Key West's greenest attraction, the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center, opened in early 2007. Overlooking the waterfront at the Truman Annex (35 E. Quay Rd., tel. 305/809-4750), the Center features 6,000 square feet of interactive exhibits depicting Florida Keys underwater and upland habitats -- with emphasis on the ecosystem of North America's only living contiguous barrier coral reef, which parallels the Keys. Kids dig the interactive yellow submarine while adults seem to get into the cinematic depiction of an underwater abyss. Free admission. Open 9am to 4pm daily except Sunday and Monday.
Before shelling out big bucks for any of the dozens of worthwhile attractions in Key West, I recommend getting an overview on either of the two comprehensive island tours, the Conch Tour Train or the Old Town Trolley. There are simply too many attractions and historic houses to list. I've highlighted my favorites below, but I encourage you to seek out others.
Going, Going, Gone: Where to Catch the Famous Key West Sunset
A tradition in Key West, the Sunset Celebration can be relaxing or overwhelming, depending on your vantage point. If you're in town, you must check out this ritual at least once. Every evening, locals and visitors gather at the docks behind Mallory Square (at the westernmost end of Whitehead St.) to celebrate the day gone by. Secure a spot on the docks early to experience the carnival of portrait artists, acrobats, food vendors, animal acts, and other performers trading on the island's bohemian image. But the carnival atmosphere isn't for everyone: In season, the crowd can be overwhelming, especially when the cruise ships are in port. Also, hold on to your bags and wallets, as the tight crowds make Mallory Square at sunset prime pickpocket territory.
A more refined choice is the Westin's Sunset Deck (tel. 305/294-4000), a luxurious second-floor bar on Front Street, right next door to Mallory Square. From the civilized calm of a casual bar, you can look down on the mayhem with a drink in hand.
Also near the Mallory madness is the bar at the Ocean Key Resort, at the very tip of Duval Street (tel. 800/328-9815 or 305/296-7701). This long open-air pier serves drinks and decent bar food against a dramatic pink-and-yellow-streaked sky.
For the very best potent cocktails and great bar food on an outside patio or enclosed lounge, try Pier House Resort and Caribbean Spa's Havana Docks, 1 Duval St. (tel. 305/296-4600). There's usually live music and a lively gathering of visitors enjoying this island's bounty. The bar is right on the water and makes a prime sunset-viewing spot.
A Great Escape
Many people complain that Key West's quirky, quaint panache has been lost to the vulture of capitalism, evidenced by the glut of T-shirt shops and tacky bars. But that's not entirely so. For a quiet respite, visit the Key West Tropical Forest Botanical Gardens (tel. 305/296-1504; www.keywestbotanicalgarden.org), a little-known slice of serenity tucked between the Aqueduct Authority plant and the Key West Golf Course. The 11-acre gardens -- maintained by volunteers and funded by donations -- contain the last hardwood hammock in Key West, plus a colorful representation of wildflowers, butterflies, and birds. Over 60 endangered botanical species are alive and well here. A genetically cloned tree is one of the many sites at "the only frost-free tropical moist garden in the continental United States." Located at Botanical Garden Way and College Road, Stock Island. Free admission but a donation of $5 per adult, $4 per child (12 to 18) is suggested. Open daily from 8am to sunset. Follow College Road; then turn right just past Bayshore Manor.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.