Culture + Style

From Haunted Things to Butterfly Wings, Discover What Makes Key West Tick

Key West in all its colorful glory. (Photo: Ramunas Bruzas / Alamy)

As enigmatic and quirky as it is alluring, Key West delivers a full spectrum of colorful culture in a two-by-four-mile island. From the heady days when Ernest Hemingway and poet Elizabeth Bishop lived and wrote here, the island has become a literary destination. Outdoorsy types flock here for the snorkeling and diving. The dining and nightlife scene grows more noteworthy every year. On your Florida Keys getaway, check out these Key West sights that highlight the many different sides of this island paradise.

Winged Things

There’s something almost magical about The Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory, where over 50 species of butterflies from around the world quietly flutter amid tropical flowers in the glass-enclosed conservatory. You may even glimpse the rare and elusive Blue Morpho. The colorful insects aren’t the only winged creatures to call the Conservatory home.

Pink flamingo
Florida wildlife at the Key West Conservatory. (Photo: Andreas Hollerer / Alamy)

Fifteen types of butterfly-friendly birds wing through the conservatory, while pale pink flamingos wade through the many waterways of this peaceful nature sanctuary.

Key West Culture, History and Hauntings

At Key West Art & Historical Society’s Custom House Museum, exhibitions shed light on aspects of the island’s history. You’ll learn about local tourism development and the lives of lighthouse keepers. Artifacts in the permanent collection range from the artistic to the unusual, including Robert the Doll, a “haunted” toy that once belonged to local author and painter Robert Eugene Otto.

The Key West Museum of Art & History
The Key West Museum of Art & History. (Photo: Blaine Harrington III / Alamy)

The doll was given to Otto by a Bahamian servant believed to be a voodoo practitioner. Said to move of its own will and emit a terrifying giggle, Robert the Doll is reputed to be the inspiration for Chucky in the Child’s Play horror series.

Sunset Celebration

If haunts are too spooky for you, exit directly into Mallory Square where any chills are quickly replaced with a warm Conch Republic welcome. Located adjacent to the water, the square is the hub of Key West culture and renowned for its Sunset Celebration. Every night, locals and tourists gather to watch the sun dip into the Gulf of Mexico. During this nightly ritual, street musicians and performers offer entertainment and craftspeople sell their wares.

 Mallory Square
The Sunset Celebration in full swing at Mallory Square. (Photo: National Geographic Creative / Alamy)

It was here in 1982 that the town’s mayor declared “independence” from the U.S. and renamed the island the “Conch Republic.” While the secession was never official, you can still see the flag of the republic flying in Mallory Square and emblazoned on souvenirs.


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