Destination: Key West
As the southernmost tip of the US and the end of the chain of islands within the Florida Keys, Key West is known for its laid-back culture, azure seas, water sports, vibrant nightlife, and its rich history. Spanning only about 7.4 square miles, which includes 1.5 of those square miles as water, the city of Key West is very compact. Key West’s Historic District is on the western side of the island in what is known as Old Town, where the original settlement of the island was located. Old Town is centered by lively Duval Street, which is the main drag in town with many hotels, inns, shops, restaurants and bars. Most of the island’s best attractions are all located within close proximity of Duval Street and the island is easy to navigate due to its small size.
Historically, Key West was originally dubbed Cayo Hueso, which means bone key. Early Spanish settlers found human bones on the island, which was thought to be human remains of native inhabitants who used the island as a graveyard. Some locals still reference the original name, although the Key West moniker is what is used today. The Keys were first inhabited by the native Calusa people who used the land and water alike for hunting. Later the Spanish settled much of Florida, which all started when the adventurous Spaniard Ponce de Leon first discovered the Florida Keys in 1513. Key West’s rich history continued throughout the 1800s with a mix of ownership and residents including the English, Southerners from the US, and Bahamians. With a buzzing port and a lighthouse in the mid-1800s, Key West was a prominent point on the map for trade and industry. Today, Key West’s main industries include fishing and tourism.
In the 1930s, the Keys became connected to mainland Florida thanks to the construction of the Overseas Highway. While there is an international airport located on Key West, many people opt to drive to the Keys from mainland Florida. Located about 120 miles southwest of Miami, the drive over the Overseas Highway is picturesque and quite unique, connecting all the islands of the Keys along the way south to Key West, which is considered the most urban and lively of all the keys.
Key West is certainly the central hot spot for nightlife and entertainment, but great bars and restaurants can be found throughout the Keys. From rustic watering holes to live music venues, Key West has something for everyone, including a raucous pub crawl known as the Duval Crawl, sampling the streets finest in bars. Beyond the cocktails and nightlife, Key West also has many notable cultural attractions including the Tennessee Williams Fine Arts Center and the ever popular Ernest Hemingway House. The author called Key West home for a number of years and is said to have written and worked on many of his most acclaimed books while living there. Getting out in the water is another favorite for most visitors and deep-sea fishing is especially popular in this region.