South Florida Sunshine


Via Key West – Bring Funky and Fabulous Home

Ever have those days at work when you just want to run away?  Would even a few hours of sandy beaches and frothy drinks do your mind good?  Wouldn’t it be nice to have a few reminders of that last trip to Key West at home?  Of course the answer to all these questions is, YES!!!

My dear friend, Lisa Malcom, has the cure for your ills.  Well, okay, maybe a really good band-aid until you can get back to Key West.  I’d certainly call it the next-best-thing to being here.

Lisa is a long time resident of Key West, and an island style entrepenure.  Her website www.viakeywest.com brings all that is funky and fabulous about this little tropical paradise to anyone anywhere in the world.

Maybe what you need is a tropical treat, something to remind you of the famous Key Lime Pie.  Why not order one of Oprah’s favorite things, the Key Lime Bundt Cake?  Personally, I’m all about the chocolate.  Via Key West has an absolutely amazing Triple Chocolate Chip Fudge Cake.  Let’s all pause a moment while the chocoholics take care of where they just drooled all over the keyboard.

Maybe you’d like to recapture the memories of good times with friends hanging out on Duval Street? I bet a little live music from Yankee Jack would bring back all sorts of fond memories.

What about all of the beautiful historic homes and places that make Key West so unique?  Don’t you wish you had picked up some art in one of the galleries?  ViaKeyWest.com has a fantastic assortment of photography, water colors, and mixed media art to choose from.

Maybe you need something sentamental for that someone special you’d like to remind of lazy days falling in love and watching the sunset together.  How about a lovely pearl bracelet to remind her of long walks on sandy beaches?

And what if you haven’t made it to visit Key West and are waiting for the opportunity to go? Via Key West has several books to help keep the dream alive.  There are books to help plan your destination wedding, tales of what it’s like to live here, and even a book on how to “Quit Your Job and Move to Key West.” 

So take a break and satisfy that need for something uniquely Key West.  You’ll be so glad you did.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like …

Key West: Where to Find the Perfect Beach Book

Key West: The Ultimate Art Colony

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KEY WEST: SHIPWRECKS SHELLS SQUARES & SUNSETS – Guest Post

THANKS FOR VISITING!!!

Today we continue with part 4 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: Shipwrecks, Shells, Squares, & Sunsets.

While putting together this series this week, I’ve learned about all the industries Key West has thrived on – some of which were: fishing, turtling, sponging, pineapples, cigars and pink gold: shrimp (from the GULF). One of the most surprising factoids I discovered was learning about how Key West was once the RICHEST city in the United States. How did they achieve such wealth & status? Back in 1828, Key West thrived on the salvaging of shipwrecks, which was known as the wrecking industry…

Photos above I captured at Mallory Square and edited on picnik.com

“Long established trade routes came close to the Florida coast and the reefs just seven miles offshore of Key West. Stormy weather, or a captain’s inexperience with this treacherous area, could easily cause ships with valuable cargoes to founder just off shore. As a result, wrecking and salvaging soon became the island’s primary business and its citizenry became wealthy on the proceeds. Storehouses and chandeliers abounded, and people came from all over to bid on the valuable salvaged items. Between 1828 and the 1850s, Key West was considered the richest city, per capita, in the United States.”

(Learn more about the history of Key West here.)

The Shell Warehouse at Mallory Square was a great little find because for our past three anniversaries, we’ve spent them on the Florida shores (Key Largo, Naples, and now – Key West). I’ve been collecting treasures of coral, starfish and shells from our trips. This shop – by far – has had not only great prices, but a wonderful selection – I may even turn the photos into coastal wall art… (click to read more and see the rest of Lynda’s photos for this segment)

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!


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 Taking Oil Spill Cleanup Into Own Hands – Repost from Tonic

The wonderful folks at Tonic.com have given me permission to pass on this fabulous article by Katie Leavitt originally posted on Tonic TUESDAY, JUNE 15, 2010 6:00 AM ET

Tired of waiting for BP or the government to do something, Florida Keys residents are organizing on their own terms.

The sunsets. The famous lineage of writers and artists. Key West is the southernmost tip of the United States, and at more than 100 miles from the mainland, the island has a unique culture all its own.

The community and location of Key West naturally lends itself to a strong state of independence, and when it comes to protecting their beloved ocean, coral reefs and plant and wildlife, these islanders will not take the laid-back approach.

The citizens of Key West are not happy with the way BP has approached the cleanup of Deepwater Horizon’s oil spill. With the possibility of the oil reaching Key West in the next few weeks, residents have decided to organize their own efforts. They are choosing to focus on preventative measures rather than wait around for the oil to reach their shores before any action takes place.

This is where Key West residents have an issue with BP and the bureaucratic red tape that makes it nearly impossible to take early steps. For example, BP’s Deepwater Horizon’s Unified Command, working with the US Coast Guard, demands that it maintain complete control over cleanup actions.

Despite regulations, thousands of volunteers and hundreds of boat captains have signed up to help out through the site KeysSpill.com. However, BP insists that boat captains can only contribute by signing up through their own Unified Command’s Vessels of Opportunity program. Dan Robey, owner of KeysSpill, told Time that he thinks the BP program is a complete waste, with only a third of their boats prepared for service.

The island community is determined to begin protecting their ecosystem no matter what, but are trying to work out a few kinks with BP. So far progress has been limited to the hiring of one sentry boat operator and the offer to pay up to $10,000 for the mandatory hazmat training needed before volunteers can deal with the oil.

Clearly, residents feel they must be prepared to take matters into their own hands. After all, many of the local fisherman, scientists and area natives have extensive knowledge about the corals and ocean life that are unique to the waters surrounding the island.

In addition to Robey’s volunteers, Adopt a Mangrove is assigning kayakers their own mangrove tree to clean. Florida Keys Environmental Coalition was born in order to connect environmental activists, scientists and boat captains, while volunteers are already working to clean up the beaches so they are easier to clean should oil the arrive.

Patrick Rice, dean of marine science and technology at Florida Keys Community College, has another plan he wants to see implemented. By placing air hoses with holes into the water, the air bubbles would block at least some of the oil from reaching the reefs and mangroves.

The people of the Keys, no matter what protocols may be in place, are determined to do all they can to be prepared for possible oil damage. “I just talked with BP yesterday,” Rice told Time. “I told them flat out, ‘If you come down here and start doing what you’ve done in Louisiana, you’re going to have a revolt. They’ll shut down U.S. 1. You won’t be able to bring any of your contractors in or out.'”


Key West: By Land, Sea, and Air

A major part of vacation planning for any destination is determining how to get there. Key West offers transportation opportunities unlike any land-locked locale. There are many options by sea, land, and air that make the journey a grand part of the adventure.

For hundreds of years the only way to reach the little island, once known as Cayo Hueso or “Bone Island,” was by sea. Long before Christopher Columbus unrolled his beach towel in the New World, the Caribbean natives often used it as a fishing outpost. Today, hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world visit our little paradise coming in by cruise ship. Major cruise providers like Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Celebrity, Disney and Norwegian offer a Key West port of call for several of their cruises. You can also visit on cruises by P&O Cruises, Costa, and MSC Cruises.

A favorite mode of transportation, especially for guests coming from Florida’s Gulf Coast, is the Key West Express ferry from Ft. Meyers. The Express currently operates four of the most modern vessels operating in the Florida tourist business. All of the vessels feature air-conditioned interiors, sun decks, a full galley and bar, large flat screen TVs with satellite programming, and knowledgeable crews with years of experience.  Step aboard for a quick trip with travel journalist Chris Kohatsu
Video production by Brock Media.

For travelers lucky enough to own thier own sea-going vessels, there are several marinas to tie off in.  The Westin Key West Marina offers a 37-slip marina that can accommodate motor yachts from 25-200 feet. Electric and water hookups are available at each slip. Please contact the Marina Dock Master for availability and fees.  Oceanside Marina is made up of 96 slips of various sizes from 40’ to 80’ and T heads for larger craft. Owners of slips must be contacted directly about availability for lease or sale.  Sunset Marina offers 30′, 40′, 50′, 60′ slips for sale and lease with easy Access to Gulf of Mexico or Atlantic Ocean. The Conch Harbor Marina has  annual, monthly and transient dockage available.  Garrison Bight Marina is the only dry storage facility in Key West and offers quick boating access to the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic Ocean or the lovely backcountry and flats.  And finally the Key West Yacht Club Marina is located off the pristine shoreline of the Atlantic Ocean, far enough from the mainland for a relaxing island escape yet close enough to enjoy the shopping and attractions that Key West is famous for.

Inspired by the announcement of plans to build the Panama Canal, Henry Flagler began to build his Overseas Rail Road in 1905 with his own money.  From start to finish the project was plagued with difficulty, danger, and disaster, but Flagler persevered through 7 grueling years of construction.  This from an article on FloridaKeys.com:

Flagler’s associates wanted him to realize his dream of riding his private railroad car into Key West. But, time was running out as he was getting old. His 82nd birthday party was postponed for a few weeks so that he could celebrate it with the completion of the project. At 10:43 a.m. on January 22, 1912, engine number 201 safely delivered Flagler and his wife in his private car, Rambler, for three days of celebration in Key West. As tears were streaming down his face, he said, “Now I can die happy. My dream is fulfilled.”

On Labor Day in 1935 a powerful hurricane dealt a deathblow. Hundreds of people in the Islamorada area lost their lives and 40 miles of railroad track were washed out. The railroad’s right-of-way was sold to the State of Florida for $640,000, and would become what is now the Overseas Highway.

The roadway was originally completed in 1938 and incorporates 42 bridges over the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, Florida Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. They include the Seven Mile Bridge at Marathon, which stretches 6.79 miles across open water and was referred to on its completion as “the eighth wonder of the world.”

Driving through the Keys on the Overseas Highway is still one of my favorite activities.  Cruising along at a leisurely pace, passing between sheltered little communities and wide open ocean vistas is a treat all to itself.  Then you hit Seven Mile Bridge and the wide open vistas of sea and sky.  Even as early as 4:00 in the afternoon, the clouds begin to take on a slight pink blush, hinting as to what awaits in Key West.  If you really want to experience the drive to it’s fullest, I highly recommend renting a convertible.  The speed limits are strictly controlled and range from 35 to 45 miles per hour throughout the Keys, perfect for a top down cruise.  Just be sure to put on some sunscreen before you hit the open road.  From Miami, the drive will take around 3 hours, from Ft. Lauderdale a little closer to 4 hours. Once in Key West, you will not be using that rental car much. If you are staying in Old Town, the historic quarter, most everything is within a short, charming walk. Many guests return their car at the airport, take advantage of bicycles, scooters or electric cars on the island, and pick another one back up at the end of their week.

Of course, the quickest way to get here is by air.  KeyWestTravelGuide.com says this about air travel:

Daily flights by a handful of major airlines bring in many passengers from all over the world. The airlines that service Key West are Delta, American, US Air, Cape Air, and Continental. For most every air traveler, you will change to a smaller plane in South Florida, for the final leg to Key West. Since our airport is small, expect your connecting flight to Key West to be on a small plane, often referred to as a “puddle jumper”. Almost all of these flights originate from either: Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Tampa, or Orlando. The one airline offering an out-of-state flight is Delta’s Atlanta-Key West route…a route that is especially desirable for those in the Peachtree State. If you fly during daylight, the view of the Florida Keys is breathtaking.

Lady walking from jetIf you’re interested in really traveling in style, you might want to consider a private air taxi charter with Aviator Services.  Service in their 2009 Cirrus SR22 is now available in South Florida, based at Miami’s Tamaimi Airport. Get to where you need to go in Florida quickly. The Cirrus cruises at nearlyCirrus SR22 200 MPH. Enjoy Bose Quiet Headsets and XM Radio, a roomy cabin and seating for 3 passengers. It’s like flying in a luxury sedan with wings! Call 305-234-8800 to inquire about their affordable rates.

No matter whether you choose to travel by sea, land, or air, you’re sure to find that getting to Key West truly is half the fun!

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, Touring in an Electric Car


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



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