Florida Keys in Less Than 48 Hours Review – Stay Longer!


Even with an injury that prevented biking, snorkeling, kayaking and other outdoor adventures that are the main draw for Keys vacationers, less than two days proved woefully too short to absorb the Keys and give them their fair due.


If you are allergic to touristy areas you need to re-think that with the Keys.  Tourists abound—especially in Key West—but it doesn’t really get in the way of enjoying all that the Keys has to offer. 



Be forewarned that locals will tell you that the drive from Miami is about 2.5 hours but with the slow drivers on the road you just may need double that to get all the way down to Key West.  Not that the drive down the often thin stretch of highways straddling small islands (i.e. keys) is not enjoyable in and of itself. 



An interesting pit stop of sorts along the way is Robbie’s Marina in Islamorada, Florida where for $3 you get to feed the hungry swarming tarpons on the dock IF the large beaked pelicans don’t steal the fish from your lingering hand, which was our very fun experience. 



From there it’s about an hour’s drive to Bahia Honda State Park, once awarded as the country’s best beach, and proving to be far more rustic and authentic feeling than the typical public beach with which most of us, especially city dwellers, are more familiar.



Either on your way down or from Key West make sure to stop at The Turtle Hospital in Marathon,Florida.  The tour takes about an hour and a half . 



Seeing the collection of plastic and garbage that the hospital staff emptied from one of their rescue’s stomach will warm even the coldest hearts to the hospital’s mission of saving endangered sea turtles from the waste, fish lines and other life-threatening problems our species has given them. 



Arriving in Key West, you’ll find no shortage of hotels to choose from.  The big chain hotels have resorts in the Keys, and you can also find more authentic old Key West Inns such as The Chelsea House where we stayed.




Having heard from so many that the Keys’ main draw is its laid back charm, it was a pleasant surprise to find the area’s rich history is in itself a compelling reason to visit. 



You’ll learn much of that history on one of the trolley tours, which is a highly recommended way to first get your bearings upon arrival in Key West.  



You’ll learn for instance that the first Western settlers were quasi-pirates in the so-called “salvaging” business.  When goods-laden boats crashed into the coral reefs the “salvagers” would rescue the inventory and then charge the owners a pretty penny for its return or simply sell these goods themselves.  That some ships were lured to reef crashes with falsely welcoming fires may be apocryphal, but probably is true. 




Through the years that industry was replaced with cigar –making and other activities.  It was during the Great Depression when the area had an astounding 80% unemployment rate that FDR’s team sent to explore ways to revive the area determined that tourism was the best way forward. 



The first hotel was a result of this, which is fun to ponder as you walk down the Duval Street commercial strip where hawkers try to lure you in for everything from key lime pie to skin creams.


Tip:   Watch Ken Burns’ series on “The Roosevelts” right before you make your Key West journey and then visit Harry Truman’s Little White House. 



This was once a naval station that was transformed into the getaway President Truman needed to recover from the stress of the job.   Bourbon started pouring at 10 AM reportedly, and the poker table obviously had a cherished place in the main room.  Every detail of the house is either as it was or re-constituted to be real to  Truman’s times, such as scattering books they were likely to have read on the bookshelves.  There are few Presidential libraries and the like that are as successful in taking you back to the times.  This is a not-to-be-missed stop on your Keys itinerary.



Nature lovers will also find The Audubon House a must-see. 



The name is a misnomer, as Audubon never owned this house but rather stayed here and drew some of his famed birds perched on foliage from the grounds.  The collection of Audubon’s drawings are worth lingering over, as are the artifacts from the builders of the home and the videos recording the oral history of how the house passed down through the generations.



The Hemingway House -- with descendents of his six-toed cats, a peek into his writing studio, many movie posters reminding you of how Hollywood transformed his books into cinema hits, and docents who tell you the story of his life-- is also a must-see.  



Some may also find that the most fascinating thing about this tour spot is the great number of foreign languages being spoken by the tour crowd.  



Who knew Hemingway's books were translated so far and wide?  Or was it the movies based on his novels?



Key West has many other attractions that a 48-hour itinerary simply precluded—e.g. Mel Fisher Maritime Museum, glass bottom boat tours, The Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservancy, and an eco-center, among others.  



Even taking in the famed sunset celebration at Mallory Square is dicey on a short stay itinerary because enormous cruise ships sometimes dock there blocking the view, especially during short winter days.  That turned out to be quite controversial among the buskers who remained in the square underneath a cruise ship’s shadows quite unhappy with the lesser crowd. 



Have no worries though, you will still find famous Dominique and his Flying Cats to the side of the square on a cruise ship day, and see him lure his cats through hoops of fire if that’s your thing.  You’ll also see a beautiful sunset to the side of Mallory Square or in many other scenic spots in Key West.



One thing is for sure, you will never be lacking for food options in the Keys.  From carts selling conch fritters, to the Nouvelle Southern cuisine restaurant Firefly, to many a key lime pie vendor, and one-of-a-kind menus in top-end resorts like Sunset Key Latitudes Restaurant you will find tons to munch at all price points.  If you love seafood, this alone would make the Keys a top choice vacation spot.


For more information on a Keys vacation there is  a Florida Keys Visitor website (www.fla-keys.com).




Photos:  Peter Kachergis, unless otherwise indicated



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