Key West Life
Visitors come to Key West for many reasons.
Some spend relaxing vacations in the many
resorts, hotels, and quaint inns with Bahamian
architecture. Families stay in camping and RV
parks. Others come to escape northern climates -
even in the summer -- and especially to fish.
Others come for a day or two to feel how it is
in the southernmost community in the United
States - less than 100 miles from the island of
Cuba, the American heart of the Caribbean.
When Ernest Hemingway arrived here in the
1930s, Sloppy Joe's Bar was the in place
to be. It still is! This landmark pub helped set
the tone for today's informal social life in Key
West, where no one cares about how you're
dressed for dinner, or about anything else!
The visitors who come to Key West are from
all walks of life -- from millionaires to
ordinary folks, and families wanting a relaxing
beach vacation. In recent years, the town has
welcomed a large number of gay visitors, and
there are hotels and inns devoted to serving the
gay clientele (see Hotel
Even though the population and visitor
numbers have grown, Key West retains the unique
features which made it an adventurous place to
vacation in earlier decades. The historic
architecture is a blend of Bahamian and New
England seaside construction. Houses have
porches on multiple storys. Landscaping is lush,
and older buildings blend with more modern
structures design to retain the unique ambiance.
The island's population is culturally diverse,
mirroring the groups that settled the island
over the past two centuries.
Key West Celebrations
This is a city that celebrates -- for any
reason. Art and music festivals are held
year-round. Parties abound. Plays are premiered
here. You'll see evening boat parades passing by
virtually every night throughout the year.
Almost every evening, sunset is celebrated at
Mallory Square. September brings
Womenfest., and for ten days in October,
Fantasy Fest offers ten days of mardi
gras activity, attracting more than 30,000
visitors. Many fishing tournaments are held.,
challenging deep sea anglers. In July,
Hemingway Days and the Ernest
Hemingway Lookalike Competition bring out
the literary and more bizarre sides of the
city's most famous former resident.
The Early Days
The long history of this unique island town
includes settlement by South Florida natives,
occupation by Spanish explorers and Bahamian
"conchs," and the American military. Long a
haven for "wreckers," looking for bounty from
wrecked ships that foundered in the
unpredictable Gulf Stream, the island became a
trading center and tourist destination with the
completion of Henry Flagler's stupendous railway
project in January, 1912.
This was not the first settlement on the
Florida Keys. That distinction goes to Indian
Key. And within a few years, people came to live
and work on Upper Matecumbe, Vaca, and Newport
(Key Largo). But with its position, close to
Cuba, and growing trade with Cuba, Key West
became the largest city in South Florida by the
1820s, with shipping and fishing attracting
residents who enjoyed the warm weather -- annual
average temperature of 77 degrees, and it never
freezes. Even in the summer Key West is
comfortable with sea breezes tempering the
climate. The record high is 98 degrees.
The Coming of the Highway
Key West remained a small, offbeat community
until long after 1938, when the two-lane highway
between Homestead and Key West was completed,
long after hurricanes had removed the railway
tracks and bridges.
The town has had its ups, and a lot of downs.
The population sagged after the loss of the
railroad, and the Great depression decimated the
population further. It wasn't until tourists
found Key West in the 1960s, that the island
graduated into a popular destination. Now, some
20,000 people service the visitors who come here
for balmy winter vacations, its friendly,
tolerant atmosphere, and for year-round fishing
From the 1970s, the town has prospered as a
popular tourist attraction, attracting a wide
range of visitors who come to Key West to view
the unique Caribbean architecture, visit the
history museums, and to sample food and drink,
including the ubiquitous margarita -- made
infamous by Jimmy Buffet's landmark song
How to Get There
The town is 159 miles southwest of Miami and
90 miles north of Havana. From Miami, take US
Highway 1 south. You'll be thrilled with the
spectacular views from the highway, while
traveling on many bridges, including a
You'll find many places to eat and sight see
on the lower and middle keys, including Key
Largo, Plantation Key, Islamorada, Duck Key,
Marathon Key, Big Pine Key, Little Torch Key,
Ramrod Key, and Sugarloaf Key.
Key West International Airport (EYW) is
serviced by Comair, The Delta Connection, USAir
Express, and American Eagle, with only a short
flight from Miami.