It might be easy to think that a vacation in Key West, Florida means long nights of fishing followed by long nights on the legendary Duval Street, but there is far more to do in the southernmost city than just that. There are plenty of hidden gems to discover that make this island unlike any other in the world.
The best way to find them is to ditch the car. The entire island is less than seven square miles, and that includes a third of which is restricted military bases. When you narrow it down to the historic old town section of the island, you'll discover you are left with a few dozen blocks. Beside the fact that parking can be difficult to find and expensive to pay for, such a small district practically begs you to get out and walk through it so you can experience it all.
The first thing you'll discover is that many of the Key West restaurants are tucked away on some of the most unassuming side streets. Having repurposed historic homes into fashionable, intimate dining rooms and bistros, they serve up a continuing array of fresh seafood, all of it locally caught and most of it less than twenty four hours out of the ocean. And none of these meals are complete without a slice of key lime pie.
These same side streets will take you past beautiful tropical gardens, full of plants unique to the lower latitudes. Some of these gardens - and the buildings they are a part of - date back two hundred years or more. There are several different walking tours that explore everything from the gardens themselves to the homes of significant architectural merit and even a few different ghost tours that will introduce you to the dark side of Key West history.
The arts have been an important aspect of Key West's last century, and while walking around you might pass the homes of Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams. You will also discover galleries featuring vibrant colorful paintings created by local artists and treasured all around the world. Many artists to this day still maintain an outdoor studio space so they can capture the natural beauty and abundant sunshine of the island.
If there is a drawback to taking a destination vacation trip to Key West, Florida, it is that you will not have enough time to see, do, taste and experience it all. But to make sure you get as much done as you want to, and create memories that cannot be found anywhere else, wander the streets like the locals do and you will soon understand why so many people come back to the island every year.
Jack Terry is a freelance travel and lifestyle writer who has lived in Key West for several years. http://www.rooftopcafekeywest.com