- Written by Patti Lavell
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For those fortunate enough to find themselves being deposited by their cruise ship in Key West for the day, here’s an itinerary of things not-to-be-missed. By the same token, if you’re touring the Florida Keys and only have a day to spare, this itinerary will allow you to sample the best of the best without winding up in the hospital due to exhaustion.
Start your day with a heavenly breakfast at Blue Heaven located at 729 Thomas Street. This eclectic and casual restaurant has indoor and outdoor seating but if you want the real experience, sit outside at the colorful tables among the roosters and unusual art. Enjoy a mimosa with freshly squeezed OJ and an irresistible classic, the Key West shrimp and grits. If you’re trying to recover from a rough night, the pecan pancakes with real maple syrup or the bacon benedict are just what the doctor ordered. For more information, go to http://www.blueheavenkw.com/.
Now that your belly is full, why not burn off some of those calories with a glorious trip to North America’s only living coral reef? Key West Snorkeling Tours will whisk you away in comfort aboard their 78-foot catamaran and provide all of the gear you need for an up-close meeting with the wondrous inhabitants of the reef. The complimentary beer, wine and soda will keep you hydrated and in the party mood. Book your tour at http://www.keywestsnorkelingtours.com/snorkel-adventure/.
With your flippers back on terra firma, it’s time to sample some famous Key West bars. Make your way to Capt Tony’s Saloon at 428 Greene Street. If the walls of this place could talk, you’d hear riveting stories of when it was the Ice House and doubled as a morgue or about its hay days as a bordello. Through the wood plank floor and out the roof sprouts the “Hanging Tree”. It was from this very tree that seventeen convicted pirates were hung in the 1800s. Many famous characters have graced this establishment including Key West’s own Hemingway, Presidents Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy, Elizabeth Taylor and Jimmy Buffet. Perhaps its most endearing quality is the hundreds of bras and panties that hang from the ceiling, left behind by colorful patrons as a symbol of their “support” for this famous landmark. http://www.capttonyssaloon.com/
A stone’s throw away is Sloppy Joe’s at 201 Duval Street. It’s easy to find great music here day or night. In addition to the main bar, there’s Joe’s Tap Room featuring a variety of craft beers on tap, which is a rare find in this town. Like seemingly so many other Key West locations, this one is rich with Hemmingway history and lore. Every July, Sloppy Joe’s hosts the annual Hemmingway Look-Alike Contest, which draws in hundreds of Hemmingway Wannabe’s and their fans. Be sure to check out the well-stocked store for the obligatory souvenir T-Shirt. Find a schedule of events and other details at http://www.sloppyjoes.com/.
At the corner of Duval and Caroline Streets, you’ll be glad to find The Bull and Whistle, one of the last remaining open-air Key West bars. The ground floor bar holds the large central bar with a small stage area for local performers. An Elvis impersonator can often be found gyrating and crooning here. The second floor is more of a sports bar with pool tables and darts but the best part of this level is the narrow verandah that faces the street. It’s lined with bar stools and tables from which you can enjoy a cold drink and watch the spectacle below. There is a third floor and it’s famous too but for different reasons. The Garden of Eden is Key West’s only clothing-optional bar. Staff and patrons alike are shielded from would-be voyeurs by tropical foliage so if you’re feeling brave, slip out of those swim trunks but remember, the no-photo policy is strictly enforced! Visit them here: http://www.bullkeywest.com/.
If naked locals and tourists don’t appeal, spend 90 minutes aboard the very popular Conch Tour Train. Buy your ticket and board at the Front Street Depot and settle in for an enjoyable and educational journey through Key West history and lore. This short and affordable trip will expose you to wonderful places and quirky bits of history that would take you weeks to find and learn on your own. Kids and adults alike will enjoy some time off their feet, a stop at the ice cream shop and a trip to Flagler Station. Get ticket and tour information at http://www.conchtourtrain.com/index.htm
Seafood lovers absolutely must make their way to Alonzo’s Oyster Bar at 700 Front Street. Overlooking Key West Bight, Alonzo’s has one of the best happy hours in town, with a huge half price food menu and half priced drinks. How can you beat a bucket of steamed clams for $9, spinach parmesan oysters for $6.50 and a full pound of beer steamed shrimp for $12? Between the great food and romantic views, Alonzo’s is a must do. Take a look at their incredible menu at http://www.alonzosoysterbar.com/index.html.
Before you head back to your cruise ship or your rental car, it’s time to witness perhaps the most famous Key West extravaganza; The Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square! As you wait to watch the sun dip into the watery horizon, peruse the many vendors of arts and crafts, psychics, musicians and various exhibitors. There’s sure to be something for everyone. You’ll encounter exciting performances of tight rope walking, magic, juggling and knife throwing. Be prepared for trained dogs and cats, some of which ride unicycles and others jump through fire. When that magic moment finally comes and the sun kisses the horizon and slips out of sight, watch carefully. If you’re very lucky, you just might witness the elusive “green flash”. Flash or not, you’ll have enjoyed a truly wonderful adventure in a truly unique city and will have made memories that will never be forgotten.