Long post for 3 days, but I was in total vacation mode and packed in all the things!
Kevin and I rolled south into Key West on a Friday morning armed with recommendations from our friend Grant and started off with brunch at Blue Heaven, a place with a cool patio overrun (like most of the island) with chickens. There was a little wait so we started off in true Key West fashion with a drink and watched the crowd.
After fueling we went on a tour of Hemingway’s house. I was interested thanks to the books and his legacy, but came away even more into the home, garden, and stories thanks to our great tour guide. We heard about the revenge pool (his wife built a crazy expensive pool to replace his boxing ring when she found out about girlfriends on his reporting trip), the fountain in the garden (previously a urinal from his favorite bar), and we got to see the Hemingway cats (extra digits to help catch prey).
In order to set up camp in daylight, we went to the campground on Stock Island just outside town. We had planned to go back downtown for sunset, but the campground hosts were hosting a happy hour where we were the youngest people by decades. Regardless it was fun to chat and get to know some other people who travel around, too. I got a million bug bites on my ankles but we also got some good food ideas from people, such as a lobster roll place on Duvall Street which Kevin tried that night and gave two thumbs up. Before leaving though I played around on the swing (can’t take the preschool out of the teacher) and spotted some giant iguanas hanging out in a tree by the pond there.
The next day we took the Conch Train tram tour around the historic downtown. Woohoo! We started off with a museum highlighting the history of Key West, mainly focusing on the maritime and railroad industries. We read all about building Flagler’s railroad, picking over shipwrecks, and I was far too amused at the possible profession of being a sponge hooker (one who gathers sea sponges with a hook, obviously).
We hopped off the Conch Train (side note, on the way saw a Hawaii license plate that won my restarted license plate game in much faster time that my first of the trip) not far from Hemingway’s house which we recognized from the day before, and next door, conveniently enough, was the Key West lighthouse. We climbed up and got a good view of town and oriented ourselves for the day.
From here we walked toward the beach and of course had to stop and stand in a giant line to take a photo at the southernmost point in the continental US. The lighting was terrible for photos but beautiful in real life. We made some friends in line as always happens when you play Heads Up to pass waiting time. These people were unimpressed by our guessing skills, and rightfully so. We sucked and apparently know very little overlapping pop culture, but maybe that’s a good sign? Before leaving town a few days later we also drove the Van is Go by and snapped a pic of her (I’ve decided the van’s pronouns are she/her) passing by.
We wandered to the beaches and liked this little one, Dog Beach (yes, you can bring dogs here) and watched the kids and animals swim and play in the water while enjoying the water on out feet. Another larger beach further up was a little dirtier and the shoreline wasn’t as nice and full of seaweed. From there we walked back to pick up the conch train again, and I forced us both to take ridiculous photos along the way. Something new and different, I know.
We hopped back on the tram, and took it to the next stop and hopped back off for a while. While walking around the night before we passed this cool Mission style church with Tibetan prayer flags all over, so I stopped to read a sign out front that told about a group of Buddhist monks visiting that week to do a healing prayer sand mandala, and it culminated with a procession to the sea to then dump the sand from the intricate, labor intensive creation into the ocean. The procession and ceremony were happening the next day so we had to go! What a great timing coincidence.
I’d gone in high school to the Sackler Gallery when a group of monks made a mandala there over the course of the week, and watching them painstakingly use these small cones to add colored sand detail to this huge design was spectacular and transfixing. We found the beach where it was supposed to happen, andI guess a closing ceremony and procession takes a while because we ended up waiting about an hour or so before the group arrived. This wasn’t too bad because we got to hang at the tiny beach and chat with a local dude who lives on a boat by Christmas Tree Island and who bonded over Kentucky sports with Kevin. Go figure. They spouted game memories to one another while I enjoyed a mango margarita and spotted Wilson, and we did get some good local recs from this guy so it was all good. I also followed some of the gazillion chickens and roosters that run loose all over Key West around to see the cutie chicks.
Finally an influx of people with cameras indicated the procession was arriving, and we snuck to a good spot to watch as the monks and church members entered and took their places on the pier for the ceremony. They played music and chanted, then slowly poured the sand into the sea (okay, mostly the wind…. I may have inhaled some by accident so now I’m blessed or something in my mind). It was very cool to watch.
Following this fun side trip, we attempted to get back on the Conch Train from where we’d hopped off, and I asked the man who worked there and he told us to line up so we did, but turns out he assumed we were part of a train that had stopped off and was part of a cruise ship tour. Soooooo…. we accidentally almost got on a probably Corona virus laden cruise, but they stopped the tram to see everyone’s passes which is when we jumped off and escaped, thankfully picked up by a nice lady driving a trolley who said it happens every day. Oops. Anyway, she took us back and gave us a great little private tour of Duvall Street’s many historic bars and told us where to go eat before dropping us back by Mallory Square, right where we wanted to be to see the famous sunsets of Key West.
We camped out at a Cuban restaurant bar to wait away from the crowds, watched a guy scare many people passing by when he jumped out at them from behind his (just handheld and pretty obvious unless you weren’t paying attention) palm fronds. That was entertaining. We also made some friends, including this funny older man with a hat and his longtime business partner also names Kevin, so they all bonded over that, and also by Kevin showing off his fabulous dancing skills with some random people we chatted with. Also entertaining- if you have ever seen this in action, you know what I mean.
The sunset did not disappoint, though I was not a huge fan of the squishy crowd scene. Everyone clapped at the moment the sun slipped below the waterline, which was both ridiculous and kind of fun. On the trolley lady’s recommendation we consumed 100% of a giant and delicious pizza after I was coerced into watching Kentucky basketball for however long a game is (go American sports?), then went and watched a fun band at Sloppy Joe’s before heading back to the campground. Long day of fun!
The next day after a day trip to Dry Tortugas (more to come on that), we got in another fantastic sunset from the aptly named Sunset Pier. While it was super crowded at the bar area and around the live music, we found a good spot towards the end and I was much less claustrophobic. Phew.
We splurged for one night at a real place to stay which was a b&b run by some lovely men with style, and I gobbled up some of their excellent cookies before we headed out to the Green Parrot, sadly offering no live music that night, but was offering a toasted couple who drew us into their fight over cigarettes (mildly uncomfortable but also funny), and a portrait to add to my family likeness album. Since we were staying in town and didn’t have to worry about driving back anywhere, this was our crazy Key West party night, which we spent the remainder of at some bar called Irish Kevin’s which Kevin wanted to go to for obvious reasons. Here, fate brought us back together with the hat guy and other Kevin from the night before’s sunset fun, and we hung out with them for a while. The two Kevins had a great time indulging in many name related photo ops and by doing car bombs.
There was a cover band taking requests and we definitely took over that immediately and took it from a sort of chill atmosphere to a bizarro dance party thanks to Kevin’s jumping/dancing, and after watching for a while just gave in and did some terrible crazy dancing of my own. It doesn’t come out often, for very good reason, but it was a fun time. There also happened to be a onesie bar crawl that day and a few of the attendees came in and I was overly excited to see them (my friends and I may have collections of adult onesie pajamas we wear on girls trips so I felt like these were my people- and I found a narwhal twin!). So that was some crazy, but nothing a nice breakfast by the pool the next day and some new contacts didn’t fix.
We scooped up a slice of key lime pie on the way out of town. Seems like the perfect way to end our time in this special place! Could have stayed another week or forever if time and money were no issue, but as it was we had more to see and do, so off we went. Thanks, Key West!