Whenever anyone has asked us our destination over the past nine months, the answer has always been Key West, even though it’s not the end game. So getting here through some tough weather (we had lots of rain and wind, along with some pretty chilly temperatures), and arriving in Key West without getting lost (which would be pretty impossible to do), run aground, hitting anything, have one of us hurt or overboard was amazing. Gotta admit, we’re pretty darn proud! It was hard work, but also amazing, beautiful, fun and interesting. We made it, and Justin and Bryan are coming down for the week too!
Unfortunately, flying out of Burlington, Vermont in February is always tricky. The first leg of their flight to Charlotte was cancelled, so both flights were rescheduled from Saturday the 2nd to Sunday the 3rd. As we waited for their arrival we wandered around town getting the lay of the land, cleaned up the boat and got final provisions. And of course, we went over to Mallory Square for one of the infamous Key West sunsets!
Our view for the week, Galleon Resort & Marina
Scenes around The Bight
Views around The Galleon Resort and Marina
Key West Historical Memorial Sculpture Garden
The boys arrived late Sunday afternoon, and after their long day of travel, the plan for the evening was to relax, watch the Super Bowl and eat the traditional array of appropriate junk food, including wings, deviled eggs, chips and dip! Oh, and Margaritas were involved as well!
Justin, Bryan & Rob enjoying the game
We wandered all over Key West, after Justin and Nancy looked into all of the sights to see. First up was the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center. Unfortunately, we discovered it’s closed on Mondays, so we changed our plans and went first to Truman’s Little White House. It’s absolutely lovely, and it looks today exactly as it did when Truman came to stay during his presidency. There’s no photography allowed inside the house, so you’ll just have to go and see it! Take the time to wander through the lovely gardens.
The Little White House
The Little White House is in a beautiful neighborhood called the Truman Annex, which was once part of the former Naval Station Key West. The homes and gardens are beautiful and unique.
The Truman Annex Neighborhood
We then wandered over to Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park, which was nearby.
Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park
Within the park is the lovely Fort Zachary Beach, where we went down to the water to get our toes wet and grab a Mike’s to enjoy as we continued our walking tour!
Fort Zachary Beach
No visit to Key West is complete without a stop at The Southern Most Point. It’s a bit of a scene. Be prepared to wait in line to have your picture taken in front of the marker, or wait until people take turns and pose to the side while they trade places (that’s what we did!)
Adjacent to the marker is the beautiful “Southern Most House”, and an artist was settled on the sidewalk capturing the scene.
The Southernmost House
Key West is a funny place. It pays to look around as you wander through town, as you will come across some great art, funny signs, quirky outdoor sculptures, street performers and of course there’s great people watching… and chickens!
Some silly signs
Some art about town
People and performers
These “Tiki Boats” go out every night and sail around the harbor at sunset. We checked them out, and they’re essentially a rip off! They’re expensive and also BYOB! They are fun to watch, though, as they bounce around the harbor!
Route 1 begins and ends in Key West, which is why it’s also called “mile 0”.
One of the boys Christmas gifts was a deep sea fishing trip aboard Triple Time, with Captain Joe Mercurio. We departed The Bight at 7 am to get out on the water ahead of the “pack”. Captain Joe and First Mate Keith were amazing….skilled, patient, and really great guys! We had a blast and caught numerous Barracudas (we threw them back), Yellow Jack, a huge Kingfish and Spanish Makerel. It was a beautiful day on the water, and we had a great day!
The day started out slowly, with a few nibbles, but no catches. Joe and Keith were teasing us because we brought bananas with us for breakfast, and they’re evidently bad luck for fisherman (think “banana boats”). So, we threw the last banana overboard, Joe took us closer to a reef, and we caught numerous Barracuda. Go figure! When we got back to the dock, Keith cleaned and filleted the fish, and fed the hovering pelicans. They were fearless!
Fish cleaning at the dock, and being entertained by the pelicans.
The boys enjoyed sashimi during a relaxing afternoon on the boat. Late afternoon we headed over to Mallory Square, because in Key West it’s all about the sunset! In fact, the cruise ships are required to leave port well before sunset, and if they don’t, they’re heavily fined. If they are delayed because a passenger arrives back at the ship late, those fines are passed along to the offending passenger. And, it’s supposedly a pretty hefty fine! Mallory Square is quite the scene! It’s great to get there early, as there are numerous street performers, craft and food vendors, not to mention crowds of people with drinks in coconuts! It’s a lot of fun! Rob and I went 3 times during our time there!
Mallory Square sunset…it’s a scene
Before heading back to the boat, we stopped at El Meson de Pepe for dinner, as we were craving Cuban food. It was a fun restaurant with a live band, waiters with shirts that said “FAMILY” on the back, and we sat in a lovely courtyard. Unfortunately, the food wasn’t so great, but we enjoyed ourselves!
The next day, we finally made it to the Eco-Center! It’s not very large, but it’s well done! Be sure to watch the short 3-D film they have, along with a longer 20 minute film in the theater explaining the ecology of the keys. There are great exhibits about the local waters and coral reefs as well.
Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center
Then we were off to Hemingway’s House. Hemingway lived in Key West on and off for 11 years, from 1928 – 1939. While living there he wrote: A Farewell to Arms, Death in the Afternoon, Winner Take Nothing, To Have and Have Not and For Whom the Bell Tolls. The house is beautiful inside and out, and is nestled in a lush and beautiful garden with lots of cats.
Hemingway’s House & Gardens
Hemingway was a great cat lover, and kept many on the property. The cats are somewhat unusual, as many of them are polydactyl, meaning they have 6 toes. His first cat was Snow White, a white polydactyl kitten given to him as a gift by a sea captain named Stanley Dexter. Sailors favored these cats as they believed they were good luck, and that their extra toes enhanced their abilities as mousers and gave them better balance at sea. To this day, many of Snow White’s descendants live and roam freely on the property. About half of the current population is polydactyl, but all carry the gene and can produce polydactyl kittens. Hemingway named his cats after famous people, and the staff of the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum carry on that tradition today, with cats named after famous movie stars. Think Elizabeth Taylor and Audrey Hepburn.
As you wander through the gardens, you’ll find numerous “kitty condo’s”nestled among the trees!
Kitty “Condos” at Hemingways house, note that the one on the top left is a replica of the house itself.
After our tour, we walked over to Garbo’s Grill for an amazing lunch. The kitchen is housed in an Airstream trailer at the back of a lovely shaded patio with umbrella tables…oh, and lots of chickens wandering around, with an entertaining singer with his guitar. The boys got their decadent burgers, and I had delicious shrimp tacos. YUM!
We decided to give Captain Rob a break from the helm, and went on a chartered sunset snorkel cruise. There was a boat/jet ski charter company at the head of our dock, so it was an easy and convenient decision! We left at 4 pm, snorkeled for an hour, got back on board and cruised back to port enjoying the sunset and rum punch!
Sunset snorkel cruise…oh, and that cruise ship? They’re getting fined (per the crew), as they were still there after sunset.
Friday was the boys’ last day in Key West, so we spent our time relaxing, taking a few more dinghy rides around the harbor, shopping, grabbed some seafood (oysters were in order!), and of course, the requisite visit to a rum distillery and the infamous Sloppy Joe’s!
We deployed the dinghy at the beginning of the week, and had a blast zipping around the harbor and mooring fields…our dinghy goes fast!!
After chatting with several “dock mates” about food and restaurants, we decided to check out Half Shell, as Rob and Bryan were craving oysters (Justin likes them too, just not with the same level of passion as Rob and Bryan…I could care less!). It was a fun and delicious stop.
Half Shell Raw Bar, where the food is good, and the atmosphere is fun!
While Nancy went shopping, the boys went to Hemingway Rum Company and Sloppy Joe’s Bar for some booze and bad music!
Key West is a very colorful town, and as we wandered the streets again on our way back to the boat, we enjoyed the local memento stands, artists and their wares.
Color and art are everywhere in Key West
No visit to Key West is complete without some Key Lime Pie….our conclusion is that the best is at Kermit’s. It’s right in town and they have great pies, cookies and even salsas!
Before we left for dinner, we got a visit from a group of manatees right behind our boat!
For our last dinner before the boys left, we went back to Conch Republic, as it was great the first time we went, and it was so conveniently located right on The Bight. Once again, it was wonderful…both food and service.
We were sad to see Justin and Bryan leave, but we had a fabulous week exploring Key West and its waters! We were set to stay until Tuesday, as we booked a trip out to the Dry Tortugas on Sunday, and Monday would be spent provisioning and getting ready to head north to explore more of the Keys.
The Dry Tortugas is a National Park that lies 70 miles west of Key West. This remote part of the Florida Keys is accessible only by private vessel, the National Park Service high-speed ferry, or seaplane.
The Spanish Explorer Ponce de Leon first discovered the island chain in 1513, and called them Las Tortugas, meaning The Turtles, for the huge turtle population found there. The word “dry” was added to forward sailors that the islands contain no fresh water.
Garden Key is the largest of the islands, and it is home to Fort Jefferson which was intended to be the largest link in America’s coastal defense system. Originally, it’s purpose was to control navigation into the Gulf of Mexico, and protect the Atlantic-bound Mississippi River trade from piracy. Construction on Fort Jefferson began in 1846, using 16 million bricks, making it the largest masonry structure in the Western Hemisphere. The US government never completed the fort after 30 years on Garden Key.
The Fort remained in Union hands throughout the Civil War, and was used as a prison until it was abandoned in 1874. In 1869, Dr. Samuel Mudd, famous for being the doctor who treated John Wilkes Booth after assassinating President Lincoln, was imprisoned here. The fort was subsequently used as a Navy base, then a seaplane base in WWI.
The seven tiny islands of Dry Tortugas are a vital layover for migrating birds traveling between South America and the United States making it a staple in the Great Florida Birding Trail.
So, rather than taking Misty across open waters, known to get “snotty”, and risk getting stuck out there (remember, there’s NO water there) due to the ever changing weather, we took the National Park Service ferry, Freedom III for their all-day tour to the island. It’s a very special place!
Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas
The trip was great! We met some nice people on board, they fed us breakfast and lunch, and they were very attentive to those on board not doing well with the seas!
We did snorkel a bit around the fort, but only saw a few angel fish. The real underwater sights in the Dry Tortugas are around all of the ship wrecks that surround the island. Despite that, it was a great swim around the fort.
We were planning on leaving Key West the next day, but the winds continued to howl. So, we were there until Thursday when we headed north. So, we took advantage of some down time, and went to an amazing seafood take out spot on the Bight recommended to us from an Uber driver. Word to the wise…talk to your local Uber or Lyft drivers, they are a wealth of information! Hence, lunch at Fisherman’s Cafe, a little window cafe. It was a good tip, and we enjoyed a delicious lunch of fish and shrimp tacos. Remember that this is take out, but there are lots of spots around to Bight to sit, but we took ours back to the boat!
Before we left Key West, we had to go to Mallory Square one more time for a sunset. And boy, was it worth it! We had a blast watching the street performers and the sunset was incredible!
Oh…and then the sunset…
We had heard that The Boathouse was a good spot for dinner, so for our last night we decided to check it out. Again, despite its highly touristy location and reputation, we were pleasantly surprised. We had an amazing dinner with great service. YUMMY lobster tail served with an amazing salad.
As it was our last night in Key West, we had to take one more walk through town…oh, and yes, ICE CREAM!! We checked out Wicked Lick, where they actually make your ice cream to order.
We came to Key West intending to stay for 10 days, and ended up staying for two weeks, as we added our trip to the Dry Tortugas and we were held up due to high winds. We had a great time, and felt that we really had the opportunity to fully explore this special and unique town. So now, we’re off, heading north and continuing to explore the Keys!
Farewell, Key West!