Ocean Key History

Our Story

It’s hard to imagine that the festive vacation zone where Ocean Key Resort & Spa and its adjacent Sunset Pier live were once industrial and derelict. But there the story begins.

Not long after Key West was settled, in the late 1830s, a pier was constructed. The location was perfect, as the tides run past in a corridor bounded by the islands you see offshore, known today as Sunset Key and Christmas Tree Island. A calm eddy outside the currents and the deep water close to shore formed a perfect spot to dock ships.

During the Civil War and in the years after, this pier was used by the Navy, and then as a coal dock when steam replaced sails, and then as a loading dock––for example, to load men and horses for Teddy Roosevelt’s charge up San Juan Hill, Cuba, during the Spanish-American War. It also served as a ferry dock, a slaughtering site for turtles (for the meat) and sharks (for the livers and fins), and a departure point for the once-bustling cigar trade.

In the 1930s, a hurricane wiped out Henry Flagler’s famous Overseas Railroad. Some of the sturdy railroad ties were pulled up and bolted to the side of the pier as bumpers. They held up until Hurricane Irma in 2017.

The land lay vacant for many years and the pier fell into disuse, but it proved a major draw for the developers who built Ocean Key Resort in 1981. They saw it, correctly, as a box-office seat for sunset viewing.

Noble House Resorts also recognized this when it acquired the resort in 1998. Under the direction of owners Pat and Diane Colee, Ocean Key has become the premier destination on the island for food, libations, comfort, hospitality, and fun. Far from its humble beginnings, the location is now the main pulse point of Key West: its town square.

After a complete rebuild in 2018, Sunset Pier stands on safe, cement pylons but the wooden deck and railings maintain historical integrity. Open 365 days a year for food, beverages, and live music, Sunset Pier is just as it claims: a place where sunsets make history.