Key West Things to Do Tips by 850prc Top 5 Page for this destination
Key West Things to Do: 528 reviews and 924 photos
Take this baby home. I did.
Yes, Florida politicians waste time, too. They've named an "official state pie", and the winner was Key Lime Pie. Many of you may have heard of this wonder, but I'll suspect that most of you have had pies crafted with regular limes, aka Persian limes. Key Limes (also called Mexican limes or Citrus aurantifolia Swingle) are smaller than standard green limes, and are yellow in color. Their juice is quite potent, too. And if you're gonna make and enjoy true Key Lime Pie, you gotta find Key Limes, or perhaps Key Lime juice concentrate. It's out there, folks. Check in your local overpriced gourmet stores. :)
Recipes for Key Lime Pie are pretty much the same, although crusts can vary. The key is to make and enjoy them fresh. As for topping, either a traditional merengue or a dollop of whipped cream can work.
IN KEY WEST, there's a bakery chain called "The Blonde Giraffe". Their Key Lime Pie has been locally voted "best in town" for five plus years running. The reputation is deserved, as we loved their pie. You can find BG outlets all over Key West, there are more of them than there are McDonalds. Really.
Wanna make a Key Lime Pie?
Crust ingredients are 16 graham crackers (crushed), 3 TBSP sugar and 1/4 lb butter (softened). Mix these ingredients and press into a 9" pie plate. Bake at 350 F for about 10 minutes and cool.
Pie ingredients are 4 extra-large egg yolks, 14 oz of sweetened/condensed milk, 1/2 c Key Lime juice, 2 tsp grated lime peel. Your topping for the pie is your choice.
Beat the yolks until thick and light yellow. Don't over-mix. Add condensed milk. Mix on slow speed and add half of the lime juice. Once it's incorporated, add the other half and the lime zest and mix until just blended. Pour into pie shell and bake at 350 F for 12 minutes. Serve with merengue or whipped cream dollop.
Mix these ingredients and press
Fritters and key lime/mustard dipping sauce
First thing first, I might let you know that various species of conch are actually a bit rare in the Key West waters, and have, for quite a while, been a protected species. So, when you order conch fritters in Key West...or anywhere in Florida for that matter...the chances are good that the conch meat itself came from the Cayman Islands area, where they're quite plentiful.
As for what conch fritters are all about, they're somewhat like southern-style "hushpuppies". If you've had these, then conch fritters are similar, but are generally spicier in makeup. If you've never had hushpuppies, you may be a bit more in the dark. Corn fritters and such are popular in other parts of America, and are similar.
Mosty people dip conch fritters into some type of sauce. My favorite is a spicy local keys concoction made up with key lime juice, mustard and other spices. New Orleans style remoulade is also good.
Wanna make some fritters at home? If you can find the conch meat, you should be home free. And if not, I'd suggest dicing up some shrimp and substituting. If you do the shrimp instead of conch, you might want to also blend a bit of flaky coconut into your batter...and definitely choose remoulade for dipping. OK, here's that recipe:
1 pound of chopped conch meat
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 green pepper, chopped
1/4 red bell pepper, chopped
1/4 yellow bell pepper, chopped
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (maybe more)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp "Old Bay" seafood seasoning
1/2 cup beer (get a tall-boy and drink the rest!)
vegetable oil for deep frying
Combine the conch and the next 8 ingredients. Add 1/2 cup of beer and mix thoroughly. Refrigerate for 2 hours. Head oil to 350 degrees F. Drop the conch mixture by spoonfuls into the hot oil. Add one fritter at a time. Fry no more than six at a time. Fry for about 5 minutes, or until golden brown and crispy light. Drain and serve on a bed of fresh lettuce with your favorite fritter dipping sauce.
The Southernmost Sara in the continental USA
If you've Googled you way to this page with "go all the way", you're about to be disappointed. <g>
With this simple tip, I'm saying that you might as well do what every other living tourist who visits Key West does. Go down to the "southernmost point in the USA" marker and have your photo taken. I wonder if there are people in Cuba doing the same thing 90 miles to the south?
A good time to do the southernmost marker would be when you choose to also visit the Hemingway House, The Butterfly Conservatory or the Key West Lighthouse. They're all on this end of the island.
Address: Corner of Whitehead & South Streets.
Directions: Into Key West on Truman, left on Duval . Right as Duval ends, go right on South Street and the marker is to your immediate left.
The day is done, but the party is just beginning.
OK, just above, I wrote a comment about Mallory Square being more than just about the "sunset celebration". And while that's all true, the event that gets everything pumping in the area is the daily sunset celebration.
I figured we'd need to get there early to get a nice seat, but the truth is that it seems to be a late-arriving crowd for sunset. I'd say that if you show up an hour ahead of sunset, you'll have you pick of places to relax and enjoy.
Basically, this is all one big street party. There are little bar stands selling daiquiris and beers, and bottled waters. You can, SURPRISE!, buy a t-shirt or two, too. Costume jewelry, incense, paraphenalia of "questionable legality"...it's all there. There are folk singers, dancers, mimes, clowns, all sorts of street performers and just plain old buskers, too.
We ended up hanging around a fellow who specialized in Houdini-esque escape stunts. He'd wrap himself in chains, hand upside down and such. All in the course of his little show, he had a great little Vegas stand-up comedy routine going too, and made great use of audience participation. At the end, as do most of the street performers, they passed the hat. Bottom line, we paid the guy $5 and got more than our money's worth in laughs alone.
...and the sunset....
Well, we've done sunset celebrations all over the world, and they're always memorable. But, Mallory Square was worth the time we spent waiting it out. And when ol' sol finally disappeared beneath the horizon, we were all glad to feel things cool off just a bit.
And remember, when the sunset celebration ends each day, that means the North Duval Street party celebration is about to kick into a higher gear.
Address: Mallory Square, Key West, FL
Directions: Mallory Square is at the north end of Duval, Whitehead and Front Streets, along Wall Street
Sara and I resting inside the conservatory
Oh my God. If ever a place was built to make my daughter happy, it's the Butterfly Conservatory in Key West. Butterflies are Sara's new passion, and the conservatory has an incredible indoor butterfly garden and oasis, just brimming with all sorts of exotic beauty. Talk about a peaceful place to spend some time.
I personally am not that "into" butterflies, but I found it both uplifting and calming...and the nice cool climate inside the sanctuary was nice, too. We had a chance to speak with some of the butterfly "handlers", too. Very interesting to learn of all the different steps in setting up such an undertaking.
As a sideline, the owners of the conservatory make some incredibly beautiful art and plexiglass displays of various butterflies. Mind you, no cruelty is happening here...the butterflies have a life span of about 2 weeks, and every day, they go through several times to pick up the beauties who's time's run out. The ones with bodies in good shape are given to the butterfly artist/taxidermist and voila...magical creations. I know it doesn't particularly sound great to talk about butterfly art, but trust me, you'd be amazed at the talent of the artist and the grace and beauty of his subjects.
Oh, one other thing...in addition to butterflies, the conservatory's garden also has a nice collection of beautiful and color birds to blend in with their butterfly color. They all seem to get on nicely, I didn't see any of the "employees" eating one another. <g>
Like everything in Key West, it costs $10 per adult...but we did find some coupons that saved us a few dollars. And, once you've bought a ticket, you're welcome to revisit as often as you'd wish for that day. It comes in handy when you're maybe a little hot and tired. Go back into the cool conservatory and sit on the benches for a bit. (See photo of me and Sara below) The conservatory is open daily from 9:00 am until 5:30 pm.
Address: 1316 Duval Street
Directions: Go south on Duval Street. Right before you reach the end of the road, the conservatory is on your right (when you're going south)
Mallory Square Signpost
Mallory Square is located at the north end of Duval, Whitehead and Front Streets, along Wall Street. Facing out onto the Gulf of Mexico, it's a favorite spot for locals and visitors alike to toast each evening's sunset. But, there's plenty of other little things to do around Mallory Square...nothing earth shaking, mind you, but check out...
The sponge market (ocean sponges, folks, not birth control!)
Lots of local eateries, some are good places to get yourself some conch fritters
Sea shell and souvenir shops
The Key West Aquarium
and the nearby Truman Little White House
So my short point here is that there are things to do around Mallory Square leading up to sunset.
Address: Along Wall Street, between Duval and Front Streets
Directions: Go north on Duval, Whitehead or Front Streets until you intersect Wall Street and follow the signs.
All of our modern presidents have had their "home/hideaways away from Washington". Kennedy had Hyannis Port, Nixon went to Key Biscayne, LBJ had his ranch, as did our present Prez, George W. His dad went to Kennebunkport and Reagan did a ranch in California. And, Harry S. Truman loved Key West. During Truman's almost 8 year presidency, he spent over 170 days IN Key West. The structure became known at that time as "Truman's Little White House".
Come to think of it, Key West and Truman are actually a great match. Both are informal, laid-back types. I can see where this little bit of quiet at the end of Florida fit Harry's needs perfectly. I'll bet it was muy isolated back in the late 40s and early 50s.
Today, you can tour the house and grounds...like everything in Key West, it costs $10 per adult. One thing that struck me during my visit was looking at one of Truman's tropical shirts on display. He was actually a very small man. We've come to think of him as such a giant, but he was actually quite slight in build. Truman's desk at the LWH has the famous "the buck stops here" sign.
The house was originally built in the late 19th century, and its seawall was designed by Lt. Robert Peary, who would later find fame via the North Pole. During World War I, Thomas Edison resided in the house while donating his services to the Navy.
And, the Little White House has served the nation beyond HST's presidency. In 1955, Dwight Eisenhower spent time here recovering from his heart attack. Sad and silly story, IMHO...Eisenhower actually hated Truman, and refused to sleep in the same bed that Truman had used on his visits to Key West. Seems kind of stupid to me, but it is what it is, right? Back in 1961, America's new president, John Kennedy, met British Prime Minister Harold McMillian in Key West at the Little White House. Recently in 2001, Colin Powell hosted a week of international peace talks at the house.
Address: In the Truman Annex -- off of Whitehead Street
Directions: From Mallory Square, walk southward on Front Street just past the Hilton property and onto the grounds of the Little White House.
Other Contact: 305-294-9911
Looking up at the lighthouse
Hemingway's House, which is right across the street, is more famous. But in all honesty, I enjoyed our visit to the Key West Lighthouse more. The view from the top is terrific, and the accompanying lighthouse keeper's home is a beautifully restored historic monument to the lighthouse keeper's family and time in Key West. It's all stained wood and delightfully creaky. And, on a June afternoon, it's also splendidly air-conditioned! (Let's hear it for progress) BTW, if you do climb the lighthouse, there are 88 steps up to the viewing area, and 10 more steps to the light. The last 10 are closed to the public.
The lighthouse itself was built in 1847, replacing an original wooden tower on Whitehead Point that had been destroyed the year before by a hurricane. (I guess in spite of not having global warming problems in the mid-19th century, they still had hurricanes). Originally built 66 feet high, it had an additional 20 feet added in 1894. The lighthouse served until being de-commissioned by the Coast Guard in 1969. The tower was restored in 1989 and is again functioning with a 175 watt metal halide light which can be seen several miles out at sea.
The lighthouse keeper's quarters were built in 1887, and presently houses the official lighthouse museum collection of artifacts, as well as the "maritime history of the Keys".
The lighthouse and museum are open 9:30 am - 5:00 pm daily. Like everything in Key West, the admission charge is $10 per adult.
One other little thing, stock up on bottles of cold ice water at the lighthouse. They sell them for a buck, the cheapest place anywhere. In the sweltering heat and humidity of Key West, you can suck down a fortune in water before you know it.
Address: 938 Whitehead St.
Directions: across from Hemingway's House
The historic Key West Aquarium
As aquariums go, there are better ones than Key West's. It's not very large or modern. But what it lacks in razzle-dazzle, it makes up for with history. This aquarium was one of the first in the country, built between 1932 and 1934, when it opened for business. The main front facade is still the same basic building, which was probably pretty nifty stuff back 70 years ago.
Again, not a huge collection of fish and undersea creatures. But, the staff is friendly and very hands-on. And, you gotta love an aquarium staff that pitches an occasional feeder fish to one of the ubiquitous Key West city cats roaming the area. Those kitties seem to know where to go in Mallory Square for a square meal.
COST? Like everything in Key West, it costs $10 for an adult. The bad news is that, as an old building, it's really not "well-cooled". When you need a bit of cool air, hit the gift shop for five minutes and then head back out among the sharks and stingrays.
The Aquarium is open daily from 10 am-6 pm. There are guided tours and shark feedings at 11 am, 1 pm, 3 pm and 4:30 pm.
Address: One Whitehead St at Mallory Square
Directions: Right at Mallory Square. Take Duval street Northwest from Truman Avenue until you hit the square.
Duval Street architecture, SW end
Duval Street is pretty much the center of everything in old Key West. At one end (SW), you have the southernmost point, Victorian cottages and interesting shops. Maybe the occasional gay bar or female impersonator show. Cuban cigar stands, road side daiquiri and beer bars, and the wonderful Key West Butterfly Conservatory. There's even a slightly-disguised Denny's Restaurant which you WILL appreciate if you happen to be up before noon on a weekend day and would like some food for breakfast.
The NW end is rowdier, with Mallory Square and all the famous and wild bars as part of the environs. T-shirt shops, places to buy paraphenalia of questionable legality, it's all there. I found the NW end entertaining...I'm just glad that our cottage was far enough away from all the noise. This is NOT the sort of place where you visit cooking stores or buy gourmet olive oil. You might find other kinds of oils for sale, though. Have a talk with your kids before you take them into the area at night.
But one note...it's basically safe, nobody really hassles you here. Too laid back for hassle, and probably too hot, too. I'm sure crime occurs, but I never felt threatened anywhere on Duval Street at any time, night or day.
Address: Duval Street
Directions: Center of Old Town
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