Key West is a city and an island of the same name, and it is also the county seat of Monroe County. It belongs to the Florida Keys archipelago. It is considered the southernmost city in the continental United States. In Pre-Columbian times Key West was inhabited by the Tequesta and Calusa peoples. The first European to visit was Juan Ponce de León in 1521. The island was used by fishermen from Cuba and from the British Bahamas, who were later joined by others from the United States after the latter nation’s independence. While claimed by Spain, no nation exercised de-facto control over the community there for some time. On March 25, 1822, Matthew C. Perry sailed the schooner Shark to Key West and planted the U.S. flag, physically claiming the Keys as United States property.
How to get there
If you are using a plane, you can land on Key West International Airport. Note: Only smaller jets can land on this airport due to the short runway. Direct flights are available from Atlanta, Charlotte, most major cities in Florida, and also some flights to the Bahamas. The nearest mainland airports are Miami International Airport and Fort Lauderdale International Airport.
You can also use a train – Amtrak will take you as far south as the Ft Lauderdale Airport Station. From there transfer ‘Metro Rail 1x’ Shuttle to the airport terminal and than to the Keys Shuttle on wards. There are NO trains to or in Key West.
Key West Express is a company that operates daily high-speed passenger ferries from Ft. Myers Beach and Marco Island.The ferries dock at the Key West Bight Ferry Terminal in the heart of the Historic Seaport District with its many fine restaurants, bars and shops. Passengers can walk to Duval Street, the heart of old town Key West, in about 15 minutes. The ferry ride takes approximately 3.5 hours and the Ft. Myers If you own private boat you can navigate it to Key West along the Atlantic side of the Keys or by traveling on the Gulf of Mexico side. The first part of the trip takes you through the specially-marked Intracoastal Waterway.
In 1969 the Port of Key West received its first regularly scheduled cruise ship. The three docking facilities are Mallory Square Dock, Pier B (privately owned by Westin), and the Navy Mole (aka Outer Mole) are servicing over half a million passengers a year.
If you decide to drive to Key west (let’s say you are taking off from Miami International Airport) take Le Jeune Road south to 836 West. Follow the Florida Turnpike south toward Key West. The Turnpike ends at US 1 in Florida City. Follow U.S. 1 south as far as it goes and you will be in Key West. If you are driving off from Ft. Lauder dale-Hollywood International Airport exit the airport and follow the signs for 595 West. Take 595 to the Florida Turnpike and follow the signs for the Florida Keys and Key West.
Nearby places to see
Key West AIDS Memorial is located on White Street and Atlantic Boulevard on the beach. The City of Key West has lost more than a thousand of its citizens to the AIDS epidemic. Some of their names are inscribed on a memorial near the White Street Pier. The memorial is embedded in the sidewalk near the ocean, and made of flat smooth granite. The memorial was funded entirely through private sources. There are spaces for 1,500 names, and each year more are added and dedicated in a ceremony, also on World AIDS Day on December 1st.
Key West City Cemetery In Key West may sound creepy but here you can see burial customs that reflect combinations of African, Hispanic, Anglo and other mixed heritages. Due to the water table of the Keys, most burials are in above ground tombs. This cemetery has some of the most unusual inscriptions like – I told you I was sick, Devoted Fan of Julio Iglesias and At Least I know where he’s sleeping tonight are not unusual. You can get a cemetery map on the entrance.
Don’t miss the Wildlife Rescue of the Florida Keys located on Atlantic Boulevard and White Streets, or McCoy Indigenous Park that is the setting for this rescue operation. It had more than 2,000 healed since 1993. They take care of any animal that needs attention, like sea birds or raccoons (here you can see up to 1000 different animals that needed some sort of help). Visiting these cute patients starts at 9AM to 5PM, and the park is open sunup to sundown. The entrance here is free but, be generous and leave a donation.
Things to do
Key West is a great place for a family vacation. For families with kids it is the best to stay in a hotel off the main streets. The beaches in Key West are average at best. Many of the beaches are very small, made up of hard, dredged sand, and are not natural. The beaches aren’t bad, but can’t be compared to the Miami Beach for example.
Key West Nature Preserve is a good thing to visit. The place has two entrances on Atlantic Blvd. Here you can see the local Key West wildlife such as lizard butterflies and snakes. The Astro City is a popular stop for families on their way to and from the beach. It is located directly across the street from Higgs beach.
Florida Keys Eco is a lovely place where you can touch screens, see great photos, and be part of the theater where you can 21watch short films about the Keys ecosystems. It’s a fun way to learn about reef and mangrove habitats before or after an excursion.
Ernest Hemingway House is located on 907 Whitehead Street. For all you literary fans, his house is open 9AM-5PM daily. Hemingway lived and wrote here for a decade. He also raised cats, the descendants of which still roam the grounds and have extra toes.
As a tourist island, Key West has hotels literally everywhere you set your eyes. You can book a room in hotels or bed and breakfast for reasonable prices and most importantly you can spend your holidays here with your whole family. If you aren’t the type to stay in a room or if you are traveling with your RV you can park it somewhere outside the city and drive a smaller vehicle into town. Boyds Key West Campground, Boyd’s is a family owned and operated campground and RV park that opened in 1963. It is located only 5 miles from Duval Street and has city bus and taxi service to all of Key West. It is oceanfront and able to accommodate the largest RVs as well as tent camping with marina space for your boat. It has a pool, laundry, game room, boutique, 4 bathhouses and nighttime security.
Key West has plenty of good drinking bars where you can taste some of the best cocktails and alcoholic drinks – Bourbon Street Pub, Captain Tony’s Saloon, Fat Tuesdays, Sloppy Joe’s Bar, Green Parrot Bar and so on.
Best time to visit
People who at least once have vacationed on Key West say that the best time to visit Key West is January to May. During these months the weather is perfect – it’s not unbearably humid. From November to March, Key West is the hottest place in the USA. This means that this is the peak season, the place is very busy and everything is pricey. The off season (June to December) has its charms, there aren’t too many tourists, but you can be unpleasantly surprised by heavy rains.