The Keys to Key West


Before my tan completely fades, I wanted to squeeze in another post about Key West. Even though friends told me it would be great, initially I didn't want to go because I was hoping to travel somewhere more exotic. But Key West turned out to be a great vacation, beginning with a beautiful drive through the Keys. Key West truly has an island vibe all its own combined with a real sense of history — it actually felt more exotic than some of the too-built-up Caribbean locales.
So what if more than a few stores on Duval specialize in tacky t-shirts?

We stayed at The Reach Resort, an upscale hotel that turned out to be just perfect for us because it has a pretty little beach (as well as a nice pool) where we spent most of our afternoons, including lunch. It was on the south side of the historic Old Town and we were able to walk to anywhere we wanted to go. (Sometimes it was a long walk, but that's OK because we really like walking and because walking around the town is part of the fun.) If you're not a beach person then you might prefer staying in the heart of town at one of the historic bed-and-breakfasts, because the Reach doesn't have that much character (although it did feel intimate compared to its sister hotel, the massive — in Key West terms —  Casa Marina). But as it's one of the only beachfront properties on an island not known for its beaches, it suited our needs just fine.

The food was excellent overall in Key West, and, yes, we ate lots of delicious Key Lime pie. We had a great — and cheap — dinner at B.O.'s Fish Wagon, a shack that channels old Key West with simple sandwiches and fried fare. The walls are decorated with license plates, which just adds to the charm. We went more upscale on other nights at Seven Fish and 915. By the last night, we felt a little overfished and opted for the pasta at Antonia's, a terrific Italian restaurant.

After dinner, there were plenty of bars and people-watching on Duval to keep us occupied. The town was very lively, but it wasn't crowded. I'm not sure I would have liked the Duval scene in a couple of weeks when the spring breakers arrive en masse. But for the four nights I was there, I had a blast at  Ernest Hemingway's hangout Sloppy Joe's, which hosted first-rate cover band Juliano Brothers all week, and at Cowboy Bill's, which had comedian Dov Davidoff one night. But of course, nothing can ever top the surprise Jimmy Buffett concert at Margaritaville on our last night there.

When we first arrived, the Keys were emerging from a cold snap that affected all of Florida. That meant the water temperature had cooled down too, so unfortunately we didn't end up going snorkeling. But we did go on a kayaking tour through the peaceful backcountry mangroves. Then on our last day, we noticed that the water had calmed down even further and went on a 26-mile jet-ski tour around the entire island with Barefoot Billy's, which is based on the beach of the Reach. The jet-ski tour was a tad wilder than the kayak tour and is most likely the closest I'll ever get to riding a motorcycle.

The sunny weather kept us from exploring a lot of indoor attractions, although I did make it to the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory as it was right by our hotel. My main regret is that I didn't go inside Ernest Hemingway's house. Oh well, something for next time!

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