Why rent a bike in Key West? Bicycles are the Key West locals’ choice for easy, effective around-town transport. The island is small – only 4 miles long by 2 miles wide, the terrain is flat, and the weather is good. The reality of getting around a small-scale city that is overpopulated by cars makes pedal power the quickest way to get where you are going. Also note that parking is scarce, with most city lots charging up to $30 per day, and a majority of the spaces on neighborhood streets reserved for residential parking only.
From a visitor’s perspective, because so many things are so close together on the island, a bike is a great way to see many of Key West’s favorite tourist stops. So when in paradise, why not do as the Conchs do? Catch the island vibe, have some fun, and get some fresh air and exercise while touring Key West on a comfortable, safe island cruiser from Pirate Scooter rentals. Here is a top-ten list of Key West highlights that are perfectly located for sightseeing by cycle.
Key West South Shore Cruise
South Roosevelt Boulevard/State Road A1A along the Atlantic side of the island and parallels a long strip of beaches beginning with Smathers Beach and running west to White Street Pier and Higgs Beach. It’s a classic beach cruise, and long, narrow, palm-lined Smathers Beach has a broad sidewalk running right along the beach and delivering great views out to sea.
Check out the African Refugee Cemetery next to the West Martello Tower. Then turn right on Reynolds St. to leave the beach and keep on making left turns to weave west through some classic Key West neighborhoods to reach the Duval Street Pier and the Southernmost Point marker just a block west from there.
Key West Public Beaches
Speaking of the South Shore, nothing says “Vacation time” like a bike basket full of beach towels, sun tan oil, books, and maybe a bag lunch or two. Key West is home to six public beaches that can all be reached by bike, and there is sure to be one within very easy range of nearly any island accommodation.
Head south down Whitehead, Duval, Simonton, or White Street for a straight shot to the island’s south shore, then you can choose from South Beach, Higgs Beach, C.B. Harvey Memorial Rest Beach, and Smathers Beach. For a more extended (but still easy) ride, go out the western tip of the island and spend a day at the lovely Fort Zachary Taylor State Park – Fort Zach Beach as the locals call it. Bikes are welcome at all the public beaches, and plenty of racks are available. Just don’t forget to lock your ride!
Key West African Refugee Cemetery
A ride to the Higgs Beach area also offers the chance to visit several nearby historical features including the Key West Garden Club and West Martello Tower, Indigenous Park, the Edward B. Knight Pier, and one of the island’s most unique historical attractions, the Key West African Refugee Cemetery.
During the antipiracy campaigns conducted from 1823 onward by the US Navy West Indies Anti-Pirate Squadron, more than 1,400 African men, women and children were rescued from slave ships and transported to Key West. Housing and a hospital were built for them, and although most of the kidnapped Africans were returned to Africa, 295 unfortunate refugees died at Key West from illnesses and injuries caused by the brutal conditions of their captivity and transport. They were buried in unmarked graves along the island’s southern shore, but after historical research revealed the possibility of the burial ground’s existence, investigations conducted in 2002 and 2010 with ground penetrating radar located more than 100 graves.
The site is now a consecrated memorial featuring a series of pedestals adorned with African Adinkra symbols topped with engraved bronze plaques and set on a concrete base inset with a rendition of the slave trade route that brought the Africans to Key West. As the only known site of its kind in the United States, the gravesite was added to the National Register of Historic Places on June 26, 2012.
The Southernmost Point
Even though the actual southernmost point of the continental US lies about 1.5 miles further west on Whitehead Spit and inside the inaccessible grounds of Naval Air Station Key West, your visit to Key West would not be complete without a stop at one of the island’s most photographed spots: the Southernmost Point Buoy located at the south end of Whitehead Street.
The colorful red, black, and orange concrete buoy was built in 1983 and has gained status online as a symbol of Key West. Add this site to your tour of the south shore, and if you want to catch some beach time too, South Beach and the Duval Street pier are only a block away.
Key West Maritime History Sites
The Mel Fisher Maritime Museum. Learn more about the history of Key West and the legendary lost gold of the Keys with a visit to the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum. The museum is both a treasure house and a tribute to Mel Fisher, the legendary treasure hunter who discovered the richest shipwreck ever found, the Spanish treasure galleon Nuestra Señora de Atocha, sunk by a strong hurricane in July, 1622.
The Key West Shipwreck Museum. The Key West Shipwreck Museum at 1 Whitehead Street takes visitors back to the 19th century, when “wrecking” – salvaging valuables from the many ships that ran aground on the Florida Reef and the shoals running down to the Dry Tortugas – was one of the most important industries in the Florida Keys.
Key West and Garrison Bights. Local maritime activity in Key West centers on the historic Key West Bight and the newer Garrison Bight. Visit Key West Bight to watch dive boats, fishing charters, historic schooners, and mega-yachts come and go all day long. The Turtle Cannery Museum and the Dry Tortugas Museum are both located there, and the surrounding streets feature a large selection of waterfront bars, restaurants, and shops.