A Key West “Choose Your Adventure”

Need an escape from endless shoveling, worries about heating costs, and that cold white stuff that makes going about your daily business so difficult–if not downright dangerous? I do. Let’s go. Imagination is free.

Fly free of responsibilities...

This tropical locale is the kind of place where the biggest decisions are which restaurants to choose, which activities to enjoy, and which drinks to sip as we laze away the days.

Landing at your island destination, you enjoy the freedom that comes along with shedding heavy layers of clothes and leaving your daily routine behind. You check into your accommodations. It’s everything you hoped for. When you pull back the curtains of your luxury suite that leads to your private balcony, you wonder why you waited so long to make that leap and visit the southernmost city. Your view overlooks Mallory Square, one of the world’s most famous places to people-watch and enjoy the sun set. Oh, but the clock tower at nearby Key West Museum chimes one, so you figure you have plenty of time to explore before considering the night’s entertainment.

One of those balconies has your name on it. :)

One of those balconies has your name on it. 🙂

What will you do first? If you stroll down Key West’s main drag, Duval Street, you choose to stop for at Hog’s Breath Saloon, where you strum your fingers to the live music and chat with fellow escapees on the adjacent bar stools as you sip a Hogarita or two. Waving goodbye to your new friends, you finish your drink and head into the brilliant sunshine for another adventure. You make your way toward Upper Duval, stopping to read the crazy t-shirt sayings at the tacky souvenir shops or visiting bars such as Sloppy Joe’s, Irish Kevin’s, Rick’s, The Bull & Whistle, Fat Tuesday’s, and Buffet’s original Margaritaville.

Fogarty's on Duval

Fogarty’s on Duval

If you opt to visit a number of those establishments or even one for an extended period of time, be prepared to learn the true meaning of the phrase “Duval Crawl.” Otherwise, you can choose to continue your walk to the Butterfly Conservatory and South Beach.

South Beach, Key West

South Beach, Key West

Butterflies and beaches aren’t on the agenda for your first day? Retrace your steps, making a right at the Conch Train station and heading past the Hyatt Resort to the Key West Historic Seaport. You could relax on the deck of Turtle Kraals and watch the comings and goings at the marina or trek the boardwalk until you spy another eatery that fits your style.

The Boardwalk

The Boardwalk

Jolyse Barnett PhotographyAfter your late lunch, you could shop (perhaps buy a bottle of wine for later in the evening), talk with local tour charter vendors to book a ghost tour, sunset sail, fishing boat, jet skiing or kayaking eco-tour for later in your stay, or return to the hotel for an afternoon siesta. Before you rest, however, don’t forget to talk with your concierge about selecting just the right restaurant for that romantic dinner before you join the crowd headed to Mallory.

Mallory Square Performer

Mallory Square Performer

After your scrumptious meal and a picturesque sunset you wind your way through entertainers and tourists to Old Town’s quaint side streets, breathing in the ambiance and architecture of the city before returning to Front Street and your hotel. If you’ve had enough excitement for your first day, you can choose to stroll hand-in-hand to your suite, open that bottle of wine and enjoy your loved one’s company.

The following morning…you’re off to a new adventure. What will yours be?

Sailing in Key West Harbor

Sailing in Key West Harbor

Top Five Reasons To Visit Key West

In 2011, 9.6 million tourists visited Key West, contributing $8,200,000,000 to the local economy and creating 102,000 jobs locally. Wow! That’s a lot of dinero. What is it about this little 2×5 mile southernmost island that attracts so many?

KW2011 238

The island’s OTHER wildlife

People from all walks of life visit here, from those who camp at Bluewater Key RV park to those who rent a Westin cottage on Sunset Key. Key West is like Vegas, but with fishing on the high seas instead of high stakes gambling. For some tourists, the highlight of their vacation is the freedom to drink their way from one end of Duval to another. For others, they come for the laidback, casual step away from demands of everyday life.

La Concha Hotel on Duval Street

La Concha Hotel on Duval Street

This island has something to offer almost everyone.

Here are my top five reasons I keep returning to the southernmost island and why I think you should put the Conch Republic on your bucket list–if it isn’t there already!

5.  Incredible Dining:

If you love fresh seafood, this is the island for you. If you don’t, you still will have plenty of five-star restaurant food selections. From the local favorites to the touristy Historic Seaport and Duval establishments, we’ve yet to be disappointed. Foodies will be in heaven here. I can’t wait to report back to you in a few weeks about our upcoming dining experience at Latitudes.

Bacon-Wrapped Scallops and Mashed Potatoes

Bacon-Wrapped Scallops and Mashed Potatoes

4.  Fantastic Water Sports:

You have your choice of snorkeling, paddleboarding, kayak ecotouring, swimming, scuba diving, flats fishing, deep-sea fishing, sailing, jet skiing and more. My favorite activities are the snorkel/kayaking combo, the flats fishing, and of course, the sunset sail.

Mangroves off Key West

Mangroves off Key West

3.  Awesome People-Watching:

Whether you stroll Duval, soak in the entertainment at one of the many bars or restaurants, lounge at a beach, go shopping, visit a museum, or take a ride on one of the tour trolleys, there will be plenty of opportunities to people-watch. As a writer, I get some of my best character and dialogue ideas from people I’ve observed or chatted with on that tiny, diverse island. Enjoy the variety!

Performer at the Aqua Club

Performer at the Aqua Club

2.  Biking:

Biking the island is so easy and fun and freeing. You are connected to nature, cycling everywhere like when you were a kid. I don’t know about you, but my busy suburban life doesn’t lend itself to leisurely bike ride through quiet side streets to the beach or bars. Just saying.

Lounging at the Beach

Fort Zach Beach is a short bike ride away!

1.  Being Accepted for Who You Are:

I always feel welcomed on the island, not just because my honey and I bring our tourist dollars, but because of who we are. Yeah, it’s a nice feeling. I’ve traveled other places, and nowhere else has quite matched it. I’ve yet to meet a local or tourist that I haven’t enjoyed talking with and learning about. Don’t be surprised if your concierge, taxi driver, or the restaurant wait staff engages you in conversation and shares a little about him or herself too. Key West’s motto, “One Human Family” may strike a chord with you as it has me. There’s a relaxed vibe of “live and let live” and in appreciating, or at least accepting, people’s differences. At the risk of sounding preachy, here’s one of my current favorite songs…

I’d love to hear about your favorite destination. What are your top five reasons for returning there time and again?

Duval Street, Key West

Pose with Jack Sparrow on Duval

You’ll see it all on Duval. If I were a slogan-writer, that’s how I’d refer to the main thoroughfare in Old Town, Key West, a road that stretches approximately two miles southeast to northwest on the western side of Bone Island.

Duval Street is where the cruise ship tourists stroll, the Fantasy Fest participants parade, the pubbers crawl,  and the chickens roam. Some of the unusual sights I’ve seen are pirates, performing animals, transvestites, and body-painted tourists. Once, I even saw a man on a leash.

A Biking Town

A constant hum of scooters, conch cruisers, pedi-cabs, pink taxis, motorcycles, and cars fills this street, joining the Conch Train and Ghost Train tours that chug through periodically, day and night.

Duval Street is split into Upper and Lower Duval. To keep it simple, remember that the lower the street number, the closer to Lower Duval you are. At the beginning of Lower Duval is Mallory Square, renowned site of beautiful sunsets and free nightly street performances on the Gulf of Mexico.

We especially like watching Dominic the Cat Man whenever we attend Sunset Celebration.

A tamer storefront

Like the island’s peoples, stores along Duval Street are eclectic. You’ll find mom-and-pop grocery stores and smoke shops sandwiched between big-name stores such as The Gap and Coach. There are endless t-shirt shops here as well, with storefront displays of tacky silkscreen art and the occasional marijuana paraphenalia.

Sloppy Joe’s of Key West

Lower Duval is where the famous Sloppy Joe’s and numerous other bars are located. We enjoy Hogs Breath Saloon for its hogaritia, a potent version of a margarita, and its live music. Irish Kevin’s is the bar to visit for raunchy versions of your favorite songs. There are also piano bars, sports bars, clothing optional, and upscale martini bars. Key West’s Smallest Bar, with its two stools, is a proud resident of this famous street.

As you travel toward what I refer to as mid-Duval, a variety of aromas will whet your appetitie. We’ve enjoyed tapas at 915, Sunday brunch at Croissants de France, and American cuisine at Fogerty’s. If you crave ice cream, frozen yogurt, or smoothies, walk or bike a few blocks until you spy a snack shop that suits your desire. Jimmy Buffett fans attending the 35th Parrothead convention a few weeks ago had the surprise of a lifetime when he performed an impromptu concert for them outside the Key West Margaritaville at 500 Duval Street. Check out this concert video courtesy of YouTube:

I wouldn’t consider myself a Parrothead and I don’t generally like crowds, but I would’ve really liked to have been in Key West for that experience.

Upper Duval is at the southeast end of the street where you’ll find the Southernmost Hotel, including a tiki bar/restaurant and beach on the Atlantic Ocean. The Key West Butterfly Conservatory , one of Old Town’s must-see attractions, is on Upper Duval, too. This end has plentiful window shopping opportunities, with its beautiful art galleries, jewelry stores, and other specialty shops.

You never know what you’re going to see on Key West’s Duval Street, but I can almost guarantee you’ll come home with a story or two. Join me here every Monday for a Margarita Moment where I’ll be sure to share another of mine. Until then, enjoy each day doing what you love.

Do you have any Duval Street stories to share? Or questions for me? I’d be happy to answer questions, or research as necessary.

Paradise Found, Key West Butterfly Conservatory

Summer in the Adirondacks

Having grown up in upstate New York’s Adirondack Mountains, I guess it’s only natural I adore jagged landscapes covered by mature evergreens. As a teenager, I traveled with my family to Maine where I had my first glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean, its pounding surf at Pemaquid Point’s mesmerizing. Years later, I fell head-over-heels for palm tree sunsets as I ventured further from my homebase. Oddly enough, another place I consider to be a slice of heaven isn’t out in the wild, but inside a building on Duval Street in Key West, Florida.

One of the many reasons I am drawn back to Old Town each year is the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory. This must-see KW attraction was one we almost overlooked, having toured St. Maarten’s butterfly farm years earlier and wrongly assuming we could cross this activity off our travel to-do list. Thankfully, our B&B’s manager convinced us this conservatory was worth the fee and our time.

The first stop on the self-guided tour is the Learning Center, a smallish room with educational exhibits. Here the guest may view a short butterfly video and look at butterflies in various stages of their life cycle. Wall maps also show worldwide butterfly species distribution. Once a person has had her fill of facts, she enters the main part of the building where the large, glass-domed conservatory serves as a weather-controlled tropical oasis for its lucky residents.

Between forty to fifty exotic species of butterflies rest, fly, or sip nectar, unconcerned about human presence within the conservatory and co-existing with butterfly-friendly birds that control the room’s mosquito and aphid populations. Tranquil, filtered music harmonizes with birds chirping, while a water feature provides a backdrop of soothing white noise. Fragrant tropical flowers scent the space as the guest strolls along the brick walkway. Winding through the leafy, colorful interior, the path crosses over the koi and turtle pond via a wooden bridge. Photography and videotaping within the conservatory is allowed and all guests encouraged to stay as long as they wish.

As for my husband and me, we spent more than two hours in our little Paradise Found, much of our time simply relaxing on butterfly-shaped chairs as we bird watched. When photographing, I was amazed how easy it was to get the ethereal butterflies to pose. Unlike my previous butterfly farm experience, no Zoom or Sport camera setting was needed!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these photos–my little escape from the ordinary. Whether you find beauty in a dew-covered spider web, blooming orchids, an Alaskan glacier, or Saguaro cactus, I wonder:  Where on Earth do you find paradise?

%d bloggers like this: