It was February in Boston, and that meant it was time to escape to a warmer climate. In the depths of a New England winter, it’s important to get a dose of vitamin D and remember what the sun feels like on your skin, even if it only lasts a week. This year’s destination: Key West.

It was our first time in the Florida Keys, and our agenda was limited. We had booked four nights at the Lighthouse Court Hotel, located in the heart of old town Key West, across the street from the Hemingway House and just blocks away from busy Duval Street. The only thing we booked in advance was a ferry ride out to Dry Tortugas National Park, 70 miles off of the island. Otherwise, it was a four-day free for all. Here are some of my recommendations:

Walk Duval Street

I’m sure every Key West travel guide will tell you to check out the famous Duval Street. As our hotel concierge explained it, there is a loud, raucous, party side of the street and a quiet, art gallery, shopping side of the street. Even if you don’t go in anywhere, it’s a fun walk just for the window shopping and people watching.

Hemingway House

This is another one that you’ll find on a lot of lists. If we’re being honest, I think the biggest lure for me and my husband was the chance to see the cats, especially the famous six-toed ones. Apparently there are 54 cats on the property! They just roam around and sleep on the furniture, acting like they own the place. Not all are six-toed, but we did spy some that were. Cats aside, our house visit was more enjoyable than I expected. I suggest waiting for one of the house tours. Our guide, Stan, did an excellent job telling us about the life and times of Hemingway while mixing in a number of entertaining anecdotes. Truly a very enjoyable time, even for someone who knows nothing of Hemingway’s work.

Hemingway Cat

Hemingway Cat

Sunset at Mallory Square

It gets busy, and it’s a little touristy (street performers and the like), but it is a great place to enjoy the sunset. We were there on a somewhat chilly day, and it was still a bit crowded. We beat the crowds by getting a drink and some artichoke dip at the Westin, which allowed us to sit on a nice patio on the water, enjoy a tasty snack and watch the sky light up and the sun slip away.

Get a Picture at the Southernmost Point.

C’mon, you have to do it! Be ready to wait in line and be choosy about who you ask to take your photo. I chose poorly.

The Southernmost point in the continental U.S. Only 90 miles to Cuba.

The Southernmost point in the continental U.S. Only 90 miles to Cuba.

Go to Dry Tortugas National Park

This one requires a bit of planning and a bit of cash. The Yankee Freedom runs a daily ferry from Key West to the islands, which are 70 miles away. Most people book in advance, and you can camp in the park if that appeals. It’s a two and a half hour trip each way, so this is a full day experience. Once on the island, you have around three hours to explore – there’s a fort you can tour, some lovely beaches to lie on and plenty of snorkel options.

Empty Beach: Dry Tortugas National Park

Empty Beach: Dry Tortugas National Park

It’s a cool day trip and certainly worth it, but here’s my warning to all readers with anything less than an ironclad stomach: the ride can get bumpy, especially heading out there. People got sick on the boat. I was one of them. BUY DRAMAMINE!

The seasickness aside, though, it really is a nice day. I recommend going!

Butterfly and Nature Conservatory

This was the surprise activity of the trip. I didn’t expect much going in, but the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory on Duval Street was a true pleasure. There are birds chirping, lush plants, flowers growing all around and gorgeous butterflies everywhere you look. I enjoyed the pair of comical flamingos, Rhett and Scarlett, who bobbed their heads around in unison nearly the whole time. The conservatory is rated a number one Key West attraction, and I can see why. I really think this is worth the visit – would be great for kids. Our hotel had a brochure offering a couple of dollars off of admission, so check your lobbies for discount possibilities before heading over.

Rhett or Scarlett, hard to say.

Rhett or Scarlett, hard to say.

Fort Zachary Taylor State Park

I was surprised to find out that Key West, while lovely in many ways, does not have great beaches. If you’re looking to lounge on the sand, I’d suggest a different island. However, one nice little beach you can visit if you’re just looking to get a fix is Fort Zachary Taylor State Park. You can also walk around the fort if that’s of interest.

Categories: U.S. Travel

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