The grander of art history and beautiful historical sights in Key West make your stay that much more special. Here are the top 10 museums in Key West that you have to visit while you explore the island. Undoubtedly, this will be an exciting journey through the history of Key West!
Key West Museum of Art & History at the Custom House
The Custom House was originally opened in 1891 as the home to the customs offices, the post office, and the local courts. The building boasts four-stories of architectural brilliance and sits across from the US Naval Base. It is the site where they inquired about the sinking of the USS Maine in Havana harbor in the year 1898. That gives it some neat historical significance. (1) “In 1932, the building transferred to the U.S. Navy and became headquarters for their Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico operations.
In turn, when the Navy no longer required use of the building, it was declared surplus and abandoned for nearly twenty years. In the end, the Custom House was eventually purchased by the State of Florida’s Land Acquisition Advisory Council in 1991. It then was leased to the Key West Art & Historical Society for use as a museum.” (1) Finally, it is located at 281 Front Street and is open Monday through Sunday 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. The trick to saving on admission is to buy online as it saves around $1.50 per ticket!
Fort East Martello Museum
This fort was a product of the US Army during the Civil War as they feared there would be a sea assault from the Confederates. While they began construction in 1862 it was never completed as the war came to an end. Since there were no battles on the island or near, it was abandoned for years by the Army. “In 1950, the Key West Art & Historical Society, with its own army of volunteers, cleared away years of debris and dust to open Fort East Martello as its first museum.” (2)
With Key West community support the museum was able to bring the building back to its original 1860 design. This national landmark now displays, “relics from the Civil War, learn about the wrecking and cigar-manufacturing industries which shaped the Florida Keys, view the imaginative metal sculptures of Stanley Papio, as well as meet the Ghosts of East Martello, including the infamous Robert the Doll.” (2) Lastly, it is located at 3501 S. Roosevelt Blvd. and open Monday through Sunday from 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Admission for adults is $14.40 if you buy it online. To get all the pricing go here.
Key West Shipwreck Museum
This unique museum explores the exciting Key West maritime history. “The Key West Museum combines actors, films and the actual artifacts from the 1985 rediscovery of the wrecked vessel Isaac Allerton, which sank in 1856 on the treacherous Florida Keys reef.” (7) This is something the whole family will love! This is a very hands-on experience and a great memory! It is located at 1 Whitehead Street and is open seven days a week 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Tickets are $16.43 online for adults. Go here to check out all the prices for kids, etc.
Lighthouse & Keeper’s Quarters
This lighthouse opened in 1848 when the Navy realized they needed one to ensure safe passage for military and commercial ships. This lighthouse was unique in that it had a woman keeper which was a very rare occurrence in those times. It stayed in use until 1969 when the technology made it unnecessary. Boasting Key West’s maritime heritage, “today, visitors can walk up the 88 steps to the top of the light as well as explore the belongings, photographs, and words of the lighthouse Keepers and their families who lived a now obsolete, yet never forgotten, way of life.” (3) It’s located on historic Whitehead Street at 938 Whitehead Street and it’s open Monday through Sunday 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. The price is slightly higher at $15.40 per adult when you purchase online. See all the pricing here.
“If the writing is honest it cannot be separated from the man who wrote it.” — Tennessee Williams, “New Selected Essays: Where I Live”
Tennessee Williams is one of the greatest American playwrights known for his works: The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof! Aside from these he wrote many other classic pieces garnering, “two Pulitzer Prizes, Tony Awards, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, as well as many other literary awards.” (4)
In the 1950’s his acclaim went global as his plays were turned into motion pictures. Williams loved Key West and visited then lived on the island from 1941 to 1983 when he passed away. He bought his home in 1949 and lived there for 34 years. “He was part of the literary movement that resulted in Key West and the Florida Keys being recognized as the cultural and historical location it is today.” (4) This museum is both an educational and historical journey as you can see many of the rare plays and books, significant items owned by Williams, photographs, etc. The house is located at 513 Truman Avenue and it is open Thursday through Sunday, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Tickets for adults are only $7! Check here for more info.
Mel Fisher Maritime Museum
The Mel Fisher Maritime Museum explores, “the history and artifacts from shipwrecks of the Nuestra Senora de Atocha, Santa Margarita, Henrietta Marie, Santa Clara and more.” (5) The building was originally built for the Navy as a storehouse for supplies and accounts. After the Vietnam War the Navy decommissioned it and it was managed by the GSA (General Services Administration) until the 1980’s when the museum rented the space.
“Within the museum is a fully operating Conservation and Archaeology lab, where guests are allowed admittance during a daily private Lab Tour and are able to touch the artifacts while learning about the various stages of artifact conservation. Some artifacts, depending on type and density, can take anywhere from weeks to years for full conservation before they are placed on display in the museum.” (6) It is located at 200 Greene Street and it is open seven days a week 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Tickets are cheaper online so grab yours here.
Sails To Rails Museum at Flagler Station
The Sails to Rails Museum at Flagler Station offers guests a journey, “through the Age of Sail, a time when tall ships plied the treacherous waters of the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico and the Florida Keys and they will learn about the time in America when railroads opened up the frontiers of an emerging nation.” (8) Sail Power was what made Key West one of the richest cities per capita in the US. When the Age of Sail came to an end when steam power became more popular for industrial transportation.
“Railroads meant connection to commerce, wealth, and politics in the young country. In a sense, the United States of America was built on the foundation of its railroads, and Florida was certainly no exception.” This museum is steeped in the rich history of Sails to Rails. In addition, it is a great stop for the whole family! It is located at 901 Caroline Street and it is open seven days a week 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Check out all the tour options here.
Key West Firehouse Museum
Firehouse No. 3 was built in 1907 and is located on the corner of Grinnell and Virginia in Key West. When it opened it had 12 paid firefighters and 200+ volunteers! They used, “horse drawn steamers and hose carriages.” (9) The station survived several hurricanes in its time. There is some really neat history that is showcased at this museum. The exhibits feature antique cars, etc., a coal pit, early 1900’s alarm system, replica horse staff, living quarters (upstairs) tour, chief’s wall and the backyard. Admission is only $10 and there doesn’t appear to be a way to purchase those online. Kids 12 and under are free. Lastly, it is open Tuesday through Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Check out more info here.
The Hemingway Home and Museum
We did a blog post on this historic location. Check it out here!