The end of the 100-mile Overseas Highway, that long dramatic drive down through the Florida Keys, and the place of legend and lore is Key West. It is a town to linger in, and to soak in the “Conch” frame of mind. But if you have only a day to linger, here are the highlights to make your visit memorable.
The Mel Fisher Maritime Museum
Mel Fisher spent a lifetime of searching for sunken treasure ships. He lived the adventure, and made a surprising discovery; the Spanish ship called the “Atocha” that sank in 1622. The museum features hundreds of items Mel and his family discovered and recovered. There is an interpretive film at the beginning of the tour which offers history on the life and times of Mel Fisher. The museum is filled with a king’s ransom of gold and other ancient artifacts. The museum is a treat for Key West visitors of all ages. You can also learn about the long process of removing the accretions of the centuries from the submerged finds. There is a gift shop where you can purchase the actual coins and other items that were recovered, or lovely but less costly reproductions.
The Harry S. Truman “Little White House.”
The buck may have stopped with President Truman, but President Truman stopped at this getaway in the Keys. It was here that he relaxed from the rigors of Washington DC. All in all, Mr. Truman made 11 vacation visits here. You can understand the lure of this place apart. Harry Truman was not the only US President to enjoy vacationing here. Other presidential visitors have experienced the unique charms of this Key West enclave, including William Howard Taft in 1912, Dwight Eisenhower in 1955-56, John F. Kennedy in 1961 and 1962, former Presidents Jimmy Carter in 1996 and 2007, and Bill Clinton in 2005. You can experience it, too. Open 9-4:30, The Harry S. Truman Little White House is the State of Florida’s only presidential site.
There is a multitude of great places that you might choose for lunch, but we recommend the Turtle Kraal, not only because of its waterside setting but also because of the Key West history it represents. The food is good (have the fried shrimp or the crab cakes, corn on the cob with lime butter, and conclude your meal with the Key Lime Pie and the Cocoanut Sorbet) and the setting is lively with great views of the boats in the marina.
Ernest Hemingway Home And Museum
Ernest Hemingway lived and wrote here for more than ten years. He called Key West home, and you can visit the Hemingway house to see how he lived and why the place beguiled him so. The Hemingway house was built in 1851 in the Spanish Colonial style and was constructed of native rock, hewn from the grounds. The gardens are restful, and the famous six-toed Hemingway cats are still very much in evidence (or shall we say, the direct descendants of Hemingway’s first polydactyl cat, “Snow White”).
Butterfly & Nature Conservancy
For a complete change of pace, visit the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservancy – where you are surrounded by hundreds of butterflies in a lush garden conservatory. There are more than fifty different species of butterflies from around the world, as well as varieties of colorful birds, all under a climate-controlled, glass-enclosed habitat. There’s also a gift shop and gallery.
For a dinner early enough that you do not miss the sunset – or late enough that is after – consider one of these highly favored restaurants: Bien for authentic Caribbean fare, for the Palomillo Steak sandwich and the Fire Roasted Corn. In addition, Santiago’s Bodega, for tapas style dining, or Tavern N Town for melt in your mouth prime rib. These eateries are favorites of the 21,000 “Conchs” the people who call Key West home.
Your day in Key West can only end the way that visitors and locals have ended it for generations. Watching the sun set, as they keep a sharp eye out for the famous “Green Flash.” Conchs have seen it from their west facing decks, but the traditional spot to wait to see it is with the crowd gathered in Mallory Square at the foot of Whitehead Street. The atmospheric conditions have to be just right, and the horizon, clear. Blink, and you will miss it. So go for the experience of watching it. And consider yourself lucky if you see it; just as lucky as you have been to have had a magical day in Key West.
You can start planning your trip here.