My wife and I, our idea of a fun vacation sounds a little dull to most people we know. We like to explore important locations in the country’s history. We still go out to nice restaurants and nightclubs while on vacation, but the original destination is chosen by wanting to learn more about its place in our country’s growth.
A few years ago, two items came to our attention that made us consider Key West as a possible destination vacation. One was the centennial celebration of Henry Flagler’s railroad across the ocean (now the Overseas Highway) and the second was the upcoming 500 year celebration of Ponce de Leon first discovering the Florida Keys. Neither my wife nor I knew much about Key West outside of its reputation as a party town, but the more research we did, the more we learned about its unique place in history.
For instance, even though Florida was a Confederate State, Key West managed to remain supportive of the Union. We also learned that at different times in its history, it was both the richest city in the country and one of the first to declare bankruptcy. It was home to some of the most influential artists and writers, and was one of the pioneering cities when it came to gay rights.
Seven days was not nearly enough to explore all of the history Key West had to offer. Part of that problem stemmed from all the great Key West restaurants we had to choose from, and their leisurely lunches and decadent dinners. In fact, much to the surprise of our friends, we’ve already booked a vacation back next year.
For years I have always been taking the same summer vacation. Problem is, so has apparently everyone else, and they all want to be there at the same time. The moments of relaxation have become so few and far between as the crowds have grown that it just hasn’t been worth it the last few years. This year I decided to do something radically different. Instead of heading north into the mountains, I decided to go south to Key West. I so made the right decision.
From the moment I switched planes and saw only a dozen other people flying to the southernmost island I knew I was in for a treat. Sure enough, when I checked in, the hotel clerk told me they were only at about half capacity. That meant I got to sit by the pool and not be bothered, have my choice of any of the Key West restaurants and not have to wait for a table, and got to know all of my bartenders on a first name basis in about two days’ time.
Naturally, when I got back to work and people asked where I went, they all said I must be crazy to go to Key West in the summertime. That was when I pointed out the average temperature down there had actually been less than what it was the same week at the resort I used to visit every year. Of course, now I wonder if I shouldn’t have told them that. I don’t want them crowding up Key West next year.
The first time I went to Key West was spring break my senior year of college. I immediately fell in love and tried to go back down every couple of years. Usually I went the same time of year, when the cold at home was too much to bear. A few years ago, I got a travel deal alert for a super cheap airfare. The trip was for late July and I thought it would be too hot, but the deal was too good to pass up on, so I booked it.
The heat ended up being a non-issue, partially because Key West in the summer isn’t as hot as you might think, and mostly because I was having way too much fun. I really got an understanding and feel for what life was like when it was much less crowded and the locals went on their own tropical vacation, or “staycations” as they like to be known. I got to do everything I always did when I went down there, including eat at my favorite Key West restaurants and spend a day fishing for tarpon, but what made it special was getting to know the people who call it home.
They’re the ones who explained how to handle the heat: simply do everything a little bit slower. Suddenly having plans wasn’t so important, hurrying to the next thing didn’t matter, and as long as I knew when it was happy hour where and what time the sunset was, I would be fine. My annual summer vacation is coming up next month, and I can’t wait to hurry up and do nothing.
I wanted to do something special for the family vacation this year. Kids being kids, it can be hard to find something for everyone. One unbreakable rule is that no matter where we go, there has to be at least a pool and preferably a beach as well, so if someone is just too sullen to have fun with the rest of us, they can hang out there with one parent while the other plays tour guide. Kids also being kids, they thought there was nothing we could do to surprise them, so we decided to go somewhere they had never heard of before: Key West, Florida.
They tried hard to play it cool, but that vanished when we were checking into the hotel and a chicken ran right in front of us. They were excited and told the manager, who shocked them even more when he told them the chicken’s name and warned them that he – the rooster, not the manager – would probably be waking us up every morning around five. Sure enough, the next morning he was up before the sun. More surprisingly, the kids were up with him, watching him strut around the courtyard.
Everything we did after that in Key West was one surprise after another. They had never been to a tropical island before and were overwhelmed by all of the plants and flowers. Their picky eating habits disappeared and they tried key lime pie, fresh seafood and even conch fritters. And the only time anyone went to the beach was when we all did, so they could go snorkeling and see if they could find any of the buried treasure that helped make Key West famous.
Understanding the rich traditions of Key West, Florida can be a challenging task. This region has a lot of history packed into a small space. The architecture, culinary tradition, and music is rooted in the past as much as it is stretching towards the future. One of the best ways to examine this change in a measurable sense is by looking at what some local cafes are calling the new island cuisine. What is almost universally acknowledged as the freshest and best crab cakes and best key lime pie in Florida is served up here, a reflection of how the focus on food culture in the area has allowed The Sunshine State’s most talented chefs to flourish. However, moving away from the staples, new island cuisine makes an attempt to bring the modern influences of Key West into the food culture, bringing some of its oft-ignored aspects into the light. This includes Mediterranean influences, as well as the more traditional Cuban influences Floridian cuisine is expected to acknowledge. It is because of this incredibly prosperous food industry and culture, combined with the warm weather, beaches and sunshine, that Florida has become one of the most sought after destination wedding locations in the entire world.
The Keys, especially, are a melting pot of different ideas, recipes, people, entertainment and music, making it an incredible location for banquets, vacations, and island weddings, appealing to people from all different walks of life. With an influx of tourists all year round, this is a thriving and constantly changing place, full of excitement and history in the making.
Every culture has its customs, every Caribbean island has its traditions, and Key West, Florida is no different. It truly has so much to offer that makes it a terrific island getaway and a leading choice for destination weddings, with Key West restaurants offering fresh seafood in beautiful outdoor dining areas. It offers history and architecture, live music and watersports, and enough to do to keep everyone entertained for a long time. It also has something that everyone else has, but nobody does nearly as well: the sunset.
In Key West, the sunset is more than just the difference between day and night. It is time for a celebration…to stop whatever it was that you were doing and be reminded that we are all part of something bigger. Every night the crowds gather. The most famous spot is Mallory Square, where you can find fire eaters and musicians, jugglers and magicians (and even trained cats!) all performing for you. Elsewhere on the island, there are waterfront bars and quiet beaches, all full of people taking a break from the rest of their lives, waiting for the sunset. When it does, you can hear the applause echo across the island.
Once the sun goes down, it is time for another Key West tradition to light up: the Duval Crawl. Known as the longest street in the world (it runs from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico) this is the night life capital of the world. Regardless of what type of bar you like, there will be something for everyone, from rowdy live music venues to quiet corners tucked among the trees. It is the steamy side of the celebration, and one that happens every night in old town Key West.
Key West, Florida is an island chock full of customs and traditions. From an abundance of musicians, local performers and artists, the island has a lot of culture to offer tourists. Whether planning a family vacation or an individual retreat, Key West has activities to offer everyone.
Traditions in Key West include all you can expect of any island, but with a unique twist. From the views to the local night life, the island has much to provide. From dining at some of the world’s best restaurants serving up some of the best island cuisine to festivals, such as the sunset festival held every night in Mallory Square, this island will intrigue you.
Mallory Square is a great place to visit as is sits on the harbor and has much history to behold. The Custom House has been overlooking Mallory’s historic port since 1891. Today, the Custom House is fully restored and has been declared a national historic landmark. Previously serving as a post office, customs office and district court, this beautiful landmark now houses an award-winning museum and headquarters for the Key West Art & Historical Society. With two floors of art exhibitions and local history, this is a “must-do” on the list for many tourists.
From beautiful sun-kissed beaches, tropical clear blue water, delectable local seafood, and an intriguing nightlife, when you visit Key West, Florida, you will experience for yourself why the culture and tradition of the island attracts both return visitors and new travelers alike each year.