Key West Review – Come As You Are - Part I
Written by: Alex Richwagen
Key West is located on at the southern-most tip of Florida and isn’t your typical beach. Don’t get me wrong, it has plenty of parts that have beaches to lounge, but it’s a unique city for the folks in flip flops that may or may not have three different jobs. Getting down to Key West is usually have the battle as even from Orlando, it can take up to 7-8 hours to arrive or a quick hour flight by air from Orlando. The best strategy I have seen by far is take a road trip down in a rental car, leave the car there, and take a short $99 flight back to avoid that long drive home after the trip. Beyond the travel, let’s get to it.
Key West has one main beach (which is at the east end of Duval Street), but it’s not exactly the beach scene in your mind (there’s spots, don’t worry). First off, it’s full of seaweed, waves are usually small, and the beach has a small abundance of shells. Key West isn’t really known for beaches and is a different animal altogether. If you are looking for the true beach experience, look elsewhere such as St. Pete Beach or Palm Beach since Key West is in a zone all to itself. It’s the only “normal place” in the world where people work three jobs and enjoy it.
Key West is more of a “let’s go bar hop, get loose, and have a good time”. It’s not your optimal beach that you think of in your head, but don’t worry, there are spots not too far to get the beach experience. The best part to walk the beach is Key Largo or John Pennekamp State Park, featuring a very flat collection of white sand to bury your feet and relax. These are two high ranking spots in particular that I’ll steer you towards in order to get that beach. Do yourself a favor, at least click through the Pennekamp hyperlink above and see how beautiful it is. It’s actually a coral reef park that features almost everything listed below among things to do (snorkeling, scuba, glass bottom tours, and rentals). It’s a great family spot, trust me.
Within the things to do (besides just bar hopping), I’ve got lots of suggestions. It helps that it’s so close to water, meaning bring all your water games. There’s plenty of spots to rent like boats and jet skis to ride around in the picture perfect water surround Key West. One thing that is surely in abundance is charter boats for fishing (especially shark fishing) or even just scuba diving. You definitely should take advantage of that. There’s also several boardwalks in the area to enjoy a nice stroll with the ocean breeze upon your face. For the kids, there are scooter and bike rentals or just plain old fashion relaxing by the ocean. There are so many fun things for Key West has plenty to fill your schedule. Everything you can think of is there regarding beautiful water and more importantly, what lies below that water. I’m talking about snorkeling, deep sea fishing, standard fishing, and even just riding in a glass bottom boat to see the amazing fish. In the sections ahead, I’ll give plenty of insight to multiple areas.
The parking situation is definitely something you want no part of spending your time. It can be very difficult to be honest to find something if you don’t have a place to leave the rental car. Among areas I have found success is around the side street parking on Roosevelt Boulevard or even venture near Whitehead Street if you are feeling lucky. The main street, Duval Street is probably the most difficult to find street parking, but just in case check the east side, away from the away. When in doubt, park further and find the local trolley system to get to where you need to go.
Considering Key West is broken up in to several small islands, the review will structured just the same…broken up to give more pieces of flavor to review and explore.
The Waldorf Astoria by Hilton has quite a fantastic beach setup featuring white sand on the gulf side and plenty of tiki bars to spare. It’s definitely in the luxury class of hotels highlighting a large size pool that’s right next to the ocean view. Oh yes, the ocean, the water color in Key West is crystal clear blue where you can see down the bottom. Turn your head to the gulf side and easily spot some dolphins jumping around in the ocean water.
Let’s discuss Islamorada. Here’s a great area to go ahead and explore. There are a total of six islands that create Islamorada in Key West. Within the islands is a spot called Bud N Mary’s, which is a great marina and sand bar where all the boats pull up to dock. In other words, it’s a great people watching event. They also have tarpon feeding as well on the premise to keep you entertained. I think the best part is they treat everyone with a welcoming attitude, less like a customer. It’s terrific for a full day of fishing ($65 per person) and they will do everything from filet the fish to cooking it for you as well. This is the same area where the regular event, Bartender’s Bash, is held. Bartender’s Bash is basically a setup of alcohol promoters giving away free shots, drinks, and SWAG to anyone around. There’s also an annual contest among bartenders that includes drinks, flair, and performance to rock it out. It’s usually held in Islamorada every year, but is shifting to California in 2014.
Anyway, I would highly recommend going if it returns to Islamorada in the Keys in 2015, it’s a glorious event. If you ‘d like to stay in Islamorada while in the Keys, check out the Islamorada Resort (formerly the Hampton Inn & Suites) that has a small beach side area to relax. Keep in mind it’s very small, so remember to book in advance. One more thing to do while there is to go and feed the tarpons at Robbie’s. It’s a fantastic way to spend some time, feed the fish, and maybe have a beer or two.
Another area in Key West worth pursuing is the Middle to Lower Keys, specifically Anne’s Beach. It’s a great spot for kids (and dogs) considering it’s got a big kite surfing spot with a very flat beach area. There’s also picnic tables (meaning bring some food for the kids), and an accompanying boardwalk to take a stroll. One last note that’s great about Anne’s Beach, is you can go camping out there (which is great for the kids), and it generally has lots of perks to enjoy the time near the water.
An alternative spot to explore is in the Bahia Honda State Park. One secret, if you are looking to play in the water, do yourself a favor and play in the Gulf Side (far less seaweed). The park follows the old railroad track, which can make a bit of an adventure for you and the kids with a cart that will push you around from west to east. There’s plenty of room to snorkel or fish there, camp out, or just hang out for the day. It’s definitely one of the “must go” places if you indeed want to go snorkeling to see amazing fish. There are snorkeling tours that can be booked as well if you want to throw more education in the mix as well. It’s so cool to see the different colored fish in the crystal clear blue water.
Want more? Coming right up. The next spot to see is called Big Pine Key within the islands of Key West. It’s a great place to go on vacation with loads of condos and homes to rent. I remember going fishing there and seeing tons of barracuda, sharks, and plenty of tropical fish. The tropical fish are so cool to see up close in person like the Sargent Majors (which are very colorful yellow/black stripes) and parrot fish (have multiple coloration patterns like blue/purple/green). It is definitely a must hit spot for snorkeling (just make sure to go on the gulf side).
Here’s another spot in the islands of Key West in Marathon Key. This is the fishing spot, especially if you show up with no rod, no bait, and no drinks. Most of the boats will supply everything needed, including beer or drinks. There’s not one I would recommend over the other, I would just literally google fishing charters in Marathon Key since every charter has a site, and most charge about $50 for the day or half day. It’s well worth it trust me as I’ve been on personal boats/party boats where they provided the bait, reel, half day of fishing. The best part is that the crew will clean the fish and once you return, they will cook/smoke/ whatever wanted to prepare your fish to order. Oh yeah, you can bring your own boos, as they have a full galley (kitchen). Don’t worry, in case you forget, they have cans of beer, fish and hot dogs to grab as well.
Since there’s so much good information, I’m going to break this up into a Part II, click here to continue...