Quirky Attraction: Southernmost Point in the Continental USA (Key West)

southernmost point in key west

The Southernmost Point in the Continental USA
Location: Key West, Florida
When to visit: Anytime, but for shortest lines, come before 9 am
Cost: Free
Time needed: 10-60 minutes, depending on the wait
WebsiteKey West city website

Visiting the Southernmost Point in Key West

In Key West, Florida, you can find a monument that marks the southernmost point in the continental United States.

This red, black and yellow concrete buoy right next to the ocean has become a huge tourist attraction.

If you visit Key West, you’ll want to stop by, but chances are you’ll be waiting with dozens of other people to get your picture taken with it.

Many publications call the Southernmost Point in Key West a tourist trap. Of course it is! So what?

southernmost point tourists

Some scrooges also like to point out that the monument isn’t truly the most southern spot in the continental U.S. There are a couple other spots in Key West that are further south, along with Ballast Key, an isolated island southwest of Key West.

But don’t let that stop you from enjoying the Key West tradition. Join in on the fun and get your picture taken next to the “90 Miles to Cuba” marker that has become a landmark since it was erected in 1983.

The massive concrete buoy is one of the most popular tourist spots in Key West. The monument stands 12 feet tall by 7 feet wide.

This area has been affected by hurricanes many times, but the buoy is still standing. It was damaged a few years back by Hurricane Irma, but received a new paint job and is back to normal.

painted buoy key west

I visited the Southernmost Point at the end of a Florida Keys road trip that started back in Miami and the Everglades.

Note: The reason the southernmost point Key West is labeled as the southernmost point in the continental United States is because the southernmost point in all of America is in Naalehu, Hawaii.

What’s the Real Southernmost Point?

It could be argued that the painted buoy is actually fourth place on the list of the southernmost points in the continental U.S.

The southern end of nearby Fort Zachary Taylor State Park is a bit further south than the buoy. That’s the true southernmost point that the public can visit in Key West.

Even further south is Whitehead Spit, a piece of land on private property between the painted buoy and Taylor State Park. Tourists cannot visit this piece of land, as it’s restricted Navy property.

Finally, the true southernmost point in the continental 48 states is on Ballast Key, a 26-acre island nine miles west of Key West.

Ballast Key used to be privately owned, but the owner gave it up in 2019, and the isle is now run by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

real southernmost point map
Map of the three southernmost points in Key West. (Google Maps)

You can see on Google Maps that the “southernmost point” is indeed north of the bottom of Taylor State Park and Whitehead Spit in Key West.

Latitudes of the real southernmost points in the continental United States:

4. The painted buoy24°32′47.42″N 81°47′50.92″W
3. Fort Zachary Taylor State Park24°32’42.2″N 81°48’34.5″W
2. Whitehead Spit24°32’39.2″N 81°48’17.8″W
1. Ballast Key24°31’15.9″N 81°57’49.5″W

So there you have it. Ballast Key is the true southernmost point in the continental United States!

When to Visit the Painted Buoy at the Proclaimed Southernmost Point

For easiest access to the painted buoy, arrive early in the morning any day of the week. That’s when you’ll find the shortest lines.

When I visited a couple years ago, I got there around 9:30 am. It was rainy and it was off-peak season, so I got my photo with only a five-minute wait.

If you come during the middle of the day during peak tourist season, you may have to wait quite a while to get your photo. Just be patient and be efficient when you get your chance so you don’t hold up the line!

Stopping by at the southernmost point is one of the best things to do in the morning in Key West. When you’ve recovered from partying all night and finally roll out of bed, head over there before lunchtime!

Make sure while you’re in Key West that you check out the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum.

And I strongly suggest, if you have the time and money, booking a trip to Dry Tortugas National Park, where you can camp on a remote tropical island outside a Civil War fort.

And since you’re only 90 miles from Cuba, why not consider booking a future trip to that island? Check out the American’s guide to visiting Havana, and check out Cuba’s Cayo Jutias, one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever been to!

Have you visited any of the southernmost points in the U.S.?