlos, Robert Wagner, and Tennessee Williams. This prompted them to turn the house into an inn for many people to enjoy. In 1996 the house underwent a multi-million dollar renovation. Today guests at the Inn can feel like they have been transported back in time with the opulent furnishings and antiques that decorate the house.
Truman Little White House – 111 Front Street – This house was built in 1890 and served as the command headquarters during the Spanish American War. After its conversion to a single family house it has hosed several famous people including Thomas Edison. President Harry Truman, President Dwight Eisenhower, and JFK. The building was named for Truman in 1973 after his death since he visited the property several times following his presidential career. Open daily 9 – 4:30.
Turtle Kraals – 200 Margaret Street – This was once the location of dockside “kraals” where captured sea turtles were kept before being slaughtered and processed into soup. The sea turtle population was almost decimated by the 1970s. In 1971 the turtle trade was out of business with the passing of the species protection form the Endangered Species Act.
U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Ingham Maritime Museum & National Historic Landmark – With over 50 years of service, USCGC INGHAM is a portrait of United States Coast Guard history from 1936 to 1988. CGC INGHAM is located on the Truman Waterfront on the western edge of Key West, alongside USS MOHAWK (CGC). Open Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 am until 4:00 pm.
West Martello Tower Museum – Atlantic Boulevard / Higgs Beach – This Civil War fort is now a garden of eden with many types of tropical plants mixed in with historic gun mounts. Open daily from 9:30 – 5.
Island Genn – Your Key West Concierge