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72 Hours: Key West, Florida

How do I describe Florida, specifically Key West? The land of retirees, vacationing families, fabulous men who complimented my sun hat choice, and humidity? It’s all of this at once with a tropical setting.

Florida was a complete surprise. After lounging around in Baltimore and then taking the longest bus ride of my life to NYC and then sleeping on Victor’s couch for two days straight, he told me we were going to the beach. I assumed Long Island. I was wrong. He thought that the best way to cure a cold and celebrate our graduations would be a tropical climate. I like his logic. After our flight to Miami we drove (I slept) three hours to Key West where we found coconuts and iguanas. It was weird to see iguanas running around but I suppose if someone from Key West came to my neighborhood and saw wild turkeys running around they would find it bizarre.

Driving into Key West was lovely. The views of mangroves (those bushes that grow in water and create little islands or perches for birds) and clear water made me wish my drive everywhere looked like this.

Truman Annex

The Truman Annex was the first stop on our trip in Key West. This former military area became President Truman’s vacation home and is now also a real estate development where you too can buy a home or condo. It became known as the Little White House because Truman actually did a lot of work while on vacation. You know, NATO, the Truman Plan, and such. President Kennedy met with the British PM here a month before the Bay of Pigs Invasion.

My favorite fun fact from the tour was about President Truman. The man would take a shot of bourbon every morning to get himself going. The day we visited the outside area was being turned into a wedding reception thus all the decorations behind the sand sculpture:

We found this sign while wandering. I didn’t realize that Pan Am started in Key West, but being only 90 miles from Cuba, this makes sense.

The Hemingway House

This was the second stop of our day and I think an absolute must if you are in Key West (granted I love literature…). The Hemingway House was originally owned by a wealthy wrecker. Hemingway and his second wife lived here for many years and he wrote about 8 novels during his many years in Key West.

Our tour guide hated Pauline, the second wife, because of her expensive taste, electric Venetian glass lamps were installed all over the house and the fans were taken out. Did I mention I was sweating in places I didn’t know I could sweat? It is so humid; I have to say I think this woman deserved all of our tour guide’s vitriol. I would have appreciated a fan.

Hemingway was a cat lover. And he loved 6 toed cats and worked to breed them. There are tons of cats all over the museum and there is even one with 7 toes. There is also a cat cemetery with a plaque listing the funny names given to all the cats.

Hemingway’s writing lair:

Pauline and Ernest’s marriage ended and it may have had to do with her spending almost all of his money to build a pool when the ocean was not far away:

There is a lighthouse that you can see from the Hemingway House and locals used to joke that after a night at Hemingway’s favorite bar, Sloppy Joe’s, that he would be able to find his way home with the landmark.

Shipwreck Treasures Museum

This museum is incredibly cheesy, but I think the view from the wrecker’s tower is worth it. People became very wealthy back in the day by being wreckers in Key West. They would go out to recover the wrecks of ships that sunk on the reefs.

Our tour included an actor who told us all about the history:

There used to be several towers back in the day in Key West where people would stand watch waiting for wrecks.

Food

Duval Street is the party, bar, and food street in Key West. At night, this street turns into Spring Break with a dash of queens putting on shows and fair dose of obnoxious frat boys walking around.

How could I not go to Hemingway’s favorite bar? Sloppy Joe’s is restaurant bar and a nice place to sit, get a drink, and try some local food.

And I don’t think it gets more local than conch fritters. Conch (see shell below) is fried and then there is an aioli for dipping. It was tasty and I would have it again. But then again, I don’t think I’ve ever tried anything that I didn’t like that was fried.

Fish tacos are always a good idea.

If you go to Key West, you should have key lime pie. It’s everywhere so you have no excuses. And if it’s a very hot day (which it was) you can get it dipped in chocolate and frozen!

Location

Key West is really the end of the line. In Key West you’ll find the Southern most point in the continental US. Although there is this lovely marker where you can take photos, this is not technically the Southern most point but civilians can’t get to the actual point because it’s on a military base. Note the giant dish that we saw from the beach.

The Fort Zachary Taylor State Park beach was beautiful and fairly quiet because it is a bit of a walk from the main drag in Key West. The sand is white from all of the coral.

One last thing I would recommend is heading to Mallory Square for the sunset:

It was hard to leave, but I had to go back home to California to the unseasonably cold weather we are currently having.

One last thought: whoever has that “36-hours-in-(insert city here)” writing gig at The New York Times is a lucky person.

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