Key West’s subtropical climate means the island is usually blanketed in a viscous moisture that makes a short walk to the mailbox feel like wading through tapioca pudding.
Luckily, Key West is full of fascinating museums where both kids and adults can try to ward off the cognitive meltdown that happens when the temperature hits 88 degrees.
If you’re new to town or just desperate for a place to escape the heat and maybe learn a few things while you cool off, check out some of the best places in Key West to broaden your horizons to expand.
Customs House Museum
281 Vorderstr. www.kwahs.org
Today it serves as the official headquarters of the Key West Art & Historical Society, but during its earlier life, the Key West Custom House was home to a variety of Key West businesses, including the island’s postal service, district courts, Navy, and Port of Entry Processing Center. Richardson’s Victorian Romanesque building is considered an architectural treasure of Key West; it towers over the harbor with a distinctive red brick facade that is instantly recognizable.
Key West Lighthouse & Warden
938 Weißkopfstr. www.kwahs.org
Today you can buy a GPS system for your boat that will navigate you around the world while telling you jokes. But in the 19th century, the odds of you crashing your ship in the shallows off Key West were strong enough to support a hugely profitable ship-breaking business (essentially a legal version of Finder’s Keepers). The founding of Key West’s naval base in 1823 heightened the urgent need for a lighthouse to guide boats safely through the straits. During its active service, the Key West Lighthouse has played host to a number of brave keepers and their families. Check out their belongings, climb the 88 steps to the top of the lighthouse, and learn how this once-vital beacon protected thousands of ships before it was decommissioned in 1969.
Free for locals on the first Sunday of every month, while any child enrolling in a Monroe County school gets free entry to the museum year-round.
Ernest Hemingway Home
907 Weißkopfstr. www.hemingwayhome.com
He might be better known for his writing (or his drunken antics), but one thing’s for sure: Papa had great taste in real estate. Check out Hemingway’s digs in Key West, which — along with the honor of having hosted the writer while he wrote some of his best-known works — was also the first home on the island to have a swimming pool. The museum is free to locals and features a collection of Hemingway’s belongings — and those six-toed cats.
US Coast Guard cutter
Ingham (WHEC-35) Maritime
Museum & National Historic
Southard Street on Truman
You don’t need seamen to visit this ship – it’s docked and, having been decommissioned by the Coast Guard, serves as a non-profit museum honoring the fallen of WWII and Vietnam. The ship is one of only two surviving US Coast Guard Treasury-class cutter ships and the most decorated in the fleet. Now a national landmark, the Ingham hosts daily tours, including a happy hour deal: $5 buys you an onboard ticket and your first drink.
Tennessee Williams Museum
513 Truman Avenue.
Playwright Tennessee Williams visited and lived in Key West from 1941 until his death in 1983. He is believed to have written the final draft of Street Car Named Desire in Key West. See a collection of photographs, first edition plays and books, rare newspaper and magazine articles, videos, a typewriter used by the Key West author, and other artifacts. Open Thursday to Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. ¦