Plan a Trip to Key West, Florida
On our first visit to Key West, Florida, the southernmost city in the United States, we arrived by cruise ship. Unlike a good many of our fellow passengers, we didn’t head for Duval Street to start drinking at 10:00 a.m. No Sir. Mister and Mrs. Excitement went on a wholesome bicycle tour.
On our most recent visit to Key West, we drove down from Miami for a two-night stay. We enjoyed the ride on Route 1 South, the picturesque Overseas Highway.
The Overseas Highway is a “there there” unto itself. It traverses the east coast of the United States from Florida to Maine, all the way to Mile marker zero. Keep going and you’ll get wet.
That Key West Vibe
Key West, Florida, prides itself on “keeping it weird”. From time to time Key West threatens to secede from the United States as the Conch Republic. The most recent talk of secession was in 1982 in response to a U.S. Border Patrol blockade of U.S. Route 1, threatening Key West’s vital tourism industry.
During our visit to Key West, it seemed to be a mixture of:
- the French Quarter and the Garden District in New Orleans;
- the quaint Victorian seaside town of Cape May, New Jersey;
- the gay friendly Delaware River artist town of New Hope, Pennsylvania; and,
- a sprinkling of aging hippies displaying varying degrees of attention to personal hygiene; with,
- occasional flyovers by fighter jets from the Key West Naval Air Station.
Singer Jimmy Buffet’s association with Key West has also given it the appellation “Margaritaville”. The opportunity to consume margaritas, and probably every other alcoholic beverage, is available pretty much 24/7.
This is especially true along bar heavy Duval Street, Key West’s version of New Orleans’ Bourbon Street.
Things to Do in Key West, Florida
A Walking, Bike or Conch Train Tour of Key West
On your first visit to Key West, I would recommend taking a walking tour, a bicycle tour or the popular 90 minute Conch Tour Train so you can learn some history and identify places to which you want to return for a more in depth visit.
We used the afternoon of our arrival for a walk around town. Indeed, “walking around”, looking at the restored houses surrounded by lush tropical vegetation is a bona fide visitor activity.
Ernest Hemingway’s House in Old Town Key West
We tried to visit Harry Truman’s Little White House, but were thwarted by a power failure. Instead, we made our way to the Old Town Key West home of raconteur author, Ernest Hemingway.
During our visit to the Hemingway Home Museum, the adult admission fee was $13 which included a half hour guided tour. We were also free to wander the house and grounds independently.
The home was decorated by Hemingway’s second of four wives and the house retains much of the Hemingways’ furnishings. “Papa” lived there from 1931 until 1940 when he decamped to Cuba.
The house and grounds are also controversially home to over 40 descendants of Hemingway’s six-toed cat. Some feel the cats are exploited by being “on show”, but they wander at will and seemed well fed and very content to me, especially the three napping on Hemingway’s bed.
Mel Fisher was an underwater salvager who after many expensive years of searching, discovered the 1622 wreck of the Spanish treasure galleon Atocha. He prevailed in a protracted litigation with the State of Florida over to whom the treasure belonged.
If you are interested in underwater archaeology and colonial Spanish history, you will find this to be a well curated, interesting museum.
In a disconcerting juxtaposition, during our visit, the upstairs had a Harry Potter exhibit next to an exhibit explaining the horrific slave trade.
The U.S. Custom House Museum in Old Town Key West
We were drawn to a building just off Mallory Square resembling the 1897 administration building at our New England college designed by architect H.H. Richardson.
We were told that the Key West building, unlike any other in town, was indeed designed by Mr. Richardson in 1891 as the United States Custom House and government office building. (I knew my Art History 101 course would come in handy some day!)
Today it houses a museum showcasing local artists downstairs and dedicated to the history of Key West upstairs. There was a first rate video about the Overseas Railroad to Key West, destroyed by a monster hurricane in 1935.
Admission was a modest $7.00. Actually, we only paid $6.00 because we were “carded”; that is, we were asked if we qualified for the AARP discount. We did. Ouch!