The southernmost city in the continental U.S. offers more than just spicy conch fritters, sizzling sunsets and drunken Jimmy Buffet songs.
Key West is of one of America’s quirkiest places where oddballs rule and eccentric’s rock. From roosters roaming the streets to spring breakers strutting their stuff, Key West caters to all walks of life and lifestyles. And it is more family-friendly than you might think with a fun, eclectic and electric atmosphere permeating the streets, day and night.
Your picture perfect day begins in a luxury room at the Key West Marriott Beachside Hotel. This upscale property is new to the Marriott chain and offers a full range of services, including a complimentary shuttle service to downtown Duval Street, a delightful destination for foodies, people watchers and shoppers.
A must stop shop is Fast Buck Freddie’s which sells more than the knick knacks and novelties found elsewhere. Their fare features tropical themed items for the home and cool couture for the body. You will find everything under the sun for the kids, too.
The best family photo op in town is on the beach at a monument noting the southernmost point on the North American continent. Even more interesting is the fact that Havana is only 90 miles away, closer than Miami. After standing in a brief line, you dodge the splashing ocean waves and mug for the camera. A nice gesture is to offer to take the photo of the family behind you.
Hopefully, they will reciprocate.
Hungry for lunch? Head to Turtle Kraals, a harbor side eatery where yachts dock near dinghies and you can get some great grub like crab cakes topped with a key lime sauce. The barbeque chicken is also tangy and tasty.
A good way to work off lunch is to spend an afternoon at a water playground off shore. Sunset Watersports offers an unbeatable deal. For $98 per person (children under 12 are $89), you get six hours of fun including a 30-minute roundtrip boat ride to the playground, a lunch of hot dogs and hamburgers and complimentary soda, juice and beer on the return to the dock.
While at the playground there are a dozen activities on the water to entertain, ranging from riding jet skis and kayaks to snorkeling and windsurfing. The most squeals of delight come during a banana boat ride. A motorboat whizzes you and four others across the water on a long yellow tube, bouncing and bumping, bringing waves of joy to everyone on board.
Once you return to dry land, it’s time to relax and prepare to savor the sunset, but first you must take in some other memorable sights at Mallory Square where street performers and a cast of other characters provide free entertainment every night. In one direction you see a young man balancing on a free-standing ladder, juggling pins on fire. Turn around and there’s a man dangling upside down, wriggling out of straight jacket and chains. Over there, an older lady is playing a solemn hymn on a violin. It’s a feast for the senses.
If you’re seeking another type of feast, locals prefer Pepe’s Café for dinner. Established in 1909, Pepe’s is the oldest restaurant in town. Every night they serve fresh fish at least four different ways. Another popular choice is a 15-ounce New York strip, cut thick and smothered with mushrooms, onions and peppers. The desert specialty is key lime pie, served on a graham cracker crust and topped with whipped cream.
And as you head back to your hotel room, with your pooped kids in tow, gaze at the bright stars and shimmering moon light dancing off the ocean. It’s a perfect way to end your perfect day in a place unlike any other.
What & Where:
Marriott Key West Beachside Hotel (3841 N. Roosevelt Blvd; 305-296-8100)
Fast Buck Freddie’s (500 Duval St; 305-294-2007)
Turtle Kraals (231 Margaret St; 305-294-2640)
Sunset Watersport (201 William St; 305-296-2554)
Pepe’s Café (806 Caroline St; 305-294-7192)