Key West Travel Review

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Images of Key West

Did you know:  The island was first named Cayo Hueso, or Isle of Bones, due to the presence of many Indian remains. "Key West" is the anglicized version of the Spanish name.

Key West Map

Walking down Duval Street toward Sloppy Joe's Saloon, you can feel Hemingway's presence as the Gulf Coast breeze blows, the palm trees sway and the people hunt for ghosts from the 1930's. Hemingway called Key West his new home at that time after leaving the cold and fog in Paris and even though he later left Key West to live in Cuba in 1940, the island has retained his aura- the world traveler, adventurer, sportsman, fisherman, safari enthusiast and bar-room brawler- Hemingway was all these and much more. It was in Key West that he worked on at least five of his most famous short stories and novels, including the initial work on perhaps his best- "For Whom the Bell Tolls", a story of the Spanish Civil War.

Unless you enjoy driving over water and narrow highways for 3-4 hours, we recommend that you fly into Key West from any major city in Florida. It is a short trip and well worth the expense- in addition, by doing so, you might be avoiding traffic jams caused by road disruptions and weather/sea conditions along the extent of U.S. Route 1. The island can be easily traversed in well under an hour and most sites of interest can be reached by walking. In fact, one of the most pleasant things about Key West is that you can see the entire island without much effort. By walking in the footsteps of Hemingway and feeling the salt air on your face while the sun gives its daily performance in the West, you feel and see and breathe the wonderful things which bring thousands of visitors back every year.

Key West History

Key West SailingLong famous for its sport-fishing and tourist industry, Key West got major recognition from the media after author Ernest Hemingway moved there in 1928 and pursued marlin fishing in the nearby waters off the Gulf Stream. Originally inhabited by Indians who named the island Cayo Hueso, (Anglicized to its present name), then later explorers from Spain landed there and occupied the island, selling it to John Simonton in 1821 (for whom a major downtown street was named). The Barbary pirates used the island and neighboring areas as operations depots. Henry Flagler was influential in bringing the railroad from the mainland to the island and later built the famous Casa Marina Hotel. In the Depression, the town filed for bankruptcy and in 1935 was nearly devastated by a major hurricane, which damaged the railroad link to the continental United States. Major redevelopment efforts in the late 1930's - 1940's helped stabilize the island economy and by the 1960's - 1970's tourism had improved as people, along with hippies and those "free spirits" who now dominate the populace, viewed it as an easy to access destination for sun and fun. Today Key West stands as a major tourist mecca - especially for Jimmy Buffett fans ("parrotheads") and those who simply want to "chill out" and relax. More Key West history...

Key West Attractions

Key West - Hemingway HomeAlthough Key West has many attractions including great sport fishing, wonderful weekend escape weather in the Winter and a friendly, casual atmosphere inviting you to simply enjoy the slower pace of the island lifestyle, the best known landmarks which attract the most attention are the Hemingway House and Museum at 907 Whitehead Street and Sloppy Joe's Saloon at the corner of Duval and Greene streets. The Hemingway House is a must see- if only for the glimpse of his writing studio and the 43 cats roaming the estate, many of them six-toed, which are the descendants of the cats the writer knew and loved in his time at Key West. Sloppy Joe's is a major attraction for young and old, with the celebrated Hemingway Days each year in late July commemorating his birthday on July 21st. Also of interest are the Southernmost Point in the U.S. marker which, although technically is not the exact location of the southernmost point in the continental United States, gets a lot of attention from tourists. In addition, there is the original Sloppy Joe's, now named Captain Tony's, which is the bar where Hemingway's pal Joe Russell converted a speakeasy after Prohibition ended into a legitimate bar where Hemingway actually did most of his bar-room research.

The island has its place in U.S. history as President Harry Truman needed a place to relax and recoup as World War II was winding to an end. Truman came to the island eleven times during his Presidency and the site where he stayed is now a National Historic Landmark, worth seeing for any student of U.S. history, offering an interesting tour of the premises.

Key West - Blue HeavenKey West has many good places to dine, including Blue Heaven (the best breakfast place on the island), the definition of "funky", with many chickens and roosters roaming the restaurant area (originally the location of a boxing arena and cockfight den during Hemingway's time). The best view on the beach is Louie's Backyard on the western side of the island- which offers a magnificent view on the terrace overlooking the waves rolling in from the Gulf. Great sunsets and free entertainment can be gotten at Mallory Square, where street performers ply their trade.

For the true adventurer, sport fishing, parasailing, scuba diving, snorkeling and many other aquatic pursuits are available. With sandbars that seem to shift with every summer storm, navigating the waters of the Florida Keys by boat can be a little tricky. Exploring on the right power catamaran for sale can make things easier with their shallow draft. Kayaking is also ideal as you can see a lot of wildlife near shore.

The casual traveler wishing to simply relax and take home a few souvenirs will not be disappointed. The T-shirts sold at Sloppy Joe's Saloon are perhaps the best known memorabilia from the island and have been seen around the world. Island music/Jimmy Buffet fans also have a place to visit- there is a Margaritaville saloon and store on Duval Street. Die-hard Buffett fans will recognize the name of his first album- "A1A" along the drive into Key West. Although Key West is not known for its beaches, South Beach is a nice place to relax in the morning while the sun warms you and the waves welcome you to a new day. More Key West attractions...