Key West Coastal Experiences

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Key West Coastal Experiences
Key West, at the southernmost tip of the continental U.S., has an edge-of-the-world vibe that attracts artists, musicians, and a particular kind of fun-seekers. Soak up the Florida sun and check out some of the region's best spots for snorkling, sunbathing, swimming with fish and turtles, and enjoying a drink or two by the water.
By GiAnna Wyatt, AFAR Local Expert
Photo courtesy of John W. Penney/Fury Water Adventures
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    Get Out on the Water
    Because Key West is a coral island, it doesn't have many beaches. Luckily, several spectacular beaches are just a boatride away. Choose a skippered boat, a party boat, or a ferry from the Old Town, and head to one of the nearby cays. One popular day trip, Dry Tortugas National Park, can be reached by ferry or seaplane, and offers a taste of history along with long, empty stretches of sand.
    Photo courtesy of John W. Penney/Fury Water Adventures
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    On the Shore
    The waters off Key West are impossibly blue and clear and the sunsets here are spectacular enough to be honored with a nightly celebration. To do the island justice, take advantage of as many waterfront attractions as you can: Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park offers a fortress to explore as well as a public beach and good snorkeling; the Southermost Point Buoy marks the distance to Cuba (90 miles); and, at the end of the day, the Waterfront Brewery is a perfect place to enjoy a local craft beer with a view of the ocean.
    Photo courtesy of John W. Penney/Fury Water Adventures
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    Historic Houses
    The area's rich history make this more than just a beach town. Fans flock to the Hemingway Home & Museum to see where the famed author lived for decades. Tennessee Williams, who wrote the final draft of Streetcar Named Desire at a local hotel, settled in Key West and lived here for 40 years; his legacy here is memorialized at the Tennessee Williams Key West Exhibit. Another notable home is the Harry S. Truman Little White House—though Thomas Edison, and presidents Taft, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Carter, and Clinton also spent time here, Truman's name and history are most connected to this modest wooden house.
    Photo courtesy of Don Kincaid/Florida Keys News Bureau
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    A History with the Sea
    Much of Key West’s history focuses on the sea. Learn and celebrate how the city came to be by visiting the local museums that teach visitors about the Key West culture and history. Boat tours around the coast and trolley tours around town can be fun ways to absorb the information, and the Key West Lighthouse and Keepers Quarters Museum and the Key West Shipwreck Museum are both highly recommended for tales about the fisherman and other notable locals who made their living from the water
    Photo courtesy of John W. Penney/Fury Water Adventures
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    Key West's Classic Joints
    There are certain activities you must partake in when you visit Key West. Whether you’re visiting the Southernmost Point, the sunset celebration at Mallory Square, the beaches, or walking around the Old Town, it’s important to spend some time in a few good bars and restaurants. The Green Parrot, a rowdy local favorite, stays open late and offers live music nightly. A meal at the funky Blue Heaven with its Caribbean-inspired artwork and wandering roosters gives visitors a glimpse into the island's active creative community and beachy devil-may-care attitude.
    Photo by Francis Zera/age fotostock
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    Celebrate the Sunset
    The sunset in Key West is so incredible that it's celebrated nightly. At Mallory Square, dancers, food vendors, musicians and street performers gather in noisy, good-natured anticipation of the sunset. A more intimate way to experience sundown in Key West is with a toes-in-the-sand dinner at Spencer’s by the Sea.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Dinner and Drinks on the Water
    Even for locals, hanging out on the water in Key West feels like vacation. One of the standout spots to enjoy a drink with a waterside view is Stoned Crab's Eco-Bar, where the bartenders use vegetables and herbs from the on-site garden to create their cocktail menu (try the Carly Loves Cucumbers). At Half Shell Raw Bar, you can enjoy craft beer, marina views, and a raw bar stocked with the day's catch. For a more upscale option on the water, Latitudes offers water views on the short ferry ride over to Sunset Key as well as during dinner.
    Photo courtesy of Ocean Key Resort & Spa