Key West is a magical, mystical place I’ve been told, and after my recent visit I have to agree. Situated at the outermost tip of Florida, Key West is 90 miles from Cuba, a 3 hour nonstop flight from New York on JetBlue and Delta, or a 3 &1/2 hour scenic drive from Miami through the charming Keys.
Key West has beautiful beaches, incredible fishing, sailing and all sorts of watersports in abundance. A sunset cruise is a must, and ours on Captain Denis’ the Breezin, an intimate 42 foot sailboat, was breathtaking! But party boats, booze cruises and floating tiki bars are also an option. And don’t miss the Mallory Square nightly gathering to watch the sunset, a revered local tradition, and joyous celebration with buskers, artists, mermaids and musicians.
The best way to get an overview of Key West and cover the many local places of interest, historical sites, monuments and museums, is to take the Conch train or the Old Town Trolley, and hop on and off. The drivers are excellent guides who provide local lore and history you won’t get on your own.
Key West abounds in history and my must see was the Hemingway House, being an aficionado of the writer and cats. You can tour the beautifully preserved House and studio where Papa did most of his writing, wander the lush gardens and pet the 60 plus, well cared for polydactyl felines, who have full run of the place. Hemingway loved his cats, and named them after famous movie stars. Most are descendants of a 6 toed white cat named Snow White, given to him by a sea captain.
Duval Street, running north to south the length of the island, is the main drag. The southern, quieter end, is dotted with galleries, boutiques and nice restaurants, and becomes increasingly more lively as you proceed north with bustling bars (11-7 happy hours) and live music. For those who succumb to the Duval Crawl, there’s even a Hangover Hospital, which offers in house or on call visits.
Restaurant options are endless, ranging from casual to fine dining, and I was surprised at the abundance of excellent, innovative cuisine. Do try the conch, hogfish, spiny lobster and pink Key West shrimp. Two of my favorites were Santiago Bodega, which has an great selection of tapas, a fine wine list and happy hour specials, and La Grignote, a French artesian cafe, open for breakfast and lunch, offering incredible pastries, eggs and the best sandwiches I’ve ever eaten, plus generous pours of Prosecco. I would have happily eaten here every day!
The spirit of the Conch Republic, aka Key West, with its storied past, relaxed lifestyle, great food and friendly, quirky locals who know how to enjoy life must be experienced to understand its spell. Grab a mojito and start planning.
I’m definitely going back!