Key West – Tips for Weekend Visitors
By Kelly Dean
The objective of this article is to give you destinations you might not have considered when it comes to visiting Key West. This is not a review of restaurants and hotels. You can get that anywhere. I hope this article gives you some hidden tips and suggestions that will make your visit more enjoyable.
The Keys are about 90 miles long from Key Largo to Key West. There are interesting places to visit all along Highway 1, which cuts down the center of the archipelago. Key Largo offers amazing scuba diving opportunities. Islamorada offers amazing fishing and one can camp in the mid-Keys at several locations. Key West has an airport with one-hour flights from Fort Myers and Miami, but you might consider making the drive to get all the keys have to offer. It takes about 3.5 to four hours to drive from Miami International Airport to Key West, depending upon traffic.
Alternatively, you can take a large, fast boat from Fort Myers or Marco Island as well.
But this is an article about being in Key West written by a Floridian. So here are some hidden nuggets for you to consider when visiting the island in hopes it will save you having to discover them yourself.
Ernest Hemingway’s Home
The Ernest Hemingway home is worth the visit. I have written about Ernest Hemingway a number of times. He was a complex person who defies easy character assessments. He was indeed flawed and a man of his time who should be viewed within a historical context, or perhaps for his better parts only. He also became famous and honored in his lifetime, winning the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the Nobel Prize in Literature. This is a unique accomplishment. If you don’t stop by his house, you will feel you left something out of the Key West experience.
Although the swimming pool and the multi-toed cats are interesting stories, I like to walk his steps and imagine the experience – the pressure he was under – and his infamous ways of alleviating that pressure. He was quite prolific writer at Key West; he didn’t publish as much while here, but he wrote a great deal, attempting 700 words each and every morning — and drinking and carousing every evening. He kept a tally of his words, sometimes 350, sometimes 1100, but he always felt the responsibility to his craft. His contribution to literature is undeniable.
The Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Museum
I actually went to this museum to kill time. I was with my son and wanted something that might interest him. Spanish treasure is always cool, even in video games. But I was surprised at how terrific the exhibits were. They weren’t flamboyant in a Hollywood sense, but they were informative and surprising. There’s something about being within inches of an item from a three or four hundred year old Spanish vessel – that rested on the ocean floor most of that time.
Many artifacts from the Nuestra Senora de Atocha and the Santa Margarita wrecks can be seen here.
Located at the head of the Florida Straits, Key West was the epicenter of Spanish and pirate travel in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as a gateway to the rest of the Caribbean and even South America. Unfortunately, the coral reefs, shallows and storms took their toll on merchant and pirate vessels alike, wrecking an average of nearly one vessel per week at one point in time, according to Spanish records.
(Editor’s note: Pat Croce’s Pirate and Treasure Museum moved from Key West to St. Augustine a while back. I enjoyed this museum greatly. Give it a visit if you’re on the northeastern “First Coast” of Florida).
Zachary Taylor Beach
I get tired of reading reviews from so-called “Florida-based sites” that claim to give advice about places to visit in Florida – when I can tell they have never been there. Rest assured, I have been to Fort Zachary Taylor State Park Beach and I enjoyed it and consider it the best beach in Key West. First of all, Key West doesn’t have a lot of beaches, and relatively little wave action. But I loved this compact place because it has the same laidback spirit as Key West itself.
Unlike most beaches in Florida, this beach contains rock formations jutting out of the water, which makes it unique, a fording place to swim and rest. Certainly, it is best to use swimming shoes when you swim at Key West, but there is a different experience here. It’s very cozy, especially in summer. Plus, the military history is evident, with the old Civil War fort nearby. There is ample shade for those on the beach and a snack shop as well, in lieu of a pier.
The Rest of Key West
Finally, you can’t say Key West without saying “yes” so live a little. You can take half-day and full day fishing trips, go snorkeling, rent a bike, go on a cruise, hang out in bars, eat truly fresh seafood, and walk around Mallory Square in the evening to take in the entertainment and local artists – or just kick back. It’s Key West, enjoy yourself.