A February 2002 trip
to Florida Keys by Gwilym Owen
Quote: Reaching the Florida Keys, US Hwy 1 links 126 Miles of adventure paradise from the southernmost tip of Florida, right down to it’s terminus at Key West, surrounded by the inviting Caribbean Sea.
Islamorada has some extremely diverse sea life, making for brilliant fishing and diving. This key is home to a great seafood restaurant called ‘Squid Row’, apparently regularly patronized by George Bush senior.
Marathon, home of the graceful Seven Mile Bridge, is next. The Dolphin Research center is at MM59, a non-profit organization where you can swim with the Dolphins. Also here you can fly fighter jets from the airfield.
Key West, home of Hemingway and the Conch Republic, still exudes its old World charm despite being inundated with thousands of tourists daily. The Old Town centers on Duval St. and Land’s End Marina. Main sights include Mallory Square for sunsets and Hemingway House, home to Ernest Hemingway for 10 years. The Old Town has many attractive guesthouses in quiet tree lined streets to stay at. Key West is very gay friendly with its own Mardi Gras.
This is the place to come for diving, snorkeling, sailing, and wildlife, with a whole plethora of places to suit every taste.
If you’re a bookworm, this was the home of Ernest Hemingway for almost a decade, and one can pay homage at 907 Whitehead St for . You can also follow his trail by taking a trip down to Sloppy Joe’s Bar and Captain Tony’s Saloon, which is the original Sloppy’s.
Another must while you’re here is to try the Key’s own dessert - Key Lime Pie! Who made it first is unknown, however if you find one made to the authentic recipe, you are in for a taste treat! However, beware of green Key Lime Pies because that is only food coloring for those gullible tourists that expect it to be green! Yellow is the color and the pie is normally a meringue style. A popular venue for tasting the ‘best’ is Manny and Isa’s Restaurant, Islamorada MM81.6
Never try speeding, as police cars line the highway like alligators waiting for prey along the riverbank! It’s not worth it and we passed countless cars pulled over!
Mile Markers show the distance between Key West (MM0) and Florida City (MM126) at each mile – these are invaluable for telling the distance to Key West, and easily finding destinations along the highway as they use the ‘MM’ as their addresses.
Once at Key West, your car becomes a hindrance in the crowded streets with limited and expensive parking – check to see if your accommodation has parking, as from now on you’ll want to leave it behind!
Getting around town is simple on foot or by bicycle. Another way to travel to Key West is by plane, which is expensive and misses out the real joy of driving the Keys. Greyhound also makes it here.
Restaurant | "Crabby Dick''s"
For cheapskates like me, the best time to hit this place is between 4 - 7pm for happy hour when the ice-cold Draught Key West Ales are freely flowing for $1! Featured appetizers are also half price at this time, although prices are always very reasonable with a dozen freshly shucked raw oysters going for a mere $4 at any time of the day!!!
Although the atmosphere is casual in the extreme, the staff of Crabby’s are very serious about their service, which is always with a friendly smile and the food excellently presented and mouthwateringly tasty!
Crabby Dick’s is a great place to hang out where you can watch the ‘Duval Crawl’ on the street below, chill out at the bar with a beer in hand watching your favorite sport on one of their many big screen TV’s, or just sit down with friends to a huge feast of some of the best seafood this side of the 0-Mile Marker.
Crabby Dick’s, as you might imagine, also has quite the merchandise line going with some real head turning t-shirts for sale. Another plus for this locally owned restaurant in the middle of downtown Key West is it’s free parking.
Favorite Dish: My favorite dish here has to be those oh so bountiful and fresh raw oysters at Crabby Dick’s. I think we went through several dozen together, washed down by an ice-cold drop of the local amber nectar.
After the extended appetizer, I opted for a ‘Catch of the Day’ off the chalkboard of Pan seared Wahoo (because I liked the name!) with a side of French fries and salad and washed down with a nice glass of Key West Ale. The fish was expertly cooked, with a wonderful melt in the mouth texture, as you would expect from a quality high turnover seafood restaurant in the middle of the Caribbean. For dessert we had that quintessentially Key West dessert experience – the delicious Key Lime Pie! Best use of condensed milk I can think of!
Crabby Dick’s is also highly acclaimed for the "Best in Key West" Buffalo Wings and Maryland Crab Cake. What a great place!
Click here for a menu.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on November 6, 2002
712 Duval St
Key West, Florida 33040
Attraction | "Snorkelling with Sebago Watersports"
There were about a dozen of us on board from all walks of life. As we departed on the giant catamaran (it has a capacity of about 40+!), we were given our snorkeling equipment and had our first (soft) drinks, getting to know the other people. It was good that there were so few of us, as it seemed a lot more personal than it would have with a large group. In high season it is important to remember that they ask you to arrive an hour before cast off--it does have a large covered area with seats and tables, but many people on a full trip would be sitting on the deck outside, so be early if you want good seats!
It took around 45 minutes to get to the snorkeling area and, as we approached, we had a quick lesson on how to snorkel safely with the equipment provided (mask, snorkel, flippers, and inflatable buoyancy vest). At the snorkeling site, we snorkeled for about an hour, which went very quickly. We saw many types of beautiful tropical fish, and some great coral formations. The reef here is very close (3-4 feet) to the surface in some places, so we had to be careful not to damage it--or ourselves!
Even in February, the water was fine, if a little choppy and we’d definitely had a good work out by the time we got back to the boat for the (now) alcoholic drinks! On the return, I got a chance to pilot the vessel, which was great fun!
Mother Nature provided us with a spectacular ‘final curtain’ on the evening in the form of a sublime Key West sunset, giving us a spring in the step for the balmy evening as we made a beeline for Duval St.!
200 William Street
Key West, Florida
Attraction | "Southernmost Point"
This claim is somewhat controversial with Key West being an island and therefore not strictly part of the continent. The fact that it is attached to the continent by over a hundred miles of road, seems a slight bending of the truth, though you can take comfort from the fact that if you drove to get here, you would have passed the southernmost point of Florida. Either way, the ‘point’ of all this is that it is as far south as you can drive from continental US and as the car is king in the US, that has to account for something!
If you pick the right time, especially in February when we came, it is possible to enjoy the point in a fair amount of peace and gaze out across the Caribbean towards the horizon to realise just how close Cuba really is. There is also a plaque next to the buoy that explains about an undersea cable that once supplied power all the way out to Cuba.
Sure, it is a fairly hokey tourist attraction, but I was still glad that I had politely taken my turn in the orderly queue to take my souvenir picture! If you’re on your own, there’s bound to be someone else in the same boat eager to lend a helping hand for a return of the favour--a natural ice-breaker if ever there was one!
The easiest way to reach Southpoint is to walk straight down Duval St until you hit South St and turn right for just one block.
For the curious, ''South Point’ in Hawai''i is the southernmost point of all the USA.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on November 6, 2002
Southernmost Point Key West
Whitehead And South Streets
Key West, Florida 33040
Attraction | "Florida Keys Sunsets"
Driving to Key West, one of the most obvious places to catch a truly stupendous sunset is Seven Mile Bridge at MM 45, the longest of the 40+ bridges that link the Keys to the mainland. On the north side of the bridge lie the remnants of the original Seven Mile Bridge built in the early 1900s. If you park on the northern side of the bridge, you can walk along a 2 ¼ mile stretch of the old bridge to pick your viewing spot (as seen in ‘True Lies’), towards Pigeon Key National Historic District (Visitor centre at MM 53.5), a restored railroad work camp from 1908. There is a museum here about Henry Flagler and the railroad. You can also swim and picnic here, as well as staying at some historic guesthouses perhaps after watching the sunset.
In Key West itself, Mallory Square at the northern end of Duval St. is the site of the town’s famous sunset celebrations, where you can gaze out westwards to see the sun bid farewell for the day as it gradually slips beneath the exotic waters of the Caribbean. This spot tends to get a little crowded as this is where the pre ‘Duval Crawl’ crowd get geared up for a night on the town, to the accompaniment of music and entertainment.
Another great way to see a Key West sunset is out on the water. In many ways this is the perfect way, as you can either watch it with others as you return from a day out snorkeling at the reefs, or as part of a sunset dining experience. The ship’s captain will make certain that from wherever you watch the spectacle, it will be from a grandstand location unhindered by obstacles! There is definitely something very special about swaying in the breeze, hearing the sound of the water gently lapping against the sides of the boat in the company of friends...
If you can afford to ‘push the boat out,'' nothing would beat the romance of just the two of you enjoying the sunset together!
Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square
1 Whitehead Street, Mallory Square
Key West, Florida 33040