By Regina Lynch-Hudson
Key West lies at the southernmost tip of the Florida Keys island chain that curves beneath the Florida peninsula. More than 150 miles from Miami, but only 90 miles from Cuba, the island is characterized by a laidback atmosphere, year-round subtropical climate, flourishing cultural community and a historic district featuring almost 3,000 structures.
Tourism drives Key West’s economy, with businesses ranging from upscale oceanfront resorts and seafood restaurants, to water sports operations and attractions that spotlight the island’s rich history. A majority of the town’s nearly 24,000 full-time residents are employed in tourism, hospitality or related services.
At a scant two-by-four miles, no car is necessary in Key West. Many hotels and inns are located in the Old Town historic district which is within comfortable walking or bicycling distance of gourmet and casual restaurants; the enticing galleries and boutiques of Duval, Caroline and Greene streets; and the quaint Historic Seaport. Bicycle and scooter rentals abound, as do eco-friendly hybrid taxis. Some properties offer shuttle service for guests, and the Old Town Trolley offers an entertaining narrated tour of the island. www.trolleytours.com/key-west
Bermuda-born Keith Ricks, has spent close to 25 years producing music for tourist consumption, and constructing home theatre systems for Key West locals. A Boston, Mass., transplant, the former jingle singer originally found it difficult to get his feet wet. “Many people come thinking they are going to start businesses, but then are overcome by the wave of expenses associated with the area,” he says. Nothing is grown or produced in Key West (food, clothing, gasoline), thus, all items have to be brought in, and the expense is passed onto the consumer. Fortunately, Ricks was quickly acknowledged by the local mainstream community, which opened doors. “Being reliable is important to building a clientele in a small place were everyone knows everybody. Having a product that is unique also boosts sales.” www.oneworldkeywest.com
This is a city where dressing up — even for bank presidents — means wearing “formal flip-flops.” Bring shorts or sundresses, sunglasses, bathing suits for swimming and snorkeling, and a light sweater for evening breezes.
Casa Marina Resort & Beach Club — the grande dame of Key West’s resort hotels — features 311 luxuriously styled guestrooms and suites, more than 22,000 square feet of flexible indoor and outdoor event space, wireless high-speed Internet access, onsite catering and a 1,100-foot private Atlantic Ocean beach. www.casamarinaresort.com
The Power Lunch
The power to relax is prized above all — and a prime site for relaxation-seeking seafood lovers is the Hogfish Bar & Grill, a hard-to-find hideaway just outside Key West on neighboring Stock Island. The restaurant’s signature dish is hogfish, a diver-caught fish with a light yet flavorful taste.www.hogfishbar.com
El Meson de Pepe serves authentic Cuban cuisine in a setting adjacent to Key West’s Mallory Square, site of the famed nightly sunset celebration. Dine indoors amidst memorabilia recalling Key West’s Cuban heritage; or outdoors on a colorful patio; or in a garden festooned with lights. Specialties include Cuban pork dishes, ropa vieja and picadillo, and the traditional black beans and rice with Cuban bread. www.elmesondepepe.com
A community favorite, the Coffee Plantation is located in a converted 100-year-old home where the coffee, pastries and conversation are as good as the Internet connection. www.coffeeplantationkeywest.com
Networking in Key West often means connecting with an expert fishing guide or low-key literary legend instead of a corporate contact. Highly recommended for such pursuits is the Afterdeck Bar at Louie’s Backyard, an upscale open-air spot on the Atlantic Ocean where local personalities and visiting celebrities gather to share tall tales and cocktails. www.louiesbackyard.com
Few sites in the island city are more tranquil and visually appealing than the Civil War-era fort known as West Martello Tower. It’s open to the public without charge, so visitors can wander secluded courtyard gardens set against the fort’s weathered bricks, and discover native and exotic vegetation — including lush orchids and bromeliads. www.keywestgardenclub.com
Key West International Airport recently underwent a $31.6 million construction and renovation project that doubled the size (and more than quadrupled the convenience) of its terminal facilities. AirTran Airways offers daily, non-stop flights to more than 56 major U.S. cities. 1.800.AIR.TRAN, www.airtran.com
For comprehensive information on Florida Keys and Key West visit www.fla-keys.com, or call 1.800.FLA.KEYS.
Thanks to our friends at Stuart Newman Associates and other tourist venues for providing us with facts, figures and fun information for this article.