Known for warm beaches and eccentric residents with a live–in–the–moment philosophy, Key West offers a relaxed yet unexpected seaside adventure. Do as the residents (known as Conchs) do and see where that free spirit might take you. Perhaps you'll end up at a Duval Street bar, in a Mallory Square shop or even touring Ernest Hemingway's old home.
Key West once threatened to go rogue (in 1982 with a mock secessionist movement to create "The Conch Republic"); so this is definitely the place to throw a firm itinerary out the window. Take a stroll, sip a margarita, spy a six–toed cat and set your own pace. While Hurricane Irma did impact the area in late 2017, Key West is definitely back in business, with almost all tourism sites ready for visitors.
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The best time to visit Key West is between March and May. The winter crowds will taper off, the hotel rates become reasonable and the weather is remarkably similar to winter's blissful 70s and 80s. Speaking of winter – that season is the island's busiest and priciest. The rainy and humid summer months see the fewest tourists but the best hotel rates. The trade-off might be worth it, but you're still gambling against hurricane season (June to November). Also, beware that rates will surge during special events like Key West Pride and Fantasy Fest.
Data sourced from the National Climatic Data Center
Key West is unique for its eclectic and diverse collection of residents, many of which are immigrants of European descent from the Bahamas and call themselves "Conchs." Those who were not born on the island are affectionately known as "freshwater Conchs." The origin on the name is largely unknown, but the main theory stems from the American Revolution. Loyalists who had moved to the Bahamas started calling the locals Conchs after their shellfish-heavy diet.
You might notice souvenirs with the phrase "Conch Republic" around the island. The term was coined in the early 1980s, when the city threatened a mock secession from the United States when the U.S. Border Patrol tried to set up a Key West inspection point to search for drugs and illegal immigrants. Ultimately, the publicity from the event — and the Conchs' resistance — only increased tourism to the area.
Key West's dining is unique and casual (it's not unusual to see the occasional animal stroll by your table). Seafood is the foundation of much of the local fare; however, Caribbean and Cuban influences add a bit of a kick to your standard fish dish.
Critics and travelers agree that El Siboney offers some of the best authentic Cuban food in Key West (try Frita's Cuban Burger Cafe for a more casual atmosphere). If you're craving some classic Florida–Caribbean plates, the iconic Blue Heaven is a sure bet. Not your typical eatery, Blue Heaven prides itself on its funky atmosphere (roosters and cats roam freely among the outdoor tables). For a menu that's more seafood–focused, try Seven Fish. Just keep your eyes peeled when you're looking for the restaurant on the corner of Elizabeth and Olivia streets: previous visitors say the tiny restaurant is easy to miss.
You won't have any trouble finding budget–friendly outposts in Key West, but locating a more fine dining experience can be trickier. Nine One Five is well-received by both critics and travelers. Located in an old Victorian house on Duval Street, the upscale eatery serves up a menu that's heavy on seafood and steak. After dinner, head upstairs to the Point5 Lounge where local jazz musicians sometimes play.
Plenty of fun-loving bars also dot Duval Street. Travelers suggest trying to get a table at Louie's Backyard around sunset: you'll encounter fewer crowds than those at Mallory Square, plus you can enjoy a glass of wine and small plates while you watch the sun dip behind the Gulf of Mexico. On the other end of the spectrum, the Green Parrot is well-loved for its affordable prices, beer selection and local live music.
No matter where you choose to dine when in Key West, you'll likely find Key lime pie on nearly every menu. When it first appeared in the Keys is a bit of a mystery, but the confection has become so synonymous with the Sunshine State that is was declared Florida's official pie in 2006. Though there is much debate as to where you can find the best slice, travelers and critics agree that Kermit's Key West Key Lime Shoppe, Pepe's Cafe and Blond Giraffe Key Lime Pie Factory are among the best.
The crime rate in the Florida Keys is low but you should still use common sense when exploring Key West, especially at night and around hectic Duval Street and Mallory Square . Be cautious if you go into the water as well; be sure to heed all flags and warning from authorities. Take care when bicycling through the streets: You're required to use bike lights at night.
The best way to get around tiny Key West is on foot. Mopeds and bicycles are also popular, though mopeds can be dangerous. Taxis are available on the street, as well as in front of the Key West International Airport (EYW) in the middle of the island, plus the Key West Department of Transportation operates public bus routes around the island. Ride-hailing apps, such as Uber and Lyft, also service the island. Very few people drive around the island, but making the scenic nearly four-hour jaunt from Miami is a popular way to arrive in Key West.See details for Getting Around
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