For first-timers to Key West, a “city tour” is the first priority, made easy with an open-air ride abroad the Conch Tour Train, which offers a 90-minute wander, narrating en-route the island’s rich and raunchy history of the days of Indians, pirates, rumrunners, wreck-divers, presidents, artists and intellectuals. Also available is the Old Town Trolley ticket, permitting sightseers to get on and off all day at a dozen different stops.
Favorite stops include: The Harry S. Truman Little While Hous, fully restored and full of memorabilia from the days when Truman escaped from Washington D.C. to the tranquility of Key West.
The quirky Key West Cemetery whose epitaphs – such as “I told you I was sick” – reveal the early settlers’ lighthearted attitudes toward life and death.
Follow-ups to a motor tour include: Guided walking tours of Old Town and/or bike riding on one’s own just about anywhere. Both point up the big surprise – at least to this editor – the fabulous melange of buildings and lifestyles: a $5 million mansion sitting next to a beat-up Bahamian conch shack or an evangelical church with chickens wandering about, and roosters crowing at daybreak. As on guide tells it, “Old Town alone offers a dizzying array of architectural styles – Queen Anne, American Foursquare, and Classical Revival work – that make up an authentic neighborhood, not a theme park, more Caribbean than American.”
Offshore looking in, one explores the flora and fauna of back-country Key West by kayak. Head out for a couple of hours into the wildlife refuge with an environmentally attuned guide to paddle about islands of red mangroves, tidal creeks and sandy shallows brimming with colored coral, sponges, starfish anemones and tropical fish. Consider making this excursion in a see-through, transparent kayak.
the munchies Clients can work up an appetite getting acquainted with Key West, which also offers its guests a slew of dining choices, from sunup to sundown. Not to miss: – Legendary crepes at the Banana Cafe – Lemon-ricotta pancakes at Sarabeth’s – A slick at Upper Crust Pizza – The Eaton Street Seafood Market – Michaels, with indoor/outdoor seating, is a perfect steak experience, although fish is everyone’s favorite dish – The Seven Fish Restaurant – Blue Heaven, a place of roaming roosters and dense banana bread, come in the evening for the fresh-caught fish, curried soups and Jamaican jerk chicken
accommodation options Pier House Resort & Spa, which has its own sunset perch restaurant, One Duval, serves up excellent fried calamari. Recently renovated, the property paid a great deal of attention to its big new spa and Harbor Room suites, which are light, airy and have balconies overlooking the water. The majority of the rooms, including the Lanai-class room at $359 per night, with matching dark and heavy furnishings.
The boutique, 17-room, plantation-style Gardens Hotel (from $295 dbl including breakfast) set on the historic estate of the Peggy Mills Botanical Key West Gardens.