When you arrive at Key West on a cruise, you have tons of things that you can easily do just steps from where your ship docks.
This includes shopping, restaurants and bars (at least one visit to Sloppy Joe's is a must), bike rentals and hop-on hop-off trolley tours of the historic district of Key West.
Other top Key West excursions include a look at the city's fascinating cemetery (free, self-guided), a visit to Hemingway House, the Key Butterfly and Nature Conservatory and a photo stop at the Southernmost Point in the United States, of course. You also can set off on snorkeling and fishing outings or just dive into some Key Lime pie.
But if you've already been there and done much of that, you might be up for what I think is an ideal way to spend a day in the Conch Republic. Granted, I love to explore a place by running -- and I also like finding out-of-the-way gems and ways to occupy myself that don't cost a dime.
So, let's call this "The Best Way to Spend a Day in Key West If You're a Runner and Cheap."
Key West is in the Caribbean, and hot and humid days are the norm, many with a chance of showers. I arrived on just such a day in June on Royal Caribbean's Enchantment of the Seas and waited until just after noon to head out for my planned run to Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park.
The park is located just 1.25 miles from the cruise pier and once you get there, you can run (or walk) the trails through the property. There are shaded trails and forested parts, too. A great stretch follows the water line of the Atlantic Ocean, and you can find a tiny beach spot at the end closest to the fort that quite likely will be unoccupied and give you an opportunity for a private swimming session.
I ran to the park, following Southard Street through the residential Truman Annex neighborhood. Continuing along the waterfront, you approach the facility by following signs to the park.
I noticed a fee is required as I approached. Bikers and walkers pay $2.50 to use the park. A cyclist arrived just after me. This kind fellow said he is a veteran and has a pass that allows him to get in free and that he would like to offer to get me in on his pass as well. I thanked him but said I would gladly pay to help provide for the park's maintenance and upkeep. Carloads cost more, and the rate depends on how many are in the vehicle.
The fort was constructed beginning in 1845 as a defense system after the War of 1812, and it was controlled by the federal government by means of 44 members of an artillery regiment throughout the Civil War even as Florida prepared to leave the Union. The site was excavated in the late 1960s and found to have the largest cache of Civil War-era seacoast cannons. It's a fascinating site to explore, and rangers lead fort tours, nature walks and reenactments throughout the year.
The park has a small eatery, The Cayo Hueso Cafe (open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.), where you can grab snacks, sodas, water or beers. I grabbed a cold drink, waited out a small rain shower and headed back to the ship. ââ
The Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center (free; open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday). This center highlights the plants and animals native to the Keys, with more than 6,000 square feet of interactive exhibits. Included is a mock-up of Aquarius, the world's only undersea research lab, which is deployed 60 feet below the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
The Little White House. Formally named Harry S. Truman Little White House, this museum was once the winter residence of the U.S. president. Truman used the home for 175 days during his presidency between 1946 and 1952. The building dates to 1890 and was originally used as Navy housing. Other presidents have also utilized the property, including William H. Taft, Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy who used it while in office, and former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. The Little White House (fee; open 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) is located at 111 Front Street.