I had heard people say, ‘Key West is a state of mind as much as a place and better experienced first hand at least once in a lifetime.’
V and I, having had a hectic year at work, were looking forward to a laid-back vacation and celebrate our first wedding anniversary. The snowbirds wanted to fly somewhere warmer and what better place than Florida!
We planned an 8-day long vacation to the South of Florida, and I would like to share all the details in two separate posts. So first up – Key West!
Best way to reach Key West
Airways – Visitors can fly to Key West via connections or direct flights from a host of Florida cities
Waterways – A three-hour-long Ferry service is available from Fort Myers to Key West.
Roadways – We flew to Fort Lauderdale from New Jersey and rented a car for the entire duration of our trip. The plan was to drive from Fort Lauderdale to Key West – one of the classic American road trips. A little over 4 hours drive from Miami to Key West via the Overseas Highway crossing 42 bridges offers stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean. The longest among them is the ‘Seven Mile Bridge.’ It’s truly a unique island hopping experience. Most of the archipelago is inhabited and offers numerous tourist attractions such as diving adventures, ferries, and resorts. These islands have unusual names such as Sunset Key, Boca Chica Key, Shark Key, Sugarloaf Key, Little Duck Key, etc. ‘Key’ is derived from a Spanish word Cayo for ‘small island.’ With an option to pulling in at different Keys and fishing spots, makes it a much more exciting route than flying.
Where to stay
Much to various tourist needs, Key West offers a wide variety of accommodations from resorts, B&B; conch houses turned boutique hotels; and the usual Intercontinental Hotel groups.
We stayed at Rainbow Bend Resort in Marathon Key, with a stunning view of the ocean. Marathon is an hour away from Key West; we did not mind driving up and down the 7-mile bridge during our 2-day stay in the Keys.
Things to do in Key West
If you are an adventure sports enthusiast like me, you should give Parasailing a try. Viewing the crystal blue waters, the horizon, and the activities of the coastline in quiet stillness from 300 feet in the air, from a different vantage point, with my favorite person, was a thrilling experience.
Cruise lines in Key West also offer Sunset Cruises – an hour-long cruise enjoying the twilight views of the sea as the sun goes down.
Take the Old Town Trolley Tour – a guided hop-on hop-off tour covering the entire city.
Rent a bicycle or scooter to traverse the city. Car parking in Key West is tricky; biking would be the best means of transport. V and I rented a scooter to get from one point to another, reminiscing riding a bike in India, which we miss dearly in NJ.
Don’t miss the Victorian mansions throughout the city with tropical gardens, coconut and pine trees, Bougainville creepers.
Visit the Shell Museum and gift shops for souvenir shopping.
There are numerous places to enjoy the flavors of Key West. Give Cuban cuisine and Cuban coffee a try. Do not miss tasting piña colada. The best I ever had was in Key West – zero alcohol and out of carved pineapple shell! Also, one of the few places in the US where you get to drink tender coconut (not the concentrate). Aah, the tropicals! It’s a seafood and alcohol haven. Always remember to drink responsibly. You can also try special dinners with sunset view/ sunset cruise.
A trip to Key West is incomplete without seeing the Southernmost point – a concrete anchored buoy marking the southernmost point in the continental US. Easily 30 mins in the line, for a photo opportunity beside the buoy with your boy (cheesy, right? 😜). People were nice and very well mannered; no one cuts the line; the person behind you will take your picture when it’s your turn even without you asking because everyone was there for the same reason. From this point, Cuba is only 90 miles away.
When we were visiting Big Island in Hawaii earlier this year, the locals claimed Big Island to be farther south than Key West. When I looked up for facts here, I learned that Hawaii has the southernmost geographic center of all the states. Florida has the southernmost geographic center of the 48 contiguous states. Well, we don’t want to steal anybody’s thunder. What’s important is we were fortunate enough to be at both places in 2019! 😁
Weather and the best time to visit
Winter is pleasant and the best time to visit. Still, sunblock and polarized sunglasses are a must. Summers can be brutal. Hurricane season June – Nov should be avoided.
We were surprised to see the number of chickens and roosters crowing and strutting everywhere. It seemed so much like an Indian countryside. Key West residents call them gypsy chickens that gained freedom after the locals stopped the arduous process of turning them to dinner many decades ago. Roosters were released when cockfighting became illegal. They multiplied and are now walking freely in the neighborhood of Key West!
You may come across numerous vintage poster shops around Duval street. If you are a fan of posters, you will feel like a kid in a candy shop. The price may shock you though, keep in mind these are collectibles. We spent a lot of time flipping through endless posters, clicking pictures of quirky ones and bought a couple for keepsake.
US Highway 1 or Route 1 is the longest north-south highway that serves the East Coast of the US from Key West in Florida to Fort Kent in Maine. One can find Mile 0 marker signs in the Southernmost Point of Key West to commemorate the end of the highway. The sign can also be seen on various souvenirs and t-shirts.
Most tourists like to get a photo of the famous wooden signs with distances marked to various locations. Apparently, these are the ‘Most Instagrammed’ sign posts in Key West!
That’s pretty much of Conch Republic for you. We loved Key West. If it’s on your travel list you must definitely visit, preferably when the coconut is cool 😎
Thanks for reading. See you in my next post next year. Happy 2020!