I’m a big proponent of international travel, but in the past couple of years I’ve been learning that there’s a ton to see and do right here in the US.
Case in point: Key West, Florida. It’s a lovely little island-like place that has captured my heart. In October I went down with some cousins for what we thought was a random family trip–and my cousin and his girlfriend surprised us by getting married while we were there! It made it that much more special.
While you may not have any secret surprise weddings to attend, I recommend visiting Key West anyways. Here’s a little guide to help you:
1. If you can, rent a house. (With AC. And a pool. It’s insanely hot and humid down there.) The house we found was on Caroline Street. It was like something out of 1960s Cuba, huge and airy and bright. It had a porch and balconies and was surrounded by palm trees and iguanas, and with five bedrooms and ten of us staying there, the cost per person wasn’t bad at all.
2. Key West is a tiny place; you can get around on a foot and/or a bike, no problem. However, some destinations like Bahia Honda and paddleboard yoga wouldn’t have been possible without a car, so I’d recommend renting a car for at least a day to do a couple of non-walking distance activities.
Beaches (because why go to Florida if you’re not going to go to the beach?):
This is the only image in this post that isn’t mine, I found it here. It was too hot and sticky to take my camera to the beaches.
1. Fort Zach Walking distance from anywhere in Key West. Small beach, but the water down there is like bathwater. Plus, we saw a pod (is that what it’s called?) of manatees swim by. Pretty cool!
2. Bahia Honda This beach is not on Key West; it’s about a forty minute drive away. But well worth it! Beautiful white-sand beaches and turquoise water, plus this cool old bridge you can climb up. Go there.
1. Hemingway Home Awesome. I’m biased (as a writer) but even if you’re not interested in listening to the extremely knowledgeable tour guide tell you everything you never knew about one of this country’s most influential writers, you should go to gawk at his beautiful house and grounds, and play with the descendants of his cats. There are about 60 of them, and they all have extra toes (seriously). Bonus: there is a somewhat creepy old man who, upon noticing your cat-loving cousin, will give you treats for the cats and invite you two to come back and play with them the next day, admission-free! (This may only happen if you’re an attractive young female, like my cousin is.)
2. A sunset sail The site of my cousins’ secret surprise wedding. We used a company called Danger Charters, and they were amazing. Pricey, but you can do shared boats as well as private ones. This was definitely the highlight of our trip.
How many creepy cemetery iguanas can you find?
3. The Key West Cemetery is creepy as hell. The graves are like in New Orleans or Pere LaChaise in Paris, above ground for the most part, but here they come with these crazy iguanas that pretend to be statues and then jump out and scare the hell out of you as you get close. I recommend going in broad daylight (which I think you have to do anyways).
4. Paddleboard yoga! We went to a place called Lazy Dog, and it was awesome, albeit a lot harder than dry-land yoga. You do need a car to get here, though.
5. Kayaking This was cool, but actually rather grueling. You have to navigate among the tightly-packed mangrove trees, and it’s a challenge both not to run into them and not tip your kayak over. It’s also HOT. If you want to test the strength of your relationship, this is the place to do it!
6. Dry Tortugas: This we did not get to do because we did not book in advance 😦 So I recommend planning ahead! It’s expensive but supposed to be amazing. Most people do day trips from Key West, but I think the best way to see the Dry Tortugas is to camp overnight–my cousin’s new wife did it and she says it’s way more beautiful after all the tour boats have left and you have the place to yourself.
Other things to do:
1. Walk around It’s such a charming little place. Duval Street is like a chiller, cleaner, better-smelling Bourbon Street, albeit heavy on Jimmy Buffet music. There are also free-range roosters (protected by the government), beautiful architecture, big gnarled old trees … just wander around and take it all in.
2. Harry S. Truman Little White House Harry Truman’s vacation home left exactly as it was when he lived there. You can’t take any photos, but the tour guide’s wealth of knowledge makes it well worth a visit.
3. The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory A room of butterfies, flamingos, turtles, and birds, plus some super-kitschy knickknacks to buy as souvenirs. What’s not to like?
4. The Audobon House Everyone kept telling us we had to go here. It’s a house set up to show what life was like when the first settlers arrived in Key West. It was definitely interesting, but in my opinion missable if needed.
5. The Southernmost point Super touristy–nearly impossible to get a photo, with all the people around it–but worth the walk if only for the pretty houses you pass along the way. Also missable if needed.
Last but not least, eating:
To be honest, I preferred eating in at our beautiful rental house, but that may have had something to do with the fact that my cousin’s new wife’s sister is a chef and she cooked most of our meals 🙂 But for eating out, I recommend:
1. Louie’s: Hidden spot with great food and great views. The hostess is rather rude, but don’t let that ruin it for you.
2. Santiago’s Bodega The site of the post-wedding dinner. Delicious tapas!
3. The Cafe Mostly vegetarian, but not all. Both my meat-eating boyfriend and I loved it.
4. Frenchie’s Cafe French food! (With vegetarian options!)
5. Blue Heaven We didn’t actually make it here, but hear it’s amazing.
6. The Conch Shack We didn’t make it here either, due to the fact that we don’t eat seafood, but we hear this is the place to go if you do!
All in all, Key West is a wonderful place to spend a week, secret surprise wedding to attend or not.
Have you been to Key West? Did I miss anything? Let me know!