Key West is famous for a few things: being the southernmost point of the continental U.S., key lime pie, U.S. 1 mile marker 0… and being the home of one Ernest Hemingway and his six-toed kitty cats. The Florida Keys have been on my bucket list for a while, so when United started flying there non-stop from my home airport (IAD), we had to go! And what had to be on the list? (Aside from key lime pie, of course.) A visit to the famous writer’s home. Here’s everything you need to plan your visit!
Know Before You Go
Tour Length: 30 minutes
You can choose docent-guided or self-guided. If you choose docent-guided, you can also come back through on your own to take a closer look, spend more time in any of the rooms, or lie in wait for the perfect cat-inclusive photos.
There were 63 polydactyl (six-toed) cats roaming around the house when we visited! Fifty-five adults and eight kittens (born in October 2019) make their home on the property, so you’re sure to see some. Not all the cats actually have six toes (about half of them do), but they all carry the gene, so they could have six-toed kittens, even if they don’t have six toes themselves. They’re all well-cared for, and their personal vet makes sure they’re healthy.
Hemingway’s original six-toed cat was a gift from a ship’s captain, and her name was Snow White. Many of the Hemingway House Museum cats are her descendants. In keeping with Hemingway’s own cat-naming tradition, they’re all named after famous people. Marilyn Monroe likes to hang out by the pool, while Bette Davis prefers the bed in the master suite!
Just remember, you may pet the cats, play with the cats, and photograph the cats, but please don’t pick them up.
Read next: What to Know Before You Visit Key West
Location, Hours, and Admission
Everything in Old Town Key West is quite walkable, including the Hemingway Home. There is parking available, but it’s extremely limited, so I recommend walking, Ubering, or taking a pedicab there.
Address: 907 Whitehead Street
Whitehead parallels Duval Street, making it very easy to find but also away from the hustle and bustle of the main drag through town.
Hours: 9:00am-5:00pm, 7 days per week
The first tour starts at 9:20am, and tours run every twenty minutes with the last tour beginning at 4:40pm.
Admission: $16 per adult
Children ages 6-12 are $6, children 5 and under are FREE. Cash and credit card are both accepted, and you can purchase tickets online.
You can buy tickets easily on their website (must be 24 hours in advance), or walk-up and get tickets the same day. We chose to purchase tickets in advance because we visited in January 2021, and the museum had to restrict the number of guests per tour due to COVID.
Highlights of the Tour
There are many highlights at the Hemingway home, but I can’t tell you all their secrets, so here are just a few of my favorites!
The Penny at the Pool
So, the pool was Ernest Hemingway’s idea. The location was not–it was his second wife Pauline’s! Hemingway actually had a beloved boxing ring where the pool is now, but when he returned from Spain as a war correspondent in the late 1930s, he found this pool in its place. He wasn’t pleased. He told Pauline she might as well take him for his last red cent, and promptly stuck one in the still-wet cement beside the pool, where it remains today.
When the pool was built, it was the only one within a 100-mile radius of Key West, and it was an impressive feature, to say the least.
Of course they’re a highlight! They’re very used to people, so they don’t mind if you pet and play with them. The alpha males walk around with purple collars that have been treated with calming essential oils so they don’t do anything brash. I love that they’re named for famous contemporaries of Hemingway, but there’s no way I could keep them straight! Our wonderful tour guide told us their secret: six-toed cats are more territorial than regular cats, and certain cats like to lounge in certain places. That helps them remember who’s who! My favorite was the one on the roof of Hemingway’s writing studio.
Pauline worked for Vogue in Paris, so her tastes were a bit high-faluten for the Florida Keys, but she didn’t mind. She just brought her beautiful things with her! She actually removed all the ceiling fans in the house and had them replaced with elaborate chandeliers! She also brought beautiful–and impractical–sofas and loveseats to the home as well, which are still there and still impractical for the region, and overrun with the most spoiled and chill cats you’ll ever see.
Hemingway’s Wall of Wives
Hemingway had four wives. The first three made the mistake of introducing Hemingway to their friends. The fourth did not. There might be something to that!
Hemingway’s Bronze Star
Ernest Hemingway is known today as a great American novelist, but many of his stories were inspired by his own experiences as a Red Cross ambulance driver in World War I, as well as his time as a war correspondent during both the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s and throughout Europe in World War II. He landed at Normandy to report on the D-Day invasions and earned his Bronze Star as a civilian.
Hemingway’s Writing Studio
As an author myself, I loved seeing where Hemingway wrote so many of his novels and short stories! It was surprisingly neat, which may or may not have been exactly as he left it. I loved all the natural light, but also the mementos from his life of adventures that very likely inspired him while he wrote.
Read Before You Go
Never read Hemingway’s work? That’s okay! His home is well worth a visit anyway. Many of his books are really short stories, so you could read one on the flight down or a few days before your trip. Here are some suggestions.
The Old Man and the Sea
This novella is about an old Cuban fisherman and his fight with a giant marlin. Not impressed yet? It helped Hemingway win the 1954 Nobel Prize for Literature.
A Farewell to Arms
This World War I novel set on the Italian front is about an American ambulance driver and the English nurse he falls in love with. It’s inspired by Hemingway’s own experience in World War I, so it gives some insight into the man himself.
The Sun Also Rises
This novel set in both Paris and Spain follows American expatriates in the Roaring 20s. It’s also inspired by Hemingway’s own experiences as a journalist living in Europe after World War I. A must-read for travelers!
For Whom the Bell Tolls
This novel is set during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, where Hemingway himself was a journalist covering the war for the North American Newspaper Alliance. It follows a young American man fighting alongside anti-fascists.
A Moveable Feast
Another one set in 1920s Paris, this one was published posthumously. It gives a sneak peek into the lives of not only Hemingway, but also his famous friends and the shenanigans they got up to.
The Green Hills of Africa
This memoir is about Hemingway’s experience big game hunting in Africa and why the thrill of the hunt fascinates him. It was originally published in 1935.
To Have and Have Not
This is a good one to read before your trip to Key West because it’s the story of an honest man forced to run contraband between Key West and Cuba and his adventures doing so.
The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway
Need a quick intro? Look no further than his short stories! You’ll get a sampling of his work, and you can decide if you like his style or not!
The museum shop has all of Hemingway’s work for sale, so if you’d like a special copy of something, you can get it there!
Want more? Check out my United States Page for all my posts about Key West and Florida!
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