Key West for Kids
Although Key West is often thought of as an adults’ playground, parents will find plenty of attractions here to delight kids of all ages and spark their imagination. What child doesn’t like menacing pirates, ethereal butterflies, or graceful stingrays?
Many popular attractions for kids are just steps apart in Old Town, making it easy to visit several in one afternoon. Start at the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum, set in a courtyard off a bustling intersection and surrounded by shade trees and benches, with a couple of canons out front to greet visitors. Inside the museum, kids will marvel at the impressive collection of gold, diamonds, emeralds and other artifacts and the huge collection of silver bars recovered from the shipwrecked Henrietta Marie, Santa Clara and Nuestra Senora de Atocha. A dynamic ship’s model of the sinking Atocha is on display. The folks at Mel Fisher also run the Key West Turtle Museum at the Key West Bight, where kids can learn about turtle fishing and man’s history with sea turtles in surrounding waters.
The 65-foot-tall wooden lookout tower at the Shipwreck Museum is where Asa Tift and his merry crew of actors spin the tales of a wrecked vessel, the Isaac Allerton, which sank in the waters off Key West in 1856. Their lively storytelling, with the help of films and actual artifacts, brings the historic wrecking industry to life.
At the intimate open-air aquarium, which opened in 1935, the sea comes alive through touch tanks, display tanks and murals depicting its inhabitants. The aquarium’s small size means kids will see a lot, including a 2,500-gallon reef tank teeming with sea life, before their patience runs out. The aquarium specializes in hands-on fun: Kids can touch sea stars, conchs, hermit crabs and horseshoe crabs in the touch tank; feed nurse, bonnethead and sandbar sharks in the aquarium shark feedings; and feed and touch eight juvenile cownose rays in the newest exhibition, Stingray Bay.
At the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory, kids can wander among fluttering butterflies in a climate-controlled conservatory. The tropical paradise features 50 to 60 species of butterflies, as well as more than 20 species of exotic birds, a gazebo, cascading waterfalls and several ponds. In the Learning Center, kids can find out about the anatomy, life cycle and migrations of the Monarch butterfly.