Key West Stories and Tips

Exploring Duval Street

Sloppy Joe's  Photo, Key West, Florida

If you find yourself in New Orleans in the midst of Mardi Gras, head to Bourbon Street. If you are in Memphis and looking for the Blues scene and some BBQ to go along with it, head to Beale Street. If you are in Key West, where do you go? Duval Street, of course. Duval Street is where everyone and everything is located. Duval Street stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. The street is filled with restaurants, bars, souvenir shops, and throw in a few museums, landmarks, and you have a busy street filled with tourists who are all looking for a great time.

Starting on the south end of the street is the southernmost area in the continental US. Everything on this end of the street attempts to capitalize on this distinction. You can work on your tan at the Southernmost Beach, grab a beer at the Southernmost Café, or stay at the Southernmost Hotel. A block from Duval Street at the corner of South and Whitehead Street stands the Southernmost Point monument. It is a concrete replica of a buoy which has been a tourist attraction since it was built in 1983. It is painted alternating bands of black, red, and yellow and divided by white stripes. It also lets visitors know that not only is it the southernmost point in the US, but it is only "90 miles to Cuba."

Walking down Duval Street, there are plenty of shops, mostly T-shirts shops all selling the same designs. Some of these owners can be very aggressive in order to get your business. They don’t put prices on most of their merchandise so they can negotiate the prices instead. Just be stern and be prepared to be followed around the store as you browse. Beside these ruthless T-shirt shops, there are some excellent specialty shops. One of my favorites is Cuba, Cuba, Cuba, which you guessed it, sells everything dealing with Cuba. There are plenty of arts and crafts stores where you can pick up some great handmade souvenirs.

With all of that shopping, you will definitely work up an appetite. What better place than at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville. Forget the fact that it is a chain restaurant, but rather that this is Buffet country and this is the original Margaritaville. If seafood is what you are looking for, try Jack’s Seafood Shack or Captain Mario’s Seafood Feast Buffet. You can skip the meal and grab a cold beer at one of the many bars. The most famous is Sloppy Joes, whose most famous patron was Ernest Hemingway and today the site of the Ernest Hemingway look alike contest. The food was average, but the beer is ice cold and a great place to stop and relax. Another great bar is Hog’s Breath Saloon, where they bottle their own beer named after the saloon. The bar’s walls are covered in license plates and offers live music throughout the day. It is located a few blocks away from Mallory Square on the north end of Duval Street.

The north end of Duvall Street is known as Mallory Square or the "Old Town." Here you will find two museums, the Key West Shipwreck Museum and the Key West Museum of Art and History which is housed in the Old Post Office and Customshouse. This particular area can get very crowded as the cruise ship port is located here.

There are many attractions that are located a few blocks each way from Duval Street. The Harry Truman Little White House and Fort Zachary Taylor are near the north end of Duval Street. Tours are offered of the Ernest Hemingway House and the many cats that call it home or you can visit the Key West Lighthouse or the Key West Butterfly Conservatory.

Duval Street is also the site of numerous festivals every year. One of the biggest festivals is Fantasy Fest held on the last week in October. It is Key West’s answer to Mardi Gras and it is when they crown the Conch King and Queen. Also around the first week in November, Jimmy Buffet’s Parrot Heads gather for the Parrot Heads in Paradise Convention or the Meeting of the Minds as it is commonly called.

If you are in Key West and are looking for a good time, Duval Street is where it is. It could also be called the street that doesn’t sleep or at least until the bars close at 4am.

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