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Florida Guide > Places to Visit

Key West (3)

If your in Florida for an extended period or you have done all the parks and are looking for something else to do why not consider a trip to Key West.

You can do the drive in one day and if you do I would suggest you think about stopping for lunch on Key Biscayne which is just south of Miami. There are lots of nice hotels with sea views for that special meal or you can take your own lunch and eat in the state park. The journey from Orlando to Miami will take about 4 hours with about another 2 hours over the causeway to Key West. If you do this peak season then be sure to book a room ahead of time as everything that is reasonably priced gets booked a long way ahead. You may also want to check out the cruise ship schedule, as you get a vast influx of people on the days they dock. The whole main area of the city is turned over to shops and bars for the tourist and if you want to see more you need to be willing to walk or use the 'conch train'. The train is a good way to see a lot of the area in a short time so that you can then go back and pick out the areas you really want to see. One word of caution here, the trains are designed to get the maximum number of people on and if you are over 5'9" make sure you get an outside seat. It's like the Epcot trams but scaled down.

We took the tour and then went back to see the things we like, plus stopping at the odd bar and T shirt shop. I have tried to remember most of the places we went but it's such a small place that with a little walking you will see most things.

We started and finished at Mallory Square, which is the centre of Key West's historic waterfront. It was the centre of the harbour and all the trade that went with it. Now the old buildings and some of the new are turned over to shops that can sell you all sorts of things you never knew you needed. It also has the Key West historic sculpture garden and of course, every evening, the famous sunset celebration. They also have annual power boat events here and if this is something that interests you then check the plans before your visit.

Just round the corner ready to get you in the mood for the rest of your day is Sloppy Joe's. This is a must see bar and restaurant, the food and drinks are served in a cool, island atmosphere which is added to by the live music. It holds a famous Hemingway contest ever year and features on all the TV programs about Kew West. It's the ultimate tourist trap but it is one I am glad I did not miss. We managed to sit by one of the open door/windows which is good on a hot day. Sloppy Joe's was everything we expected and more. The drinks tasted good and were large, the people watching both inside and outside was worth the price alone. The live entertainment was OK but not special, however the best part was the live streaming web-cam out front. Call home on your tri-band phone and tell your friends to watch you have a drink. However make sure you leave a tip as they do still ring the bell when you tip the guys behind the bar. You will see a few embarrassed tourists who obviously didn't tip the right amount and the bell remained silent.

You come out of SJ's into Duval St and as I said it's a real eye opener. Plenty of nightlife, free entertainment all over the place, and the people-watching in itself is a full time event. Plenty of eating places for any budget from 4-star to fast food. There are all, and I do mean all, the T shirt shops and tourist trinket outlets you will ever need. However you can visit just one and you will have seen them all. Pop in to Irish Kevin's and/or the Bull & Whistle after you have tried SJ's.

If you want to find somewhere for a nice meal then try Kelly's Caribbean Bar, Grill and Brewery. It's the Southernmost brewery in the U.S., and is owned by actress Kelly McGillis. We had lunch here, food was good, service OK. Atmosphere was very nice, you can sit in the outside courtyard among large shady trees which is nice if you visit in the summer. You need to get there early or have a late lunch to get a good table. The restaurant is one block off Duval, but that's enough to give it a much more peaceful atmosphere after the Duval St experience.

After all the shops and bars if you want a bit of culture and history then I can recommend the following as places to go.

At the Wrecker's Museum on Duval Street, you can learn about the nautical archaeologists or wreckers that were a part of Key West's earliest economy. Salvaging cargo, and sometimes people, from ships wrecked on the dangerous reefs, the wreckers were both revered as heroes and shunned as scoundrels. The museum resides in the one of the most historically significant houses in Key West, a white frame structure built in 1829 and the original owner was himself a wrecker. In addition to providing information about wrecking licenses, rules, and regulations, the museum has lots of nautical paintings, model ships, and other maritime information.

At the Key West Lighthouse you will find a great lighthouse & keeper's house full of historic displays. This lighthouse is the shortest I've climbed, as it is shorter than the others you get to the top without to much effort. Good view of Key West all around, make sure to take a camera. Hemingway House is right across the street along with a nice restaurant called "Ernest's" next to that I can recommend for a light lunch. Lighthouse has a large keeper's house and the rooms were filled with historical photos and displays in glass displays. Allow extra time for this if your interested in this type of thing.

Ernest Hemingway's Home and Museum is at 907 Whitehead Street and is right in the heart of the Old Town, this property was once home to one of America's most famous authors. Ernest Hemingway lived and wrote here for more than ten years. You can step back in time and visit the rooms and gardens that witnessed the most prolific period of this Nobel Prize winner's writing career. Tour guides give you lots of extra information and answer questions. You can wander through the grounds and enjoy the spectacle of the more than sixty cats that live here.

The Audubon House & Tropical Gardens offers a way to relax for all ages. It was due for demolition in 1958, but was saved by the Mitchell Wolfson Family Foundation which is a non-profit institution. This was the first restoration project in Key West, and is still considered to be the best on the island. You will also be able to see the books of John James Audubon, the world renown ornithologist. There are 28 first edition Audubon works in the house.

Key West is also where you find the Oldest House in South Florida. This is a house which has survived pirates, warfare, hurricanes, fire, economic hardship and prosperity and now serves as a home museum which pays tribute to the maritime profession of its most important resident, sea captain and "wrecker" Francis Watlington. The house is a one and a half story "New England Bahama House" built in 1829. Until about 1832 it was located on Whitehead St. until it was moved, by mule and heavy rollers, to its current location. The builder Richard W Cussans was among those who migrated to the island after Commodore David Porter and his "mosquito fleet" effectively eliminated the pirates who had terrorized the islands for many years. Cussans was a ship's carpenter who incorporated maritime features into the architectural design: mortise and tenon joinery, horizontal wall boards of now extinct Dade County Pine and a ship's hatch cut into the master bedroom roof, which was raised for ventilation.

While you are here it is only a short distance to the Southernmost Point of the U.S. It's marked by a colourful landmark buoy and spectacular sunsets make it a special place to visit. It's the point from which all distances North are measured.

The Truman White House was the vacation residence of President Harry Truman it includes original furniture, a narrated tour of Florida's only presidential vacation home and a video of Truman's years in the White House. We walked past but did not have the time to tour it.

When you get back to the Clinton Square Market Mall on the upper level you can find 'A KEY Encounter'. This shows wildlife footage of many different Florida Keys fish, Sharks, Dolphins and Rays. You are greeted by three large screens, each showing a different aspect of the presentation. The underwater footage is very good and the whole show takes about 20 minutes. It's a free attraction and is even open seven days a week.

If you really want to see and do everything Kew West has to offer then you will need at least two full days there, but it will be rushed.

Author: Chris Melaisi (Villa link: click here)
Other articles by this author: click here

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Page added on: 20 July 2004
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