You will find good options away from the main drag too. If you like wraps, sandwiches and salads, Lobo’s Mixed Grill, 5 Key Lime Square, is a good choice. A few steps off Duval in a tropical courtyard, Lobo’s is a friendly counter-service restaurant with dozens of menu items from $8 to $11.25.
As I asked Key West residents for suggestions for affordable dining, at least three people recommended the classic Cuban restaurant , El Siboney, 900 Catherine St. This is a traditional restaurant with table service and bargain prices — $10.75 for three different preparations of pork, $13.95 for grilled mahi or grouper, topping out at $19.95 for paella. It was all good and service was efficient.
It’s easy to be entertained by Key West: On your first visit, you might spend all day just wandering historic Old Town and joining the nightly street carnival at Mallory Square sunsets.
Here are several other free or cheap alternatives:
Free walking tour of historic Key West: There are wonderful group tours of Key West, but the best ones cost $30 for adults. If you’re on a budget, print out the Pelican Path Self-Guided Tour of Key West, created by the Old Island Restoration Foundation, and wander on your own through Key West’s charming lanes. This tour provides the stories behind 51 historic buildings. Be sure to visit The Oldest House in Key West, a small house museum that is free and has a beautiful garden right off of Duval Street. Print out walking tour here: http://oirf.org
West Martello Tower & Botanical Garden: This may be my top freebie in Key West because it incorporates two great elements: an old fort and a tropical garden by the Key West Garden Club. 1100 Atlantic Blvd.; 305-294-3210; www.keywestgardenclub.com. White Street Pier: Adjacent to the West Martello Tower & Botanical Garden, at White Street and Atlantic Boulevard, is what has been dubbed the “unfinished road to Havana” — a very large concrete pier that stretches 1,000 feet into the Atlantic Ocean. The pier is a popular fishing spot for locals and visitors are entertained watching fishermen reel in their catches.
Key West Wildlife Center: While taking in the pier and Martello Towers, families and animal lovers like to stop at the Key West Wildlife Center. The free center is located across the street in an 8-acre park that has a freshwater pond that attracts many wading birds. 1801 White St.; 305-292-1008; www.keywestwildlifecenter.org.
Historic Key West Cemetery: The Key West Cemetery has several entrances, but start at the northwest corner at Passover Lane and Angela Street and pick up an excellent free walking tour guide. With a tour guide, the cemetery reveals fascinating stories of Key West and its people. 305-292-6718; http://historicfloridakeys.org.
The Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center: Besides being free, two things make this hidden gem special: its aquarium tank and its ample free parking. 35 East Quay Rd.; http://floridakeys.noaa.gov/eco_discovery.html.
Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park: Admission is only $6 per vehicle and that includes an easy place to park. The park is fabulous for two reasons: While a little rocky, its beach is the best in Key West and is a favorite for snorkeling, with living coral and tropical fish. Second, its Civil War fort is well preserved, has a fascinating history and displays the largest cache of Civil War-era seacoast cannons in the U.S. Guided tours of the fort are given daily at noon and there’s a brochure for self-guided tours. The fort’s beachfront Cayo Hueso Café offers reasonably priced sandwiches, snacks and cold beverages served on a shaded patio overlooking the beach. 601 Howard England Way; 305-292-6713; www.floridastateparks.org/forttaylor.
Bonnie Gross writes about her Florida travels for FloridaRambler.com