Planning a trip to Key West, or the other Florida Keys? Here are 21 fun facts to get you ready for your adventure!

Overseas Highway

The Overseas Highway is an incredible feat of engineering that stretches 113 miles across 42 bridges, connecting the Florida Keys to the mainland. If you’re road tripping through the Keys, you’ll take this All American Road!

Key Lime Pies

The Key Lime Pie, with its wonderful sweet and tangy flavor unique to the tiny yellow Key limes found in the Keys, was invented here. No one seems to know when this dessert was invented, but it seems to have been mentioned earliest in 1931 as a Magic Lemon Cream Pie—but we do know that in 2006, Key Lime was named Florida’s official pie!

Hemingway’s Polydactyl Cats

21 Fun Facts about the Florida Keys - Hemingway's Polydactyl Cats - Frayed Passport

They own the place – Photo by Sarah Stone / Frayed Passport

Ernest Hemingway’s former home—now a museum in Key West—is famous for, among other things, its approximately 60 polydactyl (six-toed) cats that roam the grounds. They’re believed to be descendants of Hemingway’s original cat, Snow White, and their little mitten feet are absolutely adorable.

Barrier Reef

The Florida Keys are home to the only living coral barrier reef in the continental United States, spanning about 350 miles from the Dry Tortugas to St. Lucie, and providing a habitat for thousands of marine species. It’s a top destination for divers and snorkelers from around the world looking to explore this amazing underwater ecosystem.

Artificial Reef

21 Fun Facts about the Florida Keys - Sink the Vandenberg - Frayed Passport

Sink the Vandenberg! – Photo by Sarah Stone / Frayed Passport

In 2009, the Vandenberg—formerly a military troop transport and missile tracker—was sunk about seven miles south of Key West to create an artificial reef. This helps not only to protect the natural reefs and endangered species living in them, but also provides a fantastic dive site and educational resource for adventurous travelers!

Conch Republic Independence

The Conch Republic was “founded” in 1982 when Key West humorously declared independence from the United States in protest of a roadblock set up by the Border Patrol. The event is celebrated annually with parades and parties to honor the “People who seceded where others have failed.”

Southernmost Point

The colorful buoy in Key West marking the southernmost point in the continental USA is a beloved photo spot for tourists—and it’s the closest you can get to the true southernmost point in Key West, because that actual spot on the island is in the Truman Annex, not accessible by the public. (And the real southernmost point in the contiguous USA is on Ballast Key, which also isn’t accessible by the public!).

Underwater Music Festival

The Lower Keys Underwater Music Festival is a one-of-a-kind event where music is broadcast underwater for divers and snorkelers at Looe Key Reef, blending entertainment with messages of reef conservation.

Pirate History

The strategic location of the Florida Keys for traders throughout the Caribbean in the 17th and 18th centuries made this area a prime spot for pirates looking for gold, silver, and other riches. It also was a great location for wreckers who’d salvage whatever was on ships that sunk in the barrier reef along the keys.

Seven Mile Bridge Run

This annual race has been held just about every year since 1982 by the Marathon Runners Club, to benefit children’s and youth activities in Marathon. The race takes place entirely over the water, and it’s so popular that registration—which is limited to 1,500 runners—usually closes within an hour of opening!

Key Deer

The itty-bitty Key deer is unique to the lower Florida Keys and is the smallest living North American deer species. Conservation efforts in the National Key Deer Refuge, established in 1957, aim to protect this endangered species.

Additional fact: Key deer can swim! They actually swim between islands in the Florida Keys:

Shipwreck Salvage Economy

For a time in the 19th century, Key West was the richest city per capita in the USA, thanks largely to a lucrative shipwreck salvage industry. Salvagers would rescue goods from ships wrecked on the treacherous reefs and share in the profits. You can learn a ton about the Keys’ shipwreck salvage history at places like the Shipwreck Museum and the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum.

Atocha Treasure

Speaking of Mel Fisher: this treasure hunter’s discovery of the Spanish ship Nuestra Señora de Atocha in 1985—363 years after it sank—near Key West uncovered an estimated $450 million in gold, silver, and gems, making it one of the most valuable shipwreck finds ever.

First Underwater Park

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo, established in 1963, was the first underwater park in the USA. Take a day trip out here to go snorkeling, diving, or kayaking—or check out a glass-bottom boat tour, which will give you a chance to see and learn about the coral and undersea life. The visitor center here has a massive aquarium and lots of activities for families too!

Maritime Heritage Trail

Ok, not specifically on a Key, but in Biscayne National Park close to Miami (about 45 minutes from Key Largo, your first stop in the Florida Keys), the Maritime Heritage Trail is a fantastic place to explore shipwrecks, including the Arratoon Apcar, Erl King, Alicia, Lugano, and Mandalay. Even if you don’t have scuba certification, the water is shallow enough, and visibility clear enough, that you can see some of the wrecks just on a snorkeling trip.

The Purple Island

21 Fun Facts about the Florida Keys - Islamorada - Frayed Passport

Florida Keys Brewing Co. on Islamorada – Photo by Sarah Stone / Frayed Passport

Islamorada, known as the “Purple Island,” likely got its name from the purple bougainvillea flowers or the spectacular purple sunsets seen by the early explorers who mapped the area.

Related: Key West Road Trip: Best Restaurants, Bars & Sights from a Local

Truman’s Little White House

Originally a naval command headquarters, Truman’s Little White House in Key West served as President Harry S. Truman’s winter retreat. Today, it’s a museum offering insights into Truman’s presidency and the history of the area.

Mile Marker Zero

The Mile Marker 0 sign in Key West symbolizes the end of U.S. Route 1, which stretches over 2,300 miles north to Fort Kent, Maine.

Fantasy Fest

Key West’s Fantasy Fest is held each year in October, with parades and costumes, often compared to Carnival and Mardi Gras. This party is definitely not family-safe, with some nudity allowed in a designated Fantasy Zone and of course a ton of drinking and revelry—with a huge fundraiser to benefit HIV/AIDS programs.

Cigar City

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Key West was known for its thriving cigar industry, with Cuban immigrants rolling millions of cigars annually. The industry’s legacy is still evident in some of the island’s historic architecture and culture.

The African Queen

The original boat from the 1951 movie The African Queen is moored in Key Largo, offering visitors a chance to step aboard a piece of cinematic history and enjoy a cruise on the local waterways.

Read more about the Keys:

About the Author

As the editor-in-chief of Frayed Passport, my goal is to help you build a lifestyle that lets you travel the world whenever you want and however long you want, and not worry about where your next paycheck will come from. I've been to 20+ countries and five continents, lived for years as a full-time digital nomad, and have worked completely remotely since 2015. If you would like to share your story with our community, or partner with Frayed Passport, get in touch with me at!

Featured image by Sarah Stone / Frayed Passport (additional fun fact: Shel Silverstein lived in Key West!)

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