Dubbed as America’s “Sunshine State,” Florida has additional appeal with its unique cluster of keys.
Keys, from the Spanish word caya, means “small island,” and there are over 800 of them. Driving on Overseas Highway is an excursion in itself, as one gazes upon the everglades, estuaries and mangroves.
Key West is one of the best-loved islands, and its vibe is spectacular; trying to define it is fun. While it has similarities to New Orleans, beach towns and southern charm galore, it also has a touch of the tropics. Tourists flock to Ernest Hemingway’s house, located street-side, though shrouded behind tall hedges. Compared to Hemingway’s house in Cuba, the one in Key West has a different look: antiques and art deco chandeliers versus contemporary ambiance. The dwelling is a museum of artifacts, but the cats steal the show; there’s even a cat cemetery on the property. The house/museum is perfectly located for tourists within a neighborhood of quaint architecture, lively bars and boutiques.
A lighthouse tower is located across the street – this gives Key West the distinction of reportedly being the only place in America that has a lighthouse within a city. Nearby, tourists line up to pose at the southernmost point of the continental United States. Key West is a mere 90 miles away from Cuba, lending itself to that exotic aesthetic intensified by palm trees and lush florals.
The rest of your time can be spent meandering through the eclectic neighborhood streets, admiring architecture. Outdoor decor expresses that distinct Key West pride, from seasonal-themed props to bohemian stylings. It draws you into a magnetic force of relaxation. The balmy weather encourages you to slow down and seek shade in the canopied outdoor taverns. You’ll lose track of time … which is kind of the point. Stained-glass windows, picket fences and Flamboyan trees adorn the neighborhood. It’s like a beauty pageant of houses, but they don’t compete – instead, they exist harmoniously. The nearby taverns are less pageant-like and more motley.
Coastal and seaside towns are startlingly different from their landlocked counterparts. It’s refreshing to see that places like the Keys maintain the integrity of their architecture and signage. Some tourists question this time-warp effect while eventually succumbing to the very details of this energy. It’s a commitment to a lifestyle where people engage with the sea.
You’ve heard of catch and release … but what about catch and cook? It’s fish you catch and have cooked at Islamorada’s Lazy Days restaurant. Airstream campers driving down the highways with boats and bicycles attached express a well-loved phrase: “Carpe diem!”
Driving back to resorts where you might be lodging, you’ll pass seafood shacks and regional shops advertised with mid-century fonts and designs. The Keys don’t have to change and adapt to keep up with the times; they are a time capsule of Americana and part of the getaway.
Settling into relaxation back at your resort, you’ll retreat into the zone of seaside visuals. Serene white, blended with vibrant green, provide that tranquil palette, subsuming you into the luxurious pace of beach life. Sunset is an experience all its own, so take the time to drink it in with photos or watching boats and yachts drift by.
Dinners include an array of seafood: hogfish, grouper, snapper, mahi-mahi, conch and more. Cuban-influenced mojitos are a popular beverage and Key lime pies, iconic of the region, complete the dining experience. End the night chatting around the fire pit as you sink into your chairs and feel the fire’s flames on your cheeks. You get to do it all over again tomorrow. These are the keys to a relaxing vacation.