South Florida Sunshine


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

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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: 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 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


Oil Spill, Key West, and My Personal Opinion

When it rains, it pours, especially in Key West! I’m not talking about our tropical rainy season, either.

This has already been a difficult year here. The tourism industry is our life blood. The first thing to hit us hard has been the economy. When money is tight, most people will cut back on things that aren’t totally necessary, and that usually means travel. Throw in an unusually COLD winter season and things really started getting a little dicey. Now we are faced with a near certainty that the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico will affect the waters around our little island paradise.

Let me take a moment to encourage both the traveling public and the people of Key West, that this is not the time to panic. This is the time to get educated. I noticed how easily we slipped into crazy nervousness when tar balls were discovered on the beach. The automatic assumption was that they were the first signs that the spill was beginning to reach our shore. What most people don’t realize is that tar balls are not something out of the ordinary. The leaking mess that is commercial shipping is a constant source of tar balls all over the world. We lack far to much information about what we are facing to make good decisions, yet.

The City of Key West has a Special Information Session scheduled for this Saturday. You can attend live at Old City Hall, watch it on cable, or view it live via video streaming at www.keywestcity.com It’s a great place to start educating yourself on what’s REALLY going on out there.

Rather than panicking and whining for a hand out, this is the time to find opportunity. What will get us through this is innovation, creativity, and the willingness to come together as friends and neighbors. If we can weather hurricanes on a regular basis, we can turn this disaster into the opportunity of a lifetime.

For now, Key West is clean, beautiful, and OPEN FOR BUSINESS!


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.


SCUBA Diving Key West — A Guest Blog

Photo by Boomer McFall

This article was originally posted by Scuba-Dive.org on May 8, 2010 and reposted here with their permission.

There is more to Key West than dive bars. Most people don’t realize that one of Florida’s biggest party towns actually has a lot of scuba options if you can stay sober long enough to seek them out. Key West’s largest and most pristine reefs are located several miles off shore, making a dive boat a must. Those willing to venture a little further still can also enjoy the dive opportunities in the Lower Keys, especially pristine Looe Key Reef, a protected site teeming with sea life that know nobody is going to eat them. Interesting sites include:

Looe Key Reef – The coral reef of Looe Key has been afforded special protection since 1981. Since then, all spearfishing, coral collection, and even lobstering have been banned there. The site’s namesake, the frigate H.M.S. Looe, accidentally ran hard aground there in 1744; remains of the ship lie between two fingers of coral near the eastern end of the reef although only the ballast and anchor are visible. One unusual aspect of Looe Key is that a complete reef ecosystem is found there, from a rubble ridge of ancient fossilized corals, to a reef flat comprised of turtle grass, to a fore reef made up of large star and brain corals arranged in a spur-and-groove coral formation sloping from 20 to 40 feet. There is even a deep reef which slopes to more than 100 feet, providing a great opportunity to view the pelagic species of the Florida Keys, including eagle rays, turtles and every once in awhile a whale shark or manta ray. But don’t miss the main attraction looking for big game: more varieties of tropical marine species are found at Looe Key than perhaps anywhere else in the hemisphere, placing most of the of action right in front of your mask.

Adolphus Busch – This former island freighter was purchased by the local dive community with the generous assistance of Adolphus Busch IV, and sunk upright and intact in just 100 feet of water some seven miles southwest of Big Pine Key in December 1998. Before sinking, the ship was well cleaned and prepared for divers, including the opening of several large holes for penetration. The ship is 210 feet long and the maximum depth is 110 feet, making it an Intermediate to Advanced level dive. There is some marine growth on the wreck, but the highlight is the ship itself, as well as the schools of fish that are starting to use it as a playground.

Sand Key – From the surface, Sand Key looks like a pile of shells topped with a jaunty red lighthouse hat but, underwater; the view gets much more idyllic. The reef itself consists mostly of rock fingers and gullies with sandy bottoms between cliff-like structures and extensive areas of staghorn and elkhorn coral. This site reaches to 65 feet and teems with endless expanses of colorful tropical fish and macro photography opportunities. Though popular, this location is so large that dive boats can spread out, and fish always outnumber divers.

Alexander’s Wreck – commercial salver Chet Alexander purchased this ship from the Navy and sunk it to form an artificial reef. The wreck lies on its side and is broken in half, with the stern section lying 150 yards or so north of the bow, which is awash on most tides. The hull is covered with Leavy oysters and the surrounding waters teem with what seems like unending schools of tropical fish.

Photo by Boomer McFall

Joe’s Tug – This classic tugboat sits totally upright in just 65 feet of water, and offers a great opportunity for close encounters with goliath grouper, spotted morays, barracuda, and horse eye jacks. Open access to the wheel house and aft deck make this an enjoyable dive.

The Cayman Salvor -This 180-foot steel hulled buoy tender, also known as the Cayman Salvager, was intentionally sunk as an artificial reef in 1985. She now sits upright with cavernous open holds providing refuge for bait fish and grunts, as well as a resident jewfish and green moray eel.

Hoyt S. Vandenberg – So, how long to do you plan on staying in the Keys to dive? At 523 feet in length and 10 stories high, the Vandenberg, the Key’s most famous artificial reef, will take you some time to explore. The Vandenberg sits upright approximately seven miles off Key West in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, its keel buried at 145 feet. The tops of the bridges, the communication center and the ship’s dish antennas are 40 feet from the surface of the water, perfect for beginning divers or deco stops. All dive spots along the top structure are open, free from obstruction and are easy to maneuver over and around during a dive. The decks are 45 to 90 feet below the surface. There are holes cut measuring 8×10 feet on each side to allow divers to penetrate the decks horizontally. There are 18 stair towers, 11 elevator shafts and cargo hold shafts to give divers vertical access to the wreck. The 25 foot tall rudder and prop is a great deep dive at 150 feet for the advanced diver.

Since being sunk to the bottom in under two minutes’ time on May 27, 2009, the second-largest ship in the world to be sunk as an artificial reef sits encrusted with species of soft corals. Some 48 different species of shallow water and reef fish have taken up residency, such as parrotfish, goliath grouper, yellow and blue tangs, barracuda as well as deeper water dorado and the occasional sailfish attracted by clouds of bait that frequently school around the wreck. Gray angelfish and butterfly fish are routinely seen circling the anchor chain, while arrow crabs treat the whole thing like a jungle gym.

For more great articles on SCUBA diving please visit the blog at Scuba-Dive.org

For dive charters in Key West and more information on how you can experience these places for yourself check out Sunshine Key West’s Activities and let me help you book your dive adventure!


Key West: Coffee Island Style

Mmmmmmm, coffee. . . .

If you follow me at all on Twitter, you already know that I am never good and awake in the mornings until I have had a strong cup of coffee. Truth be told, I’m pretty much useless until about 11:00 with or without it but . . . that’s a story for another day.

I know that I am one among many with this sort of coffee addiction. The most difficult part of it is traveling and not knowing where to find a good cup o’ Joe. Vacationers and Cruisers rejoice, for I know where to find the java and some great Key West atmosphere to enjoy it.

First off let me say that YES, Key West has a great Starbucks located right in the middle of it all on Duval Street. So if you need the familiar and you need it quick, that’s the place to go. But, if you want to really sit, sip, and drink in Key West you need to check out some or all of the following:

Coffee Plantation

This coffee house is Key West at its best. My dear friend and photographer, Laura Murphy, highly recommends it. They serve their fresh brewed house blend in a historic home that was built around 1890. Located in the heart of Old Town near Schooner Wharf at 713 Caroline Street, Coffee Plantation is a favorite of the locals. There is never a lack of good local gossip floating about, and the shop eagerly supports local musicians, writers, and artists. They offer fresh coffee, tea, espresso, baked goods, and a homey Conch atmosphere that is uniquely Key West.

Island Joe’s

This little place just off Duval at 519 Fleming Street is not just a coffee shop. Island Joe’s is actually a coffee roasting company that offers a great spot to sit and enjoy their handy work. Once you walk in, you are transported from the hustle and bustle to an oasis of old world charm. This place is all gourmet. Sit near a 300 year old tapestry under a gorgeous Baccarat Crystal Chandelier and enjoy an Island Joe’s signature Cafe con Leche. They also serve fresh baked French pastries and an outstanding gourmet breakfast and lunch. Even when you’ve gone home again, you can enjoy a part of Key West because Island Joe’s Coffee is shipped all around the world.

Cuban Coffee Queen

Just a scant 90 miles from Cuba at 284 Margaret Street, the Cuban Coffee Queen not only offers authentic Cuban coffee, but will deliver it to you! Also in the Historic Sea Port of Old Town with Coffee Plantation, this little walk up offers handmade Cuban sandwiches, smoothies, and coffee. It’s a perfect place to grab a quick cup while you shop.

Coffee and Tea House of Key West

If you want to sit back and relax with your coffee, the Coffee and Tea House of Key West is the place to go. Located on the southern, more quiet end, of Duval, this place is a favorite for a relaxing cup of morning coffee. The house offers a front porch to sit and read the paper as you sip. Stop by 1218 Duval and enjoy coffee on island time.

Sippin’ Internet Cafe

Just as the name says, Sippin’ is an Internet hot spot. If you need to reconnect with the world beyond Key West, this is the place to be. They offer wireless and T1 line access, fax & copy services, and can even print digital photos or copy to CD. They also serve up some fantastic espresso, coffee, tea, and baked goods, including Key Lime Pie. Located at 424 Eaton Street, they are just steps off Duval.

Key West Tea and Spice Company

For those that would rather have tea instead of coffee, Key West Tea & Spice is for you. This little place just opened in March and has the best old time market atmosphere. Foodies will enjoy the exotic spices offered, while others can pick up luxury soaps, potpourri, and all things TEA. You’ll want to stop in at 614 Greene Street just to enjoy the aromas.

All you caffeine addicts can thank me by chipping in for my next cup, because this one went cold while I was writing this.


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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