Key West

Part of Florida’s Island in the Straits, Key West is the ideal destination for enjoying the breezy vibe of the Caribbean without leaving the continental US. National parks, unique attractions, and vibrant nightlife are all notable draws to this southern-most continental US city.

In addition, accommodations of all sorts welcome every type of traveler. Hotels, campgrounds, guesthouses, and LGBT specific resorts – there’s something for everyone. Reasonable hotel rates, clear skies, and waning crowds make March through May the best time to book a visit.

Near perfect weather make Key West a lure for thousands of anglers annually (see what we just did there?). The waters offer varied fishing experiences – shallow flats, fishing outside the reef in the open sea, or along the inshore channels.

Key West also provides ample diving encounters, including stellar wreck diving. More advanced divers should explore the Vandenberg Wreck. This 522-foot-long vessel rests in 150 feet of water, and is the second largest ship in the world ever purposely sunk to become an artificial reef. If you like dive wrecks, this is one for your logbook.

Sitting in just 30 feet of water, the Alexander Wreck is excellent for snorkelers and divers. This steel hull US Naval vessel is home to the endangered Jewfish. If you like “treasure” hunting you should note that some divers have found various artifacts among the wreckage.

Interested in shipwrecks, but don’t dive? Consider a visit to the Key West Shipwreck Museum. By combining films, actor portrayals, and actual artifacts, the museum brings to life the Isaac Allerton, which sank in 1856 on the precarious Florida Keys reef. Kids really dig this place.

Just a ferry or seaplane jaunt west of Key West lies Dry Tortugas National Park. Pristine waters, abundant marine and bird life, and a historic fort await visitors. This 100-square-mile park was discovered by Ponce de Leon in 1513, and so named as he caught over 100 sea turtles here. The park is mostly open water with seven small islands. Tour impressive Fort Jefferson, built as a defense after the War of 1812. The fort was used as a prison during and after the Civil War. Perhaps its most notable prisoner was Dr. Samuel Mudd, who was arrested for conspiracy for aiding and harboring President Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth. You can certainly fill up a day, or enjoy an extended stay at the campground.

Fans of famous authors will be sated in Key West. Peruse the Tennessee Williams Key West Exhibit for a peek into his 34 years of residence here. Photographs, first edition plays, and even Williams’ original artwork are on display. The museum also hosts a variety of events in March – art exhibits, a film series, and poetry contests.

Designated a US National Historic Landmark in 1968, the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum was the renowned author’s home. He penned “Snows of Kilimanjaro”, “To Have and Have Not”, and other great works under this roof. Artifacts and Hemingway’s personal effects are interesting to peruse, but the 40-50 six-toed cats are clearly the attraction here. It’s said that some of the cats have descended from Hemingway’s own feline pets.

Hemingway was not one to miss a party, and he would have had plenty to choose from in today’s Key West. The Rum Bar’s palm shaded front porch makes for stellar people watching. People may seem to get more interesting after one or three of the popular rum punches. For nightly live music in a relaxed setting, head to Little Room Jazz Club. Take advantage of their great happy hour and incredible Mojitos.

Restaurants are as varied as Key West’s attractions. Cuban and Caribbean fare, and out-of-this-world roasted corn are on the menu at Paseo Restaurant. Get there early for lunch, though. Seating is limited and you may be eating standing up. Perfect for travelers on a budget, popular food truck Garbo’s Grill serves up Caribbean cuisine and local seafood. Check out their killer mango brie tacos.