Monday, August 7, 2017

#100 Visit Key West

Key West. The Diamond of the Florida Keys. What can I say about Key West? A lot really.

Key West Baby!!

Key West definitely has a Caribbean vibe to it. No doubt. Coconut trees, ficus roots, ginger blooms, wild orchids and wandering Ibis paint an exotic and colorful portrait of life on a tropical island. Immaculate waters in shades of blue you could only dream about surround this diamond like an aqueous halo while the living, breathing coral reef beneath it nurtures the many sea creatures that call Key West home.

However, Key West also has a very stateside vibe to it as well. Yea, yea, I know. It IS a part of the USA. What I mean is, restaurants, shops and attractions exist almost everywhere you turn in Key West. The vibrancy of Key West reminds me of the city that never sleeps, yet it is not at all like NYC. To be perfectly honest, Key West reminds me very much of New Orleans.

In fact, Duval Street would definitely rival Bourbon Street or any other street in the French Quarter on any given day. Both New Orleans and Key West are two of the most charming, vibrant, and culturally rich cities I have ever visited. A part of my heart belongs to both places. But let's talk more about this diamond island in Florida.

There is something for everyone in Key West, no matter if you are 18 or 83. There are beaches like Ft. Zachary Taylor Park. If you walk towards the snack bar located inside the park, you will recognize one of the most photographed wooden sign posts in the world. (Photo below.) I will say, this monument is even more colorful and stunning when viewing it in person. It's also enormous. I was totally taken aback by that.

Zachary Taylor State Park
The famous mile post in Ft. Zachary Taylor State Park, Key West

There are also several other famous wooden sign posts and wall murals scattered throughout the island of Key West. Art is a very prominent characteristic of Key West culture. The artistry does not disappoint at all either. In fact, next time I visit, I would love to photograph as many of the signs, murals and sculptures as possible because they truly are so much fun. I enjoy the colors, the details and their uniqueness. The Key West Art and Historical Society does an amazing job of not only promoting but also conserving the art and history of this beautiful island. Below are just some of the treasures I had the pleasure of seeing on my tour of the island.

Key West Art and Historical Society
Gorgeous, gigantic recreation of the most famous kiss.
Quirky metal sculptures

Colorful metal rooster sculptures in Mallory Square

Barnacle art. Quirky and Eye catching! 
Let's get back to the beaches though. The Keys are definitely not known for their beaches. Local Florida Keys publications will tell you just that too. The coral reef below the water prevents sands from washing ashore. The reef actually works as a barrier to sand and maritime debris.

It also is why surfing is not a part of the Florida Keys and Key West culture. There are literally no waves. There is choppy water at times but no huge, continuous waves. I only noticed some very tiny waves coming ashore with the tides. More than anything, the water seemed very calm, serene, and laid back. Not at all like the Jersey shore. As much as I love waves, I also loved how chill and relaxed the water was in Key West. I was not used to that.

A view of the waters from Ft. Zachary Taylor State Park

Ft. Zachary Taylor State Park
The color of the water just boggled my mind. 
Key West does have a few nice beaches you can visit to cool off in the beautiful waters. My only recommendation would be to make sure you have some type of water shoe. I found Ft. Zachary Taylor's gorgeous white beach to be very rocky.

Perhaps it was just the area I was hanging in, but, it couldn't hurt to have water shoes. The rocks felt jagged and rough under my feet so it did bother them. I still loved checking it out though. We didn't stay in the park long but I am glad we made a little stop there. Next time, I will have water shoes.

Near the Southernmost Point Buoy, which I gush  about here, there are several beaches to enjoy. I hope to go back and visit them all. As for lush, tropical nature, you definitely get to witness some beautiful, exotic eye candy of the botanical type on this island.

We visited Harry Truman's Little White House and found it to be such a beautiful part of the city to stroll around and enjoy gorgeous trees, plants and flowers. The buildings were breathtaking as well. Not far from the Little White House is The Audubon House. It was also full of stunning, lush foliage that draped it's entire perimeter. In fact, everywhere we turned, there was another charming property with gorgeous landscaping and beautiful architecture. I honestly had no clue what types of of plants and trees were adorning this little island, but I do know they were all wonderful and enchanting.

Harry S.Truman Little White House
Little White House

Harry S.Truman Little White House
I believe this is a ficus tree. Stunning!

Harry S.Truman Little White House
The fountain and courtyard of the Little White House

Harry S.Truman Little White House
The grounds of the Little White House are insanely gorgeous.

We also visited the Hemingway House which I wrote about here and The Key West Butterfly Conservatory which I wrote about here. These two places are MUST SEE attractions if you are a lover of nature. They are both spectacular, fun attractions with some of the most beautiful botanical displays I have ever seen. Also, the admission prices for both places were most definitely fair in my opinion. They were a bargain for the lifetime memories we made.

Strolling along the city we came across Whitehead Street. It's a great, bustling street. It also gave us an opportunity to take a photo at Mile 0. If you visit Key West, you can choose to have a photo shoot at the beginning of US Route 1, the ending of US Route 1 or both. I of course, chose both. The signage for the beginning of US Route 1 is a much nicer than the ending but both are still way cool.

I took a slew of selfies there and made my son pose for about 15 photos as well. It's what I do. I enjoy every single sight and every single moment of my vacations, adventures and experiences. I do not miss anything taking my photographs. But, I will most certainly spend some time preserving the memories I am making via photograph as well. You never know when you are going to lose your mind. At least I will have pictures for when that occasion arises. Always be prepared!

The beginning and end of US Route 1 in Florida. The only other place you will see this is Maine.

Anyway, if you keep heading up Whitehead you eventually find yourself at Mallory Square and Sunset Pier. This is also a MUST see in Key West. Mallory Square has so much activity and fun stuff going on all throughout the day but the creme de la creme of Mallory Square is the sunset celebration, which I wrote about here.

Mallory Square is also home to some cute little shops and souvenir stands. Some of the prices are very, very reasonable too, unlike Duval Street. Duval Street can definitely ring your bell with the price tags on some of the wares offered in those shops. In their defense though, the shops on Duval are mostly small businesses and galleries with beautiful art, clothing and many other unique treasures so it's a good thing. It's nice to see small businesses thriving.

Mallory Square
Fun Stuff in Mallory Square
 Unfortunately the only thing I could afford on Duval Street was a bottle of water. I did get some awesome window shopping done though. Proud of that.

Back to Mallory Square. I was a baller in Mallory Square. Well, not really. The only place I am of baller status is at the Dollar Store. I'm like a boss in there. But I was almost like a boss in Mallory Square. I purchased a pretty little flower necklace, souvenir patches and a few other cute things to bring back to Pennsylvania.

The Sponge Market, Shell Warehouse and Conch Store were like walking into a mermaid's lair. These stores were filled with such enchanting and gorgeous maritime anything and everything! I was awestruck by all the merchandise available. I spent a good amount of time in there browsing and cursing because I wanted to take everything home with me.

One of things I wanted most as a souvenir from Key West next to my patches and stickers was a creamy peach and pink colored conch shell. Unfortunately, real conch shells are rather heavy. I debated buying one several times but ultimately I was too chicken to purchase one because I was afraid of my checked bag being overweight. We all know how expensive extra charges are on airlines can be right?

When leaving Florida, they weighed my bag at the airport. Turns out, I was actually 30 pounds underweight. I was so pissed. I could have bought a few conch shells. I was such a newbie to flying. SMH. I will buy a conch shell next time I visit Key West but only from the Shell Warehouse. Their prices were the best in the Keys. I did order a genuine Key West Murex Shell from Etsy when I returned home. It is on display in my house. But, I am digressing. Back to the Square.

Mallory Square is also home to the Shipwreck Museum, Key West Aquarium, Haunted Trolley Tours and The Conch Tour Train Station. I did none of these attractions. Ha Ha! But, they are there. The little conch train was actually really cute chugging through the streets of Key West. It takes visitors on a little tour of the city. I think the price to ride the train is a little high but I also think it could be worth it just for the fun of it. The little train kind of reminded me of a smaller version of the Tram Car on the Wildwood, NJ boards. It was also 100% less annoying than the Wildwood Tram Car.

Mallory Square
Thank you for welcoming us! Weeeeeeeee!!! 

Mallory Square

Mallory Square

Beautiful items from the Shell Warehouse and Sponge Market.

Mallory SquareMallory Square

The Shipwreck Museum and Haunted Trolley Ride.

All sorts of goodies for everyone all over Key West. 

As for food, well if you like Key Lime and seafood, they Keys are right up your alley. Key Lime Pie shops are everywhere. Chances are you will come across several in just a few blocks radius. My Key Lime experience in Key West was nothing short of wonderful I must say. I documented it here. Seriously though, Key Lime is a certainly a part of the Florida Keys culture but do not worry if you are not a fan of Key Lime.

There is honestly just about every dessert known to man available on this island. All of it looked so delicious too. I would love to try Better Than Sex desserts on my next visit. They serve sensual desserts with very clever names. They do not open until 6pm though, so it was not in the cards this trip.

The Six Toed Cat Cafe
The Six Toed Cat Cafe

Breakfast is also a huge and very important meal in the Keys. A lot of locals, fishermen and tourists alike are out and about in the early morning hours. Whether it is sitting on a beach to catch the sun rising above the island, taking a bike ride through Old Town while the traffic is sparse or getting ready to head out for a day of water sports, nourishment is "key" in Key West. The breakfasts offered in Key West DO NOT disappoint.

My family and I wanted to try Blue Heaven for breakfast but we happened upon the Six Toed Cafe a block from the Hemingway House. We were planning to tour the house so, to me, this was a perfect starting point for a day of Polydactyl encounters.

Also, a friend of mine highly recommended this cafe. He was dead on in his recommendation. While the meal, like most meals in Key West, was not cheap, every single thing we ordered was made from scratch. The portions were beyond huge as well!

The Six Toed Cat Cafe
Steak and Egg Burrito. The best I ever had!
I chose the Steak and Egg Burrito for my breakfast. It was enormous. The burrito was accompanied by homemade guacamole and pico di gallo and freshly grated home fries. I am not a guacamole fan at all but I am a huge fan of the Six Toed Cat's guacamole. Holy guacamole deliciousness! The flavor was indescribable. I definitely tasted garlic, lime and avocado for sure but there was something else in it that just made it magical. I have no idea what though.

My son ordered the biggest breakfast sandwich I had ever seen, along with fresh squeezed orange juice and my daughter's pancakes were huge. They were not regular flour pancakes though. They were more dense with an almost potato like flavor to them. Again, I have no clue what was in them but they were arguably the best pancakes I had ever sampled.

Cupcake Sushi and Cupcakes. Key West is a dessert lover's dream! 

Now let's talk seafood. Hogfish, Tilapia, Mahi Mahi, Grouper and Tuna are just a few of the popular fish dishes in Key West. I tried none of them. Maybe next time. LOL! Also, almost every menu I gazed upon had Key West pink shrimp and conch offered as a meal or appetizer. Pink Shrimp and Conch are also a big part of Key West culture.

Again though, no worries if you are not a seafood fan. There are so many restaurants in Key West that have a wide variety of chicken, pork and beef dishes. There are also Italian, Cuban, Bahamanian, Thai, Chinese and Mexican restaurants on the island. In other words, just about every food known to man can be found in some form or other in Key West.

Just keep in mind, you are going to pay more for hamburgers and other beef dinners in the Keys since it costs more to bring the beef down from the mainland. Cows grazing on the side of the road are an everyday sight when driving along the roads of Pennsylvania. They are everywhere. In the Keys, not so much. I did not gaze upon one cow during my visit. Not one. There may be cows in Key West but I certainly did not see one. I saw roosters.

Roosters are as much a part of the Key West culture as sunsets, Hemingway, bicycling and Key Lime Pie. Roosters, hens and baby chicks are EVERYWHERE. I mean everywhere. And they are well loved by locals and tourists alike. God bless the person that messes with a Key West rooster.

Most of the birds are used to being around people. We were a little nervous at first walking by some of the roosters because, like I said, they are everywhere. We didn't want to be attacked. Male birds can be very territorial. Thankfully, none of them attacked us. Truth be told, they could care less about us really. Only the babies were a little skittish around people but they are babies so it's understandable.

 I found it so unbelievably cool to see these birds living in harmony with their human peeps. Too fun!

Duval StreetDuval Street

Roosters of Duval Street! Tres Chic

Some of the many roosters we encountered on our trip. 
Handsome devils. 

In closing, my visit to Key West was everything I imagined and then some. I will certainly be visiting Key West again. I fell completely in love with it's aura. Even if I go down alone for a long weekend, I will definitely be visiting again. I found my place to stay in Sugarloaf Key. It is only ten minutes north of Key West and 15 minutes south of No Name Key.

There is so much I have yet to experience in the Southern Keys. I would like to put some extra dough aside to really dive in and make it a total culinary adventure! Maybe I will even ride the conch train and try some hogfish. Who knows?
Until then, it's not goodbye, it's just see ya later!

Key West Hot Spots

The Florida Keys Chronicles- My Adventures


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