Key West Lighthouse: Stepping into the Past at Florida


Key West is really like a Caribbean island, it’s hard to describe. And right in the middle of the city stands the timeless Key West Lighthouse. What stories this lighthouse would tell if it could talk.

The Key West Lighthouse History

Begun in 1825 and completed in 1848, the lighthouse has silently watched storms, wars and the passage of time. Especially in 1846, Hurricane Havana devastated Key West, but the lighthouse was spared. This 27-meter-high structure was built after the sinking of the Infanta ship of the Spanish navy.

It served as a guide light to ensure maritime safety in the area. But in 1969, with advances in navigation technology, it became redundant, symbolizing the end of an era in maritime history. Many dedicated lighthouse keepers have served over the years.

Key West Lighthouse Things To Do
Katrien Sevrin

The first keeper played a critical role in establishing this beacon of maritime safety in Key West. One brave woman in particular, Barbara Mabrity, served as lighthouse keeper for 32 years, enduring many hurricanes and personal losses. Through her efforts and those of other keepers, the lighthouse kept countless ships out of danger.

Architecture of The Key West Lighthouse

To say that the Key West Lighthouse has withstood the storms would be an understatement. Built to withstand the harsh conditions of the sea, it is an architectural and historical marvel that has survived for more than a century and a half.

Key West Lighthouse What To Do
David Mark

Built in 1825 and surviving the great hurricane that destroyed the original lighthouse in the Havana hurricane of 1846, it is a symbol of resilience. Inside is a spiral staircase of 88 iron steps that takes you all the way to the top. The tower was later increased in height, making it a prominent feature in Key West’s maritime landscape.

Originally equipped with 15 whale-oil-powered lamps, over the years the lighthouse was replaced with modern electric lights. This change saw the introduction of fresnel lens and reflector systems that increased its capacity to guide ships attempting to navigate the dangerous waters surrounding the island. And despite the advancement of technology, it has retained its historic essence.

The Lighthouse Tour: What to Expect?

First, prepare for the strenuous climb to the top. The 88 iron steps may seem challenging, but the view at the top is worth every step. As you ascend, take note of the interior structure, which is both practical and elegantly designed.

Key West Lighthouse Lights
Raymond Ellis
Key West Lighthouse Landscape
Charles Crosier

Once at the top, you’ll be greeted with a breathtaking 360-degree view of the island of Key West, including the reefs and culture of the Florida Keys. From this vantage point, you’ll see the deep blue ocean, the bustling town and the vibrant local life flourishing below you. A third-grade Fresnel lens emphasizes the lighthouse’s historical significance.

You’ll also explore the beautifully restored Keeper’s Cottage Museum, reflecting the 19th century lifestyle. Here you will gain a unique insight into the lives of those dedicated keepers who called the lighthouse their home.

Key West Lighthouse Museum

After taking in the views from the summit and exploring the Keeper’s Cottage, it’s time to visit the Key West Lighthouse Museum. Located in the Keeper’s Cottage, this museum is run by the Key West Art and Historical Society and is a treasure trove of maritime history and artifacts that reflect the culture of the Florida Keys.

Key West Lighthouse Keepers Quarters
William Tabor

As you tour the museum, you’ll be taken on a journey through Key West’s maritime history with exhibits that tell the story of its founding in 1825 to its operation until 1969. The first lighthouse and keeper’s shack are an important part of Key West’s maritime heritage and are on display in detail.

Admire antique navigational instruments, Fresnel lenses, old photographs and various maritime artifacts. Each artifact tells a story, each contributing to the rich tapestry of Key West’s maritime heritage, including the Great Havana Hurricane of 1846, which destroyed the original structure and shaped the area’s 19th-century architectural decisions.

Ghostly Tales and Paranormal Claims

As evening falls, the Key West Lighthouse is shrouded in shadows and mystery. Over the years, visitors and locals have told stories about ghostly shapes and unexplained events around this historic landmark. But are these stories just made up, or is the lighthouse really haunted?

The most famous of these stories revolves around the spirit of a former lighthouse keeper. According to legend, this spirit belongs to a woman named Barbara Mabrity, who was the lighthouse keeper from 1826 to 1864. Many visitors have reported seeing a ghostly figure matching her description, often accompanied by a faint scent of lavender.

Unexplained whispers, strange noises and sudden drops in temperature have also been reported. However, Barbara Mabrity’s spirit is not the only haunted presence allegedly haunting the lighthouse grounds. Over the years, visitors have reported seeing the ghosts of Mabrity’s children, who tragically died of yellow fever.

Key West Lighthouse Ghost Tours

Often led by experienced local guides, the ghost tours of the Key West Lighthouse are there for brave souls to explore the lighthouse in the dark. As you climb the darkly lit stairs and wander the shadowy rooms, your guide will tell chilling stories from the lighthouse’s past.

These stories will send chills down your spine as they weave into a narrative that is both mysterious and historical. Be prepared for unexpected chills, unexplained noises and perhaps a ghost sighting or two.


How To Catch The Sunset From The Key West Lighthouse?

The sunsets in Key West are truly mesmerizing. And I don’t think there’s a better place to watch this daily spectacle than from the Key West Lighthouse, where the day is coming to an end and the horizon will be painted in shades of gold, orange and purple.

Key West Lighthouse Sunset

Plan your visit to the lighthouse at the right time to catch this spectacle. The lighthouse closes at 17:00, so you should start climbing the 88 steps a little earlier to catch the sunset on time.

How Much Does It Cost To Go To The Key West Lighthouse?

The entrance fee for adults is $17.00, while children between the ages of 7 and 18 can explore for a discounted price of $8.00. Moreover, the youngest explorers aged 6 and under can visit the lighthouse for free.

Active military personnel receive free admission as a thank you for their service. Likewise, retired military personnel and senior citizens can visit the structure for a discounted price of $12.00.

How to Get to Key West Lighthouse?

Getting to the Key West Lighthouse is quite simple, no matter where you come from. Located at 938 Whitehead Street, the lighthouse is right in the heart of the city, very close to the Hemingway House.

If you are already in Key West, you can take a pleasant walk or hop on a bike for a quick ride to get there. Alternatively, you can take a taxi, use a ride-sharing service or hop on one of the city’s attractive trolley buses for a more comfortable ride.

If you’re driving, parking in Key West can sometimes be a little tricky, especially at the height of tourist seasons. If you are coming from outside Key West, drive along the scenic Overseas Highway or take a ferry from one of the neighboring islands. Once you arrive in Key West, follow the directions above.

Things to See Near the Key West Lighthouse

  • Hemingway House and Museum: Right next to the Key West Lighthouse, you can find the house where the famous writer Ernest Hemingway lived. Now a museum, it’s a great place to learn a lot about Hemingway’s life. Also, the descendants of Hemingway’s favorite six-toed cats still live here.
  • Mallory Square: One of the most popular places to watch the sunset. Here you can watch street performers, buy handicrafts and enjoy the fun atmosphere during the sunset.
  • Southernmost Point: The southernmost point of America, this landmark is famous for a colorful concrete pillar and the inscription “Southernmost Point of Continental USA”. From here you can take beautiful photos and marvel at how close Cuba is.
  • Duval Street: A great place to shop, eat and listen to live music. There are many shops, restaurants and bars along this street. It is an ideal place to feel the lively atmosphere of Key West.
  • Key West Butterfly and Nature Reserve: This tropical garden is full of butterflies from all over the world. You can also see rare birds and other small animals.
  • Fort Zachary Taylor State Historic Park: Combining both a historic fort and a beautiful beach, this park is the perfect place for picnics, swimming and sunbathing. You can also learn about the history of the park and see old artillery shells.


As we wrap up our virtual journey, we leave with a deeper appreciation for the Key West Lighthouse. More than just an architectural marvel, it stands as a beacon of history and resilience, offering awe-inspiring views, a peek into the life of its keepers, and a deep dive into Key West’s rich maritime heritage.