Key West – America’s Southernmost City
The isolated island of Key West marks the southernmost point of the United States. Situated at the end of the 106-mile long Overseas Highway which links the chain of islands hanging off the southern tip of Florida, Key West has inevitably developed as a haven for artists, writers, divers, fishing enthusiasts and those wanting to escape run-of-the-mill life in mainstream America.
Getting to Key West
Until the Florida East Coast Railway was built from Miami to Key West in 1912, this tiny community was accessible only by boat. Visitors today arrive by private boat, car, airplane into the tiny airport, ferry from Fort Myers or by cruise ship.
The railway line never recovered from devastating damage caused by the category five hurricane on Labor Day in 1935 when a storm surge of 18-20 feet caused damage not only to the railway but also to many of the upper Florida Keys. The surviving infrastructure was used as a foundation for extending the two-lane US-1 from Miami to Key West, completed in 1938.
Things to See and Do in Key West
Key West covers a total area of just 7.4 square miles and its high point is a mere 18 feet above sea level. What it lacks in size it makes up for in spirit with a lively celebration at sunset each evening on Mallory Square. Locals and visitors alike gather to toast the sun going down and to look for the green flash that can occasionally be seen as the sun’s orb disappears below the horizon. Cocktails are served from surrounding bars and street entertainers are on hand to offer some amazing performances at this nightly party. Jugglers, magicians, buskers and animal trainers all mix with tattooed bikers and yuppy yacht-owners at this vibrant sunset celebration.
After dark the action moves to Duval Street where bars host live bands and wet T-shirt contests. One of the best known locations is Sloppy Joe’s, once the haunt of writer Ernest Hemingway. You can check out what’s happening at the webcam hosted by the bar here. Alternatively, join the fun at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville Café nearby.
The buildings and mansions in the Key West Historic District (including Mallory Square and Duval Street) were mostly built between 1886 and 1912. The charming Victorian architecture contains some of Key West’s museums and is painted in charming pastel colors now known as “Key West style”. The New Town was developed on a landfill site in the 1940s and includes the airport, schools, motels, residential areas and shopping malls.
Some of Key West’s
most famous residents include President Harry Truman who once resided in the Little White House. This delightful building now houses a museum of his life. Ernest Hemingway wrote several of his well known novels during his time at 907 Whitehead Street, in a house given to him and his wife Pauline as a wedding present in 1931. The house is now a popular museum of his life and works and is still populated by the many-toed cats that Hemingway kept as pets.
There are a host of activities in Key West to suit every age and taste. Stroll the streets picking up souvenirs or browsing the many colorful art galleries. Take a tour on the Conch Train that runs around the island’s landmarks offering an informative commentary or visit the mansions and gardens which depict the tropical Key West lifestyle. Take a snorkeling or diving trip or join a sport fishing charter for some of the most exciting fishing around. Visit the old lighthouse or spend the day relaxing on the soft white sand of Smathers Beach where the shallow waters are always warm.
Whatever you choose to do make sure you relax, enjoy some of the freshest seafood anywhere and let your hair down in this laidback island paradise.
There are many more fun and interesting things to do and see so do check out “20 Best Florida Beaches and Coastal Cities” (available in all formats) which has 19 more places to visit. The Villages residents will also find this a useful addition to my “The Villages” series of books.