Key West, FL - A Trip Report

After Cape Canaveral we motored down a lengthy stretch to Key West. We started early from the town of Cocoa Beach and factored in some short stops in order to experience the storied sunset at Mallory Square in Key West on time.

Whenever we visit new places we tend to absorb it from a potential resident’s angle by planning detours into the residential areas, university campus and/or downtown areas. Both Fort Lauderdale and Cocoa Beach areas fell shy on this count though ‘twixt the two the town of Cocoa Beach fared better. Also, it is obvious that Florida’s economy is geared more towards the older generation than it is to the youth - explains why so many of the younger folks choose to leave the Sunshine State while the older folks yearn to retire there. The climate and the housing prices are definitely appealing to Californians. Miami on the other hand, lived up to its metropolitan image. The turquoise beaches along with well-maintained infrastructure promote a touristy feel.

The drive from Cocoa Beach to Miami along the semi-marshy landscape, though mundane is distinct. We used to doubt stories of Floridians regaling about alligators showing up uninvited in their swimming pools, but not anymore!

The drive from Miami to Key West surpassed our imagination. The welcome change in scenery from Key Largo to Key West is not just a glimpse and gone forever, for it spans 140 miles. Such is the lure of the landscape that one cannot but be thankful that the traffic pace is a slow one. Vista points are dotted throughout. Small green islands hugging the Atlantic in a serene setting is truly postcard material. In all there are 42 bridges connecting the islands. The icing on the cake is the encore of the scenery on the way back.

Tourism is the main industry and so there is no dearth of activities. When we reserved our lodging online, the area came across as expensive and the moderate accommodation we settled on was still over $150 per night. In hindsight, one alternative that would have worked was not to book in advance – the place was teeming with smaller places offering accommodation at affordable rates.

Below are some of the “not-to-miss” sites one can experience for free on a visit to Key West:
  1. Walk the 7-mile bridge: This is a historic railway bridge constructed between 1908 and 1912 which was later converted for use by automobiles in 1935. A brand-new bridge serves the motorists now while the old bridge gives a chance to stretch the limbs in the form of a nice leisurely hike. Our highlight was seeing giant sting-rays waltzing up.
  2. Key Deer Sighting: Key Deer is the smallest sub-species of Virginia white-tailed deer found on 25 islands in the lower keys. The islands covering over 84,000 acres is the National Key Deer Refuge aimed at protecting the endangered 600 to 750 population. The best way to view them is to go for hikes in the refuge accessible from Key Deer Boulevard and Wilder road, both off of Highway 1 at Big Pine Key between Marathon and Key West proper. There is also a Visitor Center on Big Pine Key Plaza at 179 Key Deer Boulevard. We were lucky to stumble upon a grazing herd and later see them leaping away at dawn along Highway 1.
  3. Mallory Square Sunset: To get to Mallory Square, take a right on North Roosevelt Boulevard (becomes Truman Ave.) at the end of US 1 immediately after crossing the bridge into Key West and at Simonton, take a right and the parking lot at Greene Street is very convenient – hourly pricing is reasonable and credit cards can be used. There is a City Parking Lot closer to the square, at Front and Wall Street but reaches capacity fast. A short walk through Duval Street gets one to Mallory Square. The place is abuzz with activities complete with several curio shops, restaurants, the glass bottom boat ticket counters, conch tour train depot, water scooters, and several other options huddled around a beautiful public boulevard right along the coast – the place is an ideal location to view the sunset. It does get crowded and seating is limited and so the earlier the better. Talented street artists entertain with their skills and it is a good feel to be one with the crowd. Conversations in different languages, the jazz music wafting across, the sunset cruises along with the birds, and the very beautiful sunset itself all blend together harmoniously providing a wonderful experience for all and sundry.

Below are other attractions and activities in and around Key West:
  1. Water Sports and Sails: Scuba diving, Parasailing, Fishing, Kayaks, Snorkeling, etc. are all available at Key West. For the undecided, we would recommend a tour of the Dry Tortugas National Park. Dry Tortugas are seven remote islands around 70 miles west of Key West. It features coral reefs ideal for snorkeling along with white sandy beaches. Day trips (9 hours) while expensive (around $150) are excellent and include snorkeling in 4-7 feet of water (considered one of the best snorkeling locations in the world) along with visits to the historic site – Dry Tortugas has the largest brick structure in the Western Hemisphere (Fort Jefferson). Breakfast and Lunch are also included and the 70-mile trip is offered in a high-speed catamaran or ferry. For those short on time, the 2-hour Glass Bottom Boat Ride (around $45) is a good option- it is an informative eco tour that allows one to view the coral reef and sea life without getting wet.
  2. Museums: The Harry S. Truman Little White House (111 Front Street – Florida’s only presidential museum where Truman spent 175 days of presidency) and the Hemingway Museums are the best known but there are several others including the Pirate Soul Museum (524 Front Street), Mel Fisher Treasure Museum (200 Greene Street), Key West Shipwreck Museum (1 Whitehead Street at Mallory Square), Ripley’s Believe it or not (108 Duval Street), Audubon House & Tropical Gardens (205 Whitehead Street), and the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory (511 Caroline Street – voted the #1 attraction in Key West by People’s choice awards for a number of years).
  3. Arts and Cultural Events: Key West is a choice location for artists and as such many such events take place in the area through-out the year. Check-out KeysArts.com before your trip to determine what is available during your trip.

In case all these options make you want to settle down there, here are a few deterrents before rushing to seek realtor services:
  1. Housing is expensive – a small, fixer-upper of a single family home (1250 sqft) in Duck Key (mile marker 62) was seen listed at a whopping $595,000 – it was not on the ocean but, there are views from the upper bedrooms.
  2. The main industries are tourism and/or water based, if those are not in your skill set, it may be hard to land a job.
  3. Most of the construction around Key West rests on stilts to avoid flooding – a harsh reminder that the elements are very much out there.
  4. Switching schools is not an option. Neither is getting anywhere fast.
Being a little bit out of the way is part of the real charm of Key West. As noted above, there is a myriad of activities to choose from. One can easily use a week to soak up Key West. But, as one can gather from our notes, even a whirl-wind tour of the area is indeed worthwhile.

Related Posts:
  1. A Trip Report to Kennedy Space Center, FL.
  2. A Trip Report to Everglades, FL.
Last Updated: 02/2011.

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