Friday, March 10, 2017

Three Days in Key West

Key West is home to the Southernmost Point in the Continental United States, key lime pie, beautiful sunsets, the End of US 1, and Hemingway's 6-toed cats.  We spent three days there after arriving by way of US 1 and the Overseas Highway, and today we're sharing our recommendations for how visitors to Key West can spend their time.

In our previous post, I discusses traveling to Key West on US 1 and shared that this particular trip started everything for us here at 48 No Interstate.  In 2009, we packed up the car for our first vacation together - a back roads trip from Columbia, SC all the way to the end of US 1.  We had a great time traveling through Georgia farmland and along Florida's Atlantic coast to the Overseas Highway, which deposited us in Key West.  You can read more about that trip here.

View of the old Overseas Railroad bridge from the Overseas Highway / US 1

Regardless of how you arrive in Key West, there are a few things you'll enjoy doing while visiting this tropical paradise:

1 - Photo Ops
While there are many great places in Key West to get great photos, there are two particular locations that you shouldn't miss.  They're within walking distance of each other, so you can go ahead and ditch your car!

Mile 0
When you arrive in Key West by way of US 1 and the Overseas Highway, continue all the way to the Mile 0 sign for photographic evidence that you made it to the end!  (This particular photo op is of little significance if you fly to Key West.)
The Southernnmost Point
The second photo op is at the Southernmost Point in the continental United States, located about 3/4 mile from the Mile 0 sign.  You'll likely have to wait in a short line here, so there should be someone available to take your photo for you.
Just remember to check the photo before you walk 
away.  The friendly tourist who took our photos cut 
part of the monument out of all three of ours!

Get walking directions from Mile 0 to the Southernmost Point

2 - Eat.
Try new things!  We tried Cuban food for the first time at El Meson de Pepe near Mallory Square and both really enjoyed it.  Since I tend to stick to a small variety of foods at restaurants, I was surprised by how many items on the menu sounded tasty, and I finally settled on one:  ropa vieja (which means 'old clothes' in Spanish - but it is delicious!).

We traveled in late August, and school had started back in the South, so we didn't encounter many crowds anywhere we went.  We learned that the busy season in Key West is during the winter months, and we got lucky that many bars and restaurants were handing out coupons offering free drinks or appetizers to get people in the door.

3- Wander.

Walk or bike around and look at the architecture.  Like in many old coastal cities, there is an interesting mix of architectural styles in Key West.  Historical markers share the significance of various buildings, like the Old City Hall, which was built in 1890 after the previous structure (which was constructed of wood) burned down.

You'll also find interesting tropical trees and flowers in Key West.  You don't see trees like this one every day!

You can visit the keeper's quarters and climb to the top of the light house for a fee, but we just admired it from the street.


4- Go to a Museum (or two!)

Shipwreck Museum 
Located near Mallory Square, this museum features items recovered from an 1856 shipwreck off the coast of Key West - and it has air conditioning, which is a welcome relief after a few hours of walking or biking around the island!  


You can also climb to the top of the 65-foot-tall lookout tower above the museum for a birds-eye view of the island.  The railings have helpful painted labels so you know what body of water you're looking toward.

Hemingway House
Ernest Hemingway had a house on Key West, and it's open to visitors.  You can tour the house and beautiful gardens, including the huge pool and a clutter of Hemingway's famous 6-toed cats. 

The pool was quite a luxury in the 1930s when it was installed.  
Since Key West is a coral island, it was quite a feat and for 
some time it was the only pool for 100 miles

Make sure to check both museums' websites for hours and ticketing information prior to your visit!  

5 - Watch the sunset
Mallory Square is situated on the Northwest side of the island and has a wonderful vantage point for the sunset.  We were a little late to the party both nights after maximizing our beach time and getting cleaned up, but the sunsets were still quite pretty as the last bit of light disappeared over the horizon.

Tourists will also find shops, restaurants, a trolley stop, and street performers in the square.

6- Visit a Beach

The Keys are coral islands, so the beaches aren't the wide, white, sandy beaches you'd find in other parts of Florida.  You'll find some sand, but the surface underneath is rocky; water shoes or something similar to protect your feet are recommended!  You can find information on Key West beach options here and here.

During the afternoons, we rode our bikes to Fort Zach Taylor since that was the beach that was recommended to us.  Fort Zach is also home to a military fortress from the mid-1800s which visitors can tour, included as part of the park's entry fee.

From its location on the West side of the island, you could also catch a great sunset (but since it closes at sunset, be ready to scoot when the park rangers come around).

Touring the fortress

 Clear gulf water at Fort Zach Taylor

We didn't go on any boat rides ourselves but we watched this catamaran
go out for its sunset cruise from our shady spot under the trees on the beach.
Accomodation recommendation
We loved staying at the Curry Mansion Inn, located in Old Town within walking or biking distance of everything visitors to Key West could possibly want to do.  

This photo was taken on my cell phone at the time,
and the quality of the image demonstrates just one of the ways
technology has changed in the time since we took this trip.
The mansion is a stunning turn-of-the-century white Georgian Revival with a pretty blue ceiling-ed front porch and an equally stunning interior.  This was our first bed and breakfast experience, and we absolutely loved it.  I didn't want to leave.

Our room was in the guest wing that wraps around the back of the property looking out toward the central pool, where a homemade breakfast was served every morning, and a laid-back make-your-own cocktail hour with live music (piano, I think it was) was held each evening.

The small pool is built where a cistern was located on the property long ago, but it was never crowded during our visit.

The pool is shaded for most of the afternoon by the surrounding buildings.
If you're familiar with the history of key lime pie, you might recognize the name Curry from one of the theories about the potential origination of the world-famous pie.  This kitchen is thought to be the birthplace of Key Lime Pie.  The brick structure remains from the original 1860s structure.  I seem to have left without picking up a copy of the recipe, though...

I love the combination of the white cabinets, colorful backsplash, and exposed brick.
We took ourselves on a self-guided tour of the mansion before we left.  The interior is adorned with beautiful wood details, and the rooms contain amazing antique furniture and decor.

That is some impressive scrollwork.
The third floor in particular was full of antiques and vintage items, including some ladies' clothes and interesting knickknacks.

While this is not a complete list of things to do in Key West, you could certainly fill a few days with these activities.  Another major point of interest we'd love to visit sometime is Dry Tortugas National Park, which can only be reached by boat or plane.  In addition to touring the historic fort, you can camp, swim, and snorkel!

What are your recommendations for things to do, places to stay, or great restaurants in Key West?  

Check out these groups for more travel inspiration!
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  1. Great information. Key West has been on our list for a while, mainly because I love beaches, literature and cats.

    1. You're in luck! I can't think of many places that so perfectly combine those three interests. I hope you get there soon!

  2. This made me remember our own trip to Key West a couple years ago - I think we went to every place on this list and several more (we were there for a few days!). Fun city and an excellent place as you mention for sunsets!! Dry Tortugas and the Hemingway House were two of my faves. Jessica

  3. I only spent a few hours in Key West but I loved it. Next time you go you will have to try some conch fritters and key lime pie! Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.

  4. It has been a dream of mine to visit Key West (by road). The atmosphere there seems so relaxed and that appeals to me. Plus, everything there looks so beautiful (and I would love to try some good Cuban food). #wkendtravelinspiration

    1. It's a great place for relaxing on 'island time' for sure! Enjoy your trip and the food, whenever it is!

  5. Key West is the dock-point for SCUBA access to one of the best wreck dives available to non-technical and non-thrill-seeking certified divers. The Vandenberg is a relatively short dive boat ride from Key West and in excellent condition in usually calm waters below the surface and usually calm enough on top as well.

    1. Sounds like a great place for a dive, and I'm sure it's an awesome sight. If only I could get over the fear of being underwater for that long! :-)

  6. Somehow, we have yet to visit Key West! When we do, though, we'll be sure to keep your recommendations handy. Thanks for the fun lineup of what to see and do!

  7. I really enjoyed reading about all the things you experienced in Key West. I have family in the Fort Lauderdale area and friends scattered throughout Florida, so I'd love to drive down to Key West sometime while visiting them. Key lime pie is one of my favorite desserts, so I'd have to stop by the Curry Mansion Inn. I'd really like to see Hemingway's home with all the six-toed cats, too! #WeekendWanderlust

  8. I've wanted to go to Key West since I heard that it might be birthplace of key lime pie. But now it seems there are more reasons to visit, like the shipwreck museum. That one looks quite interesting!

    1. Food is a great benefit of traveling, and Key West certainly has a great variety to offer - but there are definitely options in Key West to stimulate the mind as well as the appetite!

  9. We have never made it that far south in FLorida, but I have every intention of getting there someday. Thanks for linking in this week at #wkendtravelinspiration!

    1. It's certainly different from other coastal towns in the rest of the US and a fun place to spend a few days. Hope you make it there soon!

  10. We are planning a trip to Key West next year so I will tuck this post away for then. Thanks.

    1. How wonderful! We hope you find our thoughts to be helpful in planning.

  11. Key West and the Florida Keys in general are high on my list of places that I need to go see! Looks lovely from your photos. Especially want to check out that place to eat!!

    1. Hope you're able to plan a trip in the near future!

  12. You did a lot of stuff in Key West. Good job. Did you go to the old cemetery? Very cool place.

    1. We didn't go on this visit; I guess we'll have to go back! :)

  13. We loved Key West and wish we had more than a day there. Lucky you for having 3 days. We did a conch train tour and a sunset cruise. Glad I got to see what the inside of the museums look like through you.

    1. I remember seeing the train when we were there; it looked like fun! And a great way to see more than you could on your own in a short time. Always fun to see places we miss through others!

  14. This place is so picturesque and I would love to visit it! Are 3 days enough to explore the place?