The Florida Keys
I don’t know about you but in my middle Tennessee born and raised ignorance I knew little to nothing about the Florida Keys. When you live in Tennessee the parts of Florida you frequent are the panhandle and maybe Disney World—not South Florida. I knew the Beach Boys sang about all the different Keys in a song. And I think I knew that the Florida Keys were some kind of tropical paradise located in a far off distance off the coast of south Florida…probably near Bali or Fiji. Alright, I knew nothing about the Keys. If I were on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” and Regis asked me a question regarding Key West, I would’ve been screwed.
While on a road trip with friends (only a short jaunt down from Miami and Fort Lauderdale), I learned that Key West has more to offer than sandy beaches and margaritas. A visit to the Keys is less a lazy beach trip and more an interactive interesting sights trip.
The first stop anyone should make in Key West is Duval Street. If it sounds vaguely familiar that’s because it probably is. The street is famous for a few different restaurants and bars. Among them are Rick’s Café, The Bull and Whistle, Sloppy Joe’s, and Irish Kevin’s Bar. Also you may recognize the street from that episode of “Hogan Knows Best” when Brooke scampers off while the family is vacay-ing in Key West and Hulk all but has a melt down. (You know the one.)
Another fun fact? Located only 155 miles south of Miami, Key West boasts the southernmost tip of the continental United States. That means there is a sign where you can stand and get your photo snapped so you can say “I’ve been at the lowest point in America.” Why not?
Attention English majors! Key West is also home to Ernest Hemingway’s fantastic historic mansion where classics like “A Farewell to Arms” were penned. The gorgeous house where Hemingway wrote every morning and explored beaches every afternoon for 10 years has been renovated into a museum that you can tour. It is also home to the more than 20 famous Hemingway polydactyl cats that still roam free today. (If you’re not up on your Greek root words that means these cats have extra toes. Kinda creepy?)
In addition to historical and geographical noteworthy locations there is also some tasty seafood to be tried. Specific local fish to try? Hogfish, Yellowtail Snapper, Grouper, Dolphin (mahi mahi), Wahoo, Cobia, and the famous Key West Shrimp.
One not to be missed event that happens daily in Key West is the Sunset Celebration. Each night visitors throng together in Mallory Square to watch the gorgeous sun disappear over the horizon. About two hours before sunset people start showing up to shop the arts and crafts tables, watch the street performers, visit the psychics, and nibble on treats at the food carts. This fun local event is my favorite word: free.
Key West is one of those beach destinations that feels a bit like a 2009 version of the towns you see in movies like Pirates of the Caribbean. If you’re into history, there’s the Hemingway house. If you like to shop, there’s plenty of local craftsmen. If you like to drink, well you really are in Margaritaville, aren’t you? The seafood is fresh and the vibe is chill and friendly. The vast majority of locals are actually on vacation so the way of life in the Keys is a happy, relaxing one. It’s well worth the trip.
|By Hillary Sutton|