Key West Lighthouse: Stepping into the Past at Florida


A place that’s more Caribbean than American, with a unique charm that’s hard to put into words. This is Key West, a city full of life, history, and mystery. And, right in the middle of it all, stands the iconic Key West Lighthouse, a sentinel that has witnessed the passing of time and remains steadfast to this day.

The Key West Lighthouse

The Key West Lighthouse, oh what tales it could tell if it could speak! Commissioned in 1825 and completed in 1848, this lighthouse has been a silent witness to storms, wars, and the steady march of time, including the great Havana hurricane of 1846 that destroyed much of Key West but left the lighthouse unscathed.

Standing 88 feet tall, it was built after the tragic wreck of the Spanish navy ship, the Infanta, prompting the need for a guiding light to ensure maritime safety in the region. Not only did it serve this purpose well, but by 1969, with advancements in navigation technology, it became obsolete, symbolizing the end of an era in maritime history.

Key West Lighthouse Things To Do
Katrien Sevrin

Over the years, it was manned by a series of dedicated lighthouse keepers, each one etching their legacy into the annals of history. The first keeper played a crucial role in establishing this beacon of safety in Key West’s maritime landscape.

Notably, it’s worth mentioning one brave woman, Barbara Mabrity, who served as the lighthouse keeper for an impressive 32 years, despite enduring multiple hurricanes and personal loss. Her tenure was marked by resilience as she maintained the lighthouse through several challenges, including the 1846 hurricane that loomed large over the Florida Keys.

Their collective efforts kept the light burning bright, guiding countless ships away from peril. Imagine, if you will, a stormy night with raging waves, and this lighthouse standing tall and strong, its light cutting through the darkness, guiding sailors back to safety, a testament to the rich architecture and history of Monroe County.

Architecture that Withstood Time

To say that the Key West Lighthouse has weathered the storms would be an understatement. Constructed to withstand the harsh elements of the sea, it’s a marvel of architecture and history that has stood strong for over a century and a half. Built in 1825, and having survived the great Havana hurricane of 1846 which destroyed the original lighthouse, this structure is a testament to resilience.

The structure includes a spiral staircase with 88 iron steps leading up to the top. Quite the workout, isn’t it? The tower was eventually raised to a striking height, making it a prominent feature in the Key West’s maritime landscape.

Key West Lighthouse What To Do
David Mark

Originally equipped with 15 lamps powered by whale oil, the lighthouse has evolved over the years, with modern electric lights replacing the old ones. This transition saw the introduction of fresnel lens and reflector systems, enhancing its capability to guide vessels navigating through the treacherous waters surrounding the island.

And despite the march of technology, it has preserved its historical essence. The lantern room at the top, the keeper’s quarters at the base, each brick, each step, each element of this lighthouse whispers tales from the past, spanning back to the 19th century and beyond.

The Lighthouse Tour: What to Expect?

So, you’re ready to explore the Key West Lighthouse up close? Awesome! But before you tighten your laces and reach for the first rung on that spiral staircase, let’s talk about what’s in store for you on this exhilarating tour.

First things first, brace yourself for the invigorating climb to the top. Those 88 iron steps may sound challenging, but trust me, the reward at the top is worth every step.

As you ascend, notice the interior’s unique construction, designed for both practicality and elegance. Once you reach the top, get ready to be greeted by a breathtaking 360-degree view of the beautiful Key West island, featuring the reef and the culture of the Florida Keys.

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

From this vantage point, you’ll see the azure ocean, the bustling town, and the vibrant local life unfolding below. The third-order Fresnel lens looms above, a testament to the lighthouse’s historical significance.

But the lighthouse tour isn’t just about the climb. You’ll also get to explore the Keeper’s Quarters Museum, beautifully restored to reflect the 19th-century lifestyle.

Here, you’ll gain a unique perspective into the lives of those dedicated keepers who called the lighthouse their home. Each room is a window to the past, showcasing antique furniture and personal items, evoking the feel of a bygone era.

Key West Lighthouse Museum

After you’ve soaked up the vistas from the top and explored the Keeper’s Quarters, it’s time to step into the Key West Lighthouse Museum. Housed within the Keeper’s Quarters, this museum, leased to the Key West Art and Historical Society, is a veritable treasure trove of maritime history and artifacts, reflecting the culture of the Florida Keys.

Key West Lighthouse Keepers Quarters
William Tabor

As you explore the museum, you’ll come across fascinating exhibits that take you on a journey through Key West’s nautical history, dating back to its establishment in 1825 and chronicling events up to its operation until 1969. The first lighthouse and keeper’s quarters, pivotal in Key West’s maritime legacy, are showcased in detail.

Marvel at antique navigation tools, Fresnel lenses, vintage photographs, and a variety of other maritime artifacts. Each item has a story to tell, each one contributing to the rich tapestry of Key West’s seafaring heritage, including accounts of the Great Havana Hurricane of 1846 which destroyed the original structure and shaped the 19th-century architectural decisions of the region.

The museum, dedicated to preserving the culture and history of this unique area, stands as a significant marker of Monroe County’s famed maritime past, thanks to the efforts of individuals like Michael Mabrity.

Ghostly Tales and Paranormal Claims

Dusk settles in, cloaking the Key West Lighthouse in shadows and mystery, and with it come the whispers of the past. For years, visitors and locals alike have spun tales of spectral figures and unexplained phenomena around this historical landmark.

But are these stories mere fabrications, or does the lighthouse truly harbor spectral inhabitants? Let’s delve into some of the tales that have haunted these grounds.

The most renowned of these tales centers around the spirit of a former lighthouse keeper. According to the lore, the spirit belongs to a woman named Barbara Mabrity, who served as the lighthouse’s keeper from 1826 until 1864.

Many visitors have reported seeing a ghostly figure matching her description, often accompanied by the faint smell of lavender. Unexplained whispers, odd noises, and sudden drops in temperature have also been reported, adding to the eerie intrigue surrounding this historical beacon.

However, Barbara Mabrity’s spirit isn’t the only ghostly presence alleged to roam the lighthouse grounds. Over the years, visitors have reported sightings of children’s apparitions, believed to be Mabrity’s children who tragically lost their lives to yellow fever.

Key West Lighthouse Ghost Tours

If these tales have whetted your appetite for the supernatural, a ghost tour of the Key West Lighthouse is the perfect opportunity to delve deeper.

These tours, typically led by experienced local guides, invite brave souls to explore the lighthouse after dark.

As you traverse the dimly lit stairs and navigate the shadowy rooms, your guide will share haunting tales of the lighthouse’s past, weaving a narrative of mystery and history that’s sure to send shivers down your spine.

These tours aren’t for the faint-hearted though! Be prepared for unexpected chills, unexplained sounds, and maybe, just maybe, a spectral sighting or two. Remember, it’s all part of the spooky fun, offering a unique perspective of the lighthouse that daytime visitors rarely get to experience.


How To Catch The Sunset From The Key West Lighthouse?

Sunsets in Key West are nothing short of magical. And what better place to witness this spectacular daily show than from the vantage point of the Key West Lighthouse? Just imagine, as the day fades, watching the horizon painted with shades of gold, orange, and purple, all while standing atop a piece of history.

Key West Lighthouse Sunset
Ekin Yalgin

Now, here’s the scoop: To catch this mesmerizing spectacle, make sure to time your lighthouse visit just right. As the lighthouse closes at 5 PM, you’ll want to start your ascent up those 88 steps a bit earlier to make sure you reach the top in time to catch the sunset.

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

Planning a visit to the iconic Key West Lighthouse? Here’s the latest scoop on the admission fees. Adults are admitted for $17.00, while children aged 7 to 18 can explore for a discounted price of just $8.00.

Even better, our youngest explorers, aged 6 and under, can enjoy the lighthouse for free! Are you or a family member serving in the military?

Active military personnel receive free admission as a token of gratitude for their service. Likewise, retired military members and seniors can enjoy the historical marvel for a discounted price of $12.00.

Remember, these prices don’t just grant you access to the lighthouse and museum, they also contribute to the ongoing preservation of this historical landmark.

How to Get to Key West Lighthouse?

Getting to the Key West Lighthouse is quite straightforward, no matter where you’re coming from. Located at 938 Whitehead Street, the lighthouse is right in the heart of the city, a stone’s throw away from the Hemingway House.

If you’re already in Key West, getting there is as simple as taking a leisurely walk or a quick bike ride – a great way to enjoy the city’s laid-back vibe and scenic streets. Alternatively, you can take a taxi, use a ride-sharing service, or hop on one of the city’s charming trolleys for a more relaxed journey.

If you’re driving, keep in mind that parking in Key West can sometimes be a bit of a challenge, especially during peak tourist seasons.

Coming from outside Key West? Whether you’re driving down the scenic Overseas Highway or catching a ferry from one of the neighboring islands, once you reach Key West, just follow the directions above.

Exploring the Surrounding Area

After you’ve soaked in the history and stunning views at the Key West Lighthouse, there’s still plenty more to explore in the surrounding area. The neighborhood is a vibrant blend of history, culture, and natural beauty, offering something for everyone.

  • Right next door is the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, once home to the famous author himself. This Spanish colonial style house, now a museum, provides an insightful look into Hemingway’s life and work.
  • Just a few steps away, you can visit the beautiful Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory, a tropical oasis teeming with hundreds of butterflies and exotic plants.
  • Looking for a bite to eat after your explorations? Head over to Duval Street, just a short walk away. This bustling street is lined with a variety of restaurants, cafés, and bars serving everything from fresh seafood to Key Lime Pie. A foodie’s paradise.
  • Don’t forget to check out the local shops and art galleries scattered around the area. Each one offers a unique insight into the vibrant Key West community and culture. From handmade crafts to local art, you’re sure to find a souvenir that captures the spirit of your Key West adventure.


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.