We spent a fun and relaxing time in the Florida Keys last year before the hurricanes hit. Although the Keys were hit very hard the word it out that much of Key West reopened for business around October 1st last year. Multiple hotels have reopened, and many attractions were spared damage and are operating close to normal. All they need is visitors!
This string of tropical islands stretching about 140 miles off the southern tip of Florida between the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico offer outstanding fishing, boating, snorkeling and scuba diving opportunities. But travelers to the Keys should be cautious, as parts remain severely damaged and unable to welcome visitors. Recovery efforts continue and motorists need to be careful in affected areas.
This beautiful and unique archipelago begins about 50 miles southwest of Miami near Homestead. We crossed our first bridge from Homestead to Key Largo. The next 2.5 hours can be memorable or a bit monotonous, depending upon the traffic. Despite that possibility, the drive, the water views and the experience, were truly once in a life time.
We drove along the Overseas Highway, U.S. Highway 1, a 2 lane highway, stretching over 110 miles with 42 bridges from the Florida mainland until we arrived at the second last major island, Stock Island, before the island of Key West. We had booked 4 nights at Ocean’s Edge Marina and Resort Key West. This very new and exceptionally well appointed resort was the perfect location for us. The rooms are elegant, bright and all face the ocean or the Marina. The six gorgeous swimming pools offered delightful sunbathing and relaxing opportunities. The comings and goings of charter fishing boats and personal yachts provided great people and activity watching. You can rent jet skis and paddle boards onsite. The onsite restaurant had very scrumptious breakfast options including a Starbucks if you just wanted coffee and a pastry. The happy hour drinks were reasonable and plentiful. Free parking was quite helpful.
The drive from Ocean’s Edge to Key West island was about 3-5 minutes across the last bridge. The main tourist part of Key West is the western and about 5-10 additional minutes, depending upon traffic, once you cross the bridge.
Food is a recurring theme in Key West. Blue Heaven Shrimp and Rooster (L.Compisi)
The town of Key West is so unique and offers so much in terms of history, dining, beaches and a night scene (and I do mean scene). The Earnest Hemingway and Harry S Truman Museums are just a couple of examples of the historical context of this hard to get to ‘out-of-the-way’ venue. Hemingway lived on the island from 1931 through 1939, although he maintained ownership until his death. Some of his finest works were written while he lived here including short story classics and novels “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”, “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” and “To Have And Have Not” (respectively), and the non-fiction work “Green Hills of Africa”.
Truman’s winter White House on the Key West Naval Base hosted some significant meetings including the 1948 post World War II reorganization of the entire defense establishment creating the Department of Defense, referred to as the Key West Agreement. Truman wasn’t the first US President to stay here and he wasn’t the last. Others included Eisenhower, Kennedy, Carter and former President and Mrs. Bill Clinton.
The dining scene is vibrant as well as delicious. Our favorites were Latitudes on Paradise Island (a short ferry ride from the cruise ship terminal), Blue Heaven, a couple blocks off of Duval and Martins on Duval Street.
Martin’s is like a non sequitur…classic European elegance with a tropical twist. The cuisine can have a German flair like Jäger Schnitzel and Weiner Schnitzel or be classic European like the Beef Wellington or Lobster Tail “Caribe”. Nothing seems out of context! All exquisitely prepared.
In the opposite direction is funky Blue Heaven, which has witnessed cock fighting with Hemingway as a judge in its past. It has the feel of a Caribbean shanty town but offers exceptional well prepared dishes like Jamaican Jerk Chicken and Cajun Caribbean BBQ Shrimp. Meanwhile the local roosters wander freely around the tables outside. A genuine Key West experience.
Latitude on Paradise Island. Al Fresco dining with Lobster Salad (L.Compisi)
For island romance you cannot beat Latitudes, located on a private resort island with uninterrupted views of the ocean where the water colors can make you forget that you are hungry. Cocktails with you feet in the sand and premium table service is just so hard to beat. Did I mention that the food is outstanding?
Walking down Duval Street is entertaining all by itself. The tourists and locals tumble out of the over flowing bars and clubs, drink in hand and smiles on their tipsy looking faces. Not for the faint of heart, the entertainment can include funky steel drums and reggae, jazz or blairing rock and roll. The performers may be in ‘drag’ or straight so be prepared for anything. The later it gets…the ‘later it gets’ if you know what I mean!!
Although we drove the island chain (highly recommended at least once) from the mainland of Florida on arrival, we flew out of Key West International Airport through Orlando before heading back to the West Coast. The airport is small but very accessible with a good number of flights. We liked our experience so much that I am sure we will return. When we do, most likely we will fly in and out.
If you are concerned about new hurricanes and their potential effects, recommend you make your travel plans to Key West very soon.