It seems that everyone has an opinion about Key West. A “key” or small island that was first discovered in 1521 by Ponce de León while searching for the fountain of youth, Key West, Florida, continues to deliver opportunities and experiences for the young and the young at heart. Whether it’s sampling the goods at some of the more than 240 restaurants and bars located on the 2-by-4-mile island, checking out the never-ending party along Duval Street, visiting the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, viewing one of the island’s world-renowned sunsets or experiencing all that the surrounding waters have to offer, Key West has an almost endless list of ways to spend your days and nights.
Getting There: An Adventure in Itself
Located at the end of U.S. 1, Key West is the southernmost city in both Florida and in the continental United States. While it’s a relatively small city, it does feature an international airport that is served by an array of airlines (including American, Delta and United) that offer direct flights from as far away as Boston and Chicago. But while a direct flight is the most convenient, if you choose to drive down to Key West on U.S. 1 from Miami, you not only get a chance to discover all that many of the other Keys have to offer in terms of food, recreation and natural splendor, you’ll also be experiencing one of the most intricate infrastructure projects in America.
Dubbed the “Overseas Highway,” construction of the road began in the 1920s. Work continued through several speed bumps — including a massive Category 5 hurricane that hit Islamorada in 1935 and caused widespread damage to the area at the time — before it officially opened to the public in 1938. The Overseas Highway stretches 113 miles and includes 42 bridges that tie various keys together. Some of the more popular stops along the route include snorkeling at the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo, touring the Islamorada Brewery & Distillery and relaxing on Sombrero Beach in Marathon Key. Diving enthusiasts can also check out the Florida Keys Shipwreck Trail, which is a chain of nine sunken ships, as they make their way south from Key Largo to Key West.
An Ocean of Recreational Opportunities
Key West might be known as a laid-back locale where the biggest decision of the day is where to watch an epic sunset, but it’s also the perfect destination for those of us who can’t sit still on vacation. The island offers almost anything to do in water, including jet ski tours and rentals, small-boat rentals, dolphin encounters, kayak tours through the backcountry mangrove islands and some of the best fishing in the world. From deep-sea fishing and offshore light-tackle fishing to kayak fishing and fishing in the famed “flats,” Key West is truly an angler’s dream come true.
Key West is the perfect destination for those of us who can’t sit still on vacation.
Below the water, the island offers some of the best snorkeling and diving opportunities in the Western Hemisphere. On May 27, 2009, the U.S.N.S. Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg was intentionally scuttled to create an artificial reef just seven miles off Key West in 140 feet of water. The Vandenberg is the second-largest ship purposely sunk as an artificial reef and serves as the southern anchor of the Florida Keys Shipwreck Trail.
A Wealth of History
While much has been written about Ernest Hemingway’s exploits on the island — touring his landmark home is a definite to-do while there — many people forget that President Harry S. Truman also helped put Key West on the map. Visitors to the Little White House museum can learn all about our 33rd president and what brought him to first visit and then love America’s southernmost city. Other important historical sites on the island include the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Ingham Maritime Museum & National Historic Landmark, Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park and the Naval Air Station Key West, which remains an active military base that supports operational and readiness requirements for the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, National Guard units, federal agencies and allied forces.
Five Ways to Stay
With all there is to do in Key West, finding just the right place to unwind is essential. Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants recognized that Key West attracts visitors who desire experiences across the board, so they own and manage five different properties on the island, all with their own personalities. “Across all five of the hotels, spread across six blocks in the city’s Old Town historic area, no two rooms in the collection’s 219 total rooms are the same,” said Kimpton Key West General Manager Cheryl Martin. “Kimpton Key West is a complete reimagining of the historic inns of Key West, with accommodations spanning everything from estate-like guesthouses to original conch houses, each with its own distinct story and stay experience, blending timeless architecture with an eclectic, Bohemian style only found in Key West.”
Traveling with the family? The Lighthouse Hotel, with its 45 guestrooms, lively swimming pool and location adjacent to both the iconic Key West Lighthouse and the Ernest Hemingway House, is a perfect choice. Looking for a secluded spot as the perfect hideaway for two? Ella’s Cottages is a peaceful oasis located in the heart of Old Town’s art district. It features a secluded pool and an intimate communal terrace, and each room offers cozy, front-porch seating.
Seeking to experience all the excitement that an island like Key West has to offer? With its easy access to the Key West Ferry, charter boats, sunset sails, snorkeling adventures, deep-sea fishing and more, Fitch Lodge would be the ideal headquarters for adventurous travelers looking to explore the crystal clear water surrounding the Florida Keys.
Got a thirst for history? Ridley House opened to guests in March and features 23 elegantly appointed and expansive guest rooms spread across three historic homes: two Victorian and one Bahamian Eyebrow. The historic property sits on the lush grounds of what was once the estate of wealthy, 19th-century industrialist Richard Kemp, a merchant and furniture dealer who is also known for launching Key West’s sponging industry.
Finally, if you’re looking for a place that’s close to the party, there is no better location than Winslow’s Bungalows. The largest property in the Kimpton Key West collection at 85 rooms, Winslow’s Bungalows spans a lush, landscaped campus in the center of Key West just two blocks off Duval Street and offers a spacious and relaxing setting complete with three private pools, an outdoor bar and vibrant gardens.
You won’t go wrong at any of these properties, and it’s worth popping into these historic and unique places to get a feel for island style no matter where you stay.