I don’t even like to shop at Ikea anymore. All that ‘stuff’ in one building bigger than the Milky Way just leaves me lost in space.
Give me one little shop, quaint and filled with charming artifacts, and I can do some serious damage.
Give me one quaint, charming destination filled with enough sun and fun to melt away the winter blahs (the grind, the monotony, the stress; take your pick) and just enough unique history to make it all authentic, and I can fall in love with the place.
That place would be Key West, the southern most city in the continental United States.
How do I love thee; let me count the ways.
What’s not to love about 72 degrees, gentle ocean breezes, and little or no rain during the winter months (no hurricanes, either)? When it comes to the temperature, Key West has never seen triple digits or freezing.
With a glimmering expanse of nothing but water and sky as a backdrop for this island paradise, it's little wonder I found the multitude of colors in that backdrop phenomenal. The water is home to North America’s only living coral reef; home to world-class sportfishing and fishing tournaments; home to all manner of water sports; home to Dry Tortugas National Park and Fort Jefferson. Our beautiful home for three days and two nights.
A big part of the appeal of Key West was the picturesque drive from Miami. Fortunately traffic was at a minimum for Jimmy and me the January day we made the 127-mile trek from Miami. It’s a journey back in time.
U.S. 1 in many places is still just a two-lane highway through quaint fishing villages and quirky communities. Just beyond the kitschy souvenir shops is a world of water complete with nature
trails, diminutive Key deer, and Flagler’s famous Seven Mile Bridge. Flagler’s engineering marvel (it’s now listed on the National Register of Historic Places) was the first land route ever from Miami to Key West.
Until 1982, that narrow 7-mile stretch of track, resurfaced to accommodate automobiles, provided the only access to Key West. If you go, be sure to check out Bob Rountree and Bonnie Gross’ Florida Key’s Mile Marker Guide.
Key West is no ordinary resort town; not when its official motto is “One Human Family.” There is little pretense to this tropical island despite the affluence required to be where it’s all happening; where modest cottages go for hundreds of thousands of dollars and a room for the
night will require a handful of “ Benjamins.”
With miles and miles of water separating mainland conservatives from local free-thinkers, Old Town lives up to its reputation for fun and sun, and then some. We couldn't get enough of the food, the shops, and the museums; not with a 100-year history that includes pirates and presidents, free-roaming Key West Gypsy Chicken, and a bastion of celebrities including Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams and Jimmy Buffett.
Conch (pronounced conk) is king in Key West when it comes to the culinary preferences of the natives. World-wide, the familiar sea snails are almost as popular as escargot. There's only one place in Key West that doesn't serve conch; that would be McDonald’s.
If you’re born and raised in Key West, you’re called a conch. If you’ve been a resident for 7 years or more, you’re called a fresh water conch. There’s conch fritters, conch chowder, conch gumbo, fried conch, boiled conch, steamed conch, conch salad, and even ceviche, raw conch marinated in lime juice, olive oil, vinegar, and garlic. I admit I sound a bit like the conch version to Forest Gump’s shrimp.
I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you Key West is often referred to as the Conch Republic, where locals like to profess, with tongue-in-cheek, “they seceded (from the U.S.) where others failed”. You can check out that tasty conch story at this link.
Suffice it to say, the seafood in Key West was fresh and tasty, especially the conch. And the Key Lime Pie; well, if history serves me, it originated in Key West. It was definitely a piece of paradise.
There’s something endearing about a community that sees sunset as a cause for celebration. From the buskers along Mallory Square’s waterfront to the Navy fly boys and the Coast Guard’s border patrol, everyone that was anyone was there to see Mother Nature make a spectacle of herself. She was fabulous.
Stretching from the Gulf Coast to the Atlantic Ocean, Key West's mile-long main street is as famous for its bar scene (the Duval Crawl) as it is for its shopping. We spotted the world’s smallest bar squeezed into six feet of storefront and a store for all things Jimmy Buffett (for parrotheads come home to roost). Jimmy (that would be my Jimmy, not Mr. Parrothead) and I weren't into much “crawling”, although we did enjoy an evening at Sloppy Joes Restaurant and Bar, Hemingway’s old hangout. We were mostly content with enjoying all the unique storefronts and people along Duval Street.