Over the Christmas holiday, I had the pleasure of visiting Key West for the very first time. Although Hurricane IRMA wreaked havoc on the surrounding islands, to my surprise and delight, Key West remained nearly unscathed.
Key West is beautiful anytime of year, but the holiday season made the town feel magical. The streets lamps were decorated with evergreen wreaths, the colorful cottages were trimmed with lights, and the restaurants and stores were filled with holiday glitz.
As a Key West newbie, I made sure to explore everything the town had to offer in the five days I was there. Here are my must-see and must-do’s if you are planning a future trip to Key West.
Visiting the Southernmost Point is definitely a tourist thing to do, but I consider it a must-visit if you go to Key West. The Southernmost Point Buoy is the lowest latitude land of the contiguous North American States. It is anchored only 18 feet above sea level and “was established as a tourist attraction in 1983 by the city at the corner of South Street and Whitehead Street. Today it is one of the most visited and photographed attractions in the United States.” The best part? A photo opp here is absolutely free! Just bring your cell phone and make friends with a fellow tourist in line – preferably one who knows their way around a cell phone camera. And yes, there s a line, but it moves fast. I’m not sure how many wedding proposals occur here annually, but my guess is a lot!
Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservancy
Nature and photography lovers will love the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservancy, which offers a whimsical and eye-catching experience. Guests enter through the gift shop, which is filled with butterfly gifts of every kind. After paying the $12 entrance fee ($9 for veterans and military personnel), visitors are escorted into the butterfly museum which flows into a greenhouse filled to the brim with wildflowers, trees, birds, turtles, and of course – butterflies!! According to their website, the conservancy is home to “50 to 60 butterfly species from around the world, along with over 20 exotic bird species.” Just be prepared to sweat. Since butterflies prefer temperatures of 80-100 degrees, the greenhouse is hot and humid, so wear something light and bring a bottle of water.
If you like to eat, shop, drink, and socialize, then you’ll need to make yourself familiar with Duval Street. Nearly 1.25 miles in length, Duval Street runs north and south from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean. The street is packed to the brim with restaurants, art galleries, bars, shops, gentlemen’s clubs, drag show venues, and tourist destinations. There are always activities happening on Duval Street, including bar crawls, Conch Train Tours, sunset events in Mallory Square, and nightly music in nearly every restaurant and bar.
Next time I visit Key West, I’m going to stay at the La Te Da Hotel on Duval Street. Guests of the La Te Da don’t need to go anywhere to eat good food, be entertained, or relax. The La Te Da was a daily stop during my stay in Key West. The breakfast choices were scrumptious and their candied bacon to-die-for. The dinner menu was exquisite, and my duck divine. During the holidays, restaurant guests are surrounded by blue and white lights lining the hotel’s outdoor pool, which makes for a gorgeous backdrop. And in the evenings, visitors can attend Christopher Peterson’s drag cabaret show upstairs or relax at the piano bar downstairs.
Key West Cemetery
Although a visit to the cemetery may not be at the top of your travel itinerary, the Key West Cemetery is something you must see to believe. The 19-acre cemetery sits at the foot of Solares Hill and it is estimated that over 100,000 people are buried there. The cemetery was established in 1847 after being moved from its original location following the devastating 1846 hurricane. Many slaves were buried in the original cemetery location prior to the US Civil war. According to their website, “The cemetery contains a historic Catholic section, Jewish section, the USS Maine Plot dedicated in 1900, and the Los Martires de Cuba, a memorial for those who fought in the 1868 Cuban revolution.” African Americans, Cubans and Americans, rich and poor, are buried throughout. “In-ground and crypt style graves range from simple concrete copings filled with soil to elaborate monuments.”
Fishing off White Street Pier
If you like to fish, then there are plenty of opportunities to do so in Key West. Key West is home to many fish species, including their infamous Yellow Tailed Snapper. While I haven’t fished in over a decade, I had the opportunity to do so during my visit on the White Street Pier. I didn’t get so lucky during my visit to the pier, but I did manage to catch two beautiful blowfish, two small yellow tailed snapper, and a mango snapper. The water is clear and easy to see into and the views are unbeatable. I even saw a manatee swim by!
Speakeasy Inn and Rum Bar
My favorite thing to do in Key West – relax!! And what better way to relax than with a glass of rum and a cigar while sitting on Duval Street? While the Speakeasy Inn is a guesthouse on Duval Street, their downstairs rum bar became a favorite evening destination. My girlfriend and I spent many nights with a glass of rum in our hands while people watching from the porch of the rum bar. We also waved to tourists donning Christmas hats on the Conch Train Tour.
While there are lots more things to do than those listed above Key, these were, by far, the most memorable places during my visit. To learn more about all things Key West, click here.