We last left off at the Sugarloaf Key Bat Tower. Now we’ll continue on to Key West. You’ll go by the main part of the Naval Air Station first. In a bit, you’ll reach the A1A/US 1 split. Key West is the only place in the Keys where A1A and US 1 aren’t one and the same. For the purposes of this itinerary, veer left and continue on south A1A, a/k/a Roosevelt Boulevard. Speed limit in the city is 35 mph. But why would you want to go any faster?
Considering how old Key West is, and how small, I expected every inch of the place to be developed to a fair-thee-well. But surprisingly, there are green patches here and there. You’ll pass one going by the airport on your right. Roosevelt Boulevard hugs the edge of Key West, so you’ll see plenty of ocean on the left.
The first historic site along here is the old east Martello Tower, which is now a museum. Past here, Roosevelt Boulevard ends and becomes Bertha Street. Take a left at Atlantic Boulevard and park at the Harvey Rest Beach Park. You’re on the fringes of the historic district, which covers most of the west half of Key West. From here, take a stroll down the White Street Pier and look back the way you came. Key West doesn’t have a skyline, per se, but I’d say what’s in front of you rivals anything you’d see in a metropolitan megalopolis. Walk back on shore and you can see the old west Martello Tower, which is now a garden club. There are two new NRHPs in town. One is right here also, the old African Cemetery.
If you’re willing to walk a mile, you can get to the southernmost point in the United States. On the way you’ll pass by the Casa Marina Hotel, which dates back to the 1920s. The southernmost point, by the way, really isn’t the southernmost point. The actual point is on the naval base past the fence. This is the southernmost point accessible to the general public. I think they put it up to keep people from trying to get on the base. Seems to have worked, as most folks make a beeline to the buoy. (see Google map)
- Key West Historic District (Bounded approximately by White, Angela, Windsor, Passover, Thomas and Whitehead Streets, and the Gulf of Mexico) (NRHP)
- Key West Historic District (Boundary Increase) (Roughly bounded by Emma, Whitehead, White, and South Streets, Mallory Square, and the Atlantic Ocean) (NRHP)
- Fort East Martello Historical Museum & Gardens (3501 South Roosevelt Boulevard) (NRHP) (AGFHA)
- West Martello Tower (1100 Atlantic Boulevard) (NRHP)
- African Cemetery at Higgs Beach (1001 Atlantic Boulevard) (NRHP)
- Casa Marina Hotel (1500 Reynolds Street) (AGFHA)
- Southernmost Point in the United States (South Street and Whitehead Street)
One more stop, then a recommendation on how to see the rest of Key West. That stop, Fort Zachary Taylor, both a state park and an NHL. It’s butt-up against the Naval Station Annex. It’s kind of funky seeing a modern facility like that next to such a historic old structure like the fort. It’s not as big as most of the other forts in the state. I think it’s not the entire original fort. Still, it’s an impressive sight. The fort’s also near the major seaport in town, so you sometimes get the added visual dichotomy of a modern cruise ship sailing by the fort.
So, the rest of the list will take you through most of the historic district. It’s about a 4 mile course, but you could walk down every street and see something interesting. Or bicycle it.
That’s the suggestion. I’ve thought it would have helped in my travels if I’d brought a bike along with me. Would’ve made the historic districts easier. Plus not having to worry so much about where to park. I drive a station wagon, which has plenty of room for bike if I put the back seats down. I could even sleep in it. Not spent a full night in it, but have taken extended naps. ‘Tis very comfy.
Anyway, biking. I thought Key West would be great to see by bike. I checked before I went, and saw there were a few rental places. So when I got there, after visiting the fort, I parked behind the courthouse and started walking. I soon found one of the rental places. I got one for 11 dollars. That’s cheaper than normal, but it was after noon, so I think I got a partial day usage discount. I hadn’t been on a bicycle for years, but after riding around the rental lot a couple of times, I was fine.
Better than fine. I’d forgotten how much fun it is to ride a bicycle. A lock and chain are included in the rental, so as long as you lock up wherever you stop, you’ll be OK. Riding around was a workout, that’s for sure, but I was able to gad about town without any problem. Another advantage of the low speed limit for automobiles. In fact, I’m surprised the locals even have cars.
Biking is the best way to see Key West, if you’re in decent shape. There’s so much to see, that you’re going to make lots of stops anyway, so you won’t be going long distances and wearing yourself out. If you have the wherewithal, and a large enough vehicle, think about buying your own bicycle. Don’t use it only when you travel, bike around your neighborhood or city.
When you’re feeling hungry, I found Blue Heaven to be tasty, casual and friendly. Which is the whole vibe in Key West. I’d be tempted to move there, if it weren’t so far away from the rest of the United States, much less Florida.
The list below are the special spots that I like. NRHPs and AGFHAs and museums and such. But there’s more than this. If something catches your eye whilst you’re zipping around, hey, it’s your vacation. Go where you will is the whole of the law. (see Google map) (see Google map)
- Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park (NHL) (AGFHA)
- The Key West Lighthouse & Keeper’s Quarters Museum (938 Whitehead Street)
- American Legion Post 168 (803 Emma St.) (NRHP)
- Ernest Hemingway House (907 Whitehead Street) (NHL) (AGFHA)
- San Carlos Institute (516 Duval Street) (AGFHA)
- USCGC Ingham (Pier A, Truman Annex) (NHL)
- Western Union (schooner) (Pier A, Truman Annex) (NRHP)
- The Oldest House (322 Duval Street) (AGFHA)
- Dr. Joseph Y. Porter House (429 Caroline Street) (NRHP) (AGFHA)
- Key West Heritage House Museum and Robert Frost Cottage (410 Caroline Street)
- Little White House (Naval Station) (NRHP) (AGFHA)
- US Naval Station (Roughly bounded by Whitehead, Eaton, and Caroline Streets) (NRHP)
- Audubon House and Tropical Gardens (Greene Street and Whitehead Street) (AGFHA)
- Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Museum (200 Greene Street)
- Old Post Office and Customshouse (281 Front Street) (NRHP) (AGFHA)
- U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters, Key West Station (NW corner Front Street and Whitehead Street) (NRHP) (AGFHA)
- Sloppy Joe’s Bar (201 Duval Street) (NRHP)
- Pirate Soul Museum (524 Front St)
- Octagon House (620 Dey Street)
- Donkey Milk House (613 Eaton Street)
- Richard Peacon House (712 Eaton Street)
- John Bartlum House and Captain Richard Roberts House (730 Eaton Street) (AGFHA)
- Thompson Fish House, Turtle Cannery and Kraals (200 Margaret Street) (NRHP)
- The Armory (600 White Street) (NRHP) (AGFHA)
- Eduardo H. Gato House (1209 Virginia Street) (NRHP) (AGFHA)
There’s one last place to visit, if you can afford it. I can’t yet, but hope too. Though even when I can afford it, I’m not sure whether it’s worth it. I can think of better ways to spend 165 dollars. That’s the cost of the roundtrip ferry ride to and from Fort Jefferson, in the Dry Tortugas. By plane it’s 225 dollars. The fort is 70 miles out from Key West, so the trip each way must be at least an hour, and probably closer to two. There’s a 40 minute tour of the fort, and probably some wandering time included. So half a day gone, to visit one place. If I win the lottery, maybe I’ll go. You can decide whether the fort is worth the time and dinero. (see Google map)
- Fort Jefferson National Monument (Dry Tortugas National Park) (NRHP)
That, boys and girls, is some of the high points of the Florida Keys. When you visit, I don’t doubt you’ll find more that are special for you. As it should be. Enjoy, and see you on the road.
Route length: 105 miles (and another 140 if you go to Fort Jefferson)