Long, long ago, in a university not so far away, college kids dreamed of Key West while listening to Jimmy Buffet croon. Visions of riding an old, red bike to Captain Tony’s or a beach where a margarita awaited filled our heads.
I cannot believe that it I never managed to get to Key West, Florida until now, many moons later. Better late than never. Disney’s Marvel Cruise stopped in Key West, affording me the long awaited opportunity to explore Duval Street and beyond.
I imagined Key West to be one large, tropical Bourbon Street. While Duval and Bourbon Streets have a lot in common, Key West had much more to offer.
Our ship docked early in the morning. I chose to save Duval Street for last, wanting to see it full of life.
The Disney Magic docked at Mallory Square. At night, I am told that it comes alive with a variety of people and entertainers including performing cats. Sadly, we would already have left before the talented kitties arrived.
In the morning, it provides a perfect starting point to explore Key West.
Little White House
I turned right on Front Street, seeking out the Little White House. This home has hosted several U.S. presidents, but is most famous for President Harry Truman’s time spent here during World War II.
An art festival lined the street that I took. While this was interesting, I was more impressed by the architecture. This Key West neighborhood has beautiful homes, large trees, picket fences and tropical landscaping. It reminded me of Seaside, Florida, which I have visited many times.
The Little White House was hosting an event, so I did not get to tour it. It is not really little, either.
Leaving the Little White House, I took Caroline Street a block inland to Whitehead Street. I turned away from Mallory Square and headed to the other side of the island. Whitehead Street is a pleasant walk with a few sites to see. At the near end, Mile Marker 0 marks where the famous Highway A1A begins.
The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum lies near the midpoint of Whitehead Street. Ernest Hemingway lived an amazing life of travel and adventure. I am not a fan of his writing, though. I tried to read both “The Old Man and the Sea” and “A Farewell to Arms,” but could not get into either. The resident descendants of Hemingway’s six-toed cats interested me most. I was not willing to pay museum admission for this, though.
Directly across the street from the Hemingway House stands the Key West lighthouse.
Whitehead Street ends at the Southernmost Point of the Continental U.S. It is nothing more than a photo stop, but I still thought it was neat.
I enjoyed the Victorian architecture surrounding this area.
West Martello Tower
Next, I paralleled the southern coast, roughly due east, headed to West Martello Tower. It was once an unfinished fort. The ruins have long been managed by the Key West Garden Club and it is now a botanic garden.
I never miss the chance to visit gardens. The West Martello Tower gardens are small, but beautiful and in a unique setting. Admission is free, but donations are encouraged. I found it well worth a nice donation.
You will find four other interesting sites nearby. A cemetery of Africans who were “rescued” before becoming slaves, but still died from the transAtlantic journey rests nearby. It is quite a sobering experience. Next to it the Key West AIDS Memorial.
Walking out on the Edward B. Knight pier provides views of the Gulf of Mexico and the Key West Coast. It had rained and the water was murky when I visited, but the scenery was still nice.
About a block away is the Key West Wildlife Center, a 24 hour animal rescue. The seven acres have a nature trail, aviary and animal encounters. Donations are accepted.
I retraced my path, back to Duval Street, which lies just one block from Whitehead Street, but feels miles apart. It was now about noon. The street was alive and it was getting hot.
Duval Street met my expectations: tacky and touristy, but also alive and interesting. Anatomically correct coat hangers and other oddities did not impress my wife (This is a family blog; so, no photos).
My image of Key West being a tropical Bourbon Street lives on Duval Street. The smell is not nearly as strong here, though.
I made two stops along the way: Oldest House and Garden Museum and Sloppy Joe’s Beach Bar. Both were interesting photo stops. I then returned to the Disney Magic.
Impression of Key West
Key West proved to be much more diverse than I imagined. While Duval Street will not disappoint frat boys and Parrotheads, the rest of us can roam beyond and appreciate the history, architecture, and laid back lifestyle. It is okay to peak in on Duval Street, too!