Part II of our summer vacation continues where we left off after our last day in Miami, which now make up the other half of our trip in Florida: Key West. The three hour drive to this archipelago in a crammed minivan rental and driving through the evening was not very taxing to me as the driver since Amy and Tin kept me company through during the drive. The 165 mile drive (approximately 3.5 hours drive with no traffic) through the Florida keys was shockingly dark despite the moon’s glow, therefore we missed the possibility of seeing the beautiful sunset along the Caribbean. What we did catch, however, were the bright stars in the clear night sky, making it possible for us to make out the constellations in the dark abyss above us as we crossed the famous 7 mile bridge.
Side Note: What was surreal about this bridge was that seemed to not follow the earth’s curvature at all. An example of this phenomena was the time when I drove straight on a road that seemed to go on forever and you would see the headlights of the car coming from the opposite direction. You would then stare at these pair of headlights for a good 5-7 minutes before they finally pass you on the left. What is crazy is that you lose the perception of distance and time so quite easily until…boom it just happens. I thought that was pretty cool.
The famous Florida keys make up Florida’s southernmost point of the state, which are mostly made up of several island cities stretching about 120 miles off the southern tip of mainland Florida. Each island is known for their fishing, boating, snorkeling and scuba diving with different flairs. The most popular island among the keys is Key West, which also happen to be the southernmost part of the keys. Famous for its many bars, nightly sunset celebrations and Earnest Hemingway’s home, it’s not surprising that it’s also the most popular tourist destination among the islands. US Presidents of the past would also take their vacations here with a designated home, known as the “little white house”, but probably wasn’t a good time to visit during the Cold War since their home was only 90 miles north of Cuba.
Famed for their pastel colored, conch homes that seem to be the norm in most destination spots in the Caribbean, the largest island is also a popular stop for cruise ships.
High off the beautiful beaches of Miami, we were pretty underwhelmed by the beaches in Key West. They were small, limited and the rough rocks in the shallow parts of the water made the run into water a miniature gauntlet to test the durability of the soles of our feet.
However, we were very impressed with the attractions in the island as they more than made up for the lack of a beach experience. Most of the attractions were located in the western half of the city, known as “Old Town”, which included the busy streets of Duval Street. This main strip was the hot spot for “downtown” experience due to its abundance of bars, restaurants and shops selling local specialties like Key Lime Pies (or anything Key Lime flavored) and hand-rolled cigars.
Side Note: Parking in Key West is pretty much a pain in the ass. The fading paint markings on the road make it hard to distinguish the difference between permit parking and open parking, let alone the narrow streets make it tricky to maneuver between cars going in the opposite direction. What you will soon realize, is that cars are of little use once you’re in the heart of town as everything is minutes away on foot.
Waterfront Mallory Square hosted nightly events with street performers, food vendors, and museums. Our favorite was the island’s aquarium as we had a lot of fun there with the hands on experiences that the aquarium had to offer. Everybody was allowed to participate to hand-feed some of its famous salt water residents, like their Sting Rays.
Before I forget, I have to mention the island’s most famous residents. Not Earnest Hemingway (he’s ok) but the wild chicken and roosters that pretty much ran things on the streets of Key West. You can sometimes see the chickens crossing the street with their little chicks, or see a proud rooster demand attention from tourists passing by ruffling their feathers and crowing.
I highly recommend a trip to the Key West. If not for the beaches (especially if you’re coming from Miami) but for the amazing island culture and food in a Caribbean tourist destination where everyone is American and speaks English. Currently this is the closest you can get to Cuba since travel to that country was closed at the time of this writing, but I think it’s literally the closest thing you can get.