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Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrThe original name for Key West translated to “bone cay” which means “bone island” due to the bones found on the island. Some say that these bones were left by the original inhabitants as an area used for a graveyard. The Spanish term still stands today, “Cayo Hueso.”
Key West HistoryKey West was discovered in 1513 when Ponce de Leon was searching for the Fountain of Youth in Florida. While he never may have found it, he did find what we know today as Key West. It wasn't inhabited for many years other than by the native Indians, mainland tribes, and Calusa Tribe and was pretty much an area prone to pirates but they were chased off in 1822 by the United States Navy Pirate Fleet. The tribes that inhabited the island eventually died off and settlers came to the area setting up groves of breadfruit, tamarind and key limes as well as farms of pineapple. In fact, a pineapple factory was built, shipping pineapple to the eastern part of North America.
Along with the current businesses, a shark processing facility was made and became prosperous as well. Sponge farming and cigar making were introduced but it was shipwreck salvaging that made Key West the wealthiest city in the United States.
All of this wealth and happiness wasn't without an ending though, Key West eventually went bankrupt but there was something else that others saw as a money-making opportunity – warm sun, an ideal climate, and plenty of gorgeous sea. This didn't immediately pan out due to the start of World War II. However, once the United States Navy returned in 1949 and then shrimps were harvested commercially, the tourists eventually arrived, and better yet, they stayed. The Florida Keys boasts over three million visitors each year with no signs of decreasing.
Key West CultureKey West is a very laid-back and casual atmosphere where it's almost always “island time” or as they say, “It's 5:00 PM somewhere” and that's most certainly true in this area.
Art is a very prevalent aspect where artists from around the world come to meet. You can find anything from street art to a professional orchestra. There's dance, museums, literature, festivals, music, theater, and anything that is creative, you can pretty much find it in Key West.
Things to Do in Key WestThere are numerous things to do in Key West that your most difficult challenge will be to find time to do them all during your vacation.
If you love swimming or nature, Key West is home to beautiful coral reefs, shipwrecks, fishing, swimming, and pristine beaches. You can charter a boat, take a tour, or simply bask in the warm, Florida sun. There is also a Butterfly and Nature Conservatory or you can visit the Dry Tortugas National Park, which is a 19th century fort and about 113 kilometers from Key West proper.
Taking a tour allows you to experience Key West and learn more about the area in great detail. You can try snorkeling, swimming, and boating tours but one of the most popular tours is on land – a tour on the Old Town Trolley. This is a hop on and hop off trolley which means you can get off at any time and experience various activities.
There, you can visit the Little White House which is the second home to Harry S. Truman and his wife. You can sample conch fritters, see the southernmost point in the country, visit the Key West Aquarium, visit the Key West Shipwreck Treasures Museum, visit the Key West Lighthouse, or even stop by the home of Ernest Hemingway . Keep in mind that these attractions may have an admission fee so be prepared to bring some cash in addition to your trolley ride fee.
Food in Key WestKey West has a rich diversity in food. You can find international cuisine, local seafood, dives and bars, fine dining, and anything in between.
There is also a Cuban influence and you can find Cuban food that is like no other, unless you actually visit Cuba, and that is found at El Siboney, located inside of a residential area instead of the main area of town. Little Palm Island serves up a combination of French and Cuban dishes and uses locally grown produce.
For classic seafood you may want to try Hogfish Bar and Grill where you can try the local hogfish that you can't find anywhere else unless it's imported.
For Caribbean style food, Kelly's Caribbean Bar and Grill is right on the main drag, Duval Street. The beer is made in-house and the bar and grill features two outdoor dining gardens as well as inside dining.
For one of the best local dives, DJ's Clam Shack was featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives with celebrity chef, Guy Fierri. There, you can find New England style clam chowder and other delicacies that are fresh and delicious.
You may also want to try a dish that Key West is famous for – Key lime pie. You can find it almost anywhere but one place is quite famous for it, the Key West Lime Pie Company. You can get Key lime pies in a dessert bar, on a stick, and various other ways but of course, you can always get a slice of the famous pie. Kermitt's Key West Lime Shoppe has everything to do with Key lime such as sauces, soaps, candles, and more so you can eat and shop at the same time.
Nightlife in Key WestThe fun never seems to stop in Key West and you can find plenty of activities to do right on Duval Street. There, you can find bars, nightclubs, dancing, and more and in fact, even one area is an eight bar complex with places like Rick's Bar and Durty Harry's.
Sloppy Joes is a place where the party includes live music, drinking, and large crowds with a friendly atmosphere.
There are also adult venues like Garden of Eden where girls get painted with body paint.
Not too far from Duval Street is the famous Green Parrot Bar. With tons of HDTVs set up showing sports, great beer, and a friendly staff, this is a favorite for locals and tourists alike.
Of course if you're in Key West you can't miss the iconic Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville. This is a chain restaurant and some may call it a tourist trap but the atmosphere is awesome. There are live concerts playing on a large screen that resembles a sail from a boat and there are two levels so everyone can see. You can also watch live musicians play and enjoy a Cheeseburger in Paradise. Supposedly, Jimmy Buffet himself stops in from time to time when he's in town. The food is delicious and the drinks are good as well. You won't find authentic local food but if you're in the mood for a good time, it's the place to be where you can bring the kids but still enjoy an alcoholic drink.
Key West ClimateThe climate in Key West is typical of Florida weather – hot and humid. However, there is a unique difference in Key West that sets it apart from any other place in the United States. For one thing, Key West is the only place that has never had snow, ice, or even frost. In fact, the lowest recorded temperature is 41° Fahrenheit. On the other hand, the highest was 97° Fahrenheit whereas Miami, just a little over three hours away, has had a record of 100° and 109°, the highest temperatures in the entire state of Florida. The other unique thing is that while Key West is still in Florida, it borders the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. The Atlantic has cooler waters while the Gulf has warmer waters and this creates the Gulf Loop Current , which keeps Key West at a stable temperature that varies no more than 15°. With the trade winds to cool it off, you may find Key West weather much more pleasant than its other South Florida counterparts.
Things to Keep in Mind When Visiting Key WestSince Key West is close to the equator, the sun is especially strong. Do wear waterproof sunscreen so you do not burn your skin.
You'll find that the Key West area is very open to alternative lifestyles and no one is judgmental there so if you're not used to the gay lifestyle or seeing members of the same sex go hand in hand, it might be a culture shock. However, since no one else there cares, why should you? Just know in advance that it is something to be aware of if you're not used to seeing it.
On that note, Key West is known for its debauchery and that's fine but if you have children, be aware that sometimes things are very much in the open such as t-shirt shops selling raunchy sexual items or t-shirts with sexual sayings and this is right on Duval Street, which is the main drag of Key West (no pun intended). The Duval Crawl at night also brings out the voyeur in some as you may notice people in fetish gear and body paint walking around so again, just be aware that this often occurs in the area.
This is a popular port for cruise ships, so along with every other tourist, you'll see an influx of ship visitors. Popular spots can get very crowded so visiting during the off-season may be the best idea and you won't have to worry about hurricane season either.
As with any popular destination, there are those that don't have your best interest at heart. Stay on the main streets in the evening, watch your valuables and money, and don't fall for scams such as someone offering to take your photo then expecting a large tip.
Key West is one of the most beautiful places in the country so relax, enjoy yourself, stay safe and you'll make memories you'll never forget.
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Author: Karsun. Last updated: Aug 29, 2014