While visiting the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West, my family and I noticed a stunning lighthouse behind Hemingway’s yard. We decided to make the Key West Lighthouse our next tourist destination, especially when we learned from the helpful guides at the Hemingway House that the entry fee for children was only $5. It wasn’t a guided lighthouse tour, so we were able to explore and take in the ample amounts of history at our own pace.
The lighthouse is wonderfully preserved and has been nicely refurbished to accommodate the historical displays. I’ve been to many other historic lighthouses across the US, like those near Savannah, but none have been as pristine as the Key West Lighthouse. The engineering of the lighthouse is particularly impressive. While it had been decommissioned in 1969, it was re-commissioned in 1972 and now guides ships around Floridian waters once again. Being able to tour an active lighthouse was a treat.
My favorite part of the self-guided tour was touring the Keeper’s Quarters. It provided great insight into how families lived during the 19th century and a lot of biographical information on George Meade, who constructed many of the lighthouses in Florida. There are period pieces displayed throughout, as well as original photographs delineating the history of the lighthouse’s evolution as a building. A short film ran on a loop that I found surprisingly well done and interesting. It offered insights into the different sides and perspectives of Key West’s nautical history. The audio clips and presentations about the Keeper’s family were very entertaining as well as educational about island lifestyles 150 years ago.
After we browsed through the collections of historical displays, we decided to walk up into the lighthouse on the narrow, spiral staircase. Since the actual lighthouse part of this landmark is 85 feet tall, the climb was a bit daunting at first. However, the 88-step climb was definitely worth it once we made it to the top (and realized that we had all gotten our workout for the day).
I could have stayed up there for hours. The views were incredible and reminded me of the Key West Shipwreck Museum Lookout Tower, which offers similarly amazing views of the harbor, Duval and Old Town. The Atlantic Ocean is on one side of the lighthouse, and the Gulf of Mexico is on the other. It was also a great place to cool down. Duval Street can be quite hot, and the cross breezes at the top of the lighthouse were such a relief. You could truly see everything up there. We saw planes land at the Key West airport, watched the Conch Tour Trains go by and even spotted the lighthouse at Sand Key. While taking in the view, we realized that the lighthouse is close to the Southernmost Point and the Truman Little White House for those who wish to visit other famous Key West attractions.
We stayed up there for probably an entire half hour just enjoying the cool, relaxed atmosphere and shade. When we climbed down, the staff distributed cute “I Climbed the Lighthouse” stickers to children and families. The gift shop sold some pretty unique merchandise that I hadn’t seen in any other Key West specialty stores, and I enjoyed poking around in their shop after our self-guided tour.
Following our climb of the Key West Lighthouse, we walked the grounds, admiring the intriguing statues as we went, and found a shady spot beneath some trees to enjoy the afternoon. I noticed that many guests were taking advantage of the cool, quiet atmosphere while allowing their children to run around the grounds—what a private, little oasis! It’s no wonder Ernest Hemingway found inspiration for many of his acclaimed works by admiring the Key West Lighthouse.
Key West Lighthouse Details:
Key West Lighthouse Website: http://www.kwahs.org/visit/lighthouse-keepers-quarters/
Admission: Adults $10 / Seniors 62+ $9 / Children 6+ $5 / Children Under 6 FREE
Address: 938 Whitehead Street Key West, Florida 33040
Phone: (305) 294-0012