South Florida Sunshine


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 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: the Family Friendly Side

For many people Key West represents drinking, parties, and adult worldly pleasures.  Most certainly there is plenty to please adults with the nightly pub crawl and adult venues all over the island, but Key West has much to offer family members of all ages as well.

Daytime is family time!  Young children and teenagers alike enjoy playing in the sand at the beaches.  If you’re visiting Key West with your entire family I highly recommend the beach at Ft Zachary Taylor State Park.  The 54 acre park offers swimming and snorkeling right off the beach.  Drop a line into the water and fish on the west side of the park.  Biking and nature trails offer a chance to explore the native tropical plant life and watch the birds as they stop for a rest on their migratory trek from South America.  Take a tour of the Civil War era fort or take a lunch break at the best beach restaurant café in Key West.

There are water sports for all ages.  For younger children and those who are not very wild at heart there are paddle board and kayak tours.  More adventurous family members will enjoy all the opportunities to hop on a jet ski, fly skywards by parasail, or ride the waves on a kite board.  As a group, your entire family can enjoy a White-Knuckle Thrill Boat ride.

Excursion providers like Fury offer glass bottom boat tours of the local reef system.  You can also get up close and personal with the marine wildlife on a diving or snorkeling charter.  Several companies also offer dolphin watching tours and excursions to the Dry Tortugas and Fort Jefferson.

Once you’ve had a full day of adventure, your family will be ready to unwind at Mallory Square as all of Key West celebrates the setting of the sun.  Be sure to arrive a couple of hours before sunset.  When you do, you will find artisans and performance artists of all manner.  Enjoy the antics of jugglers, tight rope walkers, trained animals, and much much more winding up with the grand finale as the sun drops into the Gulf of Mexico.

Granted, Key West after dark is not for the young ones, but after a full day of activities they will all be ready for a good night’s sleep.

What I personally think is the best part of visiting Key West with the family are all of the resort destinations on the island.

I recently visited the properties of the Southernmost Hotel Collection and was very impressed at how much there was to do right there on the property.  Located where Duval meets the Atlantic Ocean, the Southernmost offers four great properties for families to enjoy.  They have two historic bed and breakfast homes for mom and dad to enjoy some quiet luxury. Southernmost on the Beach offers a private beach, beautiful gardens, private pier and beach-side pool.  The Southernmost Hotel is on the upper end of Duval Street and just across the street from Southernmost on the Beach.  It offers two pools, a Jacuzzi, full-service concierge and access to the beach.  All of the properties are a mere stone’s throw from all the action on Duval.  No matter what time of year you visit, you’ll find the best deals on a hotel with resort amenities at competitive prices and no resort fees.

I had the pleasure of spending time with the SoMo’s Activities Director, Boomer McFall, as he provided tons of family fun for the guests.  People were actually getting out of the pool to come and play Wall Hookie with Boomer at the Southernmost Hotel.  Then we crossed the street to play the Newlywed Game poolside at Southernmost on the Beach.  The kids staying at both properties were coming up and asking when they would get to play sharks and minnows again. No doubt Boomer is probably one of the busiest and most popular guys on the property, and he’s constantly coming up with great new ideas and things to do.  If your family is staying at any of the Southernmost properties, I doubt you’ll ever hear “I’m bored” during your stay!

So, bring your family and come enjoy the jewel of the Florida Keys, the tropical paradise we call home; Key West.


Key West: Where to Find the Perfect Beach Book

I was recently asked by a friend of mine, Sujatha Hampton,author and fellow blogger, about independent bookstores

Author Sujatha Hampton

in Key West. Since the release of her book, “As It Was Written”, she has been very busy and looking for chance to get away.  A little book promotion island style was just the excuse she needed.  I passed on several links and addresses and I quickly decided that this was a topic worth expanding on.

South Beach, Key West, FL

For such a small, out-of-the-way place, Key West has a very rich literary heritageErnest Hemingway wrote nearly 70% of his published work from the home that has recently been named a literary landmark.  Tennessee Williams would come down to the beach at the southernmost point of the island to swim every morning before he started his writing day.  Even now, Key West still draws the notable and the hopeful alike.  Every year the island community hosts the Key West Literary Seminar, an event that draws readers and writers worldwide.

This year a new literary event is coming to the Key West social calendar.  SeaStory Press is hosting it’s first annual Key West Authors’ Book Fair.  Local authors will be gathering in the courtyard of the Key West Heritage House

Heritage House Museum

to exhibit, sign, and read from their works.  This event will be a fantastic opportunity to meet with authors who find inspiration in paradise on a daily basis.

Even if you aren’t a writer, but a bibliophile like me, there are plenty of places to tickle the reading fancy.

Photo by Laura Murphy

One of Key West’s up and coming authors, Michael Richie, highly recommends Key West Island Bookstore for picking up a great beach read.  Located at 513 Fleming Street, Key West Island Bookstore is stuffed with gems you would have never guessed you wanted until you started browsing.  Locally owned and operated, the shop captures all that is Key West, even some of its quirks.

The Key West Library should also be a stop for all book lovers.  Like Key West Island

photo by Laura Murphy

Bookstore, the library is located in Old Town at 700 Fleming Street.  Along with standard library fare, the Key West Branch of the Monroe County Library system has an extensive collection of books on Florida history.  They also host a regular lecture series, weekly programs for children, and the One Island One Book program.  Be sure to check out their tropical palm garden while you are there.

Voltaire Books at 330 Simonton Street is an independent bookstore that has a

photo by Laura Murphy

more Barnes & Noble feel.  They specialize in Hemingway, Williams, various Key West authors, and IndieBound bestsellers.  For visitors seeking the comfort of the familiar, there is a Borders Express located at 2212 N Roosevelt Blvd.

So be sure to save a little room in your bags for a few new books and take home  a bit of Key West.



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