The Florida Keys is a chain of 34 subtropical islands strung along the Overseas Highway. The Keys are a paradise for those who love the outdoor life - snorkelling, fishing and diving dominate. For many people, the various Keys on the way down from Miami are only stops on the way to Key West.
Key West is the southernmost point of the Continental USA. It dangles right at the end of the Overseas Highway - a 113 mile highway with 42 bridges which skims the ocean.
It was once the richest town in America, and is now the final dot of North America before miles and miles of ocean. It has a reputation as being eccentric, wacky, carefree and bohemian. This is all definitely true. It is the perfect place for a holiday. It has vibrant, Caribbean style streets and lots and lots of lively bars. All this and the most spectacular sunsets make it quite unlike anywhere I have ever been to.
Key West is a real melting pot of different cultures - Caribbean, Latin American and US culture all mixed together. Everyone who lives here is given a title - conchs are natives, many of them trace their ancestry to the Bahamas; freshwater conchs are longterm residents who have migrated here years ago; Hispanics are mainly Cuban immigrants and there are also "refugees" from mainland Florida, quite a few English people and an assortment of drifters.
The locals tend to be writers, artists and there are a lot of retired people, as well as a big gay community. They are very lucky, as they live in beautiful old restored Bahamian influenced Victorian houses or in quaint, white-framed conch cottages. All the houses are picture postcard perfect.
Key West residents pride themselves on their tolerance of all people and of animals. Most restaurants allow pets and it is not unusual to see stray dogs and cats roaming freely. There are also chickens everywhere!
The island is just 2 miles by 4 miles and the population is 27,000 full time residents. Almost daily, the population is swelled by cruise ship passengers who descend on Key West. They seemed to all flock to Sloppy Joes Bar and stay on Duval Street - a street which starts at the Atlantic and ends at the Gulf of Mexico.
The highlights for us were:
- the sunset celebrations at Mallory Square - wonderful sunsets and great street performers. We never tired of this and went every evening during our stay.
- the conch train tour - a great way to get your bearings in Key West and find out lots of interesting information about its history, architecture and things to do.
- the Hemingway House - a really interesting place, where you can almost feel the spirit of Ernest Hemingway and see the 6 toed cats - our son loved this part.
- the aquarium - small, old fashioned but a great place to bring children. As well as being educational it is a lot of fun and they can touch a lot of the creatures too.
- the Little White House - so interesting, find out all about the Trumann era and step right back in time at this wonderful house. I think this is truly a must see in Key West.
Key West is 150 miles from Miami, 90 miles from Havana but this end of the line place is like nowhere else I have ever been to. It is quirky, unusual, relaxing and a fantastic place to bring children.