The Key West Lighthouse is one of the island's oldest structures. It was first built in 1825 to help ships navigate the dangerous reefs of the Lower Keys. The lighthouse that stands today dates back to 1847, and the 92-foot (28-meter) building offers some of the best views in town, as well as a maritime museum in the keeper’s house.
Though the Key West Lighthouse was decommissioned in 1969, it was restored to its original glory and remains one of the island’s top attractions. Visitors can climb 88 steps to the top of the lighthouse and hear stories told by keepers and their families in the keeper’s quarters. The narrated hop-on hop-off trolley stops at the lighthouse, as do many of the island’s cultural walking tours.
Things to Know Before You Go
- This museum is popular with history buffs and families traveling with kids.
- Wear comfortable shoes and be prepared to climb 88 steps to reach the top.
- The keeper’s quarters are wheelchair-accessible, but the lighthouse itself is not.
- Restrooms are available in the gift shop at the base of the lighthouse.
How to Get There
The Key West Lighthouse is located on the southwest end of the island, directly across Whitehead Street from the Ernest Hemingway House and Museum. It’s a 10-minute drive from the airport.
When to Get There
The lighthouse museum is open 364 days per year (closed on Christmas). The best time to visit is on a clear day when the views from the top of the lighthouse are at their best. Expect long ticket lines and a wait to get to the top during the winter high season (December to February).
Hurricane of 1846
On Oct. 11, 1846, a tropical hurricane swept toward Key West, but communication was slow, and the islanders had little warning. Barbara Mabrity, the keeper at the time, as well as several other Key West residents, sought shelter in the lighthouse, believing its brick structure would protect them. As the storm raged on, both the keeper’s quarters and the lighthouse itself were swept away, killing at least 14 people, but Mabrity survived.