Although I’ve visited Florida a time or two, this state always seems to fall off my radar. Despite its crystal clear waters and lively nightlife, I didn’t really think that I could define myself as the ~*Miami beach babe*~ from Will Smith’s music videos. Regardless of how ill-fitting I felt in the sunshine state, I decided to give it one more go. After all, I was determined to reach the southernmost point in the U.S. The previous year we’d headed up north to the tippy top corner of Maine, so it seemed fitting that this year we’d head towards the polar opposite. Literally. Turns out, Key West feels like an entirely different country compared to the rest of the state. For one, the temperature suddenly drops down a few degrees and an ocean breeze covers the island in its entirety. The biggest differentiating factor is that while Key West is surrounded in that aqua oceanic goodness, there aren’t actually any true beaches in sight. With a rocky bottom and knotted mangroves throughout the region, there’s little room for sunbathing. However, this simply means that Key West offers unique experiences given it’s stunning location.
I hate to sum up this exciting and riveting street as the second cousin of Bourbon Street in New Orleans, but that’s precisely what it is. Reaching from one end of the island to the other, this is the best place to get a feel for what you’ve come here for. Live music streams out into the sidewalks and crowded food stands with frozen key lime pies on a stick are posted on every corner. Enjoy fresh fish tacos here, or just soak up the people watching with a fruity margarita. You can also find fine shopping and karaoke nights along this avenue. We even stopped and took part in a trivia night as we passed through.
Ernest Hemingway House
Even if you’re not a literary buff, the home of Hemingway is a must see. Not only an architect’s dream, the house tour will let you in on the private life of one of America’s most famous authors. From multiple wives to surviving a plane crash, there’s so many stories to hear as you mosey in and out of each room. If that hasn’t gotten you sold yet, the property is also filled with six-toed cats that are eager for your attention.
Jet Ski Tour
Due to the protective laws on the island for the wildlife, jet-skiing is only allowed in designated areas and most often with a guide. We opted to take a couple hour tour that weaved in around different peninsulas and headed out into the ocean. It was an incredible rush and we had such a fun time jumping off the waves and being on the lookout for any sea life we might spot. If you’re an adrenaline junkie, this is for you.
Key Lime Pie
There’s only one way to refuel in Key West, and that’s with key lime pie. While Blue Heaven has made a big name for itself with a playful bar and mile high meringue, I only found their dessert subpar. It’s certainly worth a stop at for a quick meal, but if you’re on the hunt for the greatest pie around, head to Pepe’s Cafe. And when your significant other says they only want a bite to taste, DON’T BELIEVE THEM. Order two slices, to be safe.
Sunset at Mallory Square
Hours before the sun starts to sink below the horizon, people begin to gather on the western most edge of the island. This boardwalk is filled with performers and bar carts ready for a good time. If you plan ahead, snatch a table near the ocean and spend the next couple hours soaking up the true spirit of Key West.
Snorkeling and Dolphin Watching
With jet-skiing taking all we had out of us the day before, we decided that snorkeling and dolphin watching would be a little more low key. Although it was a cloudy day, we were able to travel a good distance from the mainland to snorkel around the boat. By chance, we ended up going on the west side which we later learned was not the greatest to spot brightly colored tropical fish. Learn from out mistake and make sure you book a tour that heads out to the east. Regardless of our poor choice, we were able to see a couple dolphins splashing around in the harbor!
We’ve been known to go on a kayak in most places we visit, from Copenhagen, Denmark to Acadia National Park. To spruce things us, we opted to stand up paddle board (SUP, if you’re cool) through the mangroves to get a closer look at what lie beneath the water. Although it was more of a workout than we bargained for, it was incredible to be so close to the plants and marine life I’ve only seen on Planet Earth. We even spotted a nurse shark a couple feet away!
It goes without saying that if you head to the southernmost point in the U.S. you have to wait in the 30 minute line to get a picture to prove it! Strive to get there early in the morning or after dinner to save yourself sometime waiting!
Better Than Sex Restaurant
I’m pretty sure that I not only have a sweet tooth, but rather I have an entire sweet mouth. Dessert is the name of my game and when I heard about the dessert bar or all dessert bars, I immediately made reservations (even before we had our hotel booked #priorities). Whether you’re a chocolate cake lover of ice cream sundae enthusiast, this seductive location has everything from frothy beverages to layered baked goods, all homemade, and all with a sassy name to go along with it. And they don’t take the name of this place lightly, the restaurant is covered in red velvet (the fabric, not the dessert) with candles in every nook.
Zoological Wildlife Foundation
Okay, okay, so this isn’t actually on Key West at all. But, if you flew into Miami and are making the drive to and from the island, plan to stop at this organization. The Zoological Wildlife Foundation is dedicated to teaching the public about endangered species, and allows you to interact with the animals safely (for both you, and them). Hanging out with their lemur, Jefferson, was still one of my favorite memories form the whole trip!
Have you ever been to Key West? What’s your favorite island to visit?