Author: Judy Stegall
Date of Trip: May 2013
Key West, Florida is well known as the southernmost point of the United States, just 90 miles north of Cuba. If you go, be prepared for a tropical, Caribbean feel in this bohemian 2 X 4 key. Because the key is so small, rent a bike at about $12 a day to get around. Key West is a very bike-friendly place to be.
For us, sunset at Mallory Square every night (yes, every night) was a not-to-be-missed event. Not only do you get the beauty of the sun setting over the sparkling water, but also a fascinating smorgasbord of entertainment by local “street talent,” whether a singer, tightrope walker, or the pooch walking around to collect money for its owner.
You will find lots to do in Key West. If you are into literature, don’t miss a tour of the Ernest Hemingway House, with its famous six-toed cats. Be prepared for a hot tour, though, because the house is not air-conditioned and the crowds were thick.
If you’re more into art, there is the John James Audubon House and lots of great local art as well. If you’re into politics or American history, then a tour of Harry Truman’s Little White House is a must-do. This was my favorite tour; the home is well-preserved and well air-conditioned.
Mel Fisher, discoverer of the sunken Spanish galleon, the Atosha, also has a maritime museum here, full of treasure displays and pirate information. The Butterfly Conservatory is like a fairy land of live butterflies, flitting everywhere, in a large greenhouse with lush plants, flowers, and flowing water. Go! You’ll be glad you did.
If you love star-gazing (and I do, I do) then take the Western Schooner Stargazer Cruise offered on Wednesdays and Saturdays. You sail from the harbor far enough away from the city lights to see those gorgeous stars twinkle and twinkle some more. There is a slide show and a guy who does an outstanding job pointing out the constellations. This is accompanied by a gently swaying boat and water ever so softly lapping against its sides. Very romantic and you can see the Southern Cross…how cool is that?
Although Key West is not known for its beaches (since they are few and small), it is a great spot for snorkeling and deep-sea fishing. If you’ve got the money, take a trip out to the Dry Tortugas for some of the clearest, most pristine water you have ever seen. The snorkeling is excellent.
The food in Key West can be hit-and-miss. Our most expensive meal at Sunset Key (a short, free boat ride from the Westin marina), was my least favorite. Skip the shrimp appetizer (overly-done) and the blackened mahi mahi (too dry). Grunts has a great red tail snapper and the key lime pie is superb. Of course, you’ve got to have a sloppy joe at Sloppy Joe’s, right? Just don’t expect artful cuisine at Papa Hemingway’s hangout (the sloppy joe was really salty.) For consistently good family fare, try Caroline’s on (appropriately enough) Caroline Street. The shrimp po-boy was on-par with any I’ve had in Louisiana. The salads were all fresh, crispy, and just yummy. Of course, you’ve got to try something from B. O.’s Food Shack (cash only) just to say you did. The fried snapper here was excellent. El Meson Pepe’s makes the best pork sandwich with two different dipping sauces; each was awesome.
If you’re looking for a place to stay, you’ve got plenty of choices. My recommendation: the Truman Annex. Stay here. You’ll be glad you did.
Anytime you’re in a bohemian frame of mind and want to stay in the United States, you can’t go wrong with a visit to Key West where everybody (at least in theory) is part of one crazy, fun, artsy human family.