“Of writers and poets and pirates who walked the dirt beneath this slab each carrying a pocket full of dreams. And none as unusual as yours; but all of which came true.” – David L. Sloan.
It’s a December Key West dawn and I’m standing on a pier that’s the southern most point of the USA. That’s Cuba 90 miles away under those clouds. It’s a perfect 70-some degrees, a calm, peaceful scene if there ever was one, except perhaps for the occasional rooster crowing in the sleepy street behind us. Forget that earlier in the week I shoveled a foot of snow out of my New Hampshire driveway. People on our pier are comfortable with a minimal amount of clothing…easy on a Sunday morning. I so admire the woman on the left in the white bathrobe who just rolled out of bed to stroll down the street and savor this wonderful scene.
Key West weather runs a sweet tropical perfect this time of year, but the town beautifully decks out for the holiday season nonetheless. Just what Jimmy Buffet means about an island Christmas when he sings, “…we have everything but snow.”
So, what to do for a few days here? How about walk and sightsee, visit a cafe/restaurant, walk and sightsee, visit a cafe/restaurant, repeat? Perfect!
Key West’s population of roughly 27,000 covers 5.27 miles of an island with a maximum width of 5,249 feet, and it’s rather flat being just a few feet above sea level. I learned that one of the highest points on the island by just a few feet was Ernest Hemingway’s house/now museum…but more on that later. First, to really see the town from above we climbed to the top of the Key West Lighthouse for a 73 feet up vantage point.
A couple of monster cruise ships parked in the distance, yet mostly what you view looking down from the lighthouse are pastel-hued, conch-style houses and healthy green tropical trees. Taking in this tranquil scene, it was hard for me to believe that Hurricane Irma blasted through here just back on September 10th. The city of Key West fortunately dodged the worst of Irma, however the Lower and Middle Keys took hard hits from the category four storm.
Atop the lighthouse offers good selfie opportunities! In the above photo I was able to capture my friend Michele, but not much of me…which everyone probably and correctly prefers anyway 🙂
Okay, we’ve all been patient enough. Time to show food photos:
Shrimp, andouille sausage and grits (above) with fried okra (below) make for a nice brunch.
Or maybe you want a Cuban feast like this one I enjoyed in Key West’s Mallory Square:
My friends Phil and Antonia Smith opened Antonia’s Restaurant on Key West’s popular Duval Street over 25 years ago. They’ve since sold it and now spend much time in Italy. Phil knows Key West inside and out, so when I sent him the photo below he texted me back with a recommendation to dine at Azur on 425 Grinnell Street. The owner/chef at Azur, Michael Mosi cooked with Phil for many years at Antonia’s Restaurant and he wanted me to say hello for him.
So we went to Azur instead! Walking in, a guy in the parking lot passionately recommended the seafood special he and his smiling party of three had just enjoyed. Seriously, he blissfully raved about it. Who am I not to heed such strong advice? Guess what? He was so right. Here it is:
They also have some amazing gnocchi dishes on the menu:
Azur was great, plus Michael was very happy when we met and I told him Phil sent me.
Now back to some additional comments about Hemingway’s house and museum:
Just a short walk from the Key West Lighthouse stands the home Ernest Hemingway bought in 1931 and lived in for over ten years. I say “stands” because I discovered it is located on the second highest spot in town at 18 feet above sea level. It’s a beautiful Spanish colonial home, and as a museum it still has the furniture the Hemingway family owned…
…like Hemingway’s bed where I saw these three cats napping. The cats roving (or sleeping) about the home and grounds are descendants of the same group Hemingway kept while he lived in the house, including many extra-toed (polydactyls) cats like the ones he loved as pets.
In the back of the Hemingway home is a separate small structure where he would go to write. His writing room remains closed to the public but you can walk up the outside stairs and look in. That’s what I did to take the panoramic photo above. Note how his typewriter sits on the table loaded with paper, ready for another novel.
What’s next? Just walking around town reveals an unexpected sight around each corner. Old Town, Mallory Square, doesn’t matter, there’s something Key West cool to enjoy every few steps.
How about a place just for butterflies? I met a woman on the plane coming down who said after many visits to Key West going to the Butterfly Conservatory remains her favorite thing to do in the town.
Butterflies are ubiquitous in the tropical rainforest setting of the conservatory, yet they dart quickly around visitors and plants so I found them difficult to photograph. In the above photo you can see two beautiful butterflies above the phone in Michele’s left hand. The birds there are easier to photograph, however. Give them some seeds and they’ll pose all day, like these little guys did for me:
As mentioned in between seeing the sights we enjoyed stopping in one of the cafes, restaurant or bars open everywhere. I noticed many in Key West have a color in their names. The Green Pineapple, 1130 Duval Street offers excellent homemade kombucha after your class at the Key West Yoga Sanctuary. At the Green Parrot Bar, 601 Whitehead Street we saw a Led Zeppelin cover band. The place was packed! And yes, “Robert Plant” still sings with his shirt unbuttoned. In addition to green, blue is also a popular color in Key West restaurant, lodging and bar names. I saw Blue Macaw, Blue Heaven, Blue Marlin, Red Fish Blue Fish, etc.
Below is a wide pano photo from inside a non-color named place, the Salty Angler, 1114 Duvall. Incredible live jazz trio in the corner. Football on the TV’s. Locals and tourists love the food (check the reviews). Equally great characters hanging out (during the band’s break a patron behind me sang acapella the opening to “Sunday Morning Coming Down”). Windows and door were open to let in the soft tropical air. A person could get used to this.
And speaking of Key West locals, we’ve all heard of the people who came here finding inspiration to follow their dreams. I mean, there’s even a poem about it etched into the town’s sidewalk:
To end the day, watching the sun sink into the ocean, Key West can indeed enable one to feel like anything is truly possible…
…except me taking a good selfie!
Love and Peace,