Key West was the perfect pick for a Spring break before the end of winter in chilly New York City. It offered up plenty of sunshine, a relaxing pace, endless fab spots to eat and drink, and lots of exploring.
Basing ourselves at The Gardens Hotelwas an excellent recommendation by a friend who has lived in Key West for several years. Once the largest private estate in Key West, the expansive grounds of the hotel comprise just over an acre of tropical landscaping. And it’s conveniently-situated less than a block from the main street, Duval, and halfway between Mallory Square where everyone goes to watch the sunset nightly, and the Southernmost Point of the island.
Being a bit of a winelover, I particularly liked the hotel’s “d’vine wine gallary” where a pre-loaded card is given to you upon check-in which you may use to deliver a taste, a flight or a full glass of wine from a series of dispensing machines displaying some 30 or so bottles. Plenty of choice to experiment with!
One of the first places we hit on Duval was Sloppy Joe’s which is apparently a Key West tradition, but also a bit of a tourist haunt. That didn’t bother us because we fell in love with the group currently playing – a family of kids called The Doerfels. They were amazingly good.
After Sloppy Joe’s, we hit our first sunset at Mallory Square. It’s a bit of a zoo, but a must at least once during a stay. Best viewing (and slightly less of a scene) can be found on the Sunset Deck balcony bar of the Westin Hotel.
Other great spots we found for eating or drinking included the A&B Lobster House in the Historic Seaport District – where we also caught a schooner trip on the Adirondack III on our last night – a fabulous experience.
Great dining also can be found at nine one five on Duval, and Salute does an excellent lunch outside at Higgs Beach. After Salute, hit the Afterdeck Bar at Louie’s Backyard for a chilled couple of beers on the beach (at Dog Beach). Good food there, too. The Green Parrot bar is supposed to be a great music spot, but there wasn’t much going on there during our stay.
There are two must sightseeing trips in Key West. One is the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum where locals give guided tours through the home and the surrounding gardens, with sporadic introductions to the supposed descendants of Hemingway’s six-toed cats.
The other must-see is the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory where more than 50 species of colorful butterflies co-exist with birds and tropical vegetation in a gigantic glass-encased bubble, complete with air-conditioning. It really is quite spectacular.
And if you’re into art, Key West boasts numerous interesting galleries. We were fortunate enough to be invited by our friends to an event at the Lucky Street Gallery on Duval, and we also popped into several others including 7 Artists which was part gallery / part shop.
One warning: When we decided on a short break to the Keys, we felt we needed to see it all. We didn’t. We flew into Miami and drove our rental car the entire length of the Keys down to Key West where we were staying, and back up to Miami for our return to New York. It was interesting, but it was a slow and laborious drive, and on a single lane road behind an accident on our way back, we nearly didn’t make it to the airport in time. Besides, once you reach Key West, you can ditch the car – almost everything is walkable!