By Evan Gold, Publisher & Host of Health, Wealth & Wisdom
It still amazes me when I talk to people who live in Florida and they tell me they have never visited Key West, let alone the Keys. While there is a lot to see and do in the Keys, Key West is the focus here.
Known as The Conch Republic to some and the Southernmost City to others, Key West is not like many places you can visit in the U.S. Actually closer to Cuba than to Miami, Key West is one of those places that is whatever you make it to be. For some, it is a quiet island that offers amazing fishing, snorkeling and scuba diving. For others, it is a town that goes to the wee hours of the morning, offering the opportunity to have a drink at bars that hosted the likes of Ernest Hemmingway, Tennessee Williams and Cuban freedom fighter (from the late 1800’s) Jose Marti’.
Key West offers so much to do by day or night. If you’re someone who enjoys snorkeling or diving, the island is probably unmatched on the U.S. mainland for its vibrant coral reef and undersea life. There are numerous companies that can take you out for a half day, full day or, if you are the more adventurous type and you know your way in the water, you can even rent a boat. As for fishing, you can go flats fishing or deep sea fishing. And, if you bring home some fresh catch, there are many restaurants that will gladly serve it up for you. If you like to just be out on the water, companies like Fury and Sunny Days offer some great sunset or daytime charters that are really enjoyable.
Speaking of restaurants, this is where Key West really shines. First and foremost is the seafood. The freshest and tastiest I can find in Florida is served in the Florida Keys. From stone crab to lobster to snapper, you can’t beat these restaurants. So where to go?
Breakfast: Blue Heaven
Don’t show up starving is my first note here. This place is so popular that on the weekends there can be a bit of a wait. However, it is worth the wait. How about starting your day with shrimp and eggs or a lobster omelet? Or what about their famous BLT Benedict? Substitute the lettuce with lobster, and this sandwich goes to a new dimension in delicious. They do serve lunch and dinner, and we have heard people rave, but we have only sampled their breakfast. The chickens walking through the courtyard makes it even more fun.
Lunch: Harpoon Harry’s
This was a lucky find on one of our trips. They are most famous for breakfast and lunch. Breakfast is pretty typical although the pancakes are heavenly. Our favorite at Harry’s is lunch. There is never a trip that Deb does not stop in for the Lobster Roll. And I usually go for their blue plate specials. And if you like delicious Bloody Mary’s, don’t be shy; they offer a full bar. For the meat lover? Cheeburger Cheeburger is superb.
Seafood: The Raw Bar
In my humble opinion they serve some of the finest seafood in Key West. Deb is a huge shellfish fan and has never complained of a meal here. I usually go for the grouper or snapper and it never disappoints. It is one of our favorites and should not be missed. If you like Italian, La Trattoria is good and for lobster, but don’t expect Southern Italy here. A & B Lobster House is also excellent.
Better Than Sex: A Dessert Restaurant
Dessert lovers must not miss this – a restaurant so popular than they had to move within a few years of opening to a larger location. The desserts are out of this world and the atmosphere offers a bit of romance and fun. For those of you with a sweet tooth, I offer two pieces of advice. First: do not fill up on dinner, and second, keep in mind they are only open from 6 p.m. to midnight so make a reservation. Deb’s favorite is chocolate chip cookies, believe it or not, so be sure to check out Matthessen’s. Those are the best. Key Lime pie lover? Go to Blue Heaven!
What to do on land?
There are a number of museums to check out with the maritime and shipwreck museums as my favorite. Deb really enjoyed the Aquarium, but as I say, “once you have swum with them, who needs to see them in a tank.” The Hemmingway house is better than it sounds and is a must see, and the trolley tours can be enjoyable, offering a lot to learn. Our favorite is the Haunted Trolley, but only take that at night.
Now, where do you stay?
We have stayed in numerous different establishments, but our favorites are the bed and breakfasts or the smaller specialty hotels. One example of the specialty hotels is The Eden House, which boasts guests who have been returning for the past 20-30 years. Owner Mike Eden offers a number of different room types, but due to their size, you really feel like you’re at home. They are large enough to offer a restaurant, and don’t miss their daily complimentary happy hour. As for the bed and breakfasts, this is where Key West is really unique to Florida. There are far too many to list in this article, but suffice it to say that you can easily find one that fits your personality, taste and price point.
So what are you waiting for? Hop in the car (8 hours), take a flight or even a boat (from Ft. Myers) to have a vacation that can be truly one that offers nearly something for everyone.