South Florida Sunshine


Category Archive

The following is a list of all entries from the Leisure category.

Pilate’s Cross – A Smashing E-Book

By Michelle Stinson Ross at One Writer’s Journey

“’The X-Files’ meets ‘The Prisoner’ when John Pilate, his sarcastic imaginary pal Simon and lovely instructor friend Kate investigate the mystery of a murdered college president–a mystery with loose ends more than 40 years later. In too deep to wash his hands of the mystery, he risks death to get to the truth of what really happened in 1963 and why it’s just as deadly 40 years later.”

From Smashwords.com

John Pilate’s life is a total disaster. His wife, Samantha, left him. He’s recovering from throat surgery after a cancer scare. Unemployed, broke, and off his anti-depressants, he’s desperately in need of a second chance. But second chances aren’t what they are cracked up to be when a new job offers the opportunity to start over again. The tiny township of Cross is anything but the sleepy little college town it seems to be. The loose ends of a 40 year old murder/suicide are triggering some strange events. The crypt of a prominent family is desecrated, and the local mortician is beat within an inch of his life. An outsider with no chance of ever fitting in, John Pilate finds himself in deep and will risk his life to uncover the truth in this gripping murder mystery by J. Alexander Greenwood.

For me, Pilate’s Cross was a total winner. When I first read it several months ago, I was along for the ride with John Pilate, the title character. I was as in the dark as much as he was. Greenwood kept me guessing until the very end. I picked it up a second time to review and was thrilled all over again. Greenwood weaves a depth of detail throughout the book that can only be caught on a second reading once you know what’s really going on. Full of humor and oh-so-quotable quips, it’s a no-brainer e-book purchase.

The one shortcoming for me was that I can’t get it in print. I’m an old school book lover, and I will never let go of the joy of holding those lovely pages in my hands. Pilate’s Cross would certainly be a book I’d plunk down the coin to have it in print. But I can’t complain too much, thanks to Smashwords.com, I have it on my iPhone, and I can take it with me everywhere I go.  It’s also available on Sony E-Reader, BarnesandNoble.com, iBooks, and Kobo.com

Author J. Alexander Greenwood

Mr. Greenwood is currently putting the finishing touches on the follow-up to this thriller. Believe me, I will be clicking the option to buy Pilate’s Key as soon as it’s available. Hurry up Alex. I can’t wait to see what mayhem you bring to Key West!

If you’re ever down in Key West, here are some suggestions on where to pick up more great books.

Key West: Where to Find the Perfect Beach Book

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A Tattoo Story

Hi, I’m Michelle, I’m a mother of three, my husband’s wife, and I got my first tattoo when I was 35.

Would you like to know how a conservative Christian from the heart of the Bible Belt wound up with a rock-n-roll butterfly tattoo?

Just a few years ago, I was having some serious issues with my self image, and it was wrecking my marriage.  My dear hubby and I have been married for 14 years. We’ve been through all the usual fights and misunderstandings and trials that all couples go through. But I had a lot of baggage I needed to deal with. I had a very conservative upbringing. And since I was a very nerdy kid, I was too involved in school books to even consider dating as a teenager. I didn’t really start dating until college, and even then I was way too uptight to explore. I had dated a total of four guys by the time I met future-hubby.

I was 19 and he was 36. He took two years to be sure that we were going to work before he proposed. We got pregnant about a year later. By our fifth anniversary our third child was on the way. In the midst of all the changes the pregnancies were making to my body, I automatically defaulted to my mother’s modeling. I spent all my time and energy on the babies and covered up my body.  Adjusting to family life caused me to take very little care for myself. I call it being stuck in the “Mommy Mire,” and I completely lost myself in it for a while.

When we moved to Florida, thousands of miles from the rest of our families, we continued to fight and tear each other apart. We were getting close to talking about divorce, and I fell into depression. There were days that I couldn’t  function. I just wanted to pull the covers over my head and sleep to escape. NOT good. I hated what I had become and was desperate to change.

All of the sudden I cracked, but in a very good way. Out of the blue it occurred to me to let go of the hang ups. All of the sudden I decided I liked who I was and what I looked like. That, in turn allowed me to begin to open up again to my sweet man. No doubt all of you guys know THAT went a long way to healing the issues between hubby and me.

We started talking. Talking about what felt good, what we dreamed about, what we wanted; everything really.

Talking got me back to writing. My very first short story was written as a birthday gift for hubby. He loved it so much and thought it was so well done, that he encouraged me to find a way to share it.

Writing became a way for me to explore options I had never considered before. I reconnected with the flirtatious and teasing side of myself that I’d stuffed away for years.

Existing butterfly tattoo on my lower back

To say the least I had changed. I had changed in some pretty big ways and will never go back. And that was the inspiration for the butterfly tattoo. I gave up being a caterpillar, broke free of the cocoon, and now I have wings on which I intend to soar. And since I don’t ever want to go back I made a change to myself in the way of a tattoo, so that I can’t ever physically be the same again.

That was a little over a year ago now, and I’m seriously considering adding to that first tattoo.  Like the first one there is a story to go with it.  For a while I’ve been pondering adding to it just because I liked the first one.  It appeals to the creative, artistic side of me.  I’ve also wanted to memorialize how much living here has influenced me.  I love the ocean and the tropical plants and weather.  But it was the recent passing of my last living grandparent that gave me a reason to act on the impulse.

I like the idea of something up one side of my back

I was very lucky growing up, because I lived very near one great-grandmother and both of my grandmothers.  I was very close to them, and they all had a huge influence on my life.  My great-grandmother lived long enough to see me get married.  She passed away about seven months after the wedding when I was 22.  Both of my grandmothers lived to get to know all of our children.  My paternal grandmother passed away a few years ago not long after she turned 89.  Just this last month my remaining grandmother passed on as the result of the slow progression of Parkinson’s Disease.  As I said, all three of these women had a very strong influence in my life, so I decided to memorialize that with an addition of a tattoo.

It didn’t take long once the decision was made to find just the prefect design.  I wanted something tropical and all three of my grandmothers loved flowers.  When I came across this design with hibiscus and a butterfly, I knew I had found what I was looking for.  There are a few changes and additions I’d like to make for this to be perfect.  I have three people I want to remember, so I need one more hibiscus.  I’d also like the design of the butterfly to be adjusted to match the style of my existing butterfly.  And, of course, it needs some color.  I’m thinking pinks, yellows, oranges . . . shades of the beautiful Key West sunsets.

This is the design I'm considering

All I need now is the right artist to take these elements and bring my tattoo to life.  So the search begins to find someone in South Florida to make my plan a reality.  With so many fantastic shops and lots of amazing artists here, I thought I’d bring you along for the journey.


The Secret to Key West Lodging Values – Guest Post

This week I am hosting a post from my friend Jerry Garrett.  The following article was originally published in his blog, Garrett On The Road, on November 29, 2009.
Another legendary Key West sunset, from Mallory Square (Photos by Jerry Garrett)

KEY WEST, Florida

Key West is a legendary location for lost weekends.

But the cost of getting wasted in Margaritaville (scope out webcams of your favorite watering holes here) has been going up, especially the last few years.

Sloppy Joe’s, a famous watering hole on Duval Street in downtown Margaritaville.

It is difficult to find a room for the night – anything decent anyway – for under $100. Many of the most popular places have been asking for two-night minimums – usually Friday and Saturday – in addition to room rates that have gone up 20-40 percent.

How do you find a great place to stay in the Crown Jewel of the Florida Keys, at a rate that will leave you plenty of pocket change for tumbler after tumbler of tequila?

On a recent visit, the website Kayak was invaluable for locating lots of choices, and identifying favorable rates. The trick is getting to know how to use it, to your best advantage.

A noteworthy address in Key West, and a reminder to avoid the heartbreak of over-priced lodging.

Kayak was good at finding rooms per night – even at places that said on their websites, in their advertising or at their reservation numbers that two nights was the minimum stay.

Kayak also would generally find rates lower than the hotel would quote directly. The newly refurbished Orchid Key Inn (formerly the Key Lodge), the top B&B of 140 in Key West rated by TripAdvisor, was on Kayak at $99-$109 most nights; the average walk-up rate is $224.

An Island Oasis, a lovely old Key West inn, was available for two nights over Thanksgiving through Kayak at $110 a night (which sent you to www.bedandbreakfast.com – which charged no additional fees). The walk-up rate was $159.

An Island Oasis is a good example of old Key West, Cape Cod style architecture

The innkeeper also insisted on a two-night minimum, if you asked her directly. But single nights were available through Kayak on four of the five nights that holiday weekend.

Another tactic was to check Kayak at about 8:00 o’clock each morning. It seems the inns, hotels and motels will release some unsold rooms at extra low rates – if you are willing to wait until the “day of” to chose that night’s lodging.

That may be a game of chicken that cautious travelers aren’t willing to play. But there seems to be no shortage of available rooms in this town, even on holiday weekends. Dozens of places had their “Vacancy” signs out all weekend.

Vacancy signs are common

Some of those could be a bit deceiving though. More than once, when enquiring at an inn with a “Vacancy” sign out front, I was told, “We’re actually full up, but there are rooms at our sister property.”

The cost of property in Key West makes it hard for small inns to go it alone. So some have formed groups (hard to tell who owns whom) such as the Historic Key West Inns that rep several properties.

That was the story at the Merlin Guesthouse, which advertised availability on Kayak, but sent people instead to its affiliate, Albury Court. Plus, they said the nightly rate at the Albury, a collection of small, modern cottages in Key West style, was $119. By waiting until 8:00 a.m. the next day, the Albury could be booked through Kayak for $99.

The evocatively named Key Lime Inn, actually a collection of small cottages.

That is also how the best rate was obtained for the evocatively named Key Lime Inn of just $109 a night – a good $20-$50 off various rack rates that I saw for it.

The Casa Marina is still the grande dame of Key West hotels

An old favorite here is the historic Casa Marina Resort (now part of Hilton’s Waldorf Astoria collection), which has improved greatly over the years. Ten years ago, the walk-up rate was $229 a night for a small double. Kayak helped locate a rate of just $179 one morning; but by afternoon of that same day, the lowest rate Kayak could find was $239.

Finally, if you want to avoid the chains, or groups, and find the most authentic kind of one-off Key West lodging experience, it still pays to just walk up and down a few streets in the neighborhoods. Independent innkeepers still thrive. And some of them are perfectly content to survive on word-of-mouth alone.

A lush tropical garden conceals much of this secret hideway

Those are the best kind, in my experience; just like this wonderful old Cape Cod style mansion for tonight at just $100 – some $85 off the rate quoted by the inn’s 800 number. Can’t tell you where it is, though; sworn to secrecy.

Jerry Garrett

Be sure to check out Jerry’s blog Garrett On The Road and give him a follow on Twitter @jg3arrow

For more information about planning any Key West activities as well as bookings please just ask me either by leaving a comment, by email, or on Twitter. I would be happy to help!

Related articles of possible interest:

Key West-My Top Ten Eateries

Touring Key West in an Electric Car


Tour Key West by Jet Ski

Summer is officially here! Of course here at the Southernmost Point of the continental United States, it has felt like summer for quite some time. When it heats up like this, I start searching for ways to cool off.

One way in particular will not only cool you off but I promise will be the ride of your life. Taking a jet ski out into the gorgeous waters off our little slice of paradise is a total blast, but I need to give you a few tips to make sure that you have the time of your life.

There are a LOT of companies here in Key West that offer jet ski rentals, but beware, not all jet ski companies are created equal. Unfortunately there are some “fly-by-night” folks around here that truly are here today and gone tomorrow. It’s always best to educate yourself so that you spend your time and money wisely.

Things that you should be on the look out for:
– If the deal seems a little too good to be true; it most likely is.
– Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions. Make sure that the equipment is in good shape and well-maintained.
– If you are going to rent a jet ski to ride on your own, be sure you understand how big a riding area you are allowed to navigate in. Several places won’t let you out of sight of their operations base and give you a very limited area to ride in.
– If you decided after arriving here that you want to go for a ride, don’t be shy to ask around about where to go. The locals know which companies will treat you right.

Having said all that, I do have 3 companies that I like very much. They aren’t the only reputable jet ski businesses in town, but these 3 do have a very consistent track record.

In no particular order:

Barefoot Billy’s

Billy’s now has two locations. They are located at the south end of Simonton Street, on the Atlantic side of Key West, right next to The Reach Resort and at the Key West Marriott Beachside Hotel on the North Western tip of the island on the Gulf side. They provide both jet ski rentals and an amazing jet ski tour. Billy prides himself on making sure that his guests have a great time. To that end, all of Barefoot Billy’s staff are helpful, friendly, and very knowledgable. I have had several guests come back and tell me that the tour exceeded their expectations.

Check out this video to get an idea of what it’s like to go for an adventure with Barefoot Billy’s:

Fury Water Adventures

Fury is located at the far North end of Duval Street very near Mallory Square. They have surf shops and kiosks all over the island, so trust me, you won’t have any trouble finding them. They offer a ton of great activities and I have to say that they have a unique twist on jet ski fun.

They offer a day trip called the Ultimate Adventure that includes jet skiing, parasailing snorkeling, and kayaking. The trip sets sail on a 65′ Catamaran at 10:00 AM. They serve breakfast while you make your way out to the reef for snorkeling. Then another sail takes you to Fury’s adventure island for a picnic lunch and jet skiing, parasailing, and kayaking. This trip is a total blast, especially if you want to try out several water sports.

Island Water Sports

This group is located in the marina at the Westin Resort, not far from Fury. Like Barefoot Billy’s, they offer jet ski rentals and an island tour. What’s really cool, in my mind, is that since they are located on the other side of the island from Billy’s you can get a great view of the sunset as you wind up your afternoon cruise. Again customer service is top-notch and they will take great care of you.

For more information about planning any Key West activities as well as bookings please just ask me either by leaving a comment, by email, or on Twitter. I would be happy to help!

Related articles of possible interest:

Key West Beaches
Key West: The Family Friendly Side


Key West – Blue By You – Photo Walk Guest Post part 3

Bio picToday we continue with part 3 of our 5 part special photo walk feature of Key West as presented by our friend, photographer, designer, and blogger Lynda Quintero-Davids.  Join us as we share Lynda’s inspiring viewpoint in this installment entitled: Key West Color Blocks Blue By You.

Just a play on words for Hurricane Season and the color of the season: BLUE … A color block post packed with so many blues to discover down in Key West: Caribbean and cool water blues, Gulf and pool aquamarine blues, navy and news blues, teals and turquoise blues, baby and sky blues, and peek-a-boo-blue … And mind you, this was unintentional. I was … (click to  read more and see the rest of Lynda’s photos for this segment) Key West T-Shirt Factory doors Key West colors
For more information about planning your Key West activities as well as booking them please just ask me either by leaving a comment, by email, or on Twitter. I would be happy to help!


Key West Photo Series Guest Blog Part 2

Bio picMy friend, Lynda Quintero-Davids, is back with part two of her Key West series.  This amazing photographer, designer, and blogger recently visited Key West and has a wonderful viewpoint to share.  I hope you enjoy this installment in a taste of:

THE HOUSES OF KEY WEST PART 2 – Hurricane Alley and America’s Southernmost Point

With the start of summer also comes the start of Hurricane Season. And like a carrot dangling in front of a rabbit, so is Key West. Builders far and wide come to Key West (and some should) to study its resilient architecture to learn how these homes have withstood hurricanes, termites, neglect and even the Great Depression. I too am learning about its style & architecture… Here’s some of what I’ve found, along with some photos I captured from our recent anniversary trip to Key West

Love the painted underside of the portico…
On Simonton gingerbread details and painted shutters
More details on Duval
Grand architecture of a conch house

One of the most recognizable architecture styles of Key West homes are simple shotgun homes (aka cigar makers house) and which can also be found in New Orleans architecture. Simple shotgun style Key West architecture traces its origin to West Africa and the French Caribbean. These balloon-frame homes for cigar makers were small and simple, one story and one room wide — with three rooms end to end so a shot fired from the front door could exit the back door without resistance.

Oh so coastal…

One of the more famous cigar houses of Key West was actually converted into a historic cottage inn called Simonton Court, and is located on Hurricane Alley. Cigar houses were established by Englishman William Hall in 1831 and the Cubans. The cigar industry was one of the three main thriving economies at the start of Key West’s history (wrecking industry*, sponge industry (from the Bahamians) and cigar industry (from the Cubans). I would have thought that with Key West having been so heavily populated with Cubans, the roof tops would have been finished with Cuban barrel tile (shaped on the leg of a woman), but because of fires, many roof tops were constructed of tin to deflect flying embers.

Although many of the houses were constructed of wood, over time and devastation from havoc of not only hurricanes but fires, buildings were also constructed of concrete or brick.  A portion of this brick can still be found at an old cigar house turned inn called Simonton Court.  If you’ve picked up a Summer Catalog from Pottery Barn this year, you’ve already been introduced to Simonton Court, and if not, you can learn more about Pottery Barn’s photo shoot in the Florida Keys here.
“Simonton Court is a group of very unique rooms,
created from an old cigar makers’ factory –

No two are alike, but each are charming.”
Simonton Court Resort
“A brick walkway, once a lane,
runs past sparkling pools and historic cottages
built in 1880 as the homes of cigar factory workers.”
Pineapples – the symbol of “Welcome”
are a prominent decor detail throughout Key West

Simonton Court resides on Simonton Street, which is said to be also named Hurricane Alley. Simonton Street was named after the purchaser of the island, John W. Simonton. Although he purchased the island in January 1822, he was deemed the legal owner of the island (Key West aka Cayo

Hueso) until May 1828. His story is actually a part Florida’s first land scam. Learn more about the history of Key West here.

For the rest of Linda’s beautiful photography and commentary please visit her blog “FOCAL POINT”

Key West – Cigar Paradise

Laura Murphy of Key West

As ocean breezes stir the sultry night air and the Key West night life begins to heat up, in many parts of town you can hear the sensual rhythms of Cuban bands.  It is but the first taste of the significant influence that the descendants of immigrant Cuban cigar makers have had on this little island.

Excerpt from “A Key to History,” by Ann Boese as published in the November/December 1997 issue of Cigar Aficionado.

Key West is finally blowing the dust off an unheralded chapter of its heritage–the cigar industry. Few realize that at the turn of the century, Key West was the nation’s number one producer of clear Havana cigars, and that today the island is saturated with the descendants, remnants, landmarks and symbols of the industry. Between the onset of Cuba’s Ten Years War, which began in 1868, and 1900, thousands of Cuban cigar workers had crossed the Florida Straits to relocate on this tiny island. Only 90 miles from Havana, Key West was a place where they could escape Spanish rule and continue to roll the prized Vuelta Abajo tobacco that made Cuban cigars the best in the world. In little over 20 years the island had transformed itself from a fishing village to the primary producer of clear Havana cigars.

With Cuban workers rolling clear Havana tobacco in Key West, manufacturers were able to produce the best cigars at two-thirds the cost of production in Cuba. The workers were paid as much as $30 a week, and sent money to Cuba to support the revolution, which raged from 1878 to 1898. The Cuban revolutionary José Martí organized the collection of $20,000 to $30,000 a month to support the Cubans’ fight against Spanish control.

Opportunities rose, and the people poured in. Key West’s population grew from 700 in 1840 to more than 18,000 in 1890, with Cubans by far the cultural majority. Cigar factories in 1885 numbered 86, and 20 of those employed more than a hundred workers each, with the Eduardo Hildago Gato Cigar Factory leading the way with 500. By 1890 the number of factories had grown to almost 130 and cigar production had risen to 100 million. Today there are 28,000 year-round residents or Conchs (for a local mollusk), as natives and inhabitants of the Keys are known, and two million annual tourists. The Cuban influence remains strong, with Cuban-owned restaurants, coffee shops and bakeries open every day. The number of cigar shops has increased from two to nine in the past five years. Five sell house-brand cigars, hand-rolled in some cases by elderly Cubans who have come out of retirement to revive their craft, selecting and handling their tobacco and tools.

To read all of Ann Boese’s original article please visit the Cigar Aficionado Library

Keep in mind that Boese wrote that article 13 years ago.  You can’t stop anywhere along Duval Street that you aren’t but a few paces from a fine tobacco shop.  Here are just a few of the suggestions from the cigar connoisseurs that know at CigarGroup.com

Tony Trupiano

Key West Havana Cigar Company

Toward the top of Duval street, you’ll find the Key West Havana Cigar Factory – owned and operated by Tom Favelli. Located in the landmark Speakeasy Inn, this tobacconist boasts one of the best assortments of “classic” cigar brands, along with several wonderfully complex house brands.  Relax in the island atmosphere of their comfortable smoking area or sit out on the porch and watch the world go by. Perhaps you’ll meet some of the “locals” like Paruchio – a 90-year-old cigar smoker who’s full of tales of Old Key West and the fascinating cigar factories of the 30’s….

The Conch Republic Cigar Factory

Another classic Key’s style shop, located on Green street just a block from the Famous Sloppy Joe’s bar, is the Conch Republic cigar factory. A small but interesting shop, their house brand may not be for everyone…

Historic Cigar Alley

Located across from the historic Gato factory, this smoke/wine shop is Key West’s hot spot for smoking cigars, enjoying a fine bottle of wine, and  discussing Key West’s historic cigar legacy. Its friendly patrons, Becky and Chris will introduce you to their favorite wines, an excellent array of cigars from the largest humidor in Key West, and  love to discuss Key West’s cigar legacy. The relaxing ambiance for cigar smoking or wine tasting in the shop extends outside to a large  gumbo limbo tree shading an outdoor patio. It is perfectly located adjacent to several excellent restaurants.

Rodriguez Cigar Factory

One of Key West’s oldest traditional rollers, a true small factory, can be found almost across the street from Caribbean – the Rodriguez Cigar Factory. Owned and operated by Cuban rollers who remember Key West’s cigar days, this is a must-see on your cigar tour of the city.

Lisa Wade

Original Key West Cigar Factory

A true Key West tradition, don’t miss this stop on “Cigar Alley” – it’s as much of a museum of old-style cigar paraphernalia as a cigar shop.  An on-site roller creates several of the house-brands here, and you’ll see old cigar molds, photos, tins, presses, you name it, in every nook and cranny of this shop. A recently added walk-in humidor contains some modern classics, and you’ll find plenty of their locally-produced smokes for sale!

Cigar City, USA

Near the end of Duval, is a unique cigar shop and exhibit area. Located right along Mallory Square in an old brick warehouse once used for tobacco products, Cigar City, USA is the place to find exhibits, reproductions of antique cigar art, and a large modern tobacconist. Cigar City USA features an awesome collection of cigar art collectables – on mugs, coasters, calendars, placemats, and framed reproductions. There’s also a small exhibit of Cuban history and a wonderful outdoor cafe.

Cork & Stogie

Cork & Stogie was established in September of 2009, and has been welcomed into the community ever since. Their specialty is Wine and Cigars.  Featuring the most intimate porch on Duval St.

Key West Cigar Club & Smoke Shop

Matt and Laura Murphy

Featuring fresh rolled cigars that are made daily by our two Cuban Rollers, brothers Raul and Saul, you can join the crowd in front of the store as they watch through the window as our masterful rollers create our fresh rolled cigars. Or enter into the store and walk into our large humidor and look over their shoulders as they create each fresh rolled masterpiece.

While you are in the humidor check out the wide variety of cigars. You will see the famous names, the hard to get, special editions, and boutiquette brands. The staff at Key West Cigar Club & Smoke Shop know the cigars, the blends, the taste, the strengths. They can help everyone from the beginner to the aficionado select the perfect cigar for your palate.

Cuban Leaf Cigar Factory

A real treat for vacationers in Key west is a visit to the street-front kiosk of the Cuban Leaf Cigar Company on Duval Street right across from the Hard Rock Cafe. Featuring many inexpensive brands of cigars, this open-air shop manufacturers their own tasty La Liga line.

For more information about planning any Key West activities as well as bookings please just ask me either by leaving a comment, by email, or on Twitter. I would be happy to help.

Related articles of possible interest:

Key West and a Local’s Favorite Bars

Key West: Coffee Island Style


Key West Summer Sun Tips

We’re trying something new today. You can now listen to the Sunshine Girl’s Audio Blog! Simply click the PLAY button below.

It’s the beginning of June, and we are already having summer in Key West. We are averaging temperatures in the high 80s and having lots of sun with passing showers. Rainy season seems to have started a little early this year. Never the less, we are good to go for sun and fun all summer long.

Are you ready for the summer sun and heat?

There are some things you might want to keep in mind if you are visiting our little island paradise this summer.

  • You are in the tropics and the sun is very intense. That was the first fact of Florida life I learned when I moved here. The sun really is stronger than what I was used to. So proceed accordingly. While you might be likely to remember the sunscreen at the beach and out on the boat, you really need to apply some anytime you’re going to be outdoors. Even when exploring the town on a scooter or strolling Duval; you should remember the sunscreen.
  • Cover up. “I wear SPF 100. . . I squeeze the tube really hard & a t-shirt pops out.” As great as sunscreen is, nothing really does the job as well as blocking the sun completely. If you’re not out on the beach working on your tan, then pull on a shirt and hat. Aside from the cancer risks, a sunburn just sucks all around. A serious burn can make you sick. I learned that lesson the hard way in the Bahamas on my honeymoon. I was lax in covering up and got a terrible burn on my back and shoulders. I spent the last couple of days of my trip drained and running a temperature due to the burn.
  • Hydrate. Not only do you need to take care of sun exposure, but you need to be aware of the heat as well. Generally speaking, you need to be sure you’re drinking plenty of water. But you need to be extra cautious of the alcohol as well. First of all the sun and heat will intensify the affects of the alcohol in your system. But more importantly, beer and frozen drinks will cause you to become even more dehydrated. That killer headache that comes with the hangover is because of dehydration. Take it easy on the alcohol drinking during the heat of the day and take in plenty of water and juice.
  • Wisdom of the ages: moderate. That really is the best advice anyone can give you. All things in moderation. Sure get out there and get some sun, the vitamin D will do you good, but don’t over do it. Drink and enjoy life, but don’t get excessive with it. Be active and have fun, but don’t over exert during the heat of the day. Nothing like a case of heat exhaustion to ruin a perfectly good vacation.
  • Keep an eye on your traveling companions. Parents with children practice this all the time. They keep an eye on their kids and make sure that they are drinking enough water, wearing their sunscreen, and not overdoing it in the heat. But, we must do that for all the companions we travel with. Be sure to offer water and sunscreen to everyone, even the adults around you, from time to time. Ask them how they are feeling. Be a good friend. You will have a great time and far fewer mishaps if you are looking out for one another.

There is so much to see and do here, and I want you to enjoy it all. Hopefully, you will take back lots of pictures and great memories and not a lobster red sunburn that will be peeling for days after you get home.

For more information about planning any Key West activities as well as bookings please just ask me either by leaving a comment, by email, or on Twitter. I would be happy to help.

Related articles of possible interest:

Key West Beaches

Oil Spill, Key West, and My Personal Opinion

Key West: The Family Friendly Side


Key West Beaches

By now you’ve had time to browse the blog and find the perfect cup of morning coffee, several bars and restaurants to check out, a great deal on getting around town in an electric car, and the perfect book to read. You’re all set with your beach towel and sunscreen. Which Key West beach are you going to pick to kick back and relax? For such a small island, we have several to choose from.

Smathers Beach

Smathers Beach - Witold Skrypczak, Lonely Planet Images

This two mile stretch of white tropical sand is the largest public beach on the island. Offering wide views of the Atlantic Ocean, this is a beach you could spend the whole day enjoying and if the sand between your toes feels like it did on your last trip to the Bahamas; you’re right!  As with all the sand on our beaches, it was imported, this one from the Bahamas.  Smathers offers volleyball, snorkeling, and other water sports right from the beach.   There are picnic areas to enjoy a snack from the local beach vendors. Public restrooms can also be found nearby. Several moderately priced hotels can be found all along this beach, making it a favorite of the Spring Break crowd. As with parking anywhere in Key West, be prepared to pay a meter.

Higgs Beach

This beach is located ½ mile further south of Smathers on Atlantic Blvd. near White St. This little beach with its shallow water and beach side playground has much to offer families with small children. Along with swimming and water sports, you can find a pier, restaurant, volleyball, tennis, and handball courts nearby. Dogs are welcome at the dog park across the street. There is even a civil war era fort and garden to enjoy with your children. A limited amount of free parking is available for this beach.

Dog Beach

Located on the southern end of Vernon & Waddel Streets this is the only beach in the Keys were dogs, as well as other pets, can go to freely swim and play.  It is a favorite of families with pets but don’t plan on having the kids build sand castles or laying out on your towel to catch some rays while Fido is frolicking with Fifi; it is a dog’s beach!  It is not cleaned by the city; just by responsible pet owners.  This parcel of land is squeezed between Louie’s Backyard and The Reach Resort.  To make sure I don’t steer you wrong I called our friends at Louie’s Backyard and confirmed your pooch is still welcome at the bar during lunch hour so you can grab a delicious bite to eat while your dog catches the waves.

As a side note: if you want to go to Louie’s for dinner and bring the dog, to be on the safe side, you should give the manager a call first to see what the crowd is like.

Rest Beach

Located next to Higgs Beach, Rest Beach is wheelchair accessible and where you will find the White Street Pier.  This is a great place to fish, relax, and enjoy the natural vegetation.

Fort Zachary Taylor

This 54 acre state park is where the Atlantic meets the Gulf of Mexico and home to probably the all around best beach Key West has to offer.  If you prefer to sit in the shade; no problem.  If you like to roast under the sun; no problem.  If you want to swim or snorkel; no problem.  If you’d rather sit on a beach chair but forgot to bring one; no problem.  If you like to bike or walk along the wooded park; no problem!  I think you get the idea.  In addition to all that there is also the Civil War fort which you can get a guided tour  of and fishing is allowed on the western end.  It is a wonderful place to see the famous sunset views Key West is known for.  Public restrooms, a food and drink kiosk, chair rentals, picnic tables and BBQ grill pits are there too.  The beach can be a bit rocky so I advise bringing your flipflops.  There is an admission fee.  To get to the beach you enter through the Truman Annex at Southard Street.

South Beach

Despite its name the beach is not related to its Miami namesake.  This small and open area is a favorite of locals.

Sign at South Beach

The beach is nice and sandy and the water is fairly shallow allowing you to walk out quite a way.  There is also a concrete pier.   There are no restrooms or facilities but there is a snack bar and you can easily walk to nearby restaurants.  The beach is located at the south end of Duval Street on the Atlantic Ocean.

Broken Glass Beach

At first glance this probably was not the best choice in names for a public beach area in a tourist town, however; there was method to the madness and it has to do with a bit of Key West history, albeit the less exciting side.  This strip of the Atlantic shoreline is best accessed at low tide and getting to it does require steeping down off a retaining wall. The terrain is somewhat rocky and thus this not my first recommendation for beaches.  The name Broken Glass Beach stems from when the local garbage dump used to be situated on the site many years ago and it has been obviously well cleaned up since.  Well some of the broken glass remained and after years of being pounded by the surf and being rolled back and forth over the rocks, corral and sand, these glass pieces are now nicely rounded and are much sought after by jewelry makers!

Simonton Beach

We love our town and all its charm to bits and I want you to enjoy every part of what I share with you, however; suffice it to say Simonton Beach is not really a place you need to visit.  We added it here to cancel any doubt about not having included it, just in case you wonder why when you see it on a map.

Sunset Key Beach

* * This just in! * * Our apologies go out to the Sunset Key Westin – they have a great beach and we neglected to include it originally, so here goes…

Sunset Key Beach - a Starwood Hotels property

Sunset Key is a 27 acre island just a bit more than a stones throw off the end of Duval Street and is easily accessed by a 24 hour ferry service.  About 1/4 of the island is home to guest cottages belonging to the Westin Resort and dedicated to the sophisticated traveler.  An exclusive residential community covers much of the rest of the island.  The beach, made of soft white sand, is so inviting it makes you want to just sit and stare out over the water all day long!  Cabanas, lounge chairs and attendants complete the scene.  Slightly back from the water you’ll find a lovely pool, whirlpools as well as two tennis courts.  To round out your day of relaxing don’t forget to stop by the Flipper’s Pool Bar for a cool drink before heading off to a beach-side dinner at Latitudes.  For a different view of Key West, give the Sunset Key Westin a call to book your next stay here!  Tell them Sunshine Michelle referred you 🙂

Fort Jefferson on the Dry Tortugas

Fort Jefferson - National Park Service file photo

Dry Tortugas - National Park service file photos

Articles like this wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention the most inaccessible national park in America, 70 miles off the shores of Key West, out on Garden Key.  This group of seven small islands, first discovered by Ponce de Leon, is home to the largest coastal fort; the majestic Fort Jefferson.  The only ways to get there are by high speed ferry or seaplane, both of which depart from Key West and since seating is limited on each trip out you are best advised to book in advance.  The trip is worth it though.  The palm lined beaches are pristine  and snorkeling over the living reef is an experience you’ll never forget!

For more information on getting out to Fort Jefferson or about planning any other Key West activities and bookings please just ask me either by leaving a comment, by email, or on Twitter. I would be happy to help.

Related articles of possible interest:

A Key West Local’s Favorite Bars

Key West: Where to Find The Perfect Beach Book


Key West and a Local’s Favorite Bars

We are happy to present our good friend & Key West local Laura Murphy with another guest post on our blog.  After much begging on her part we finally caved in and agreed to have her write another article for us.  Local flavor is what we want to present so why not?!  Plus she is a pretty darn good writer as well!  Please share your thoughts by leaving us a comment after reading.

Back home we all have our favorite bars.  We fall in love with them for the great location, warm atmosphere, cheap appetizers and great selection of beer! But you’re not at home…you’re in Key West.  Now what?

Well; you’re in luck!  There are more bars in Key West per capita than in the entire USA (and churches too; figure that one out).  As someone who appreciates a nice bar to frequent, I’ve compiled a list of great places for you to enjoy while visiting this island paradise.  Even better, I offer you this comparative; we’re not made of money, and so we try to keep our outings reasonable.  Here are some of the places we frequent:

If you’re a music lover, The Bottle Cap Lounge and Liquor is the spot for you!  This hotspot is like getting three in one: a standard pub complete with pool table, an outside patio and, my personal favorite, the lounge.  It hosts dim lighting, couches and chairs for that night club feel.  If you come before 9 pm, you’re likely to find music videos playing on the bar TVs.  After 9 the live music or DJ kicks in.  You can find micro brews here as well as great martinis.

Looking for cheap domestic beer?  Guy Harvey’s is the spot for you.  It’s a short step away from Duval Street and offers $2 taps.  The food here is good, though quite ‘spendy’.  Guy Harvey’s own artwork covers the walls and you can almost always catch a game on their flat screens.

Beer connoisseurs: look no further than The Rum Barrel.  They have an outstanding selection of brews, both on tap and in the bottle.  If you arrive by ship, it’s just a few short steps away from port and the food is fantastic!  I highly recommend any menu selection containing fish.  On a warm night you can sit on the quarter deck and enjoy some fabulous live music.

Half Shell License Plates

Half Shell License Plate Collection

If you’re looking for oysters you won’t find a better deal than at Half Shell Raw Bar.  You can order them steamed or raw at less than $1/oyster and the seafood doesn’t stop there.  They also offer clams, shrimp, crab, lobsters and lots more.  We like to treat ourselves with a special combo of lobster, clams and shrimp.  And don’t pass up the potato salad; it’s fantastic!

Just mere steps away from Half Shell you’ll find Turtle Kraals.  My personal favorite on the island is home to a wood fire grill and The Tower Bar which overlooks the Historic Seaport and offers a great view of the sunset.

Tower Bar Sunset

Tower Bar Sunset

Daily happy hour appetizers are inexpensive and taste delicious; just be sure you’re sitting at the bar or in The Tower Bar, or you won’t get happy hour pricing.  You’ll find a good selection of brews here as well, though only a few are on tap.  You can sometimes catch live music, though if you’re upstairs you’ll miss out.  TK’s is becoming a Friday ritual for my husband and me.  I greatly enjoy some happy hour nachos or wings, a fresh crisp side salad and that fantastic view of the sunset from The Tower Bar.

These are just a few of my personal favorites…there are plenty of great places in Key West to drink and be merry. Thanks for choosing to come to our island!

If you’d like to see and read more of Key West from a local’s perspective, check out my blog at sunshine4chloe.tumblr.com, or if you need quick local advice and @SunshineMichele isn’t available, feel free to tweet me @TheMrsMurphy.

Laura & her husband moved to Key West last summer from some place up north called Minnesota and have no plans on leaving any time soon.  If not watching a game on a big screen or taking a well deserved break at one her favorite spots, Laura can sometimes be heard singing backup for some of the bands in town.  Be sure to ask for her autograph – it will be worth a fortune one day!

Please take a moment to leave us your thoughts on this article, or perhaps on something you would like to learn more about from down here in our little part of paradise called Key West.


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