KEY WEST, FLORIDAThe Last Resort
By Glenn Arnette, lll
This issue I am going to take you on a journey to a place I have enjoyed, but not loved through the years. Just bear with me and you will understand and know that KEY WEST is not the paradise one might expect, but it is a crazy place to visit. I am not talking about the KEYS, I am talking about KEY WEST! Believe me, this is not a negative article, so keep reading and you will discover an exciting vacation spot with no frills. It is the "chill-out" place!
First of all, you have to drive forever. From the Grand Strand area you take US 95 out of Charleston and head for Miami. Out of Miami you take the famous US 1 and know that the traffic can back up for hours. I would say the trip would be approximately 14 hours. Once there, parking is a major problem and will cost you a fortune, so fly and spend $350-$400 for a round trip ticket, rent a scooter on your arrival and relax, if that is possible.
Now don’t get me wrong, KEY WEST, once you get there, can be fun. There is plenty to do and lots to see, but remember the only way out is back. There is no other direction as you are at the tip end of the United States. . One last thought before we do the tour. It can be extremely hot Spring, Summer, Winter or Fall. So, plan to take lots of cotton tee’s and shorts. It is the casual place. It is the CONCH REPUBLIC!
Here we go! First, I must recommend the Key West Conch Tour Train. It is similar to the ones operated in Savannah, St. Augustine, Washington, and other cities. This will give you a nice perspective of the entire area from one end to the other. Without it, you will not know how to move around on the Island. After the tour, step into the Key West Shipwreck Historeum Museum in Mallory Square and join the cast in another time as you enter the world of an 1856 Key West wrecker’s warehouse and relive how Key West became the Richest City in the USA. This historeum combines actors, films, laser technology and the actual artifacts from the recently discovered Issac Allerton which sank in 1856. There is lots of booty and bounty of the reefs and cargo from the past. A part of the experience will take you to the tower where you can see the historic district and the barrier reef from Tift’s Wreckers Lookout 65 feet up. Quite a view! While there say hello to Clinton Curry and Stephen Gonya, the managers who make this entire program happen. Give them a hard time, they deserve it!
For more information go to www.shipwreckhistoreum.com.
Now it is time for lunch. There are so many places to eat and the variety is unbelievable, but one of my favorite places is the Iguana Café. Don’t expect to dine fancy as this is a fun place just to kick back and let it all hang out. Try their Conch Chowder and the Conch Fritters and dine on the patio deck or along the sidewalk bar. That will do it! Now my other place would have to be B’s Cuban Restaurant located away from the historic district. They have the best chicken soup, outside of the Edison Café in New York. That will take care of those hunger pains. And after the soup, have a homemade dessert. Go early as the dessert always sell out!
After lunch, you can walk Duval and discover a world of shops, galleries, restaurants, museums and more. I found there are a lot of bargains. So walk and see before you bring home the gifts. The largest store for shopping would be Fast Buck Freddie’s, an eclectic collection of gifts, clothing, and the unusual including home décor. It is a must to see especially the window treatments which are frequently themed for the Island festivals.
During the day you can fish, enjoy the water sports, beach, swim and drink. Nothing is left out and everything goes.
One of the best kept secrets is the famous Southernmost House Mansion Tour. The price of admission includes a day at their pool and a free cocktail, so take your bathing suit! It has been completely renovated and was the Island’s leading social party house to Tennessee Williams, Earnest Hemmingway and others.
There are so many difference historic things to do, so pace yourself and enjoy as many as you can. There is the Key West Museum of Art and History at the Custom House, the Harry S. Truman Little White House Museum where President Truman spent 175 days of his presidency, the Flagler Station Historeum Museum. It is the station where the first train from Miami to Key West arrived on January 12, 1912. The demise of Flagler’s dream came to an end for his railroad in the devastating Labor Day hurricane of 1935. Henry Flagler was responsible for bring tourism to the Keys. Then there is the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory and the Key West Aquarium. And if you are looking for shells, you have the Shell Warehouse. To get to all of these places hop the Bone Island Shuttle where kids ride free. It is the carefree, car free way to visit Key West, all around and all day.
A wonderful sunset thing to do is sail the high seas on the replica of the American Cup winner or sail into history on the 130 foot schooner, the Western Union, the last tall ship built in Key West in 1939 and is the official flagship of the city of Key West. Both offer the romance of an ocean breeze and sailing with lots of star gazing. You can also have a spectacular view from the La Concha Hotel on the top floor where you can have drinks while watching the sun disappear. There is a small charge to go up there.
After your sailing experience, it’s time for dinner. Now I have two places I will recommend. Know that there are many others, but I enjoy the following. Mangia Mangia is a wonderful quiet indoor or outdoor restaurant to enjoy a nice evening, no pretence, just good food and relaxation with a nice cocktail. Try their salads and especially the carpaccio. My second choice and for the best steak in Key West you must go to Camille’s and order steak au poivre. Be sure to tell Denise that Glenn said hello!
Now here is the deal of the century! Key West is the home of the famous KINO sandals. They are made and located in the Kino Plaza off Duval and Green Streets. They are the most comfortable sandal you can buy. Ladies, they come in all sizes and colors. The men’s are black, gray, and tan and have a complete range in sizes as well. Don’t come home without at least two or three pair. Go during the morning as they can run out of sizes when the big ships arrive. The prices are extremely reasonable. Don’t forget! They don’t know me there, but I go a lot! I have a stack of sandals! They are like the Louis Vuitton bags, people recognize them around the world. Well, almost. By-the-way, you can find a collection or order locally without traveling all the way to Key West at LaDonna’s Ladies Shop in Surfside and Pawley’s Island. She is the only shop carrying them in the area. The price is around $21. So check it out!
For a great piano bar and showroom you must spend an evening at La Te Da’s located down on Duval. Be sure to check their schedule on arrival and plan a night with them.
Key West is world famous for its key lime pie. There is one shop you must visit when you have the urge for dessert. It is the Key West Lime Shop. They have super pie and all the real ingredients you might need for the makings when you come home. Stock up and know that there is nothing like the real thing! Have your picture taken with Kermit, the Chef, a featured star on the Travel Channel. He is world famous, so to speak!
Now, for the real traditional key lime pie, go to 310 Front. That is Key Lime Pie Heaven! It is considered by those living on the Island as the "real thing". All pies are baked fresh daily by Denise Leary, the owner and chef. If she did not bake it, forget it, cause it is not the key lime pie you expect. You can even bring home a pie for $18. So, bring me a slice when you get home.
Last, but not least, you probably will end up going to Sloppy Joe’s where Earnest Hemmingway use to have his drinks. But if the truth is known, he drank at Captain Tony’s which is right across the street. Try both of them!
As for a place to stay. It is best to go off season between June 1 through about January as the rates are so much better. You will find plenty of room, but make a reservation before arriving in Key West. Every type of room is there from elegant hotels to reasonable and beautifully appointed guest houses. Check the web at www.keywest.com That should give you all you need!
Have a great trip and remember if you have an exciting place or something special about Key West that we have missed, e-mail me at [email protected]. Until next time, be safe!
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