Our Key West Favorites

During our stay in Key West, we called the Key West Bight Marina home. The historic harbor here is lined with restaurants and bars that offer great views of the many charter boats, catamarans and schooners and their constant comings and goings.

Just a few blocks off of the bustle of Duval Street, the harbor walk area feels completely different than being along the “main drag.” Sadly, most visitors don’t venture off of Duval. Don’t get me wrong, it offers plenty of fun bars and restaurants to spend time in, and there are days and days of stores for browsing and shopping. However, it’s definitely worth a turn to the right or left. If you have time and spare cash, rent a bike or scooter and explore the many quiet side streets and lanes. There are endless houses to catch your eye, and places to eat and drink in, or tour along the way.

We visited some of our regular spots, and found several new ones. I thought I’d share some of our favorites places to eat and visit.

Happy Hour:

2 Cents Pub:

2 Cents Restaurant & Pub - Key West, FL, United States

A relatively new place just off of Duval, and new for us as well, they offer endless bacon during happy hour!

2 Cents Restaurant & Pub - Key West, FL, United States. Free bacon at happy hour?! Yes please

We thoroughly tested this..we kept eating, and it kept coming! You roll dice to determine you drink price: 1 = 1.00. 2 = 2.00, 3 = half price and 4, 5 or 6 = full price. This is good toward any drink or cocktail in the place. We made out pretty well. Our 1.00s balanced out our 4s and such, averaging out to half price drinks and fun along the way. They also offer happy hour snacks.

Half Shell Raw Bar:

Half Shell Raw Bar - Key West, FL, United States. Outside & Eat It Raw Sign

Half Shell Raw Bar - Key West, FL, United States. From The Marina

Located at the far end of the harbor walk, they offer happy hour seven days a week, which is a plus! All types and brands of beer are half price, as are rail drinks, house wines and bar food. It’s a popular spot with locals, so go early for a seat at the bar.

Conch Republic Seafood Company:

Conch Republic Seafood Company - Key West, FL, United States

Along the harbor walk, they offer 2 for 1 beer and rail drinks. Meaning, if you buy one, you have a second one coming for free. You cannot share your free one with a friend, so you’re on your own for both. Outside of happy hour, they make great mojitos! Sadly, I have not been the happiest with their food, so we usually choose to stick to drinks here.

The Lazy Gecko:

Just down from Sloppy Joe’s, they have offer a longer happy hour, from 4-8pm. 2 for 1 beer and rail drinks. They also offer specials each day, and Scott and I are especially fond of Taco Tuesday…cheap tacos and 5.00 margaritas! The music during happy hour is always good, too.

The Smokin’ Tuna:

Another new one for us. Cocktails are 5.00, and they’re not limited to rail (which makes Scott happy!). They don’t skimp on alcohol in their drink.. and, they have COKE!! This is something that very important to Scott. He’s a not a Pepsi person, and we have discovered that Key West is a very, very Pepsi town (apparently, the Coke supplier isn’t reliable, which cannot be profitable for them here). Beer is half price. Happy hour munchies and music are pretty good.

The Boathouse:

Boathouse Bar & Grill - Key West, FL, United States. Love all the flags!

The Boathouse has been around for years, but we just heard of the great happy hour. It took some trying to find the darned place! Located under the Commodore Restaurant, along the harbor walk, it has no outside sign.  As you might imagine, it’s another locals favorite.  All beer and rail drinks half price. The half price food menu is great! We also met some new friends here. Locals by way of Baltimore!

Food and Drink:

Cuban Coffee Queen:

Cuban Coffee Queen - Key West, FL, United States. This place is small but packs a punch awesome pressed breakfast sandwichs on Cuban bread and of course amazing coffee!!!

Scott and I aren’t coffee drinkers, but we found this little place behind the harbor walk, and went there often for their sandwiches and smoothies. However, all of our visitors LOVED their coffee! Our friend Ted even threw away a cup  that he’d purchased somewhere else, and headed back to the Queen for theirs. Go early, or be prepared to be patient. This place is popular, but worth it.

McConnell’s Irish Pub:

We watched the Christmas parade from their elevated patio, and loved the Irish nachos! A yummy plate of crispy, homemade potato chips, topped with either chicken or corned beef (who wouldn’t choose corned beef?!?!??) topped with cheese, tomatoes, etc. We dreamed of eating them again, but sadly never had time to go back.

Willy T’s:

Willie T's - Key West, FL, United States. Lotta dollar bills hanging on the ceiling, and other parts of the building.

Easy to spot along Duval, as it is covered in 1.00 bills..covered. We have never eaten here, but love their mojitos. The list of flavors is extensive, and all that we tried were good. Their music is always entertaining….not always the best, but definitely entertaining!

Key West Bait & Tackle:

Our beloved tackle shop! Tucked in near the Half Shell Raw Bar, they have a small indoor and outdoor bar, with friendly people and cheap, cold beer. We made many many stop-ins, on our way out for the night, after running errands or just because.

Onlywood:

Onlywood Pizzeria Trattoria - Key West, FL, United States

The owner was raised in Napoli, Italy. The atmosphere is great. It’s intimate both inside and on the outside patio, but still great for a group of friends to gather and eat. We had pizza all three times that we visited here, and it was great. The pasta dishes looked terrific, but we never had a chance to go back and try them. They only offer beer and wine.

Paradise Pizza:

Paradise Pizza - Key West, FL, United States. Best Pizzeria in the FL Keys !!!

Sadly, Scott and I discovered this place on our last night in town. Located just off of Duval Street, and on our way back to the boat, they have awesome New York-style pizza…and, they’re open daily until 4am!

Santiago’s Bodega:

Santiago's Bodega - Key West, FL, United States

This off-the-beaten-path place came very highly recommended from our slip neighbor, Alex, and it did not disappoint! We went for a holiday dinner, and had a great meal. Their menu is made up of tapas, or small plates that your share. A wonderful change from fish sandwiches and pizza!

B.O.s Fish Wagon:

B O's Fish Wagon - Key West, FL, United States

B O's Fish Wagon - Key West, FL, United States

Probably in the top five for atmosphere, B.O.s is terrific! It looks like a shell of a place, until you look closer and see that it’s a quirky, cool location for the freshest fish! It ain’t the cheapest, but it’s well worth the dollars! They have live music on Thursday evenings (I was surprised to see that they could fit three people and instruments in there!), and half price beer every day at happy hour….GO!

Schooner Wharf Bar:

This place wins hands down for old-school Key West character. It sits along the harbor walk and is somewhat hard to spot. The bar and surrounding tables are almost completely covered with umbrellas and canvass, shielding patrons from the hot keys sun. If you feel like some vitamin D, or want to get a better night view of the harbor area, they have a rooftop deck as well.

There is live music everyday that usually starts around noon, and you can hear all types of musicians and bands. We have come to love Michael McCloud’s mellow sound and quick, dry whit. The happy hour isn’t great, and their food isn’t stellar, but the atmosphere more than makes up for it. You can’t walk by and not want to go in. Seriously, this place is great. If you don’t go, you can’t say you’ve been to Key West.

Places to visit:

Truman’s Little White House:

Harry S Truman Little White House Museum - Key West, FL, United States

Most people are familiar with, and visit the Hemmingway Museum, and it is definitely a must-see. However, far less know about the Little White House. It’s located in a neighborhood blocks off of Duval, where you would never expect to find such a place. I toured it for the first time with my friend, Karen. We would both highly recommend it! If you missed my post about it, you can read it here.

Smather’s Beach:

Smathers Beach - Key West, FL, United States

Most everyone who comes to Key West is told about the beach at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park. In my humble opinion, Key West isn’t a “beach” town. Yes, it’s an island, but I feel that what makes the town special are it’s many neat restaurants, bars and houses. However, if I get the urge for beach time when I’m in town, I head for Smather’s Beach. The largest public beach in Key West, it’s sandy, versus Ft. Zachary’s rocky shoreline, and there is no admission fee. There are also several food trucks to grab a bite or a drink while you’re there, and chair, floats, kyaks and hobie cats are available for rent.

Turtle Races at Turtle Krawls Restaurant:

Turtle Kraals - Key West, FL, United States. Turtles!!

Turtle Kraals - Key West, FL, United States

Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, Turtle Krawls holds turtle races. You get a ticket with a food or drink purchase, and those with the winning turtle ticket get a chance to open a chest full of cash. An original and fun idea. If you haven’t already, read my post about it here.

Sunset at Mallory Square:

Mallory Square - Key West, FL, United States

Mallory Square - Key West, FL, United States. Unadulterated sunset beauty

Although this is something that attracts many many people, it’s still a must do. Head to the water’s edge at Mallory Square and check out the many performers. They all have a crazy talent, and are very entertaining. There are also many food and craft vendors. The edge of the pier attracts quite a crowd as sunset nears, so go early if you want a front row seat. I suggest you go a second time, to just wander the scene.

There you have it, just some of our favorite haunts and sights!

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Dog Walks And Turtle Races

While on our downtown walk with Mark and Maria, we happened to be at the right time and place to see the annual Key West Dachshund Walk! The route is deliberately kept brief, to cater to the dogs’ short legs. Many of the dogs were in costumes…

Some even appeared to be  Star Wars fans…

Dogs from other breeds also take part, becoming honorary dachshunds for the day.

A supply wagon was along for the ride, to carry water for thirsty walkers and plastic bags for quick cleanup of any accidents — as well as providing transport for dogs that get tired along the way.

Donations were collected along the route , for the community pet-food pantry. The walk was an unexpected treat!

Turtle Krawls Restaurant, located just off of our pier, advertised turtle races three times a week. Scott and I had been interested in this event, but hadn’t yet made it. We finally managed to get there for a Friday race, with Mark and Maria in tow. (I have somehow lost the photos I took of this event, so I borrowed some from online)

Four turtles “compete” in the race, and when you make a purchase (food, drink, etc.)  you receive a ticket with a corresponding number on it (1-4, for one of the turtles). If you’re turtle wins, you turn in your ticket for a key, which may or may not open a chest that contains a cash prize. If no one wins, the prize amount grows for the next race.

We were game for this, so we ordered drinks and were given a handful of tickets, instead of one per person. The odds were now stacked in our favor, as both couples had a ticket for each turtle.

The  shelled athletes were taken out of their blue Igloo cooler (which I guess helps them get angry enough to race) and placed on the track.

Turtle number one flew out in front, and blew the others away. I’ve never seen a turtle move so fast, he was practically running! I think he was trying to get as far away from that cooler as possible.

Unfortunately, our keys didn’t open the box. Maybe Scott and I will try again, as the jackpot grows! More fun photos of dogs and turtles here.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Key West Wreckers

We spent a relaxing Christmas day at the Schooner Wharf Bar, listening to one of our favorite local musicians, Michael McCloud. Quite a change from the norm!

That evening, we visited with our slip neighbors, Jeff and Belinda. They left Texas, and are headed for the Bahamas and Eastern Caribbean from here. We talked boats and travel, and had a great evening.

Our friends Stephanie and Paul came down the next morning on the ferry from Ft. Meyers, for an overnight visit. We spend time walking around a bit, and watched our Ravens actually win a game (we’re having a terrible season)… against the dreaded Steelers no less!

We also visited the Shipwreck Museum. Sponging, fishing, turtling and cigar making were all lucrative industries in Key West in the 1800s, but wrecking far out-passed them. During that time, over 100 ships per day passed by Key West. The waters in the area were well known as some of the most treacherous in the world.

Precise navigation equipment and accurate charts were still centuries away. What information there was didn’t indicate the dangerous reefs below the surface. Little was known of weather conditions in the area (aka hurricane season), and there were no lighthouses. As a result, at least one ship per week would wreck off shore on the reefs!

 Wreckers would watch the reefs night and day from observation towers, some over 90 feet high.

They would also patrol the reef in their own small vessels. When a wreck was spotted,  “wreck ashore!” would echo all over the island, and men would scramble to the docks to join the race to the reef. The first man to reach the wreck became the “wrecking master,” controlling the salvage operation and getting a larger share of the prize.

Larger goods (cotton, and such) were auctioned off on the piers, while smaller and most times more valuable things were taken into one of the numerous warehouses for general sale (coffee beans, spices, ivory, silks, clothing, silver, etc.).  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!

But by the turn of the century, transportation of goods was veering away from the sea, as railroads and highways carried increasing freight. Better trained navigators used new technology, and lighthouses began to dot the coastline, resulting in far fewer wrecks. Wrecking died off, and by 1921 the wrecking registry was closed.

We climbed the tower and enjoyed some scenic views of old town. Check them out, along with some other photos.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

 

Tuman’s Little White House

Karen and I did an impromptu tour of Truman’s Little White House, while riding bikes around the island. The tour was great, and we learned many interesting details. I didn’t have my camera with me, so I “borrowed” some pics from the internet.

In November 1946, President Truman had finished 19 months in office, but was physically exhausted. His doctor ordered a warm vacation, so he flew to Key West and stayed in a house built for the base commandant of the Navy (there was no commandant at the time, so he displaced no one).

His second vacation came in March 1947, and this set the pattern for additional visits every November–December and every February–March. Changing technology allowed the President to communicate with multiple political or world leaders at one time and he could summon staff to Key West for a meeting in a three hour flight from Washington. Truman realized that where the President was, the White House was (convenient!). Consequently, documents issued from the Little White House read: The White House, US Naval Station, Key West, Florida. Truman spent 175 days of his presidency at the Little White House in Key West, FL.

Official desk and living room.

Image result for photos of trumans little white house

Truman’s bedroom and personal desk. Mrs. Truman had a separate bedroom, so that she wouldn’t be present if they had to wake the president for something official during the night. They did have a connecting bathroom!

During the Truman visits, Cabinet members and foreign officials were regular visitors for fishing trips and poker games. He regularly had more visitors and staff than bedrooms, so the presidential yacht traveled with him, bringing along his piano and poker table! The yacht also offered more communications that the one phone line Key West had at the time.

Eventually, Mrs. Truman had a poker table made for the Little White House, that had a table-like cover. She thought that it was in bad taste for people to see a poker table in the president’s house. It has inlaid holders for poker chips, and the ashtray are formed from old shell casings.

Truman visited Key West shortly after his 1948 re-election, and Division Street was renamed Truman Avenue in his honor. After Truman left office, he returned to Key West several times and stayed at various other places.

In 1948-49 General Eisenhower held a series of meetings here that resulted in the creation of the Department of Defense. He returned in December 1955 and January 1956 as President to recuperate from a heart attack.

President Kennedy and the British Prime Minister held a one day summit here in March of 1961. President Kennedy made a second visit in 1962, immediately following the Cuban Missle Crisis. During this time, Key West was entirely surrounded with barbed wire fencing, and guns were stationed all along the perimeter.

The house served as the Naval Station commandant’s house until 1974, when the base was closed due to the Navy’s conversion from diesel to nuclear submarines.  On February 12 of that year, it was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, and in 1991, the house opened as a state historic site & museum.

Former President Jimmy Carter and family had a reunion here in 1996. In April, 2001, Secretary of State Colin Powell opened a week of OSCE peace talks, and in January 2005, the Clintons spent a weekend here.

Located on a quiet street, away from the flurry of activity on Duval Street, The Little White House is easy to  miss. Karen and I were glad to have stumbled upon it.

Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

The Hemmingway House

While Karen was visiting, we toured the Key West home of Ernest Hemmingway.

He lived extensively in Paris, Key West and Cuba throughout his adult life, and had four wives along the way. There is much to know about this house and Hemmingway’s life, but I’ll just touch on a few things that interested us.

The pool on the grounds is huge: 60 feet long, 24 feet wide, 10 feet wide at one end and 5 at the other.

It was built at a cost of 20,000.00, which was astronomical in 1938! The pool holds 80,784 gallons, and at the time it was built there was no fresh running water in Key West. Consequently, the pool construction involved drilling down to the salt-water table and installing a water pump to retrieve salt water to fill the pool.

The pool was very high maintenance until the 1940s, when Key West first had fresh water piped in and it was converted to a fresh water system. Using the salt-water pump, it took two to three days to completely fill the pool. During the summer months, the salt water would remain fresh for only about two to three days. The pool would them need to be completely drained, and another day or two would be required to scrub down and remove the algae and debris, then the cycle would start again. Maybe this was when pool boys got their start!

Hemmingway spent most of his time in Key West in his late 20s  and early 30s. He was known around town more for his extensive boxing and fishing than for his writing. There was a boxing ring in the yard of his home, on the site where the pool was built. After construction of the pool, it was moved to the location in town which is now known as the restaurant Blue Heaven.

In 1935, a ship captain visiting Hemingway gifted him a six-toed cat named Snowball, and soon Snowball had populated the Hemingway estate with litters of six-toed cats. Cats normally have five front toes and four back toes. About half of the cats at the museum have the physical polydactyl trait, that give them six toes. They all carry the polydactyl gene in their DNA, which means that the ones that have 4 and 5 toes can still mother or father six-toed kittens. Most of the cats have extra toes on their front feet and can also have extras on their back feet as well. Sometimes it looks as if they are wearing mittens because they appear to have a thumb on their paw.

Hemingway named them after famous people of his time: Billie Holiday, Hunter S. Thompson, Rudolph Valentino, and Betty Grable. Decades later, there are 55 cats on the grounds; some of are descendants of the original cat, Snowball. Key West is a small island and it is possible that many of the cats on the island are related! The polydactyl cats are not a particular breed. The trait can appear in Calicos, Tabbies, Tortoise Shell, White, Black, etc. They vary in shapes, sizes, colors and personalities.

A stop at the Hemmingway House is a must-do while in Key West. Here is a link to the home and museum, and more of our photos of the home… and the cats!

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

 

Busy Days In Key West

We have been busy with visitors over the past few weeks! After the Baltimore group left, our friends Mick and Sue drove down from Indiantown, Florida to stay with us. We met them almost seven years ago, on our last cruise south, and became fast friends. They live in Wales, and purchased a boat here in the states that they enjoy in the winter months. When I reserved our slip here, a year ago, we made a plan for them to come and see us and our crazy project!

They drove six hours to see us, and we spent a few great days with them. None of us had been to Mallory Square for sunset in ages, so we made sure to go. The waterfront area there is full of vendors and performers each night, and it’s something to see!

We stopped in for lunch at a great taco truck, and of course took them for a beer at the bait and tackle shop!

Other than that, we just spent time catching up, as it’s been almost three years since we’ve seen each other! It meant so much to us that they flew over from the UK, dropped their boat in the water and then drove down to see us before they spent time preparing for their winter cruising.

My friend Karen, who I’ve known since middle school (yikes!) came down for a visit, on the heels of Mick and Sue. She flew into Fort Lauderdale, and I drove up to surprise her at the airport, so she wouldn’t have to do the drive to Key West alone. Scott said that I should tell her my plan, but I kept mum, and my surprise was successful! We had a great time chatting in the car (Karen upgraded to a convertible!), and made a few fun stops along the way.

While Scott did some boat work, Karen and I biked the island, visiting some of the local beaches, and also managed to do some “cultural things,” touring the Hemmingway House and the Little White House here. We all went to the 2 Cent Pub, where you roll dice at happy hour to determine your drink price (Scott made out the best on that one). They also have free, endless bacon at happy hour…woohoo!

Aside from that, we just ran around town, showing her the sights. Scott and I had “boat” stickers made, and Sea Life is starting to leave her mark on Key West!

In between visits, we are trying to squeeze in boat work and preparations for heading to Mexico in a few weeks. Scott is making changes to the Aluminum Princess, to make her lighter and improve her performance. There is also a lot of required maintenance to do, as well as fixing small things that came up while we were in the Bahamas.

We will enjoy Christmas here, and then welcome two more rounds of visitors to end out the year! A few more photos here.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

 

 

A Holiday Reminder

The holidays are just around the corner! As you finish (or start) your shopping, please remember our blog address! When you go through us, to access and order on Amazon, they throw us a crumb. It’s literally a crumb’s worth of a percentage, but we appreciate every little bit!

Just scroll down the right side of any page on the blog and click on the words Shop Now, in blue. Happy shopping, and Happy Holidays!!

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

 

 

Our First Days In Key West

After arriving in Key West, we went right to work giving the boat a thorough cleaning inside and out (taking advantage of easy water!) and stocking up on some food and drink, in preparation for our first wave of visitors. Howard did his part, helping to defrost the freezer.

 

We took time out to go see the Christmas parade, which happens in the evening here. There were some very festive float ideas.

 

 

Of course, we took time to light up our boat as well! In addition to outlining the boat, Scott used the paravanes to make a big Christmas tree.

 

 

 

 

Sea Life is now officially ready for the holidays!

 

Everything was ready, just in time to welcome our friends, Christine, Chris and Ted! We had a great time catching up with them, and running around town like idoits.

 

Scott discovered that the bait and tackle shop just behind the marina has a small bar both inside and out. They sell beer out of big coolers for $2.50. Of course, we had to make a stop…the sign says it all!

 

We also discovered a familiar “face” at our stop into the Green Parrot…my beloved Natty Boh beer! The sticker below is from Union Craft Brewing Company, also in Baltimore!

 

Chris had traveled down with some stickers from Berthas, a local institution in the Fells Point neighborhood of Baltimore. He thought that this place definitely deserved one. You can never have enough Baltimore representation!

 

And, where else but in Key West can you hang out with roosters and a banjo playin’ Darth Vadar?!?

 

For an additional treat, our brother-in-law was visiting friends in Ft. Lauderdale, and drove down to join us all for an afternoon. So we had lots of love from home this week!

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”